How do you stop punishing yourself for wrongs you didn’t even commit?
From the time I was young I viewed myself as responsible for wrongs that those I loved experienced. If my sister cried because my dad yelled it was my fault for not preventing his anger. If my mom was upset about a water bill it was my fault because I used water. If my dad slipped into another one of his depressions it was my fault because my love wasn’t enough to cure his sadness.
I spent my early years doing what I could to be perfect, but I always failed. My parents never asked really anything of me. They never stressed the importance of good grades or required me to do chores. I however beat myself up if I didn’t get an A on every assignment. I would cook dinner and clean the living room in hopes that it would show my parents I was worthy. I remember sitting in the back seat of my moms Chevy van with my best friend in 6th grade having a panic attack because I had gotten a B in one of my subjects on my report card. My friend whose report card was slathered in Bs and even Cs, starred in horror as my mom tried to convince me it wasn’t a big deal. In my mind however it was a huge deal. I failed. I was no good. If I wasn’t smart what am I?
Seventh grade I promised myself no Bs on my report card. And I didn’t get one. I got straight As. I got invited to an honors award dinner. I was happy and proud of myself. We went to the dinner, my mom, dad and me. My dad left before I got my award. He didn’t want to leave. My classmates and their families kept starring at him and making disgusted faces. They couldn’t get over that he wasn’t like them. It was as if they had never witnessed chronic illness and disabilities before. I hadn’t noticed he was different until then.
After that dinner I stopped caring about school. I stopped caring about my “friends” who didn’t realize the hurt I experienced that night. That summer my dad got really sick, but I got into the honors classes I wanted to for 8th grade. I spent that year feeling disconnected from all the other kids. No one noticed. I withdrew from my various friends and the summer after 8th grade I lost contact with all of them.
I went back 9th grade year and felt like a alien in a foreign place. The first day was loud. Everyone laughing and joking, talking about their summer activities together. I had never felt so alone. I failed so many tests that year. I missed so many days. I spent days sitting in my house watching my dad wither away to a stranger. It was a sadness I wish on no one.
10th grade I stayed the same. Skipping school on the regular. My stomach always upset. I used food to cope like I had seen many relatives before me do. They tried to hold me back that year in school but all my grades in my honors classes were still passing so I moved on up. The summer before 11th grade was messy as 10th grade had been. My dads depression was worse than ever. My everyday worry wasn’t just that his physical illnesses would take him but that his mental illness would and that his mental illness could take us all out with him.
11th grade came and flipped my world upside down. My dad went to the hospital that September and never came home again. Mid October he passed away. The guilt I felt that day crushed me but the relief I felt just about killed me. How could my brain and body feel relief that my father was dead?!
It’s only now at 27 that I have half an answer for that. I could use the easy cop out answer and say “At least he isn’t suffering anymore.” Honestly though, the relief came from the fact that my family was not suffering anymore and selfishly that I wasn’t suffering anymore. My dad was amazing and talented and I wouldn’t have chosen anyone else to be my dad. My dad was also abusive, mentally ill and sometimes downright mean but I freaking loved him. I spent all my energy hoping he wouldn’t self destruct and destroy us all. I had nightmares of him killing us all. I feared that if I went to school in the morning I would come home to a murder suicide. Every siren that passed me was always heading to my house in my mind. I didn’t realize the sheer amount of time I spent physically ill over the what if’s. I also never understood the power of my voice.
Sometimes I wonder what my teenage year would have been if I had just once spoken up. Said something, anything. I expected someone to see my struggle and save me but I also would have never have shared my truth honestly at that age. My mind even now is full of what if’s. Ultimately all the what if’s just lead to “What if I was more”.
I try to tell myself what I would tell someone I love. You are enough. You can’t fix other people but you can speak up for yourself. If you can’t find the right words it’s okay. It is not your responsibility as a child to fix adult problems. You did the best you could with the knowledge you had. Your feelings are valid. You can still be a kind person and value yourself. You are worthy. You are loved.