I don’t think I knew how to feel any real feelings, except maybe brief, barely contained spasms of all-consuming rage (though even that much was rarely expressed), until I was 19 years old.
But as far as the rage goes…
I remember vivid bursts of white-hot intensity at various times in my youth, mostly stemming from feelings of indignation and feelings of being wronged and feelings of very much not being heard by the adults in my life.
And I remember that screaming into a pillow and punching the bedsheets repeatedly with all my might felt like not NEARLY enough to contain my anger… I remember that I wanted to literally DESTROY something.
And at the same time, on some deeper, instinctive level, I knew that there was no possible PHYSICAL outlet I knew of for that overwhelmingly destructive impulse (born of overwhelmingly destructive emotional pain that I didn’t know how to release) that wouldn’t also destroy me… so I bottled it, more often than not.
And I remember feeling HUGE tsunami-sized waves of shame over the very existence of that anger and that destructive desire, at several points in my adolescence.
As you may have picked up from my previous writings… I’ve been a closed shell for most of my life, but most notably in my younger years. Much of it stems from what I attribute to a lack of physical affection at a very young age, since I was in and out of the hospital frequently as a newborn, due to health issues… and when not in hospital care… well…
I was the child of a teenage mother — a mother who was a wild child, a flower child in many ways. And the only memorable photo I remember finding in my grandmother’s things of the two of us — my free-spirited mother and I — spending time together when I was an infant was an image of me lying alone on the sofa, clearly in designated “tummy time,” surrounded by pillows, all by myself, with my mother sitting beside me but yet completely apart from me, not touching me, not smiling at me, even her attention focused on someone else out of the frame of the photo.
My true, deep, non-rage-induced feelings finally erupted out of me for the first time in the middle of a Wal-Mart parking lot when I was around 19. But that’s another story. A complicated one.
But the feelings… I drowned them in alcohol, because that was what I knew, at the time. It was all I knew to do.
Because I knew that PURPOSEFULLY drinking an excess of alcohol… for the first time ever in my life, in an incident which had happened less than 2 years prior to this Wal-Mart incident — 100% coordinated and orchestrated by ME (because empowerment, y’all) — was the first time I ever in my life could remember laughing heartily, for no reason at all, just staring at my reflection in a bathroom mirror, all alone. Seeing me, and being joyful.
At least, it was the first time I remember experiencing anything close to what I could equate with “joy” at the time. (I know it wasn’t true joy now. But it was the first step along a spectrum, for me, that I had to walk, to get to where I am now.)
How do you even begin to learn how to effectively and healthily manage your emotions when you’ve never even learned how to let yourself experience them in the first place?
I think that’s where a lot of recovery programs go awry, to be honest. The root problem starts a lot earlier than we all imagine it does.
Anyway, as I was saying… I went through high school in a haze, an automaton, for the most part, programmed to success mode, to “get the fuck out of here” mode, to “make money at all costs” mode. I got the grades.
I avoided getting close to anyone. Not that I could have, even if I’d wanted to. I didn’t know how to connect, how to trust, how to TRULY let anyone in. I didn’t have the slightest clue how to begin doing any of that. And I didn’t believe that anyone liked me much, anyway, so why would I even bother trying?
In high school, I was actually teased and bullied more times than I’d care to admit, by more people than I’d care to admit. I rode a long-distance school bus to and from my downtown-area school for all 4 years of high school, which entailed 45-90 minutes spent idling in traffic each way, all of which was funded by my nerd scholarship, which of course contributed to my popularity problems in ways that only those traumatized nerdy individuals who vividly remember their school years can possibly relate to.
And, because it was a location from which I couldn’t escape, this school bus became where I was subject to teasing most mercilessly… by even the ELEMENTARY school kids who rode that bus with me. And besides just hurling insults, they would throw things at me. Food, mostly, that I remember. Orange peels. Nobody cared. Nobody stuck up for me. And seeing no other real options, I mostly ignored it.
The few annoyance-fueled protestations and outbursts that I allowed to escape from me over the years, though they happened rarely, only proved to me that giving any attention to the bullying offenders only made the offenses become much worse.
Because, as I learned, the cardinal rule is always: Never throw fuel on a bullying fire. Never let them see you upset, no matter what. That’s what they are going for. That’s their reward. You cannot give it to them. Ignore the injustices at all costs.
Which means, essentially, that you cannot stick up for yourself. It’s the all-powerful double-edged sword of bullying that I’m not sure even the recent anti-bullying campaigns have been able to completely eradicate. (Although I am grateful beyond any words can even express that I grew up in an era where cell phones, Facebook, and Instagram were not the institutions they are today.)
This bullying continued, of course, throughout my high school years, despite (or perhaps aided by) the fact that I’d made it through every single year of school at the top of my class, and was graduating as my high school’s salutatorian. It didn’t matter that I was, throughout a good portion of those torturous bus-riding hours, writing and practicing (silently, in my head) a rousing, inspiring and comedic speech that I would later give to a packed house of over a thousand parents and family members at my high school graduation (the content of which was actually a lot of bullsh*t, because I never once talked about how I never fit in at that school, and how it was ironic that I was chosen to represent the group, and how no one there loved me or even KNEW me, really).
But the fact is, all of that unsaid stuff was true. And bullying doesn’t stop just because you wish it will.
I had always been bullied though. It wasn’t only in high school.
I remember, once, letting my true feelings out about how horrible school had become for me to my mother, sometime around the 4th or 5th grade, when I was being mercilessly teased by a few male classmates for being tall and giraffe-like, taller than all my classmates, whiter-skinned than all of my classmates, a true “haole” girl. (I grew up in Hawaii, where being tall and pale-skinned made me different than most of my classmates, and as a result, I was often teased and derided using the term “haole” — a Hawaiian word meaning foreigner or outsider — despite the fact that I was born and raised in the islands and had a significant amount of Native Hawaiian blood running through my veins.)
And of course, I was seriously hurt by the teasing and cutting words, since it was the first time I could remember ever being treated so badly for what seemed like NO REASON at all. (Sidenote: Is 3rd grade when kids start all that divisiveness bullsh*t? I really wish there were some sort of warning signs to look for, or some kind of book written about it for parents of kids who were “doing their own thing” like me.)
Anyway, I expressed that hurt I was feeling to my mother, and it is one of the only times I ever remember crying throughout my entire childhood (except, of course, for the time I was LOCKED out of the house by my entire family, as they attempted to force me to learn to roller-skate in a truly fucking traumatic — yet I would imagine probably well-intentioned — “ride or die” fashion).
And my mother responded to my hurt feelings and to the whole incident (it was a series of incidents, really, but I didn’t bother telling her that) with righteous indignation, telling me that she was going to talk to my teacher, and to my principal, and to the parents of the boy who had made me cry, and she would put a stop to it, by god, because nobody treated her baby that way!
As an adult, of course, I know where this urge to protect and defend comes from, but even now, if I had a child of my own, I think I would be able to recognize the “more harm than good” truth behind this line of actions and hold my tongue.
Because I’ve been a child. And authority figures are not ALWAYS there.
And there are always creative ways for mean-spirited children — who have been thwarted in and/or chastised for their devilish actions — to express their frustrations at such chastisement by taking retaliation for the apparent tattling that caused it.
And, as shouldn’t surprise anyone, children can always find new and vicious ways of being cruel to one another. Ways that aren’t immediately obvious to the casual parental eye.
Anyway, I was terrified by my mother’s proclamations of “making things right” by “talking to them all,” and — amidst voicing STRONG protestations against any such actions — this is where I learned the importance of not airing one’s feelings. Not to anyone. Not ever. Because it didn’t seem to ever help anything. (This was a difficult habit to unlearn later, though I did, thank goodness.)
I never really got the emotional validation or the reinforcement of a sense of consistent strength and stability that I think is what I was truly looking for from that interaction with my mother. She tried her best, I know she did. But she was so young. She just didn’t have the life experience, the perspective, to think it through the way I can now, as a 40-something-year-old woman. And I don’t blame her for that.
But I can see it, and understand it. And that helps.
It helps me to be okay with just feeling my feelings — now, today, and all the days going forward from here.
It helps me to be okay with feeling my feelings without having to do anything about them at all. Without having to try to change them, or drown them out. Because I am finally in a place where I can accept life’s most basic invitation — to feel my feelings and just allow them to be. And to accept myself for having them, without judgement of myself.
But also. It helps me to be strong enough not to take sh*t from ANYONE anymore. Because I refuse to take on the burden of allowing myself to become the collateral damage of someone else’s low opinion of themselves. Because I am FINALLY starting to know and accept my worth, and to know and accept that NO ONE deserves to be treated with anything less than respect.
And my greatest hope for you is that perhaps, in reading this, if you are struggling with any of these things, you can begin to be okay with feeling your own feelings. And allowing them. And being gentle and kind with yourself for having them. And accepting your own undeniable worth.
I love you.
Thank you for being here.
Thank you for bearing witness to this process.
Thank you for bringing your sacred energy and emotions to this space.
Your presence is felt, and you are deeply appreciated.
For context on this post, and links to related journal entries from this particular piece of my life's journey, see My Sobriety Journey, Journaled.