When I was seven or maybe eight years old my father looked at me with burning hot rage and told me his divorce with my mother was my fault. I remember him telling me that I needed to learn to keep my mouth shut. People still tell me that. My raging father was talking about the information I gave my mom. My memory of the incident is vivid. It is etched in my mind the way deep grooves are put into the side of a mountain. The erosion of the memory over and over has impressed upon me a kind of neurotic groove. I've spent years with my tiny piece of emotional sandpaper trying to remove the grooves. Sand paper won't do that job. Most recently I've faced the realization that I'll never do enough work, take enough medication, or earn enough gold stars to make those marks disappear. I can choose to see the marks differently, maybe. I can choose to take a jackhammer and obliterate the marks so no one will ever see them again. People will ask, "Why is there a huge hole there? Where did it come from?" So I'll be left thinking about the marks that used to be there but aren't any longer. You get the picture. He told me it was my fault and my child mind took that moment, and every other moment since, and filed it into the "It Is You" category of my psyche. Don't misunderstand. This is not an essay explaining the early makings of a narcissist. Nay, this is an account of a Virgo who was primed to take a hell of a lot more responsibility for the suffering and actions of those around her.
This memory is also my first real dance with shame. I saw something I wasn't supposed to see. I left my room, where I was dancing to my Whitney Houston album, and slowly approached my mom and dad's room. I wanted to know if I could have something to eat, or maybe go outside and play. Maybe I was even spying. Seven year old children are allowed to spy, right? I pushed open the bedroom door after hearing weird noises and I saw my father and Janet in bed. He was on top of her. The strange noises I heard were coming from her. My mother's name is Susan. Janet was the name of my mother's best friend. I closed the door and went to my room. I don't remember understanding what I saw, but I do remember feeling really bad about it.
I told my mom. She told me to always trust her with the truth.
That same month the divorce was filed and my father spared no moment to tell me that I made it happen. I believed him because that is what seven year old children are designed to do. I trusted him when he told me to stay away from the hot stove when he was frying bologna. It would hurt me, he said, and I believed him. I trusted him when he told me to hold this fishhook just this way and then put the stink bait on it. My little brother, Isaiah, would punch me in the arm and thump me. Isaiah was around when my dad would verbally accost me. Isaiah felt no pity for me. He wanted to live with dad, but the courts and significant evidence of sexual abuse and domestic abuse wouldn't grant that desire. That was my fault too.
Parts of my life have been a stuck reinforcement of this early trauma. Repetition Compulsion. I've cultivated a life where I've tried to be the most sorry, the most pennant, and the most responsible. This trauma led to some lovely strengths of my character. I am able to very quickly lance out what part of the fuck up belongs to me. Sometimes I'll even take my most well-meaning intentions and ascribe them as deviant in order to be the role I know how to be: fully guilty and responsible. In most situations I am usually the first to say, "That is on me, I am sorry." This strength of character is also a flaw of character because it means that I find myself in relationships with people who find ways to not own their own shit. These people hardly ever over-react, validate their part of the conflict, or even say sorry. "How do I find these people," I'll ask my therapist, "and she will look at me in her very directive way and ask, "Find them? Is that your fault too?" Her question, which she asks on a regular basis, always sobers my thinking: is that your fault too? "I don't know? Maybe I have some goddamn Bat Signal of dysfunction and they just flock to me." She counters with or maybe you are being you as authentically as you can and people who don't take responsibility for themselves find you because you CLEARLY take so much responsibility? Wait, what?
I still kind of feel like it is my fault.
When I've found myself at an impasse in relationships, I've defaulted to scrambling to analyze all that I could do differently in only the way a neurotic adult working from a child trauma schema can. I will read another book. I will learn more. I'll do better. I'll apologize seven hundred times.
"It isn't you, it is me." It is my fault.
Recently, I've sat in a chair across from that little girl. I've envisioned her. My memory of her is so strong that I can smell the Pink Lotion scent raising from her hair. I've spoken to her. I told her that it wasn't her fault. She had nothing to take responsibility for. She had nothing to apologize for. She was innocent. I am Gestalting my way to her and re-writing that memory. I am seeing it different for her so that I can see it different for me.
When I started this practice, and therapy, I was afraid I would become some kind of entitled asshole thinking it was about everyone else's flaws. My work has been about healing, not about escaping responsibility. I won't lose my ability to be accountable for my own actions. That is called being an adult. What I will lose is my ability to always bear the weight of the responsibilities of others. I am learning to say, "it is not me, it is YOU." I've said it a couple of times with feeling and gusto, and then quickly taken a Klonopin.
What other people choose to do is not about me. It is about what they think, feel, and believe about themselves. I've spent all these years trying to take responsibility and fix something I never had the power to claim or correct all along.