Author Archives: chris

Pain and peace


Hey Kiddo,

Got another tip for you.

Her tool bag with the side pocket of harsh insults… you know how much they hurt, right?  She is quite talented at finding that remark that hurts more than her beatings… because the bruises and broken skin eventually fade… but the insults dig into your soul and fester there until you finally figure out how to heal them.  And this process takes much longer than the contusions from getting smacked into the wall or the scabs in the perfect shape of her nails where she dug them into your skin until you bled.  Those will fade… the insults you will carry with you for a long time.

Here’s the thing.  You’re going to realize just how painful that tool is and you’re going to forge your own.  You’re going to use words to hurt and your excuse is that this is acceptable because you didn’t physically harm them.  You’ll tell yourself that you’re “just venting” when you use them against people you care about.  You will actually believe that an apology is enough of a salve to heal the soul-wound.

I’m asking you to let go of the insults.  Yeah, I know what that means.  Last entry I wrote to you about putting down the armor.  Now I’m asking you to put down a weapon.  You must think I’m insane.  I’m suggesting that it’s possible to be armorless and weaponless and still survive.  In fact, you will do more than survive… you will eventually find that the strength, resiliency, and connection you forge with others will allow you to do more than survive.  You will thrive.  And grow.  And know peace.

Here’s where you think of that old saying you made up:  “I’ll get enough peace when I’m dead.  Why pollute my life with it?”  Because peace doesn’t mean stagnation… and it doesn’t mean passiveness… and it doesn’t mean weakness… all those things you think it means are based on your terribly skewed upbringing.

Peace is more like stillness than stagnation.  Like the stillness of a deep ocean.  On the surface, it is as still as glass.  But deep underneath, the current moves strong and with purpose.  Peace is acceptance of where you are and who you are – but also an acknowledgement that you can be more… eventually.  Peace is accepting your limitations and the fact that you make mistakes… and that you will continue to do so for the rest of your life.  Big mistakes.  Because if you aren’t making big mistakes, you aren’t trying hard enough.

So let’s get back to those insults.  Here’s the thing… you’re going to use them to hurt others without grasping the degree of pain you will cause yourself.  One day you will start to dig into the shit you have lived through and you will “unpack” the feelings you crammed down into a tiny sealed grave and buried in a large abandoned lot filled with countless other caskets brimming with a history of hidden feelings.  You’re going to process them (a fucking long and painful chore that seems to never end) and you will start to forgive yourself and others.  But the insults and the physical pain you caused… those will hang tough for a long time.

Do you know why?  Because buried beneath those caskets of hidden feelings is the part of you that feels for people.  You are powerfully empathic.  I know, you think it’s a curse.  You hate crying.  Her best insults were pointed at your tears.  They made you an easy target.  You wrestle with them like they are your enemy.  And as far as I have come in my journey, they still bother me.  Not as much… but I would be lying if I said they didn’t matter.

So try this if you are feeling brave:  Your tears are your body’s evidence that you are connected with your feelings.  Sometimes you can find words to put to those feelings and sharing those words with healthy, loving people can help you get through the feelings.  But sometimes you won’t have words… and the feeling is still there.  It’s okay to connect with it and let it run its course.

Crying in front of cruel people isn’t something I recommend.  It takes a profound inner strength to let their insults pass by you.  But you can seek out and find people who are not cruel… who will allow you to cry and sob and feel and not think less of you for it.  They will know that you are human.  And they will not fear that part of you because they accept their own humanness and understand that tears are necessary.

When you come up against a situation where you are reaching for those insults… allow yourself just one moment to pause. See if you can find the words to name what that person is doing without insult.  See if you can make the exchange real by putting powerful words to their actions.  Name it.  Don’t expect them to own it… but those words have the chance to cause change.  Insults do not.  Even if the person attacking you eventually steers clear only because the light of honest words is harsh to those who don’t want to look into their own darkness.

As for those innocent people who you cast your insults towards as a way of managing your overflowing pain… well, those will take the longest to accept.  Still working on it, in fact.

Being bullied, you felt helpless and the way you handled that was to lash out at other helpless people.  Your words and actions have left wounds and scars in them… and in yourself.  You have an easier time forgiving those who bullied you than yourself for bullying others.  Because some part of yourself believes you should have been better than that.  In truth, it’s not because you should have been better.  It’s because you were lying to yourself about who you really are.  You are not a person who gets satisfaction from hurting others.  You think you are because you don’t know any other way to deal with the pain other than to bestow it upon others.  You think it’s a sign of strength because you don’t dare show even the slightest vulnerability lest you get wounded again.  But it’s not strength.  It’s yet another wound you will carry… but this is a wound you bestow upon yourself.

Let go of this tool.  Better to clench your jaw and walk away if you cannot find words to name the pain.  Go find some place safe and let the tears flow.  This will heal so much faster than the weapons you throw at others… because those weapons wound both the target and the caster.

Lastly, remember that the process of letting go is exactly that – a process.  You will continue to make mistakes forever… just less frequently over the span of decades.  That’s okay.  Peace may be stillness… but it isn’t without room for ripples.

Pushing through


Hey Kiddo,

These times you are living through are very tough, I know.  You crave freedom… anything to escape her.  She demands things from you that you cannot give… and rejects anything that she sees as a bad reflection upon herself.  She requires your love, admiration, and fear.  But cannot handle your anger, sadness, or your need for a separate identity.

She belittles your interests because they are not “mature enough” in nature.  She rejects your music because she doesn’t like it… she rejects your art because it’s not something she can be proud of… she has made your entire life about HER.

Unfortunately, this isn’t easy to escape.  Growing older and moving away isn’t enough.  She will disavow your existence for so long that she won’t even recognize you (literally) when she sees you decades later.  Despite this level of detachment from her, you will still carry so much of her influence… and so many powerful feelings from memories both vivid and vague… that you will continue to suffer deeply until you finally get help.

Let me tell you about the process it’s going to take.  First, you will recognize where you need to be – at least you will think you do.  And you will work incessantly to fix your habits.  Some, you will succeed at, just by sheer force of willpower.  You were blessed with at least one powerful habit that will allow you some amount of success:  You develop an overwhelming need to confront your fear and your flaws, grab ahold of them, and wrestle them into submission.  This gets you some progress.  But not enough.

Eventually, you try therapy.  This helps a little bit… but you aren’t ready to go deep yet and the therapist, as good as she is, doesn’t quite know how to challenge you in a way that keeps you moving in that direction.  But it’s enough for a few years.

Time and life bring about situations where your issues cause you to question whether things could possibly be better.  You think that your failures are about a lack of discipline.  So you seek out a therapist again – this time to help you develop better control.  You luck out and find the right therapist at the right time and you start a journey that goes deep enough to terrify you.

It will take *years* of therapy.   But eventually, you will stop hating yourself for being less than perfect.  I know as I write this that you would deny you hate yourself.  You will say you just want to be better.  But that’s not true.  Because all those feelings that come up when you mess up… that self talk that is filled with anger… that anger, whether you admit it or not, is being directed at YOU.

It’s going to take a long time before that inner voice changes and you can accept yourself for who you are now – as a child – and who you are now – as an adult.  I have the wisdom of hindsight to know how you navigated this process… how absolutely terrifying it was… how painstaking it was to let go of that armor piece by piece.

As you read that last sentence, you will say to yourself “No way am I EVER giving up that armor – it’s what keeps me from getting my heart ripped out… it keeps me sane!”   All I can tell you is that when you are finally ready to take it off, you won’t need it anymore.  Yes, you will get hurt without it… but you will have the resiliency to handle the hurt.  And here’s the best part… that overwhelming feeling of love that you have for your own family won’t be poisoned anymore by an almost obsessive fear of losing them.  You will be able to handle the feeling of vulnerability that comes with being real… and with loving someone.

You have a helluva journey in front of you.  And as I write this, I know that I still have a long, long way to go.  But I’m not giving up.  No matter how many times I mess up, I know that I’m worth the love that others give me… not just the “me” that I want them to see… but the “me” that is real, flawed, and fragile.

Yeah, I said it… “Fragile”.  I can just imagine your hands curling into fists at that thought.  You’re going to think “What the fuck!  I’m going to become a WIMP!?”

No, you’re just going to become an authentic human being.  No matter how much you want to be a superhero.

It’s okay.  You’ll get it later on.  Your pig headed stubbornness and inner street fighter won’t let you give up.  You’ll get a taste for the growth and the peace it brings and you will push forward.  Just one word of advice:  When the shit gets so deep and so big that you think you’re going to drown and you tell your therapist you are done… listen to her.  She knows her shit.  She’ll get you through the ocean of terror one spoonful at a time.  And here’s the kicker:  The only way to really navigate that place is to let go of control… to stop pushing… and just let it happen.

Yeah, it sucks.  But it’s so fucking worth it.

Trust me.

Less than

Hey Kid,

It’s a good thing this letter won’t get to you.  Because it’s pretty harsh.  You wouldn’t understand and would be terribly hurt by it.

There were times in my life that I hated you.  I know, that’s pretty fucked up.  Who hates themselves as a kid?  But I did.  I carried around all those times you were less than indomitably strong… less than impenetrable against the onslaught of her abuse… less than spot on with your predictions for when she was going to beat you… less than utterly perfect.  I hated you almost as much as I hated her.

I grew up with that constant internal voice she gave me – the one that would ritually berate myself on a daily basis for my mistakes.  I could speak such kindness to my kids and my friends… and then spill vile hate all over myself for the simple fact that I was human.  The irony was lost on me.  I thought it was okay to be hard on myself – because how else would I get better.

Better?  At what?  Positive growth comes from compassion and connection… not from fear of being insufficient or anger at feeling unworthy.   The only thing I was growing was a deeper sense of self hatred.  That was her legacy she left me before she decided I wasn’t worth her attention any longer.

Here’s the saddest part:  I was incapable of loving you kindly because I had never experienced kind love from her.  You won’t want to admit this right now.  You will keep coming up with excuses for her.  You will blame the alcohol… or her own abused childhood… or how you never seem to meet her expectations… or your inability to say or do the right thing.

You made yourself her best excuse.  But the truth is, YOU are the child and SHE is the adult.  You hate yourself because you fear you will never be enough for her.  But the truth is, you will never heal her pain.  The pain is HERS.  Only she can heal it.

It took me many years of deep effort to let go of that anger, disappointment, and hatred I directed at myself… all for the sin of being human.

You know how much you are just dying to grow up?   You believe that being an adult will solve your problems.  You close your eyes tight at night and make a wish in case wishes could come true:  Grow up.  Then I could get out.  Protect myself.  Trust no one.  And be left alone.

Here’s the thing, Kiddo… you can’t ever really grow up until you learn how to connect with people through compassion.  And you cannot know real compassion until you can actually feel it for yourself.  You will be a child caught in an adult’s body throwing tantrums whenever you feel in danger – which is often.  Because you never learned how to be otherwise.  And that desire to be left alone?  It’s a death sentence.  You’ll learn, painstakingly, that people can be trusted and that you don’t have to protect yourself all the time.

But first you’re going to have to learn how to let yourself be vulnerable.  Yeah, I can hear your guffaw from here.  All I can say is that you’ll figure this one out with time… and the help of some exceptional people.

I guess I’ll wrap this up for now.  I do need you to know that all that hatred I carried around wasn’t your fault.  I don’t blame you anymore.  In fact, I can honestly say that I love you. And some days, when I am feeling deeply connected, I don’t even blame her.  She was as lost as you are now and never found her way out.  She did terrible things… and she suffers terribly for them.  I wish I could change that, but I can’t.  That’s the pain inside me that I don’t know will ever go away.  Because you and I both know that buried under all that hate we have held for her was this piercing need to love her.

Perhaps someday I will be able to uncover that and let it go free.

Real reality

Hey Kiddo,

Let’s talk about reality for awhile.  It’s like this… there is what you think what’s happening, what’s really happening… and what She proclaims is actually happening.  The problem is that her reality is the trump card – and as you and I both know, it’s never pretty when she slams down that card.

Reality:  You are a kid.  You are going to make lots of mistakes.  This is your right.  You are trying to figure things out and you are not perfect.

Her Reality:  You are supposed to be perfect and know exactly what she expects of you.  If you fail to do what she wants, you are purposefully challenging her authority.  You are to do as you are told and God help you if you try to have a single independent thought or action.  Everything you do or say or think is a reflection of her and subject to her judgment.

Your Reality:  If you just keep trying, one day you may perfect the art of reading her mind.  You are trying like mad to figure out how you can walk that fine line where she will let you be your own person and not beat you or disavow your existence for your insolent desire to be independent.  You will learn to lie as a default because her reality is unbearable to you.  You will have to eventually make the hardest choice of your life:  Play her mind games and allow yourself to continuously be victimized by her emotional blackmail… or walk away and start to live your own life without her… setting an 0-2 record for mothers who don’t abandon you.

It sucks.  It sucks so fucking bad that you will feel like you are going insane sometimes.  You will grow up holding this massive anxiety around conflict with people.  The idea that people can disagree and still have a functional relationship will be lost to you for many decades.  Because the most important relationship in your young life failed to show you how it could be any other way.  You will struggle with this one and it will push people away who you care about.  You won’t understand why… you will think you are trying to just understand them… but in truth, you can’t handle an understanding that is left with an unresolved disagreement.  It feels like a knife in your gut… because as a child, this was a sure sign of a beating to come.  You’re all wound up inside… knots of fear that manifest as anger because your body is in defense mode and long ago you decided it was better to go down swinging than to be a passive victim.

Eventually, with the help of a very stubborn friend who refuses to be driven away by you and yet won’t submit to your relentless demand for agreement, you will start to figure it out.  You’ll work on repairing that relationship from the pain of frustration and exhaustion.  And, with a ton of work, you will allow this novel way of relating to people to spread to your other relationships.

This reality shit will make sense some day.  And then you can let go of another chain that her ghost has bound to your soul.

The shame you carry

Hey Kiddo,

You know how you carry a huge weight for the times you were cruel to others?  After a ton of therapy, you’ll start to realize that you were a product of your upbringing.  You were bullied by your mother… and by other kids at school and other places… and you wanted to spread the pain that was boiling your insides.  You wanted power because you were powerless.  You wanted to strike out because you were terrified of those who attacked you.  Your fear was unacceptable – because in your mind, fear is a sign of a victim.  In your mind, a victim would always suffer… so you would instead force that fear to become anger – because people were afraid of anger and angry people… and perhaps then they would leave you alone.

Alone.  It seemed that was all you ever wanted.  But deep inside, that wasn’t true.  You wanted someone – anyone – that you could count on.  A person who would stand by you and defend you.  Who would not withhold their love if you made a mistake.  Who could make you feel worthy.  Who would never abandon you.

Yes, you did terrible things.  But those things do not define you except for how they will teach you that the person who did these hurtful things is not the person you really are.  You have taken those bright, beautiful, fragile, soft, and powerfully empathic parts of yourself and you have buried them deeply behind miles of armored walls.  You did this because, where you are right now, it is how you are coping with your mother’s pain and fear and hate.  You are a child and she doesn’t understand what that means.

I have visited you so many times… perhaps daily since I found the path.  I talk to you and tell you that it’s okay… you are a child… you have made big mistakes… and that’s okay.  You don’t have to feel this way anymore.  Because you see, I still carry deep inside of me that angry and scared part of you.  The part who never had a chance to grow up because everything was so uncertain and you couldn’t rely on anyone.  You had to skip a big part of your childhood… and ended up being a child stuck in an adult’s body.  Because you never really learned how to trust… or that love could be something that wasn’t filled with so much pain.

So now I find those times when you come up in my memories… your actions which fill me with regret.  And I have a talk with you about how, despite your actions, you were (and are) worthy of love and acceptance.  I hold you inside of myself and show you the kindness and love that my own children have shown me.  I want you to understand that you are accepted.  You are loved.  You are beautiful.  Even with your mistakes.

I will keep saying these things to you… and I will keep holding you… until you finally believe it.  And then when those memories arrive, I will know the peace of acceptance and forgiveness.

Until then… we’ll keep talking.

Letter to my 7 year old self

Hey Kiddo…

There are some things you need to know about the stuff you are going through right now.  Some of this won’t make sense for a long time.  And some of it will go against everything you know about yourself and the people around you.  But it needs to be said.

1)  It isn’t your fault.  No matter how many times or how many ways your mom will try to get you to believe this, it’s not your fault.  You are a CHILD.  You are SUPPOSED to make mistakes.  It’s not you.  It’s her.

2)  You don’t deserve these kinds of punishments:  Beatings (of any kind – with or without the belt), being dragged or thrown or shaken or shoved or smacked or grabbed so hard it leaves marks, silent treatments, withholding of food, force feeding of food, withholding of love, exclusion from the family, being told you will never amount to anything, name calling, public and private humiliation, threats of harm, and so many more tactics intended to intimidate you into doing her whim.

3)  Her rules are just that – whims.  They don’t make sense.  So don’t beat yourself up for failing to understand them or her.

4)  For all those nights in bed when you squeezed your back against the wall and faced the door so that you could react faster in case she was drunk and needed to hurt you: You’re going to learn how to deal with this.  One day the beatings will stop.  You will grow older and have defenses.  You’re going to do some things you will regret.  You will survive and eventually forgive yourself.  Hold on to hope.

5)  You are human.  Your goal of being perfect at prediction, performance and control will not make her stop.  You cannot control her pain.  You are not her parent.  You cannot save her.

6)  I know that you wish every day that you could just grow up… you don’t want to be a kid anymore.  You wonder why on earth *anyone* would want to be a kid or have a kid.  This will change.  Your own kids will show you why.

7)  Dad loves you even if he cannot help you.  He has his own pain that keeps him from protecting you and the other kids.  This doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you.  One day he will finally make her leave.  When he cries because of this, it isn’t your fault.

8)  When she curses you with the words “I hope you have kids JUST LIKE YOU”, know that her curse somehow changes into a blessing.  You will have children whose beauty and love will be such a source of pride, joy and healing for you.  Do not doubt your ability to be a loving parent or mate.  Your desire to heal and grow will make this possible.

9)  She lies.  And her lies hurt terribly.  She wants to wound you in ways her beatings cannot.  Don’t believe her.  She just wants to spread her pain.

10)  When she tells you she loves you and this scares you, know that what she does and says is not love.  You will know real love one day.  And those looks of hate she gives… try not to take it personally.  She hates herself more than she hates you.

11)  When your siblings side with her and join in on the verbal abuse and exclusion, know that they are kids – just like you – and they don’t know what they are doing.  You can forgive them.

12)  When she rejects you and pretends that you do not exist, hold on to this fact:  You MATTER… you are WORTHY of love… you DON’T deserve this… and you are not any less of a fighter when you give in and beg her to beat you instead of ignoring you.  You are wired for survival.  You have permission to do what you need to do to get through this.

13) The nightmares will eventually diminish.  And so will your anger at yourself.  I promise.

14)  Your needs are not being met.  So you are learning to bury them deeply.  One day you will have to dig down there and retrieve them.  It will be almost as scary as the process of burying them.  And then you will have to learn to accept them.  Its okay.  Everyone has them.

15)  There is a part of you that you will put away for a long time.  This is necessary for self preservation.  Just remember how to get back to recover that part of you.  When life is less painful, you will dare to make that journey.  I’ll come back to get you.  Just give me time.

That’s all I have for now.  I’ll see you in my memories and dreams.  And some day there won’t be this space between us.