31 July 2010

Okay, so how much do you need to know?

Something I've always been wrestling with is self-esteem, defectiveness, the feeling that I'm not good enough to (insert goal here).  The source of all of this goes back to childhood, it goes back to being a victim, and it goes back to my family-- it was my extended family that was responsible for the abuse, and my immediate family that was responsible for not giving encouragement and support when it was needed most.

No one in my family was every really rich; there were some years that were financially better than others.  I grew up in the 1980's in a midwestern city that had grown up on factories-- my Dad worked in one-- that were not so slowly closing down.  Kids in my hometown knew what the lyrics to Billy Joel's "Allentown" were talking about.  (This particular factory held on for a while; the business was sold to another company, but it never regained the activity level it had when my Dad worked there.  It did eventually close.)  There were the kids who were from families that were better off, and I went to school with some of them-- my parents weren't poor either.  I went to a Catholic school, which wasn't free.  My emphasis in school was just getting by, though.

Looking back, I had some real difficulties in school.  My home was, for all intents and purposes, broken.  My parents were each going off and doing their own thing (I never did get the details about a lot of what went on, or what kinds of relationships my parents had going on, but at this point in my life I can safely assume some things).  What I was learning about life in school was the exact opposite of what I was experiencing at home.  I had a family, but it was falling apart.  I was a latchkey kid, usually spending the time between 3:00pm and 6:00pm home alone.  If I did something smart in school, no one noticed.  If I didn't do my homework, and I disrupted class, people noticed.  So, I didn't do my homework.  I was one of the "troubled" kids, and after a certain point, people didn't expect much.  I got attention, but it wasn't the good kind.

Today, I'd probably be considered hyperactive and I'd probably be on medication, Ritalin or worse.  Today, as it was then, people don't want to ask the real questions.  No one ever asked if I'd been molested, or if I'd seen things I shouldn't have, or how things really were at home.  I still feel a little bitter and angry about that, sometimes.  I remember people at school saying "you have to talk about what's wrong, you have to let it out" but when you're 10 years old, you don't yet know the words to explain what's happening to you or how you feel about it... no one ever gave an example, and said "has this ever happened to you?"  You don't wreck or break a home by exposing abuse.  It's already broken beyond repair.  And you don't fix the situation by medicating the kid who's already learned how to go numb to survive.

As much as I've spent most of this summer thinking about why things didn't work well during spring semester, and what I need to change for fall-- what I need to do to move on-- I still carry those things from the past with me.

This is one of the paradoxes for me right now--  how much does a new friend need to know about my life up to this point?  Do they need to know about the abuse, do they need to know about the hours I spent in a hole in the Desert breathing through a gas mask?  Are there people who will accept and tolerate my attitudes towards family, mathematics, war, politics, sex, and firearms?  How much risk am I willing to take to be myself, good bad and ugly?  How do I take all of the things that are in separate boxes, and put them all in one package, just let me be me, let the world take me at face value?

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