There was a time in my childhood when there had been a counterbalance (what Alice Miller refers to as enlightened witnesses) weighing against the abuse I suffered in our family. Of the most predominant was my older sister, who I was very close to; she would listen to me, play games, take me out places and showed me that I was special to her. Her girlfriends liked me too, and some would even come to my birthday parties, which were full of people back then. My brother and I had babysitters who would pick us up after school and take care of us, they prevented his bullying and showed me more love and attention then our parents ever did. At the local pool we spent much of the summer at, we befriended the female teenage lifeguards who would even take us out for pizza and to the movies. And they liked me more then they did my brother, they liked me for who I was, for my personality, my openness.
Then came the day when my sister turned eighteen, and went away to college. Suddenly, all of that vanished; the only person who I had bonded with in any real way in my home was gone. And from that day on, my brother and I were left alone together for him to dominate and torture me whenever my parents were out of the house. He lashed out in jealousy, insisting that no one would ever really like me, and if they acted like they did, they were only making fun of me. I believed him. I never had another birthday party, my parents didn’t renew the subscription to that pool, they severed ties with the family friends who had previously been our babysitters. After my sister left, instead of family vacations, our parents went on trips by themselves, leaving me subject to my brother’s rowdy parties and aggressive friends. I was 8 years old; too young for my childhood to end.
My sister had acted as a buffer to our parents neglect, but when she left, they didn’t try to pick up the slack; instead they disengaged even more. Thus I was abandoned not only by my sister, but by my parents simultaneously. As I suffered from this fact, and through my brother’s brutal physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, I began to change; I became anxious, afraid, I lost my ability to make friends and turned to food to fill the void inside my life. My sister changed as well, she began to adopt the attitudes of our parents, and instead of expressing an interest in why I was that way, she began to apply verbally abusive labels to me, exclaiming “you’re so annoying!” “you’re so miserable!” etc. On her short visits home, she would try to make me diet, and then become enraged when I didn’t stick to what she had designed.
In the years since she had abandoned me and become a cold and toxic person herself, my sister nonetheless loved to talk to me about those old times in a heavily idealized version from her own memory, which gradually superseded my own more balanced version (since at times even in my early childhood, she had been cruel and uncaring.) When I was 21, I realized when referring to this period in a birthday card, that everything I said was fake, not from my memory but hers. Ultimately I realized that I didn’t owe a debt of gratitude to this person for having been nice to me once over eleven years before. Nothing could excuse or erase the intervening years in which she had become a hateful and oppressive figure in my life; no amount of ‘good times’ in the past obligate me to repress my true feelings. So I finally stood up to her, for her hypocrisy, manipulations, and abuse, and said goodbye to that legacy.
I see now that I learned to abandon myself from these experiences. After moving out and far from my family, I didn’t take care of myself in the same ways that they didn’t. My mother shoved large amounts of food on me but didn’t buy me clothes; I also spent all my money on endless amounts of organic food via my eating disorder, but only had one or two outfits to wear. I didn’t take care of my own needs; because I had been taught and told that I was worthless (and made to feel guilty for wanting/needing anything), I didn’t see myself as worth it, as worth having good health or clothes or furniture or adequate care. Because my parents had tuned out and ignored my needs while I silently suffered, that is what I went on to do to myself.
My boyfriend noted to me some time ago that whenever I talked of improving things on the homestead, I always framed it as doing something for him, never for myself. He was right. I realized recently that I will anxiously fix things up if we’re going to have guests over, but I never afford myself the same concern in a relaxed way. But I do like it when things are relatively neat and looking nice. Dissociation or not, it had always blocked me when my environment was an unattractive mess, ever since I was a child. But there was so much abuse surrounding cleaning in our incredibly unsafe home that not only was I afraid to leave my bedroom in general, leaving it to take away trash or dirty dishes petrified me. I’ve still felt the presence of this judgment as being there ever since.
I want to increase my self-care and self-worth, and I want to make my environment healthy and soothing for me because I want it that way, not because of fear or only for someone else. I don’t want to encounter a problem and just live with it, ignore it on the premise that I can’t do anything and no one else will care. I want to give myself the things that were taken away nearly twenty years ago. I’ve made progress on all of this lately, I have a full wardrobe of nice clothes and my eating is healthier and more stable than it has been in ten years. I want to stand by that child inside me and make things even better.