When my kids were little, I used to go up to them, put my spread fingers over the tops of their heads and yell, "Brain Sucker!!!" I would then slorp my fingers as if trying to suck their brains. It was just one of the things I did, like when I played Rabid Mommy. Don't ask.
I thought of this little bit of reminiscence today after I heard somebody using the words "brain" and "sucker" in the same conversation. They were talking about relationships and college simultaneously. It made me think of my own past relationships and how I dealt with them, so very differently than I would now. It's amazing what a few years of emotional exercises will do if you stick to them. I have so much self worth now and I had so little then.
My head wove together this unrelated string of thoughts and came up with a revelation: there are real brain suckers out there; people who slorp and gobble and devour scarred messes like me, people who are scarred and damaged themselves but are predators while I was prey. Since I grew up in a blue collar family, poor and uneducated for generations and violent to boot, my younger self decided that the best plan was to be among educated non-violent people. Logical. Problem solved. I congratulated myself on my own cleverness. But logic and cleverness can't replace wisdom and insecure people are not wise. We simply aren't. We judge things by our own experiences and tend to see only the surface without bothering to look below. I married a man who was working on his own higher education. He didn't drink or do drugs, he wasn't violent; indeed, he considered passion of any kind to be crude. I thought I'd hit the jackpot: here was someone completely different from my father. Everything was going to be sunshine and roses.
But I failed to look below the surface. Peter had come from a horrifically abused background as well. I considered that a bonding thing and was actually glad of it. But I didn't look to see how he dealt with his own skewed view of the world. We both saw jaundiced versions of life. I believed that if a person worked hard enough, was kind and patient enough, that they could save anybody, solve any problem, fix everything. Peter believed that if a person rose above everyone else, pushed emotions aside and judged the lower ranks as harshly as they deserved, then he could be safe and in control. We were both insecure and stupid in our naivete but we stuck to our philosophies like glue, walking through life with blinders on. I didn't understand that real kindness sometimes wore a harsh face, or that kindness to myself was every bit as important as kindness to others. If I didn't value myself, no one else would either, and I taught my children a dangerous and wholly unintentional lesson: insecurity. Even though I knew of its dangers, even though I tried to do the right thing, I still passed it on because my actions spoke louder than words. I argued, often heatedly, with my husband, I made a big noise and put on a tough mask...but I still obeyed him in the end. I still allowed him to envelope and devour me until I began to lose my own identity and self-worth to the point of self-destruction. My children saw this daily. Rhianna learned to be controlled and abused and Leland learned to control and abuse others. All of this came about because I didn't know to look beneath the surface. I saw only a man trying to better himself through education. I heard only his assurances that things would get better when he was done with grad school. When he finished grad school and began his post doc but continued his cruelty, I swallowed the line that he would be nicer when he finished school entirely. So I waited. I waited while he found fault with everything we did, waited while he never came home, never did things with the kids, never thought to include me in anything to do with his colleagues. Rhianna and I were the dirty uneducated secret, the ones holding him back, the embarrassment. Leland was ignored for the most part as well, but showered with all Peter's pompous superiority and insecure demands. In Peter's mind, Leland was of his blood, thus superior to Rhianna, who wasn't. Even when I discovered Leland's serious drug use and overdose, all Peter could say was that I couldn't put him in rehab. What decent college would take him if it was known that he was a drug addict? Peter was a professor by then, a respected intellectual, and it would look bad if he had a son in rehab. Thankfully, I was at a point where I could see a little more clearly, and I kept our son in rehab even though it was the hardest thing I've ever done.
The point of all this rambling is to ask anyone out there reading this to learn by my mistakes. Remember that intelligence, cleverness, kindness, toughness, are all surface things. Important, of course, but surface only; tools to be used by our inner selves. The inner selves we show to very few, if any, others. If the foundation isn't strong, the whole building will crumble. I was my own foundation but I was made of chalk and sand and my world came tumbling down. Strangely enough, it was that catastrophe that forced me to rebuild. I was lucky enough to do so. I'm still laying brick and mortar. I always will be. If you're in a bad relationship, whether it be with someone who's physically abusing you or simply controlling you through guilt or bullying, look beneath the surface. See what's really there and what you're doing to yourself and any loved ones around you. I have a friend who said that a loved one shouldn't make you feel like a curled up, dry leaf. A loved one should help you to bloom, to find the best in yourself and encourage your growth as well as their own.
I have made a vow to myself: I will always be there for me; I'll value myself enough to watch my own back. I will build a healthy relationship with Rebecca before I contemplate a relationship with anybody else. If I don't do that, I'll just slide right back into that fly paper ditch I just clawed myself out of. I will never let anyone else ever make me feel less than human, less than an equal. I will recognize the difference between serving and being a slave. I will lead by example and I will be honest in what a dumb ass I've been for most of my life. It's okay to be a dumb ass as long as you strive to become something better.
To thine own self be true. Scrape off the self-hatred and the lousy parasitic relationships and grow a little bit every day. See yourself clearly and take the time to do that correctly. Soon, you'll be standing instead of crawling. And keep doing all the silly but important emotional exercises every day. Tell yourself these things, every night before you go to bed, no matter how stupid your insecurity makes it feel:
Good night, beautiful mind.
Good night, beautiful body.
Good night, beautiful spirit.
When I began doing that, I sneered and didn't believe a word of it, felt contempt at myself for even doing it. But water can wear away stone and wash away treacle bitterness. Keep at it. Make a difference in your life and change yourself, one drop at a time.