Unreasonable haste is the direct road to error.
I’ve flown by the seat of my pants my entire life. Trauma was a regular part of my life from birth, until i was finally free from my mother around the age of 21. Although i sought treatment over the years that followed, i didn’t find anyone that helped me significantly until around 45. It’s only been since then that i’ve been able to properly identify my many trauma-based reactions to typical life situations. These responses have been generally dissociative, with hair-trigger responses to stress and anxiety manifesting regularly as fight, flight, or freeze. More than half my time since then was initially spent dealing with more chaos, rather than less, and the work left me so exhausted that i spent a couple of years just hermitting and resting.
The last few years i’ve built a fairly normal life for myself, and that took some planning. As you might guess after reading my first paragraph, that did not come naturally to me. I needed to be told how to do it step-by-step, incrementally, and to see it modeled, and to be given the grace and the freedom to practise it safely, and fail quite spectacularly, too. Because there’s so much going on in my head, i can be quite scattered. I’m one of those people that regularly loses track of what i was saying or doing, the reason usually being that i’ve been tripped up by a voice in my head. Something/someone on the inside has caught my attention, and i’m now more focused on my inner world than my outer.
Then there was my mother, who wasn’t into the teaching part of parenting. Fortunately, i had the same babysitter for my first 6yrs, so she taught me how to play and how to socialise with other children. My grandmother was a teacher, and she gave me reading, writing, and basic arithmetic, and along with Grandpa, some normal and fun family activities. What my mother taught me was by example, and it was a crash-bang-tinkle course in how to be manipulative and dysfunctional. I knew nothing about planning for the future, or setting goals, or organising my living space, activities, chores, or events. No people skills save charm, which was used strictly for manipulation. She taught me how to hide in plain sight. I was a tumour dressed up like a cupcake. Although i’ve always been a good person, i did things that weren’t good because that’s what i was taught, and i treated people poorly sometimes, because that’s what i knew. I looked down on others, because part of the way it’d been so easy to keep quiet about my upbringing, was that i was indoctrinated to believe i was special; different than the people around me, and better. Others wouldn’t understand our ways – they didn’t belong, and they weren’t smart enough to understand.
I wanted to be liked and accepted so badly. Part of that is a natural human desire, but some of it was because, deep down, i desperately wanted to be rescued, and also because i’d been trained to seek approval. Of course, at the very bottom of the well, was a little girl starving for love and affection. I was too dysfunctional for anything healthy and lasting, though. No one could get to know me well enough for intimacy to develop, as my mother had Rapunzeled me long before i hit school age.
I’ve not digressed – i share this so you might see how the way i was raised was a roadblock to learning life skills from anyone. Back when i was just trying to survive, living an unexamined life, i wasn’t conscious of looking down on people, nor did i know i trusted no one. It simply didn’t occur to me that i could find someone who had what i wanted and ask them how they got it, or even just observe them and try to emulate what i saw. There were many flaws in the way i thought about life and people, and i lacked the insight to see what the problems were. All i knew was that there was something wrong with me. Learning that i was a victim of child abuse opened my eyes to how ill-equipped i was to live life on life’s terms. I saw how abuse had twisted me in some ways, and had atrophied my development in others. Eventually i could see how i kept people far, far away. I was all closed doors and drawn shades.
(You know, as i’m proofreading this, i just had a little a-ha moment! I can see on a deeper level why i had to hide in my house for a couple of years, while i was trying out my new self-knowledge and acquired life skills. I still needed the protection of closed doors and drawn shades around me. It’s like taking your clothes off in front of a new lover. I’m in the bedroom with them and yes, we are going to be intimate, but first time i take my clothes off will be behind this beautiful shoji screen, thank you. We can even light one candle! You’re welcome.)
Having a child was a brutal awakening to how completely disconnected i was, but it was also the beginning of me reaching out to find connection. My son needed me for everything, including affection, and as his concept of himself as separate from me grew, so did his requirement for love and to have his need for attachment be honoured, respected, and nurtured. My son was probably the first person i didn’t fear, the first with whom i had no walls or filters or masks. He was the most amazing, most precious thing i’d ever known, and my love for him shone a stark light on how i was unable to meet some of those needs to the level he seemed to be wanting. Needing.
I began looking to other parents for cues on how to do this. I took a couple of weeks-long parenting courses. I hired money management. I went back to school. I walked away from some troubled friendships and i began purposely building relationships with more functional and successful people.
As someone with my particular set of mental challenges can do, i took this new information that i could learn from modeled behaviour and ran with it. I would zero in on someone who had what i wanted (like 12-step groups had been teaching me), and then i would do what i saw them do, or what they told me they were doing.
Some of it i just couldn’t get the hang of though, like commitment, discipline, and sticktuitiveness. I continued to look for a good therapist or group, but had little success, and couldn’t tolerate any of them for the length of time required to build relationships.
A ridiculously long mania in my late 30s taught me that what was missing, in part, was pacing. I was impatient for results, i was pushing too hard and going too fast. I was caught in a chaotic and humiliating cycle of 3 steps forward and 3 back – 4 if i got mad. I was learning how my brain worked and how to deal with it, and that would have to come before i’d have the cognition and the skills to be able to slow down; to figure out where i wanted to go, and the best route for me to get there.
After half a century i seem to be heading in the right direction.
Of course it has to be playground zones the whole way.
There’s children all over the damn place.