This is the pain I lay myself open to feeling when I communicate without trying to charm or to win others’ love, and refrain from forcing them to accept my love.
Sometimes connecting with raw honesty and without any agenda succeeds, I’ll concede that. The times it has worked felt like a flower opening for the first time, smiling at the sun. As I drank in those golden rays of light, my tears fell like soft rain on parched ground and my heart burst open like a thousand-armed buddha budding another limb. But when it doesn’t succeed, and I am not heard, and not understood, the pain of feeling unworthy of love is immense. A tidal wave of old emotions racing to the shore, in which I feel exposed, vulnerable and violated – cut to my core. I experience it as a betrayal of trust, which is the most delicate flower I possess. Just two quiet words have brought me to this place of complete loss, and a fierce determination to annihilate self. And decimate anyone who stands in my way.
In this place, I am reacquainting myself with the part of me that won’t eat. The part of me that will enthusiastically starve and die. The part that delights in the feeling of destroying myself – slowly. I am catapulted back in time to the age of sixteen, and am looking at a panorama of locks on new kitchen cupboards. I always associated those locks with my father and control, and believed my anorexia was a symptom of the lack of control I had over my life and the strict limits imposed upon my self-determination. Although my activities were often unsupervised, my self-expression was heavily monitored and laden with criticism, disapproval and withholding unless I was a perfect reflection of my father’s ideal self. But two words invite me to re-visit the denial of nutrition and nurture from a different place, and now I can perceive my mother in view. I look at the kitchen and see a padlock on the fridge. I associate father with padlocks; he was always installing locks to keep strangers out. Father and padlocks go together like crackers and dip.
I keep scanning the kitchen until I find something new. Something my mind has not allowed into consciousness before now. While the cupboard locks are very discreet – barely noticeable – the padlock is vulgar and overt, the heavy chain is slung low across the fridge-freezer door handles like a holster on the hips. My focus is drawn to the cupboard key that hangs from a lock when my mother returns from work. The key is distinctive – long, narrow and quite delicate. Like a tatting needle or some other tool for handicraft. It suddenly dawns upon me that my mother orchestrated my prohibition from the kitchen; my father was a mere instrument hanging limply from her elaborate design. I can’t help but laughingly appreciate the imagery produced by my unconscious mind – mother weaving a doily of deception and father a gun-toting gangster armed with blanks. Father is the lock and mother is the key.
The simple truth is that I am only now discovering that my stuff was fuelled by both my mother and father, often simultaneously. I am only now able to comprehend that the devastating impact of their actions depended upon both being in play. And only now understanding that I chose two perfect adversaries for my illusions.
I look towards the kitchen again and I see both my parents in clear sight, set against a backdrop of rolling hills. My mother stands beside my father; both are formidable, both are surveying their realm of power. As I move towards them, I see myself in the scene as well. But not standing in their shadows’ cast as I thought; I am standing between them and the sun.
Power was my currency before it became my family’s form of exchange. As a young child I felt the powerlessness of being unable to make my parents happy. I took on the burden of their stuff but I made no difference. I chose to be responsible for their feelings and take the blame for my mother’s dissatisfaction with life and feel my father’s pain of being unworthy. But nothing changed. Nothing got better. No-one became happy. I refused to acknowledge my failure or accept that I could not change what my parents had already chosen as their experience. I was determined that my will was greater than the force of Universal Will. Thus I chose to experience my world through the lens of power, and my life became a quest for it.
In the paradigm of power, the choice is annihilation or domination. Rather than continually feel the pain of my own powerlessness, I became angry and made my father wrong. He was the one I wanted and he was the one who withheld. I insisted he was responsible for delivering me my experience of love. And when I couldn’t get his love, I demanded acceptance and safety. Presented with a choice between a parent who blamed the world for her misfortune and a parent who was indifferent to the world, I chose indifference over suffering. But the more I demanded from him, the greater the gift of the opposite I received. I developed all kinds of strategies to get what I desired, but my father’s indifference masked a deep wound equal to my mother’s, and punishment, judgement and criticism were his defence. But his pride kept him from despising me, so he was more easily manipulated than my mother. I didn’t want love from her; the price was too high, and her promises rarely kept. So I stopped wanting when it was apparent she couldn’t give. And that I learned early, before there were words.