You remember it wrong.

An old family friend commented on one of my blogs about a week ago. He said that while he respected my memories of growing up, he didn’t recall the emotional abuse and neglect that I spoke of in my recent blog post. The only memories he could recall were of my being loved and respected by my family. Nor did he believe that my parents were anything but caring and nurturing. Besides being a covert challenge to my authenticity and the credibility of my memories, his comments did get me a little panicked about whether my abuse was “objectively true”. I questioned whether I could really trust my experiences of growing up in my family. The voice that whispers, “You’re fucking insane, man, and everyone else thinks this too” crept in. Could I be wrong? Could all those visits to psychiatric wards (both voluntary and involuntary), the suicide attempts, the confusion, the panic and shame attacks, the alienation and chronic fear of intimacy – could all that have been the result of some chemical imbalance, something unfixable, or inherently arbitrary? Could my parents have been as loving and nurturing as this friend of the family seems to recall?

I decided to delve deeper in to my memories. Perhaps my experiences of my dad insistently berating my mum for every damn thing she did wrong, insulting her intelligence and her dignity were not real memories, or at the very least were not real instances of domestic violence. Perhaps the memory of having to cover my ears to muffle the overwhelming booming sound of my father’s voice as he hurled insults at her and at us in the car trips to Sydney at the age of twelve didn’t really feel as though my fragile boundaries were being shattered. That even though I felt like a trapped rat in a cage with a cat, I couldn’t escape my family? That this feeling felt threatening to my very survival?

If the authenticity of all these experiences were subject to questioning, then maybe other memories were too. Shit, maybe I didn’t really have those thoughts of wanting to kill my dad when I heard him hit my mum in the other room, and maybe I didn’t really feel all that powerless when he would storm in to my room and proceed to hit me and my siblings too. Perhaps being whipped with a belt at the age of five was common practice, along with threats to “Shut up, or I’ll do it again!” Perhaps I developed an identical inner dialogue whenever I feel a similar feeling of distress out of nowhere, and perhaps I am intrinsically hostile towards myself for no apparent reason. 

Still, I played devil’s advocate in my head, wanting to be sure that I’d covered all bases; there was still a chance that my family friend was not ignorant, and rather that he knew what he was talking about. Years of psychotherapy had imbued in me the sense that other people were the experts on my life, and that I couldn’t trust my own crazy mind. Doctor knows best. Such a dangerous mentality to foster. Nevertheless I thought to myself, ‘Even if such memories were that bad, maybe my parents were still nurturing, loving, and caring. After all, they’d provided a roof over my head and kept food in my belly. What was I complaining about? My basic needs were being met, and I wasn’t homeless. My basic needs were met…And besides, I turned out alright, right?

…Well, no, not exactly. I’m not saying that I’m a hopeless case – far from it. The best years are still to come I’m sure. But taking an honest inventory of one’s self means just that. In the last fifteen years I’ve: been hospitalised voluntarily and involuntarily; been called a liar and told to get over it by my father, stepmother, and extended family members; been victimized by the mental health system, by clinicians who told me to swallow pills that made me put on 15-20kgs, and that numbed my feelings of rage and grief – feelings that needed to be out rather than in – and when the pills didn’t work I was told that I was “treatment-resistant.” I’ve been chronically bullied in school systems by teachers and peers, chronically unemployed at times and underemployed all of the time, and I’ve been told that it’s “just depression and anxiety: the common cold of psychology.” Truth is, at face value I look like the guy with it all, though I’ve suffered chronic low self-esteem. Something’s amiss, surely.

Which begs the question again: Am I wrong to call a spade a spade just because someone calls it something else? Were my experiences not as bad as all that? And if they were that bad, perhaps there really is something inherently backward about me to not have “gotten over it” by now? Perhaps I really am treatment resistant? Hmm? Well?

…Well, the answer is Nah. As in Nah, fuck that. I am unequivocally right. I know what I experienced, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to entertain someone else’s denial or ignorance. Been there, done that, and got the t-shirt that says “It Doesn’t Work To Do It That Way.” Part of my recovery is to set internal boundaries, to stop listening to the people who try to instill in me, for their own personal or professional reasons, why I shouldn’t feel a certain way or question whether a certain thing really happened in my past. I see those people now as dead weight on the recovery journey. Because really, what do they know? Were they there? Can they really be so arrogant as to tell me what my reality was? What it is? Do they realise how ridiculous it sounds to tell someone that what they experienced didn’t happen the way that they remember?

I’m not sure. I’m powerless over others, but not over myself. Now, I start to recognise when someone is trying to deny my reality. I put my breaks on it as best I can. Though it’s rarely expressed as such, I am mindful of words people use like “ought to” and “should” to describe my recovery journey. When I share my reality, and when the response is a vague or sharply defined sense of ‘No’, I give myself permission to mobilise, to set standards for who’s worthy of my time and my reflection, and to walk the other way. That’s my right in recovery, because recovery is and always should be self-defined. Case closed.



9 thoughts on “You remember it wrong.

  1. I have had that reaction from a couple of people who have read my book and knew my family. It’s strange that people (old neighbors) cant figure out that part of the whole cycle is that outsiders dont find out. Im so glad You know The truth, Your truth. High-five…go self-care and commitent to your health!

    1. Thanks atribeuntangled. Recovery’s not linear, nor is it crisp and clean, huh? People are gonna have their views on my life, but at the end of the day, they’re *their* views, and it’s *my* life. Appreciate the support – keep up the good work with your blog 🙂

  2. Not denial, Daniel: but surprise (if not shock) at your comments because I didn’t observe the things you said. That doesn’t mean your recollections are untrue: just that I wasn’t privy to them. Nothing more, nothing less. And despite what you may think, you are loved.

    I first met you in New Zealand wen you are about 12 or 13 and I instantly knew something was amiss: that you were deeply unhappy. My reaction was that I wanted to gather you not my arms and tell you that no matter what, things would get better. Of course, social constraints (not to mention the law) made that impossible.

    I also know that people have bad experiences, but as a child one is almost never responsible for them. I don’t know anyone that has had a perfect upbringing, but I will share one insight I had with regards to my own parents. As soon as I realised (as an adult) that they were just as flawed and fallible as I was, I also realised how deeply I loved both of them. I chose to remember the good things, and accept the bad, vowing never to repeat their mistakes. I hope you have that epiphany, because it is truly liberating.

    Just because two people have different recollections does not mean that there is only one truth.

    1. Nevertheless, Adamm, the comments felt dismissive and invalidating. Part of my family disease is about placing far too much emphasis and belief on “what it looks like rather than what it is.” I had a real reaction to those comments, as you might have guessed. If a woman has escaped a domestic violence relationship, begins sharing of her pain and despair and of the damage it’s caused to all aspects of her life, would you then ask her to pause and give thought to the poor man who beat her for many years? Say, “it wasn’t all bad though, was it? I’m sure he loved you deeply in spite of his actions. I bet he had a really troubled upbringing.” Such comments are not untrue, they’re merely unhelpful, misguided, speak perhaps of an ulterior motive, and are insensitive. Well-intentioned, sure.

      But, that’s the nature of blogging. You’re privy to everyone’s views even if you didn’t ask for them. I’m just glad I’m not as terrified as I once was to speak my own truth, which I will continue to do.

      Finally, regarding forgiveness. Alice Miller, a Child Advocate, says in her book “The Body Never Lies” that forgiving our parents for their crimes should not be the end goal of recovery. Why? Because then the end goal is forgiveness, and not healing. I find it hard to agree with her because it’s hardline, but I do nevertheless because it serves me. Too often, she says, forgiveness happens at the expense of healing. I am content, and feeling liberated enough in my healing journey now, to not feel the need to forgive. In this way I don’t agree with your views. I feel quite liberated in my anger, which has been stifled by other people’s violence and, worse still at times, by their ignorance. Such is the recipe for crazy-making, and the only real victim in that kitchen in the past has been me. People take far too much liberty with their views without pause for their consequences. I’m finding my peace in the healthy release of my rage, not in stifling it by looking to forgive. Writing is one way I release this energy.

      To be clear: Why honour our parents when they did not honour us, nor show any inkling that they intend to do so in the future?

    1. Of course it’s never simple, Andrew. I have a cousin whom I have very fond memories of spending time with. One particular memory involved us playing mini-golf with his dad – my uncle. When my uncle got angry, he hit my cousin’s leg (in public, which made him cry) with his putting stick. At the time we all thought it was funny; our cousin was so mischievous and unpredictable, being hit with a putting stick was perhaps excessive, but not outside the realms of comments such as “Well, he probably deserved it if that’s the response he got.” On looking back on this in my own recovery, I take a different view. It didn’t happen to me, but there is such a thing as vicarious trauma – being traumatised by witnessing someone else’s trauma.

      My family’s steeped in this type of violence. It’s not normal, it’s not OK. But it is common practice. It’s child abuse, and it’s memories like this that have, in part, caused an over-developed fear response to every day situations in my life. I’ve spent copious amounts of money on therapy because of this type of socially acceptable, normalised abuse. If I knew I wouldn’t be laughed out of the courtroom, perhaps I would be inclined to seek compensation, or remuneration, for the emotional, mental, spiritual and physical distress it has caused me, not to mention the money it’s cost to my health and to the realisation of my potential.

      Of course, it affects everyone differently. This is why it’s not as simple as it looks.

      1. In all honesty, that’s as far as my father has ever gone. It’s something he’s always apologised for, but it never really affected me as it did him.

        That doesn’t discount the trauma it has caused you, but I guess we just deconstruct things differently.

        Your pain is real and deeply ingrained, but all I can offer you is my love and support.

        I’ve always considered you a brother, so if you need a (non-judgemental) ear or somewhere to stay, I got you bro. Anytime.

        I miss you. Much love.

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