When I was eight and my family suddenly left the house we lived in to sleep in a tent at an abandoned sawmill, I had no idea what was going on. To this day, my parents have never told me what happened. What I do know is that we never went back to that house. And our lives became a quest to find a house so we could, in my mother’s words, “Live like normal people.”
We moved onto some land where my father built a cabin and while I no longer had a bedroom, I had the whole outdoors. One of my favorite places was the mossy spot under the rhododendron trees where I would lie on my stomach and read books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In my attempts to negotiate living like she did one hundred years before me, Laura was my guide. I figured if Laura could rely on a wood stove to cook and heat water and stay warm, I could survive it too.
I loved Laura’s writing so much that I thought of her as one of my friends. When boys were rude to me at school, I took solace that Laura would understand. When a rich girl was snotty to me, I knew Laura had borne her own cross with Nellie Oleson. And when I dreamed of growing up, I dreamed of becoming a writer and writing my own memoir of what it was like to live the Laura Ingalls Wilder lifestyle in a modern world one hundred years later. That dream was put to sleep a few times, but it never died.
There were times I questioned if I actually had a story to tell, but then a series of events in my adult life, woke me up to write my childhood story. I’d been told they were not connected–that whatever happened in childhood was water under the bridge and should be forgotten, but let me reassure you–whatever happens in childhood, never stays in childhood.
In my family of origin, some topics were taboo–we never spoke of my dad belting us and we never spoke of our lack of education. The rule went something like this: We didn’t have the right to discuss how hard our lives have been because my parents choose to not allow us a high school education. In other words I had no right to talk about my struggles and pain which were the direct result of their choices because it made them feel bad.
Even among my siblings we barely referenced it. When someone did speak about it, someone else was always quick to defend my parents. I was one of the defenders for twenty-five years after I left home. We were taught it was dishonorable to mention our pain in order to protect them from pain. When someone did point out the issues were we all having of finding jobs, trying to take adult remedial classes and starting life unprepared in the real world, we were trying to survive without the emotional support of family. My siblings and I are the only four people who know what our childhood was like and yet we could barely talk about it with each other.
This lack of open discussion was further exacerbated by the fact that my parents had their golden child and scapegoat back then and even though we all took turns playing these roles, any time siblings feel desperate for their parents love and feel pitted against each other to compete for parental approval, it inhibits the friendships and blocks them from true intimacy. I’ve heard the word intimacy means into-me-see–well because I had to please my parents and not share my heart, it became more and more difficult to be around my family because I couldn’t be myself. Sometimes when I tried, I was scoffed at for being honest.
And being honest with myself was also very hard at times. My husband and I once took a book about integrity to a coffee shop where we planned to follow the book’s instructions and compose a lifeline of our lives. Neither one of us could do it. I felt each year of my life had so many variables and was so chaotic, it made me physically ill to try to piece a timeline together. It didn’t help that I had no hometown or high school class due to constantly moving nearly forty times by the time I was twenty. Even this might be challenged by the narcs because they only count houses, but I count motels and campgrounds and staying with relatives or any place we lived while not having an actual house to go home to. In the coffee shop that day, I literally had to shut up that book and like Oprah says, I tried to eat my pain.
A few years later, when I was forty five, I was at a women’s group at church when someone asked where I went to high school and I said the same thing I’d said for the twenty-five years since I left home–that I was homeschooled–but my parents forgot to buy the books. People always laughed at that answer, but I never laughed with them. It was my compromise from telling the lie my parents told me to tell church members in my teens and I added the last part to be honest because I hate lies.
That day I went home from the meeting and stared into the mirror and screamed. I was sick of pretending that I had a normal life. I was sick of lying that I had done homeschooling. I was sick of pretending I was okay. I was sick of eating all my pain.
That’s when I started my blog. I went to a seminar about that time that brought me profound healing to discover that Jesus said he and the Father are one. This blew me away. I realized most of my life I had been afraid of God and jumping through hoops to win my salvation much like walking on eggshells to keep my parents happy. I discovered God is not like my parents and it changed my life.
When I first wrote stories about my childhood, I used pseudonyms. I did this to protect my parents, but even then my parents were upset that I wrote about my father belting me in church when I was seven or eight. He held the belt in the middle and hit me with both ends with every strike. The result was bruises–some in the shape of the buckle all over my legs. This story represented the beginning of my fears about God because it taught me whoever has the most power can hurt you–if you don’t do what they want. Ironically, this is the message I have received from my controlling parents my entire life. They are the boss and I am to do whatever they ask at any expense to my own integrity and self.
I needed to make sense of this story because it had changed my life, but my parents were angry that I wrote about it and accused me of making it up and lying. I realized they felt shame so I tried to smooth it over and reassured them I still loved them and that this incident was nearly forty years before. Plus if it was untrue, how did they know that story was about me? Finally they had to admit it was true. Then my mom said, “Well if you hadn’t jerked around so much while Daddy was belting you, he wouldn’t have had to use both ends of the belt.” So in her words it was my own fault I was abused.
When I stood up for a child in my family to have access to both parents in a divorce. It involved sharing some emails to show someone’s state of mind. My parents, in an effort to discredit me, wrote a letter to a judge saying I was a religious fanatic and liar and just like to make stuff up to hurt people. Since then they have tried to convince most of my relatives that I am a liar and troublemaker. When I confronted my father, he basically taunted by asking, “What did the letter say? I don’t even remember what we said because we were just trying to discredit you.” There was no apology for his lies. Yet he acts like pitiful victim that I am ruining his life by telling my story. I guess Anne Lamott has some words for this situation;
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
So for the last eight years most of my family members have barely spoken to me. I’ve gotten hate mail a few times and every one of them refer to me telling the truth about my life in this blog. I’ve never stopped caring about my family. I’m the same person I’ve always been who loves them and cares about remembering birthdays and spending time with anyone who wants to meet up, but because I was scapegoated, I’ve stopped coming to family gatherings. Why should I spend the weekend with people who talk about me rather than to me? Or assume the worst about me without asking? Or never apologize for their lying rude behavior?
In the latest hate-mail I received yesterday, one of my sisters called me a monster for writing this memoir (even though she has not read one chapter of it and has no idea what I am writing about). She said “I supposed you will write a bunch of nasty stuff about me in it too.” I cannot even tell you how sad this makes me. This is the same person who I had a good conversation with on her birthday. I have nothing to hide and I have no intentions of writing anything mean about anyone and especially not her, but this just shows how fear and scapegoating and evil surmising by narcissistic people makes people paranoid and destroys relationships. It is super sad, but I can’t convince anyone of anything they don’t wish to know.
So for now, as I walk back through my childhood and I tie up the loose ends of my memoir, I have zero family support because narcissistic people just want me to shut up–
Shut up about being beaten
Shut up about moving every year
Shut up about having no teenage friends
Shut up about having no high school education
Shut up about finding out God is better than they told me
Shut up about finding a way to integrate all the years of my life
Shut up about the healing that comes from choosing a life of integrity
Shut up about the lies my parents told to the judge and relatives
Shut up about my childhood pain
Shut up about growing up with narcissistic parents.
I am not, nor have I ever been an angry person. I am sad person–an empath who not only feels my own pain, but the pain of my parents and siblings. I grieve the fact that most of my family live their lives in fear of speaking about the truth of our lives. It breaks my heart that we cannot be ourselves and speak of our pain without hurting each other. I weep because I feel narcissism is an insidious seed that has grown to over take truth and integrity in this family and I am afraid it will affect the next generations. Narcissism has been jerking our lives and relationships around ever since I can remember–I just didn’t have a name for it back then.
I’ve lost most of my family because of my parents who tell everyone I am a hateful liar, but it’s not true about me now, and it was never true about me then. I am not writing my memoir for my family or to prove anything. I’m simply telling my story. And I can’t keep quiet… anymore.
I’ve discovered a song by MLCK that really speaks to my truth this year:
But no one knows me no one ever will
if I don’t say something, if I just lie still
Would I be that monster, scare them all away
If I let the-em hear what I have to say
I can’t keep quiet, no oh oh oh oh oh oh
I can’t keep quiet, no oh oh oh oh oh oh
A one woman riot, oh oh oh oh oh oh oh
I can’t keep quiet