I think all of us have the habit of looking back to childhood for the answer. It’s like a bad cliche that keeps popping up in a good book.
It yanks us out of the present moment to focus a magnifying glass on the moments that imprinted on us, changed us forever.
For me, it was my Dad’s anger and frustration unleashed on his daughters; not for what we did, but for what he failed to do.
I could point to a moment in time, the day he raged at me for pounding a nail sideways. In a hot second, my mind will pick up the scent of that trail and run with it–
That’s why I felt compelled to be a writer, so… I could fill all this white space with words instead of filling the walls with pictures I could never hang to my father’s satisfaction. Damn!
It’s his fault I’m this cursed perfectionist hobbled to the blank page.
It’s his fault I’m afraid to try new things.
I ain’t buying it. Not anymore. And if you’re over the age of 18? Neither should you.
THAT CERTAIN SOMETHING
I think each of us were born with an aptitude for Something.
That Something compels us.
That Something won’t leave us alone no matter how hard we try to ignore it, outrun it or outright abandon it.
Born into a family of devout German Catholics, my father felt a calling to be a priest in the House of God. Instead, he became the father in a household of women.
That dream he had never died. It just went deep inside and gnawed at him from the inside out.
He was a man in pain.
In the Bible, it states: Our fathers sinned, and are no more; It is we who have borne their iniquities. Lamentations 5:7
I know what it feels like to abandon your dreams, to know your path and choose otherwise for
I followed in my father’s footsteps.
I abandoned writing, first subconsciously and then consciously. But like a stray cat I’d made the mistake of feeding, it never went away.
I could feel it waiting on the arm of the sofa, tail twitching, watching me with narrowed eyes as if we were engaged in a battle of wills. “Ignore me all you want. I’m not going anywhere.”
Have it your way.
I’d go about my business and then I’d hear or read something bizarrely magnificent or magnificently bizarre and suddenly Writing was curled up right next to me. “What was that? Verbal shenanigans? That’s sick! Write it down.”
And of course I did because at this stage of my life it’s Memory who took Writing’s one-way-ticket out of town.
ANNOYING? IT MUST BE LOVE
Incidentally, when we were dating my husband did this, too. “You can try to push me away but I’m not going anywhere.”
Annoying, both of them. But that’s how I knew it was love.
True love stays no matter what.
Let’s not twist this into the realm of toxic relationships and co-dependency. If you’ve lived a certain amount of time, you’re bound to experience both. For a while, this is all I knew and getting “hooked” by another was infatuation, unrequited love, angst and addiction all rolled into one like a teenage crush on a rockstar.
Love, true love, sticks around when everyone else walks out. Even the people you thought were your friends.
It holds you when you cry so hard your soul hurts and it feels like your insides are being pulled up through your throat and flowing through your tear ducts one drop at a time.
It holds you while you shake with grief at loss, a loss you can’t imagine life without.
Sometimes that loss is yourself.
When I was struggling to stop drinking, my Dad said something to the family that was repeated to me after I got sober. He said, “We may have to accept we’re going to lose her.”
He said this in a broken voice because his insides were being pulled up through his throat.
In Ireland, this is a practice known as keening.
True love holds you and it hurts because you hurt. Your pain is their pain.
They love you.
All of you.
Even when you can’t hit a fucking nail with a hammer because you’re too damn drunk to even find the hammer, let alone hang a straight picture. With that I’ll stop the metaphor because it’s just an annoying cliche.
Go where love is. Not where you want it to be.
IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S MY CHILDHOOD
My Dad is not the reason I drank myself into oblivion on any given night.
That was all me.
It might have done me some good to realize that whatever kept showing up in the magnifying glass of childhood was something I needed to let go of rather than hold onto.
As soon as humanly possible.
If there’s a reason for looking back, this is it. NOT: “When I was a kid, fill-in-the-blank and that’s why I’m entitled to my miserable existence on Planet Earth.”
Total bullshit excuse.
In the United States, you are considered an adult at 18 in the land of the free.
Everything that happens from the day of your 18th birthday forward is all you, my friend.
Not your parents, not the government, not your socioeconomic status, not your race, gender, religion or creed.
Not even God, who bestowed you with the gift of free will.
Whatever happened that’s defining you today, for fuck’s sake let it go.
And for your sake, it’s best to do this with someone who can help you interpret it.
Because our interpretations were seen through the lenses of a child and today they’re probably not entirely accurate.
PERCEPTION IS NOT REALITY
The other day my niece offered up a spontaneous blurt that surprised me.
I’ve no idea where it came from. We weren’t discussing any form of punishment, not even time out or dessert denial due to the unfortunate development of pre-teen attitude.
In any event, she said, “Grandpa used to hit you and Mom with a belt.”
Now, I have absolutely no recollection of my Dad ever hitting any of us with a belt. Zero. He didn’t need one. His hand had the width and heft of a wooden paddle on my child-sized butt and I said as much.
My sister remembers otherwise. Then she wondered if maybe she saw it in a movie.
Huh. See what I mean?
Accuracy wasn’t something I cared much about when I had something or someone to blame for my failings as an adult.
And keeping blame anchored in my childhood gave me one hell of an excuse to keep tossing ’em back, one day after another.
I drank because I was afraid to own who I was– the light and the darkness.
I was afraid to own the power within me to write, the power within me to feel.
I didn’t want to feel! Fuck that.
I especially didn’t want to feel that there was something wrong with me or there was some sort of not-enoughness about me.
So I was the life of the party drinker WHOO-HOO! and when the party was over, the bubbly, blond cheerleader went home and lived with the devil in the shadows that shifted all around her. And they grew larger with each passing year.
When I numbed myself to my feelings, I numbed my ability to write.
The most terrifying thing I ever did was stop drinking and start feeling and start writing.
That’s my secret.
It’s the greatest one I have and I’m putting myself out here with all of you.
If only one person reads this and decides to own their brilliance because of it?
It was worth it.
You have an aptitude for Something and you know what it is.
Own it. The world is hurting and it needs you.