My childhood wasn’t the good kind. I had a medical problem that kept me in intestinal agony every hour I was awake from the time I was a toddler until I was eighteen. I learned to mask my pain from others, and extreme discomfort simply became my normal. Even my siblings will be reading about it here for the first time. Only my late parents and our family doctor knew.
My grandmother was my parents’ babysitter of choice. She was an obese, superstitious, angry woman who hadn’t finished grade school. She believed that any unwanted behavior in a child could be corrected with a sufficient application of mental or physical punishment. Pain was her only childrearing tool. This wasn’t unusual in her day. The problem in my case is that she interpreted my medical problems as behavior problems and she made it her mission to fix me. She used pain to try to fix my pain.
I’ll spare you the details from those years because I wouldn’t wish them to be in your head. But just to size it, she would be in jail if she got caught doing any of it in 2014. And had she survived until my adulthood I would have been tempted to kill her just to keep her away from other children.
I didn’t tell anyone about my experience because I couldn’t make my mouth form the words. And I mean that literally; it is like a frozen mouth experience. I still can’t talk about the details.
I’m not looking for sympathy because everyone has their own ghosts. And I have no reason to believe my ghosts are worse than yours. We live in a fucked-up world. But what might differ is our interpretation of our experiences.
My interpretation of my childhood is that it conferred on me a sort of superpower. Unlike some of you, I know how far I can go without breaking. That means I only have to ask myself one question about any potential path: Do I want it enough to pay the price?
I never worry that I am embarking on a path that will be too hard. I know what hard looks like and I know it didn’t break me even as a kid. That doesn’t mean I’m tough; I am far from it. But I do have the advantage of knowing how far I can bend without breaking. If you don’t have that knowledge, you can never feel safe choosing a path with a lot of bending ahead.
Everyone has ghosts. You can let them haunt you forever or you can make them your bitches. Consider the latter.