Art by messycanvasbumped from the archives
I jump when they say, “Boo!”
Why does my heart race and I feel alarm even when laughter has covered their faces, and I feel no shame in having been gotten?
This fear, where does it come from?
It comes from sitting on the toilet and having the door burst open. A mother, oblivious to the desire for privacy while doing the most base of human activities, focuses on her hair and makeup. Both of us occupied with ourselves.
My brother stayed home sick from school for a day or two, probably close to a Friday. I had the sisterly duty of picking up his books, for homework.
The teacher piled high the books, one on top of one on one, 6, 7, 8 subjects, until there was a heavy stack.
“Are you sure you can take all of these?”
I stared the pile down, evaluating. If I didn’t take them home, I’d most likely be in trouble for not bringing them home, like I’d been told.
“Yeah, I only live a block away.”
I shrugged off my uncertainty, my independence being cultivated by fear.
I carefully piled the books in my favorite, and trendy for once, hot pink duffle bag. 4 on one side, 4 on that, weight distributed evenly, but too heavy for this 14 year-old petite girl to carry.
So I dragged it.
Down the hall and down the stairs. Down the sidewalk and through the alley. And by the time I got home, to the, “oh, honey, you didn’t have to bring all those books home,” my precious bag had a big hole in it, asphalt skidmarks along the bottom, fit only for trash.
Damned if you do and don’t, but the fear of the shouting was strong enough to compel me to make a regretful decision.
Why do I flinch?
Fear of the loudness.
Avoidance of the harsh, jarring voice that made me jump.
I tried to sleep in on Saturday mornings, but more often than not, the quiet was interrupted. Bedroom door flying open, a loud ‘good morning’ song sung enthusiastically, obnoxiously. Lights turned on, and I was forced out of bed.
I tried to sit in my room, to read or listen to music. Alone. Peaceful. The door bursting open – always knockless, always the forceful personality requiring me to be ‘with the family’ in the living room. Never allowed the silence or privacy of my room.
To sit and lose myself in a book, body unconsciously tense, trying to ignore the yelling, the fighting, the anger, rooted in abuse, displaying because of unknown mental illness, hoping the anger didn’t turn on me.
Cringing against the explosion that might come, against the verbal assault that filled our home like the scent of vile potpourri. Always noticeable, even if invisible.
Why do I jump? Flinch?
There used to be a joke we did when we were kids. Standing in front of your face, our thumb and index finger an inch apart, inches from your face. “Are you afraid of a man this small?” Then you clap your hands very quickly, just as close to their face. “You blinked! You’re scared!”
Blinking is instinct when something claps that close. The flinch is natural. But sometimes, if we tried hard, we could will ourselves to stare. To resist the instinct. To not flinch.
But I never could will myself to stop flinching at the anger. At the threat of rage. At the intrusions. This flinching was unnatural, but just as instinctive.
We are shaped by forces we have no control over.
And so now.
If I accidentally bump the broom and watch it clatter to the kitchen floor, I don’t react. I know it’s coming. But if my back is turned and a kid slams a cabinet shut, or the heavy lid on the chest of shoes drops, or a bedroom door slams, and I am unawares? I jump, and yell to make it stop.
I wanted it to stop. I wanted peace and quiet and alone time. I wanted the anger and resentment that permeated the air to evaporate like a morning mist.
Psychology terms it hypervigilance, and I don’t know if that’s me. But I do know I was – I am – always on alert for emotional danger.
I feel those familiar tense, overwhelming, suffocating symptoms. My back hurts and my chest tightens, and sweat forms. My hands shake and my voice wobbles and my eyes leak.
When anger might rear it’s head, I want to run away.
My formative years gave me no place that was private, and every place an opportunity for invasion. So now I seek out privacy. I hide under a pseudonym. I try to keep my opinions quiet, only revealing myself in safe spaces.
When parenting practices are dependant upon power and authority and first time obedience, and it’s twisted by illogic and the disease of a brain confused, there is no option for differences of opinion. No option for refusal.
Who cares if there’s a reason why? A DSM manual and a list of symptoms give an explanation, but not redemption. When the little moments of a life create a personality quirk that affects your days, your kids, how do you deal?
I was taught as a kid to obey your parents in the Lord for this is right, and you will enjoy long life in the land.
But what about teaching kids that not all authority is healthy, even parental? How can teaching kids to stand up for themselves and to know what healthy is, coexist with obedience and authority?
What does healing look like when anger, noise, and invasion make me flinch?
What does life – that abundancy we’re promised – look like, when tears and hiding are all you’ve known?
Click to find all posts in the series.