When I’m told about things that happened in my life as I grew up, I’m shocked. I remember the fun, happy times, but the deeper, darker stuff seems to have been filed far away, only to be forgotten. Yet, when I’m reminded of hard times, the horrible memories come back in a flash. It’s almost like an explosion in my head with a blinding flash of light… and I’m right back to the pain that shaped my childhood.
I wasn’t my Dad’s fault. I don’t condone his behavior, but I know that he survived a living hell. He came up during World War II in Germany. Life was hard and even as a child, he stole to eat. He plundered dead bodies to find things that he could sell. He had boils all over his body, most likely from vitamin deficiencies. He was abandoned by his mother every time the bombers brought destruction to Hamburg while she went to make sure her parents were alive and safe. His own father was killed in a train wreck in his teens, leaving him without the role model that all young men desperately want and need. Examples like these are just the tip of the iceberg and I’m sure many of his secrets lie buried beneath the misery that he found in his own youth.
I’m not sure if he was ill equipped to be a parent, was incapable of expressing his love, or was told the same sort of lies about himself that he told me, but it was common to hear that I was fat, ugly, stupid and would never amount to much. He was physically abusive as well, but I always preferred getting a beating over his hurtful words. The bruises from his hand went away a lot faster than the scars that his unkind words left. Even today, those same words linger in the place that I’ve tried to forget for so long. Once in a while, they slowly seep into my mind and I have to prove to myself that they’re just not true. In actuality, I’m in pretty good shape, a decent-looking guy, am very intelligent, and I can do just about anything that I set my mind to.
For many years, I used drugs to forget the memories that bounced around in my head. Substances helped me to let go of yesterday and to find the idea of tomorrow just a little more bearable. They also made me feel better about myself, even if it was only for a short period of time. When the smoke rolled out of my mouth, I was alright with who Mark was… or I just stopped caring anymore. I felt like I was accepted and had friends… or I no longer felt at all and that was fine with me, too. Over a period of time, the coping mechanism that I had found in dope pushed me further and further away from others and led to the lowest self-esteem that I’ve ever had. The day finally came that I couldn’t live with or without drugs and I wished for death more than once. I was a coward, always begging for the end to come painlessly with one last hit.
When I stopped using, the work of discovering who I was and what I stood for began. I admit that still suffer from low self-esteem, but I see where a lot of it comes from. Occasionally, I still say “yes” when I mean “no,” although I am getting better at setting boundaries. I ask for respect of others instead of letting them walk over me. From time-to-time, I say “sorry,” even when I’m not at fault. I have found myself willing to accept peace at any price. I hate drama and avoid conflict like the plague. I’m glad that I am able to look back and see when I’m my own enemy, especially when I am a prisoner in my own mind. Working on these self-defeating habits took a lot of work and my growth was only motivated by pain and failure. Being willing to see them for what they are and to try to address them took me many years and a life-changing relapse. It’s taken a lot of practice to find relief from the past. I couldn’t do it on my own and I sought help in a twelve-step fellowship which has helped me to realize that I cannot find happiness through anyone’s thoughts, feelings and actions but only in my own.
I’m the first to admit that I’m a work in progress. I am grateful to have friends that love me for who I am, because they know me well enough to see through my walls and beyond the masks I still put on. As time goes by, I care less and less about what others think. Today, I’m starting to love myself. Just for today, I choose to find freedom in being me, just as I am.