Friday, September 10, 2021

Never Mind. I'll Do It Myself.

^ This photo reveals everything about my childhood. I both love it and hate it with all my heart. 

It all started out with a fun little game.

A few months ago, we decided to come up with family tag lines. You know, that one special phrase that each person tends to say over and over again; the instant you hear the words, you know who said them, and the tone of voice rings pitch perfect in your ears.

Took us no time at all to come up with a full set of tag lines, and we quickly came round to agreeing that we'd nailed each person perfectly.

Ok, fine (said with a heavy sigh).

ACT-ually (heavy emphasis on the first syllable).

It's just annoying (with a touch of singsong inflection).

Just wait (in response to being asked to do anything at all).

That's exciting (spoken with a touch of mild irony yet nary a trace of sarcasm).

Interestingly, each of us have been amused to admit that our appointed tag lines did truly fit us, and I am more than surprised to discover that I do indeed say my tag line on the daily, with precisely the same cadence and tone:

Never mind. I'll do it myself.

Day after day after day, as I catch myself speaking these words into the universe, I begin to pay attention to the context of the situations, to the emotions behind the words.

Always it is the case that I've asked someone to help me with a small task. Far from simply expressing impatience, I realize that with these words, I am reflecting on my original request and deciding that I am better off doing the thing myself.

And in a flash, I see the problem.

* * * * *

^ Champion self-soother.

I make no secret nor celebrity of the fact that I come from a traumatized childhood. 

For the first decade of my life, my father flagrantly cheated on his marriage, provoked terrible fights with my mother, disappeared for days or even weeks at a time, and mostly ignored his children. During the second half of my childhood, he divorced my mom, moved out of state, and despite lucrative employment on the faculty at MIT, often failed to pay child support. Between the ages of ten and twenty, I saw him maybe five times.

Strangely, little girl me managed all this turmoil with remarkable calm and self-direction. From the tender age of three or four, when I first became aware of the fights, I was determined to show my father that I did not need his help to make something of myself. Even though I was terrified of his outbursts, I positively refused to give him the satisfaction of falling apart. I learned very quickly to internalize my fears - hello, reoccurring dreams about being chased by a towering, angry bear - and keep a cool exterior for all to see. 

Along the way, I learned all too well that no one was going to take care of me - dad was busy cheating, mom was trying to cope with her own trauma, all the other adults in my life were either fooled by my self-sufficiency act or too busy to notice me. I did indeed learn to do things completely on my own.

Never mind. I'll do it myself.  

Once I graduated from college and landed in adult life, I looked my childhood trauma straight in the eyeballs, and dealt with it. I knew none of it was my fault - I'd always known that - and I knew I'd done all that I could to lift my life up and infuse it with dignity and purpose and honor, as much as any 21-year-old possibly can. And I felt pretty darn good about myself.

Years passed. Life moved on. I worked through forgiving my dad for being such a terrible father and all-around self-serving individual. In my thirties, I gave him a chance to show me that he'd changed; he quickly proved that he hadn't. So I forgave him for that too, and made my peace with our fatally flawed relationship. 

Yes, I did. I made my peace with my bad dad and the trauma he'd caused me. I learned to let that familiar pain sit next to me, close enough for me to see it and remember it, but not ever let it become a part of me again. I comforted the little girl who had faced those terrible nights, holding her close and smoothing her hair, assuring her that she'd done everything she could to right the wrongs she'd seen. And I made damn sure that I raised my daughters in a home where parents did not fight.

Decades later, I would have told you that my childhood trauma was healed. My parents are both gone now, and the end of their lives brought me to another, higher plateau of acceptance and forgiveness. They did the best that they could, and that's all anyone can ask of their parents. I hold no ill will.

But then this happened:

Never mind. I'll do it myself.

And I realize I'm still in the soup.

* * * * *

^ Don't tell Dr. Freud, but I still have that teddy bear. 

A bit of Google heavy lifting is required to nail down the exact term, but I know that this brand of extreme self-sufficiency is not necessarily a good thing. 

Avoidant attachment is an attachment style that develops during early childhood. It tends to occur with children who do not experience sensitive responses to their needs or distress. Children with an avoidant attachment style may become very independent, both physically and emotionally.

Never mind. I'll do it myself.

So I accept, once again, that I did indeed suffer childhood trauma, and that traces of that pain are sill with me. 

Will always be with me.

And that's okay. I've worked through my trauma before and I can work through it again. 

I think about ringing my therapist, whom I visit from time to time, to ask her help in this process. Then again, I'm pretty sure I know what her advice would be, so I feel a surge of confidence that I can walk this next leg of my journey on my own. 

But then I laugh, because my solution so perfectly mirrors my problem. 

Never mind. I'll do it myself. 

* * * * *

More stories about how I work things through:

Never Mind. I'll Do It Myself.

My Old Army Buddy

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