I think I was 8 years old the first time I wanted to kill myself. I was angry and frustrated and throwing a temper tantrum. My sister had been picking on me by making faces or some gesture at me that she knew would be hurtful and set me off. Often, she did things like this right in front of the rest of the family, which consisted of just my Mom, Dad, and brother. Yet she was clever enough to do it ways that no one would see her but me.
As usual, when I started crying or telling my sister to cut it out, my Mom asked what was the matter with me? I told her my sister was picking on me, but as always my sister lied and said she wasn’t doing anything. There were dozens of times she would torment me right at the dinner table and no one else would see.
Again, like hundreds of times before at this point in my life, my mother believed my sister and I was made to look like nothing more than a troubled insignificant brat that was only looking for attention.
My Breaking Point
I had finally reached a point by 8 years old where I felt that if someone was not going to protect me from my sister then I’d rather be dead. I flipped. I literally could not bear the injustice of it all anymore.
I ran to my room crying and started kicking the wall and banging my head on the wall wishing I was dead. Then, my foot went through the wall.
I had never been so afraid in my life. I came out of my room and said, “I hope you’re happy. You have a reason to hate me and kill me now. I just kicked a hole in the wall.”
I have often wondered how much adrenaline is required to provide an 8 year old child the strength and power to kick a hole in a wall while bare foot. I thought my Mom would punish me, but instead she was more concerned about keeping me calm. She assured me it was okay.
What I Learned As a Child
This was the typical pattern of my childhood since as far back as I can remember – somewhere around 3 or 4 years of age. I cried and threw temper tantrums many times because I was being bullied or tormented in some way by my sister and was known as a spoiled brat because of it.
In reality, my emotional needs were being completely neglected and “spoiled” was the last word in the world that accurately described me. Unless of course you used the word to describe something that was going bad or rotting. Then it would have been rather fitting. At least, that’s how I often felt — like I was rotting away. By age nine I never wanted to do anything while at home except lock myself in my bedroom and listen to music.
From all this chronic abuse I learned that what I said didn’t matter. No one believed me anyway. I learned that what I felt was insignificant. I learned that those who love and care for you abuse you. I learned that asking for help would result in all of my pain and abuse being blamed on me. I learned I was helpless.
Everything I learned as a child about me was a lie. Everything I learned made it nearly impossible for me to reach my full potential in life unless somehow, some day, I reconciled with all of this constant abuse.
A very wise therapist once said to me, “Laura, it’s nothing short of a miracle that you’ve been able to come this far.” She went on to explain that psychologists were now realizing that chronic emotional abuse can be far more damaging than physical abuse. She said that as children we learn how to have relationships first and foremost from our family members. She explained the massive conflicting signals I was getting since the people who I depended on to meet my physical needs such as food, clothing, and shelter were also allowing me to be continually subjected to emotional abuse.
This was the first time in my life (around age 32) I started realizing that it was hard for me to make friends unless it was at a bar. I didn’t have any friends that I spent any time with outside of the bar. I was a DJ at a couple of different bars for many years, so I never really thought it unusual that I didn’t have any other friends.
Now, I was seriously questioning why I knew no one who spent time with me any other way. The same therapist simply said, “Making friends is a skill that we learn as children. You probably don’t know how to make friends because you never learned.”
Oddly, the things this therapist said to me often felt hurtful but made complete sense at the same time. It was as if my “real” self understood the truthfulness of her words, but my ego couldn’t confront the pain that obviously accompanied such truths. She is by far the best therapist I ever had. When I voluntarily left her care I felt like I was on top of the world. But the truth was that my journey to recovery was just getting started.