Have you ever heard a repetitive horn blasting in the distance, indicating someone’s car alarm is going off?
Have you ever been compelled to see if something’s actually wrong, or do you just assume the owner knows what’s up and is handling it?
Now, have you ever made your way to your car to find out that annoying alarm was coming from your own vehicle?
That’s how I feel about the memories from my past. They don’t seem so messed up until I hear myself saying them aloud to someone else. They are generally untethered from the moorings of my day-to-day experience and are instead sounds that echo across the parking lot of my mind. They don’t define the life I lead anymore, but I believe those events are what shaped who I am and I’m not ashamed (or at least I’m working on that shame). Knowing is far better than not knowing. I’ve realized that the horn that’s blasting is my own, and it’s ok.
Knowing, reflecting, feeling, assessing, picking apart, re-examining, grounding, and forgiving myself and others has been the core set of exercises in my recovery, allowing me to talk about it fairly effortlessly. But seeing my friend’s shocked face, eyes squeezed shut and hearing his emphysema-esque laugh, equal parts humor and horror, reminds me that not everyone has endured what I have. And those who have can’t always laugh about it.
These memories have lost their jagged edges. They feel more like dusty artifacts that are mildly valuable to keep around in case The Antiques Roadshow comes to town. They hold a place in the museum of my mind but take up space that could be used for more modern inventions. But even if I wanted to toss them out to make room, I couldn’t. They serve the purpose of helping me to recognize non-compassionate thoughts I have about myself, and highly dysfunctional behaviors in myself and others.
My mother’s manipulation, for example, would be brilliant if it wasn’t so obvious. This obviousness is what makes it so fist-shaking maddening; it’s right there in our faces yet we feel powerless to resist because the backlash is so incredibly unpleasant. She’s then misguidedly emboldened by our acquiescence and for all of us, the muscles remember. And we rinse and repeat and repeat again.
I see it and dismiss it without giving it credence. But my dad doesn’t have the skill set I’ve refined through recovery and he suffers the most. I can almost see his self-worth leaking through his pores. It’s evident in his eyes; the sad, dull green that used to be clear and confident. He has given up his will at the expense of his soul. “I’m too old to make a change,” he once told me when I asked why he stays with her, “and she’s your mother and I love her.” It was then that I realized that no matter how mutually destructive the dynamic, they will hold onto each other until the bitter end. And it will be bitter. She’s the one drowning but she’ll take him under the harder he tries to save her. And he will try like hell to save her to his own detriment.
For my mom and dad, it’s a perpetual loop of pain. It’s the monotonous alarm on an abandoned car and no tow truck is coming to haul it away. But that’s not a problem I can solve any more than I can save two drowning people.