After a tumultuous childhood filled with abuse and neglect, Nathan C. Daniels reflects on how some of the pain he experienced may not have been inflicted intentionally.
I’ve written a lot about my experience with abuse… The sexual and physical versions I suffered at the hands of my sister, and the verbal assaults and emasculation delivered by my father. Now, I’m going to suggest you can abuse without intent, and ignorance might be as damaging as malice. TMI, neglect, and social isolation added to my complicated issues and crippled my ability to fit in with the rest of the world.
Everyone in my family abused me, including myself. It was obvious when my father and sister were doing it… easy to see it for what it was. That’s not the case with my mother. I hate admitting this, and it’s taken me a lifetime to do so, but my mom also abused me. I know it was unintentional. She struggled with many issues of her own, so I can easily understand and forgive the mistakes… but I had to acknowledge them first.
Here, I want to outline three, less obvious, ways my mother abused me and further programmed me for a lifetime of inner-turmoil.
TMI (Too Much Information)
TMI wasn’t part of our dialogue when I was little, but my mom definitely shared too much information with me. She’s at the heart of all my warmest childhood memories. At the same time, she made sure I knew every possible danger in the world. My mom told me about every threat my father issued and every horrifying scenario she ever imagined.
“He told me he’ll track us down and kill us if we ever leave, and I know he’ll do it too! I told you how he shot that poor guy with that stupid crossbow of his… and, the mouse! Oh… his eyes, Nathan!” She shut her own eyes, biting her lower lip, and took a deep breath. “He’ll kill you too… Your father’s capable of anything. He already has a gun! You need to know that.”
Sometimes she’d come to me crying, and shaking, in the middle of the night. I might be seven or eight years old. She’d barricade us in the room, sliding my bed and bureau in front of my bedroom door.
“I really thought your father was going to kill me that time, Nathan.” She’d gasp… scared, and moving furniture. “He said how bad he wanted to strangle me… and he had that look again!”
She shivered and climbed into bed, scaring the shit out of me with her shaky words and nervous actions. These whispered warnings through trembling lips, introduced me to constant dread. Meanwhile, mom’s obsession with supernatural topics, and late night horror flicks enhanced my nightmares.
We watched a lot of monster movies, and we watched some that hit a little closer to home too—scary men who went crazy and slaughtered their families. Images from Amityville Horror and Silent Rage laced my serrated dreams with graphic crime scenes… daddies with shotguns or axes. By the time I hit the first grade, I could quote more Stephen King than Dr. Seuss, and I pictured my own death, at the hands of my father, a thousand different ways.
My mother should have gotten outside help and support, immediately after finding out my sister molested me for the better part of a year, but she failed to do so. Instead, she taught me to distract myself from painful things, hide from my own discomfort, and do my best to forget things like that happened.
I tried that approach for thirty years, and almost died several times in the process.
This neglect was not intentional. I believe it was the result of honest naivety, and my mother’s own social handicaps and psychological disorders. I think she was genuinely incapable, on several levels, to get either one of us the help we needed. She did her best for me, I know that, but it wasn’t enough.
I wish my bed-wetting, progressive insomnia, and stress-related ulcer (In the second grade) motivated her to break through her comfort zone or open her eyes to the severity of my problems. I wish my random fits of seemingly unprovoked tears, panic, and a growing collection of scars, inspired her to see if there was more she could do.
For a year after my parents divorced, and another year later, after my mom discovered she had breast cancer, she removed me from school and the few friends I had. On both occasions, we traveled to the other side of the country to live with my grandmother in Texas. I was going through puberty… that confusing journey through adolescence, and I was destined to travel that road without the benefit of friends, or any other normal relationships.
“I think a lot of my social awkwardness has roots in that dusty little town. My mom did her best to minimize the obvious damage happening to my psyche. I love her for it, but it was an impossible situation. Puberty and social isolation just do not mix well, and I couldn’t even ride my skateboard because there wasn’t any fucking pavement.”—Excerpt from Surviving the Fourth Cycle
I was damaged already, from a lifetime of trauma, and in Texas, I became an odd young man, whose hobby was enduring pain. Every night, I ritualistically dropped barbell plates on myself, punched myself in the face, cut myself, and hit myself in the groin! I even developed a temporary obsession with auto-fellatio. I spent hours, stretching my body in the quiet of the night… until months later I accomplished my sad goal.
The first time we lived there, my mom showed some concern with my behavior, but she didn’t know the extent of it, and still didn’t act. The next time we moved there, she was dying, and I had run out of childhood to save. I continued my lonely life of social isolation, rituals, and abnormal behavior… paving the way for severe Social Anxiety Disorder.
I attended one more year of school before my mother passed away. My scars and muscles made me a popular oddity but, socially inept, I avoided the normal dating, sports, dances, and parties that filled my classmate’s schedules. I did well academically, spending most of my spare time in the local library, but I couldn’t make human connections, and I felt like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. As I do today.
I am Tarzan
I grew up in a hostile jungle. I learned how to maintain constant vigilance throughout the night and hide from predators. I had a father, who saw me as, just another male to threaten and bully. I had a sister, who perverted our relationship, and taught me shame and secrecy. My mom kept me fed and groomed, made me smile, and loved me. She made me feel safe with her protective embrace, but didn’t nurture my ability to feel safe without it.
My mom abused me with TMI, neglect, and social isolation. Then, she left me alone in the world, with the social skills of a boy raised by wild animals. I learned many lessons from my family, but how to live amongst humans wasn’t one of them.
Photo credit: woodleywonderworks on Flickr.