This is not a phrase I get to say often. More often than not, I fail at my mission, fall short, or screw it up somehow. (What’s that? Overly negative self talk? Yes. I’m aware of it. Let’s not dwell.)
But Monday I did not fail! Monday I had counseling and walked in and brought up all three topics! My counselor was talking to me briefly about some big news she had and then asked if I had anything I’d like to talk about. Actually, three things, I said.
The look of shock on her face was unmistakable. In almost eight months of counseling, I have only ever walked in with a topic on my mind once (and regretted that decision pretty quickly). I think if there had been a bottle of champagne, she may have broken it open, but as it were, she only mentioned the fact that this date needs to be recorded for all posterity.
I started with the easiest of the three points – my need/desire to punish myself. This easily segued into my childhood memory of begging God to punish me. We talked briefly about shame, about the role of the enemy, and how a child’s mind works. It had not occurred to me up to this point that young children are incredibly self-centered, so anything that goes wrong around them, they automatically take on as their fault.
I have very few memories of my home life from ages four to eight (but plenty of memories of school, curiously). I do know, however, that my older brother (eight years my senior) ran away from home when he was 16. So we are working around the same time frame, to be sure. Is it possible that there were huge fights, dramatic encounters and physical violence that I blamed myself for? Maybe.
We paused after considering this and my counselor asked me what I was thinking and feeling.
It makes a lot of logical sense, I say. But even if that’s the case, and I took blame that didn’t belong to me, I still screwed up. Nobody did that to me.
(This is a common refrain in my counseling: I screwed up. I fucked up. Failure. Crazy. Shame shame shame shame shame.)
You were a child, she reminds me. These sorts of things are going to happen in every child’s life. It is a parent’s job to be attuned to their child’s emotional state, to have the kind of open, trusting relationship with their kid that they can discuss these things and help the child understand that it’s not their fault.
My parents – who were known to withhold meals if my room wasn’t clean, threaten to lock up the refrigerator so I wouldn’t get fat, and publicly demean my awkward teenage body – were not (and are not) known for being particularly attuned to their children’s emotional states and the potential damage that could be occurring through simple actions. But I digress.
She gives me a homework assignment: spend some time with my parents and bring up the topic of my brother. Why did he leave? What happened before he left? Even if I only get their side of the story (though I could – gasp! – call my brother and ask him, too!), it might be enough to jog some memories. (Two days later, I am still no closer to getting this done.)
Okay, that was two. What was the third thing? she asks.
I sigh heavily, dreading the topic of my somewhat psychotic fantasies. I’m just becoming increasingly aware of how much I hate myself, I say. Like last week, when I talked about wanting to rip my head off and slam it against the wall…
There is the look. The look that last week I mistook to mean “crazycrazycrazy.” It is a look of sadness, pain, recognition. A look that says she cares. It is brief, but raw and real and I find myself looking away, not wanting to acknowledge that my words, actions, thoughts affect others.
I admit that last week’s outburst was a tame version, that my real thoughts are far more violent, the sort of thing of horror films and serial killers. She encourages me to discuss them in detail, bring them into the light, but I can’t. I talk for a few minutes, rationalizing why I shouldn’t have to tell her or anyone else. But shame hangs heavy over the conversation and we both know the real reason I don’t say anything.
She reroutes conversation, asks where God is in all this. This is not an easy question – my time with God has been more consistent lately, but angry and sad and very moody. The self-hatred always loops back to being angry at God. After all, I reason, HE made me this way. He screwed up. I hate me and I hate him for making me so fucked up. My counselor stops, looks me in the eye, and repeats what is becoming a refrain on her end.
God didn’t screw up when He made you, Jessica.
I look away. I remain unconvinced.