I remember being a young child and always seemed to be messy, cluttered, no matter how hard I tried to stay organized.
Enter ADD diagnosis many years later.
This clutter inevitably led to me stuffing my belongings in the back corner of my narrow, 1950’s wall closet. Clothes, teddy-bears, papers, and trinkets piled higher and higher until I could no longer see the top. Enshrouded by my hanging clothes, this was my secret place I would escape when she would start.
My Mom suffers from a medical condition called Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), which is often confused with Bi-Polar Disorder. Instead of having manic episodes of highs and lows that last days or weeks, people with BPD have a difficult time regulating their day-to-day emotions and can therefore seemingly “blow-up” with no notice. They can also come down just as quickly.
But when Mom was mad, her episodes never seemed quick.
They would last for HOURS. Literal hours. Screaming at the top of her lungs until she foamed at the mouth. Saying words no parent should utter to their child such as “I wish you were never born,” “You are a BITCH,” “You are worthless.” An boy did I believe it.
The smallest things would set her off. Once I left a blow-dryer out on the counter. Another time it was a sock on the living room floor. After tip-toeing around the house trying to clean everything ‘just-so’, always on the lookout for what might make mom mad and doing my best as a young child to prevent the guaranteed episodes.
Sometimes it was my tone, or my failure to respond the right way if my ADD mind dared day-dream for a moment. Sometimes it was my inability to understand her adult issues and respond as the correct form of a savior. Sometimes it was for no reason at all.
In those times, when I knew the screams were coming, I would listen for a while, try not to cry, think happy thoughts so the words wouldn’t hurt so bad, beg and plead for it to stop by apologizing and promising to be better, even if I didn’t feel I had done anything wrong, and when she would keep on, and I couldn’t stop from letting the hateful words and piercing screams effect me – I would run and hide in my closet.
She typically let me stay in there, mainly because she couldn’t reach me behind all of the clothes. And partly, I think, because she didn’t really care if she was yelling at someone or not, she just needed to scream out her emotions (my Dad worked long weeks offshore, and there were no other siblings in the house).
I didn’t have the safe environment of having my own emotional needs met as a child, because hers were so sensitive, so I learned how to self-sooth and would nurture myself in that closet from a very young age.
Pushing the hanging clothes back I would scurry on top of my pile and close myself in darkness before she could pull me back out. And then I would finally cry, and allow myself to be hurt for the stolen chance at a childhood and for not being able to escape. I would shake and breathe heavily, to a certain rhythm I developed that felt scary and calming at the same time. I later learned that I was self-soothing, trying to escape to an alternate reality where I wasn’t being abused and calm the nerves that were firing in my young body. This was an animalistic approach at bringing equilibrium back to my psyche, attempting to nurture with rhythmic sounds and sensations.
And the truth is, that a child should never be put in a situation by a care-giver to where this is necessary, let alone on a regular basis (multiple times per week for many years).
It wasn’t until much later that I even comprehended that this type of behavior and treatment was abnormal, and several more years before I uncovered the magnitude of damage it had done that I have tried to mend with better tools.
So now, as an adult, I sometimes find myself running to closets I have built and hiding from no real threat, only those that are perceived. Because we all need a safe space to feel fear and examine what our hearts need. It is only when we have done the hard work of self-growth and becoming the parents we never had that we can then learn the best way and time to step outside of the closet and enter back into the light of day.