Saturday, June 23, 2007

Shame

Guilt, shame, self-doubt, worthlessness. These all swim in the same sea – the one I’m fighting against drowning in. Shame is such a hard one, such a strong one. I feel shameful at times for things I didn’t do, things I feel I could have stopped but just didn’t have the strength to do. It always amazes me when people say I’m strong. Nowadays, it’s just this sense that I have to do what is right, not that my actions are in anyway spectacular, but I can’t sit by and not act as often anymore.

It’s summer now here in good old New York City and besides that meaning the mass exodus of the homeless out of shelters and into the parks and doorways, it also means the time of charity walks. I have gotten numerous e-mails from former students and acquaintances to donate for the AIDS walk, the Revlon walk, the American Cancer Society walk against breast cancer. Usually, I’m fine with these. But now that I’m peeling off band-aids to allow these emotional scars to heal in the open air, well, I’m a bit raw. So I open one and suddenly:

It’s seventh grade. I’m close friends with this girl, I’ll call her Jessy since I’ve forgotten her real name. She can’t share my candy because she has diabetes.

“What’s that?” I ask, and she explains, telling harrowing stories of dialysis and needles and, worst of all, not being able to share in my sweet bounty. I put it away and we go back to riding our bikes up and down the street.

Cut to me finding out that there is going to be a Diabetes walk in my hometown. I’m ecstatic. I can help Jessy! The school isn’t doing a group, and neither Jessy nor I are exactly “popular.” We aren’t picked on, but we aren’t in any social groups either, so there is no one else to go with me. However, my teachers are happy to see me doing this. Most of them sponsor me.

When Jessy hears, she can’t believe that I’m doing the walk for her.

I do the walk and proudly wear my shirt to school. I still remember, it’s white with a Red sneaker. Jessy hugs me, and the teachers who sponsored me pay in checks and cash. In all, I raised sixty dollars.

My mother tells me that she’s going to take the money and put it in one check to make it easier. She’ll hold on to it so I don’t lose it. I give it to her; happy she’ll help me in some way. A few months later a teacher pulls me aside and asks if I remembered to send her check in as it wasn’t cashed. I get that sinking in the pit of my stomach.

“What happened to the money?” I ask my mother that night.

“I needed it for lunch,” she replies.

“But, what about the checks? Didn’t you at least send them in?” I ask, confused, hurt.

“No, because then the amount wouldn’t match what’s on your sponsor sheet. I didn’t want them to think you took the money.”

My mind whirls.

“We can send it without the sheet,” I say. “At least send the checks,” I beg as I become even more confused. Even as I write this now I feel the confusion set it, the slight dizziness.

“No honey, I don’t think so,” she replies as I look up at her face. Then, she puts a hand on my shoulder. “I really need lunch sweetie,” she says, her storm-cloud gray eyes boring into mine.

The shame. She didn’t send it in because it would look like I took the money. But I didn’t, she did. However, by denying my mother the money I’m also denying she, who works so hard for my brother and I, something she needs. I couldn’t rectify my knowledge that this is wrong versus her discussion that it was right.

Somehow, I felt the teachers looked at me differently after that. The checks were never cashed. And Jessy, I had let her down. I did the walk, raised the money, and then in the end just felt guilty that my mother had stolen the money for her lunches and refused to even send in the checks. Why did I still trust her? Why did I believe that she would help me? Why did I give her the money to begin with? What was supposed to be a good deed turned into something so awful. I was wracked with guilt and shame.

When I received the e-mails this year about charities, that sense of shame welled up again. It was strong. I couldn’t eat, I felt nauseous, my stomach started turning in on itself. There are a lot of physiological effects involved in PTSD and anxiety. I found the Diabetes Association and felt I should give them not just their 60$ but interest as well. Only, I’m in debt myself now, I can’t afford it. This made me feel even worse. Not only did I take let them down so long ago, but I can’t make up for it now. If I was going to send them money, that would mean not paying another bill.

Here’s the thing – I didn’t take the money. I was doing a good thing. I was becoming aware of ways to help others. I was in 7th grade and trying to support my friend and my mother is the one who turned it into something awful. This is the example of the internal dialogue that makes me feel so fragmented. There is the soul-eating shame and then the realization that it isn’t my burden to bear. Why must I feel responsible for the sins of my mother?

And no, in the end I haven’t sent in a check. My doctor told me I shouldn’t out of shame for a perceived wrong, one I never committed. It’s fine to send one because I want to, but not to fix the past deed of my mother. I need to face that fact – what I did was good, what she did was not. She and I are not the same, nor am I the one to atone for her deeds.

It’s all just so incredibly hard.

4 comments:

heavenabove said...

This "mother" of your is really unbelievable-what person would do such a thing?! Funny that many of us feel shame for things we did not even do or for things forced onto us by others but those others feel no shame for committing such atrocities. You only believed her because you are her daughter and mothers are supposed to help their kids. You have hope even in the worst times.

I am one of the "strong" ones too-sometimes I wonder why I've been chosen to receive all this strength when I may just prefer to have something else for once. Sometimes a person gets tired of being "strong". Life will always be a constant struggle for some of us I guess but at least we can still see the good somehow through all of it.

Shrink Wrapped Scream said...

Oh Gosh, Victorya, what a betrayal. A small snippet of the life you endured, but I'm sure it sums it up well. children do not choose their parents, and the scars they inflict can be deep. You are on a long (at times slow and torturous) path to healing, but you've taken the steps along there, and are breaking free of a legacy you did not create. Hang on in there - your spirit shines through! x

Amel's Realm said...

WOW! I also don't know what to say, but I agree with Shrink.

Your spirit DOES shine through from your posts. So GAMBATTE KUDASAI! One step at a time...after all, a journey of a thousand mile begins with one single step.

Enemy of the Republic said...

I did a post on guilt. It sucks. It is crippling and often unnecessary. And it does teach you not to trust your own family. Good post.