Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Thousand Faces


I first came across this saying a few years ago. It resonated with me then but today I really understand how true it is for me.

If I recall correctly, it was originally a reference to coming out as gay. In other words, I'd rather take the shit than not be who I really am.

To me it means far more than this.

In an ideal word, I would have loved, and still would, a family that loved me and accepted me. I never had that and I never will. The only way I could have a semblance of one is by me becoming someone else. I say a semblance of one because of course if I have to not be me in order for them to accept me, then it would be a big lie.

I would have to pretend that my childhood didn't happen. I would have to pretend that I had kind and loving parents who always treated me well and taught me self love and not self hate. I would have to pretend that I had two brothers who were loyal and moral. In short I would have to deny myself totally. I have spent almost 50 years in the battle to preserve me and I will not give that up for anything or anyone.

I spent much of my life being whatever I thought those around me wanted. I was different things to different people. I never succeeded. Certainly as regards my family, no matter what, I'd end up battered and hurt. I could never figure it out. I could never be what they wanted me to be nor could I figure out what they wanted me to be. I just knew I wasn't good enough for them. I realised eventually that it wasn't about who I was but about who they were.

Being liked used to be very important. It was my priority. It meant safety to me. If you liked me, I was safe. You wouldn't abuse me. Being liked meant not being killed.

The need to be liked caused me to behave in ways I don't like, that I consider wrong. It caused me to not speak up when I ought to have, to not do what I ought to have and to do what I ought not have. It caused me more and more shame. Inside I knew I was not enough. I had been taught this well. I certainly was not enough for my father and mother or for the Church or any other form of religion I was exposed to. I had to earn love and safety. I had to not be me.

In class once the teacher was going around the room asking each of us what we wanted to be when we grew up. We were all about 14 I think. The answers were varied, anything from a doctor to a teacher to a mechanic. When it came to me, I answered 'I want to be someone else'. The teacher found it easier to assume I was being smart.

Today, I do not want to be anyone else. I am happy with who I am. I no longer pretend. I no longer try and earn anyone's like or love. I have people in my life who love me as I am. They know the real me, not a me I pretend to be. I am not liked or loved because of what I do for them or because I agree with their world view or because I flatter their ego. They like and love ME.

Carly Simon wrote a song (with Jacon Brackman) on her second album, Anticipation, called The Girl You Think You See and this song is about being what you think others want you to be.

Tell me who you long for
In your secret dreams
Go on and tell me who you wish I was
Instead of me

Who cares what I might be for real
Underneath my games
Ill let you chose from a thousand faces
And a thousand names

Even back when I was 15 and first heard this, it made me uncomfortable. I was not fully conscious of why back then and wasn't to be until recently.

This freedom I feel is breathtaking. It is new. It is scary. It is weird. I have to remind myself a lot that I am free now. I am not awaking with dread in my gut daily. Sometimes I do and I just have to tell myself that I am safe, not a child , my family are not around, and there is no school today.

I hated school from 12 onwards. I was bullied on a daily basis. Spat on, punched, kicked, nicknamed 'shit', called, queer and pansy,mocked, and treated like I didn't matter. Not just by pupils but my teachers too who either were just as nasty or ignored my plight. To me, it was all just confirmation of the opinion my parents had of me and an extension of their treatment of me. Like a good boy, I never truanted either. I went and faced it daily. I never ran. I never defended myself. Instead I disassociated and went somewhere else inside me when the bad stuff was happening. I never showed any emotion at all.

I thought for many years that my peers treated me like that and name called because they knew that I was involved sexually with the paedophile teacher. That is how I saw it. I didn't know I was being abused. I also didn't understand that I had no choice. It did not occur to me then, because I had been taught so well, to not do as I was told. If I had said no to this man he might have done what my father did when I was not obedient and I was too sacred of that.

Besides, I wanted to do I was told, to be a good boy. More than anything I wanted to be a good boy. This man treated me well, so I thought. He didn't hit me or shout at me. He spoke nicely and touched me without hurting me. He hugged me, something my own never has never done. He didn't look at me with disgust. He didn't tell me I disgusted him. He didn't tell me how stupid I was, or how useless I was. In fact he treated me the opposite of the way my father treated me. And I fell for it. The fact I would not have dared not do as this man said didn't occur to me. I didn't see the price I was paying. I didn't see the evil in what he was doing. I didn't see how I was being lied to.

I was in my 30's and telling my therapist about one of the few people who had treated me kindly and I was telling him about this man. As I was telling about him, it dawned on me that I had been abused. That this man who I had thought had loved me in fact hated me. In fact didn't care for me at all. I had been conned. It broke my heart. Again.


Iris said...

I hope no one ever breaks your heart again, and I hope you never allow it to happen.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you are YOU again, change being you, and you just ain't you no more, and that would be a sad loss for those of us who care about the real you...
One old indian saying goes..
"Fate and self-help share equally in shaping our destiny"

You have shaped your destiny and altered Fate by your own self help..keep on being you,

higz Cher

marilyn said...

Thank you so much for sharing so much with us.
Once again you have shown your generosity of spirit, your courage, your honesty and such great self-awareness that is both heartening to me, and humbling too.
Those of us who have been the victims of abuse can and do, I am sure draw strength from your words.
I hope that you realise just how profound an effect you have on others who have suffered.
You are very much loved...