Week 12, by Tammi Scott
“The simplest and hardest thing to do each day is to be here- fully, completely, without turning away.” This first sentence of The Monkey and the River perfectly captures my struggle to show up and be present for as long as I can remember. It started out as a survival mechanism for a toddler who was conditioned, violently at times, to be someone other than the curious, emotional, rambunctious, loving escape artist that she was. Back then children were to be seen and not heard or they were harshly admonished or punished. I also grew up in a household where I didn’t know from one day to the next what would get me in trouble, what would get me hit, slapped, punched or knocked into a wall.
The lesson I learned from that was I was unacceptable. So I learned to close in on myself as much as possible. I watched others and became a mimic and a chameleon. I didn’t have to or want to be anywhere as myself but I’d become anyone you wanted, always fearful of being abandoned or abused, or both. I was the class clown, making everyone laugh. I was the good, obedient best friend who agreed with everything and did as I was told. I was the one going along with the crowd so I could be a part of.
When there was no one to imitate I would lose myself in books and television, hiding from myself and life. This worked for a surprising amount of time as children will do anything to survive; to go along to get along. Until I hit puberty and impending transition to junior high school. Suddenly my world was changing from what I knew in elementary school and I was terrified. Being a mimic or burying my nose in a book could not save me from the realities of growing up at this stage. The things I was afraid of back then seem so silly now, but my fears and the feeling I had no one to turn to caused me to make some deeply dysfunctional choices; which again looking back were simply survival mechanisms.
The first and most heinous dysfunctional choice was to try and kill myself at the age of 11. No one found out because the pills I took ended up making me vomit repeatedly. Enough so that my mom noticed and took me to the emergency room. I was too terrified to tell them what I’d done so the doctor chalked it up to the stomach flu and I was given a flu shot, in my ass. The next choice I made was to start using drugs, while still 11 years old. Since my mother had it in the house, I had regular access to them. That was the dysfunctional golden ticket that helped me get through life! I drank and used drugs for the next eighteen years as I continued to glom onto whatever friend, group of friends, boyfriend or man would have me.
I used other people to give me a role to play for them. This was how I observed life, thinking I was “on the inside” when I was simply “misled into a prison of false living, where my insights might be accurate but counterfeit because I have refused to enter the life I was watching”. I can see that so clearly now because you see, today is the eve of my 25th sober anniversary. November 18th, 1996 was the first day of my second, and so far, final attempt to get clean and sober from drugs and alcohol. It was the day where I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.
The day where I didn’t know it yet, but when I began the journey of being here, without turning away to something destructive; without turning inward to hide. Removing my dependence on drugs, alcohol and other people was the start of understanding how much I’d been conditioned to abandon myself over and over again.
My sober journey has been one of the most important endeavors of my life. It’s right up there with the birthing, raising and loving of my three children, who are now adults. I think maybe because I had to birth, raise and love myself along the way; and that shit was hard. I didn’t do it well or even close to perfect most of the time.
Because of my history with hiding from life and abandoning myself, I struggle with the last part of what Mark writes in The Monkey and the River, “At some point, we may even need to retreat from the world in order to be in the world, the way a chick matures in an egg in order to be born.”
I worry that the times that I retreat from the world feel like I’m hiding or abandoning myself.
What struck you about this week’s reading?
Book Club Schedule:
- Week #13 <<<BREAK>>> Happy Thanksgiving
- Week #14 Everything We Need through Becoming the Poem, Kim Prendergast, Dec. 2
- Week #15 The Empty Saddle through This Belongs to Everyone, Eva Tsoureka, Dec. 9
- Week #16 FINAL book club round up Zoom, Saturday, December 18, 10am pacific
A link will remain here to week 1 in case anyone wants to review the spearheading guidance. Week 1.