It took a long time for me to understand my life – to develop my own philosophical point-of-view. My early influences were not conducive to learning to think for myself. When I look back on the boy I was in my late teens and early twenties, I no longer recognize him.
I was cynical, sarcastic and completely shut down emotionally. I was all the things my childhood had groomed me to be. If I had any sort of philosophy at all, not that I defined it then, it was ‘put one foot in front of the other and do the best you can until you die.’ Life was a struggle, and that was all it was.
I cannot recall my mother ever being happy. She hated her job and her employer – whatever and whoever it was at the time. She came home from work at night and drank, a lot. She was very good at letting everyone around her know just how unhappy she was.
My father was always an odd duck. I was, for whatever reason, acutely aware of this. He made me nervous and uncomfortable even when he wasn’t raging, which wasn’t often. He was always mad. Always. Yes, I was hyper-aware of my father’s moods, but perhaps I was even more cognizant of the fact that he was just so strange.
I didn’t really develop a perspective on any of this until I was an adult and able to see for myself the way other people lived, engaged and interacted with each other; comparisons to my own family were inevitable, and eye-opening.
Behavior that was normal in my house – raging father, caustic mother who tried to make everyone else as miserable as she was – wasn’t even tolerated in most others. There were standards for respect and emotional support in families I didn’t know anything about – these standards certainly didn’t exist in my family.
It was a whole new world, and I felt like a complete outsider. One of the first arguments I had with Rhonda ended with her telling me that if I wanted to keep her in my life I couldn’t continue to behave like an asshole when I was mad, frustrated or upset …
but I didn’t really know anything else. That was about the time I confided in her – gave her an outline of what Pat and Ed had done to me – told her a little bit about ‘normal and accepted behavior’ in the Shockley house.
I wanted a different life; hell, I wanted A Life, period, and I knew enough by that point to know if I didn’t develop a new and emotionally healthy perspective, I’d never have a life worth living.
You don’t escape an abusive home and toxic family just by growing up and moving out, it isn’t that simple. Years of fear, pain, pernicious influence and shutting out the world emotionally take a toll – they alter who you are fundamentally; survival is all you know, and that is largely instinctive …
to escape forever, you have to learn to live.