The mentality of both my parents was extremely black or white. It was a symptom of their personality-disordered thinking. If you didn’t fit into their tiny idea of what was right, then you were WRONG. There was no reasoning with them and they knew better than everyone. It was impossible to express anger or anything negative toward them, so I was forced to turn my rage inward. It became a burning self-hatred that ate me alive.
I made my first suicide attempt at the age of 19 by slashing my wrists in a warm bath while I was away at college. I did not want my parents to know of the incident. But my roommates, having been raised in normal households, assumed incorrectly that I would want my parents there. To my dismay and without my consent, they called my parents at home to inform them of what happened. I presume my roommates expected that my parents’ presence would provide me with a sense of love and support when I needed it most, as they were used to receiving from their own families. They had no idea that my parents were, in fact, the last people I wanted around me when I was at my worst.
My parents did immediately make the drive to visit me in the mental hospital. The first thing my mother said to me was that I had done a very bad thing. Why couldn’t I have taken pills? She disparaged my choice to self-harm in such a violent, bloody manner. My mother could only imagine that a woman committing suicide ought to be pretty and romantic – gently slipping away with a bouquet of flowers in her perfectly clasped hands. I didn’t want to go quietly and ‘ladylike’. I was furious at the world and the only way I could think to cope was to turn all that anger on myself.
What sparked my attempt that particular time was that my first serious boyfriend broke up with me in order to rekindle a relationship with his high school sweetheart. Being with him and seeing that his family genuinely liked me was heaven. It was foreign and astonishing that I could be myself and actually appreciated! That it could be taken away in a fickle moment with no warning made me feel the bottom had dropped out and there was no safety net. The only comfort I had ever known was never mine to have. It reinforced to me that the world was hazardous and unsafe. At that time, as well as many others, I decided I no longer wished to live if the only guarantee was pain.
When my mother asked my sister what could have possibly made me so despondent, my sister tried to explain that it was because I had never felt loved. My mother scoffed and said that was the stupidest thing she’d ever heard. That, and many similar responses over the years, taught my sister that it was not safe to express one’s emotions. She watched me try repeatedly to be authentic and honest, and saw me get shot down time and time again.
In some ways, I think my sister was more sensitive than I was. I kept putting myself out there and taking the risk of being me, even though I knew the cost. Despite the hurt it often drew, not just from our parents but from others outside the family too, it never changed who I was deep down. I always maintained hope that my strength and truth would be rewarded. My sister, however, succumbed to the pressure to conform in order to escape harm. It was less painful to be what my parents wanted than to be true to herself and face criticism. She preferred living in a bland middle-zone in which she was sheltered from disapproval, but at the cost of giving up good feelings as well. I have always known that was a price I was not willing to pay.