I am the youngest of four children. The mistake at the end. I was a difficult birth, and apparently screamed non-stop for the first six months of my life. I was told this many times as I was growing up. It was usually in a joking way, although how you can joke about a child being a “mistake at the end” is beyond me. These stories and jokes chipped away at my self-esteem, to the point where I soon realised that I was worthless and an annoyance.
As I grew up, the father’s drinking became more of a problem. Those parts within who believe he abused us, link his increased drinking to his abuse of us. Those who don’t believe he ever touched us, link his drinking to alcoholism. No matter what the cause, his drinking became worse over time. This meant that it wasn’t safe to bring the few friends I had, to the house.
What does all this have to do with birthdays? Well, this environment set me up to hate my birthday. My birthday was a chore for those around me. That’s if they remembered it. The disadvantage of having your birthday at the start of the month, is people often forget to turn over the calender. So often, people forgot my birthday. My favourite grandparents never sent me a birthday card on time. I was the queen of getting belated birthday cards. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated those cards, but a part of me saw this as being yet another way in which I was inconveniencing those around me by existing.
As I was growing up, I did have birthday parties (I don’t remember them, but have photos as proof). Usually my two cousins who were of a similar age to me, and sometimes someone from school as well. But a school-friend was always dicey, as if my father was home, he would be drinking. I always tried to protect the people I knew at school from my house. They didn’t need to see the secrets.
My siblings both liked and hated my birthday parties. It meant they got to eat all sorts of good food, but it re-enforced the concept that I was the favourite child – especially for my sister. My sister’s birthday is very near Christmas; that usually meant combined birthday and Christmas presents. She always got a party as well, but she always hated my birthday parties. Well, she just hated me.
As my self esteem was chipped away, I gave up on birthdays. By the time I finished primary school, I hated my birthday. But there were still some parts who secretly loved them. I think they used to call out the names of those who was having a birthday in the coming week at school assembly, I remember a young one beaming when our name was read out – someone saw us, someone cared!
By the time I reached my teens, birthdays were actively hated. They were a chore for those around us, and another reason for the sister to pick on us. On my 14th birthday, my sister didn’t want to go out with the family for my birthday dinner, she wanted to go out with her boyfriend (who was abusing us) and her friends. She first told my parents that she didn’t want to go, but they told her she had to ask us for permission to not go. Of course, we told her to go with her friends. Why force her to be somewhere she didn’t want to be?
Just before my 16th birthday I was assaulted. This was the last straw in ever wanting anything to do with my birthday for the teen and adult parts of me. The birthday become a traumatic anniversary. It was decided that it was best to ignore it and move on. Over the years this worked well, the mother would still send gifts and occasionally the rest of the family would remember as well. It became a habit to have the week of my birthday off, as I knew my functioning around that time diminished significantly. Quite often the mother would come up for a holiday during that week, which forced a level of functioning within the system, as a way of self-preservation.
Which brings us to this year. This year, the mother didn’t come up. This year we weren’t forced to function, and things fell apart. Leading up to the birthday, there was lots of lost time and dysfunction. Then on the birthday there was pain, lots of pain. Not from the adult ones, but from the young ones who needed some reason to keep on living. On our birthday, we got a supportive email from a friend, a present from the mother, and a manipulative email from our sister.
Apart from the manipulative email, we appreciate the acknowledgements we received. But what really hurt the young ones, was that we didn’t hear from either brother. The brothers were idolised by these young ones. At times they were an island of safety in an otherwise chaotic life. This lack of contact re-enforced our belief that if we were gone, no one would notice. The entire day was spent trying to fight those messages.
I realise that this all sounds attention seeking; but it’s about us trying to work through what happened and why. It’s about us being more in touch with those young ones who were hurt by the people they care about, not reaching out to them – and yes, we do send messages and cards to those people. It’s about being perceived as a bother and inconvenience to those around us. It’s about not having an adequate support system around us. It’s about not believing we have any right to a support system, and being terrified to try to build one.
It’s about not being worthy of… anything, everything???