F is for My First Memory

abcalphabet_block_blue_fI’ve spent the last few days avoiding writing this blog post by searching for new graphics to use. Hours upon hours of looking at different versions of pencils, letters, and so forth just so I didn’t have to talk about this memory. The really stupid thing is that I’ve told people about this before since it’s a common “ice breaker” type of activity to ask people to describe their first memory. I’ve told this story to several different college classes, three or four different spiritual institutions and more counselors/therapists/shrinks than you can shake the proverbial stick at. That said, I’ve no idea why it took me so long to write this post.

Anyway, here’s my first memory:

I don’t remember why I woke up, I image I had a bad dream or heard something. I don’t know. All I know is that I was about 2 or 3 years old and I had woken up in the dark. I remember that I was scared and crying and that I pulled myself up in my crib by the slats until I could rest my chin on the top rail. I have an image of my darkened room with a small sliver of light illuminating the floor, but I’m not sure if that is real or if it’s something I’ve added over the years imaging the scene.

I know I cried for what seemed like forever. I don’t know if it was just a few minutes or a few hours. All I know is that eventually I stopped. Not because I stopped being terrified. Not because I was tired. Not even because I ran out of tears. I stopped because I knew, from the bottom of my pajama’d foot to the top of my towhead, that no one was coming. I was alone and I had to deal with whatever it was by myself. And that I’d have to do that for everything for the rest of my life.

So I sat myself down, crossed one leg over the over, hugged a pillow and rocked forward and backward until I fell asleep. I fell asleep that way until I was in my mid-teens.

No this isn't me.

No this isn’t me.

The thing is, there was probably someone home at the time. My brother, my parents, someone. But they didn’t come and likely wouldn’t have. Back then it was believed that if a child wasn’t hungry, sick or wet, you let them cry; it was thought that you were teaching them how to comfort themselves. Well, I guess in a way it did teach me to comfort myself. The problem was that my family’s particular dysfunction combined with my innate way of being ended up giving me problems similar to children brought up by neglectful parents. My parents weren’t neglectful, weren’t bad people; they were doing the best they could at the time. What they didn’t know is that some of the choices they made and some of the ways our family did things would end up giving me more problems than solutions.

As an adult, I logically know that I don’t have to deal with everything by myself. And for the most part, I don’t. If my car breaks down, I talk to a mechanic. If I can’t figure out how to do something on a computer, I ask someone. But if I need help with something I can’t touch, a decision, a feeling, a fear, I hesitate. Especially if it’s something I think is important, I keep whatever it is to myself until I get to some sort of impasse. It isn’t until I’ve chewed the problem to pieces inside my head that I take it to someone else.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: When I went back to college, I had to choose a foreign language. I took a look at how my schedule would be structured and realized I had about five or six choices, which I then narrowed down to two equally good choices. I then spent months, and I do mean months, trying to decide which one to take. This one was more practical, that one sounded like more fun. This one was harder to get into, that one was something I’d thought about taking since I was 12. And on and on. It wasn’t until I had to make a choice that I went to a friend and talked about it out loud. She took one look at me and said “you already know which one you’re going to take.” And she was right; I just didn’t realize that I’d even made the decision until I said it out loud.

Now I imagine a lot of people have similar ways of going over a problem. I just imagine that it doesn’t take them months to get to the point at which they talk to someone about it. Imagine if I had talked through the problem with my friend when I first became aware that I needed to make a decision. I could have saved myself months of dithering over the issue. And I could have used that time and energy thinking about something much more interesting during those months.

I do this with all kinds of problems, both important and trivial. Should I buy that DVD? Should I go to Grad School now or in a few years? What car should I buy? Should I have a brownie or ice cream with dinner? Should I kill myself with pills or by hanging? (Don’t worry, that’s not a current deliberation.)

I honestly think that my problem with asking for help, with trying to take care of everything by myself, can be traced back to that first memory.

And, what might be worse, I think that first memory is when I first started to distrust people. After all, if people aren’t there for a baby, a toddler, why would they be there for a kindergartner, a pre-teen, a teenager, an adult? If a baby can’t depend on anyone to be comforted, why on earth would anyone depend on someone else to comfort them for anything?

So I learned to keep people at a distance very early. I don’t trust people to comfort me. I don’t trust them to do much of anything. This early experience wasn’t the only time people let me down, but it was the first.

Coming up next post: more of my history that caused me to have some sort of issue. Anything in particular you’d like to hear about? Please comment below.