Saturday, October 30, 2004

(*Note: As part of a final project to complete my college degree, I was asked to submit an Autobiography. I haven't looked at it in years and thought it would be interesting to copy here onto my Blog. I am rediscovering all that I wrote as I transcribe. I anticipate this will be a cathartic experience.)

Autobiography, Part I

"You have the unique talent of sparking excitement in the people around you."
Excerpt from a Christmas card sent to me by a friend, 1989

"I love you because you're vivacious, warm-hearted, and I can beat you at tennis."
Quote from boyfriend, 1990

"You are the most self-absorbed person I have ever known. However, I do admit that you don't do it on purpose."
Quote from sister, 1989

More than anyone I know, I am guilty of allowing my life to be controlled by what other people think of me. It is appropriate that I begin my autobiography with descriptions of myself by my peers and family. My perceptions of my strengths, abilities and weaknesses are derived from the feedback I have received throughout my life. A good friend once told me that I reminded her of a peasant walking down a road in the country, carrying a long board across my shoulders with a heavy, overflowing bucket suspended at each end. The left bucket was filled with the ghosts of my past; criticisms, scathing remarks and embarrassing situations that continue to haunt me and give me self-doubt. The right bucket was filled with my dreams of achievement and the responsibility I feel to live up to the expectations others have of me. The result is my continual focus on what others think of me, and not what I think of myself.

My childhood was filled with daily expectations from my mother of what to do, how to do it, when to do it and who to do it with. I believe this is what contributed to my inability to make decisions based on what I wanted for myself. Reinforcement for self-discovery was scarce in our household. The most frustrating aspect of trying to continually satisfy my mother's expectations was the fact that she is impossible to please. Christmas gifts were invariably returned, my weight was always too high, or my school projects were not supported. I remember once being told that my high school girlfriends were not acceptable that I would have to find new ones. Every aspect of my life was judged, and I was never once told that I had done a good job. Instead, a typical response to an achievement would be, "You should have done that the way I told you to. Then it would be better."

A good example of this is the time I presented my mom with an ink drawing of a Siamese cat. During the summer of my fifth grade, it took me weeks to trace and color a cat sitting in a hunched position. The stance seemed very unnatural to me, so I added a free-form daisy underneath the cat's nose. Upon presenting the picture to my mother as a gift, she remarked, "Can you make me a new one without that God-awful flower on it?" My chest still tightens up like a vacuum when I think about this. It's very difficult to be internally happy when you're always being told that you don't do anything right.

As a senior in high school, I was extremely self conscious about my looks and reputation. Margie, my best friend, persuaded me to tryout for the cheerleading squad with her, even though I considered myself to be awkward. I spent two hours a day after school for 3 weeks preparing for the tryouts. When the day finally arrived, my mother informed me that no one from the family would be there to watch - mom didn't want me to be a cheerleader and refused to allow anyone to offer their support by being in the audience. Facing all of my friends and their families at the competition was difficult. I really had no explanation to their questions about the absence of my parents. My humiliation ultimately turned to bitterness when I missed making the team by .05 points.

I grew up with a family that lacked cohesiveness. Throughout my entire life, we took only one vacation. That was when we went camping for 3 days. Somehow, we have always been incapable of sharing a good time. There was constant tension and yelling between my mother, father, sisters and myself. I do not recall my parents having an intelligent, calm discussion about any issue. Additionally, I have only seen my parents kiss or hug approximately five times in my entire life. Clearly, neither my mom or dad was satisfied with their marriage, and this deeply impacted the way we all related to one another. Experts in the field of psychology claim that it is healthier for children to grow up with two unhappy parents than in a single parent household. Without a doubt, my childhood caused me to feel painfully inadequate and unhappy with myself. I question the logic of any "expert" who advocates raising a child in an emotionally dysfunctional environment. I believe that parents are obligated to provide their children with examples of overcoming obstacles and living a balanced, happy life. Marriage is not always a part of this equation. Kids need to see that a life defined by stagnation and emotional suffocation is not the way it has to be.