Looking “Perfect”


“Got to look good for the camera”

As we lay in bed last night, those words were spoken by someone in the system. I heard them and thought it a curious statement. They said this at the same time I was musing about my meeting with 2 therapists earlier that day. I was doing an intake interview for a support group with multiples. I guess we were very nervous and had our “shields up”. As I mused the meeting, I remember feeling distanced and not being the one up front. The person in front was talkative and enthusiastic about the group. At least from what I saw. They also had a facade of being “all together” which is why I think someone inside said that about looking good for the camera.

It is interesting as we grew up in a family full of photographers so having my picture taken was a normal thing from a very young age. I learned how to pose and smile and how to have my face set, etc.  My inside kids are most of them really good at picture taking. I used to get really frustrated in my early 20’s because when I would have my “school picture” taken (I worked at a school), the inside kids would ALWAYS come out and smile. It was obvious when I got my pictures and I saw the kids grinning back at me.

I imagine the whole being photographed as a child and teen is in part what helped me to maintain the facade that everything is good and well with me. I dared never to let on to ANYone that I was troubled or in danger. For me, it felt like if someone knew then my whole world would fall apart. Little did I realize that my world was falling apart just as it was and telling might have helped save us from further abuse. I am pretty sure I was threatened not to tell. I remember the uncle one time telling me that if  “they” (the family) knew, then we would both get spankings. Now, as an adult, I know that is not true. He was the adult. He knew what he was doing was wrong. He used my cold and violent relationship with my mother to get to me. I had nowhere to turn. No one that I could talk to and tell. Home was a battlefield. The mother was raging and violent at the drop of a pin. Always walking on eggshells, sometimes running from mother because she was after me to give me a beating for something I had no idea what I had done. I felt so terrible that the mother was angry with us and often I would write her a note saying I was sorry and I loved her. I would put it on her pillow so she’d be sure to see it before she went to sleep. Not ONCE did she EVER acknowledge those notes. If I tried to tell her that I was sorry, she’d always say I wasn’t or else I wouldn’t have done it (whatever I did). When I tried to tell her that I loved her, she’d say I didn’t either or else I wouldn’t do things that upset her.  I rarely knew what I was getting in trouble for. Sometimes  just an expression on my face would set her off.

It took many, many years to be able to even say those three words, “I love you” because of that. I literally couldn’t get them out of my mouth. I always felt it was due to what the mother said to us over and over as a child. If I really loved someone I wouldn’t do bad things to upset them. That’s the message I got. I always felt like I was damaged and would always do something bad to upset someone so I couldn’t dare say those words to anyone.

When I was in college, my best friend and I were going to travel that summer and go work in the church camps around Oklahoma and Texas. I remember vividly, mother gave me a hug before we left that morning. My best friend was astounded at the impact that had on me. It was the first time I ever recalled the mother hugging me and as a result I feared for my life! I was terrified that somehow the mother knew that I was going to die in a car accident and that is why she hugged me. It took 3 or 4 hours along the trip before I was able to calm down.

“Got to look good for the camera”

I always had to look and act like the perfect child when in public. I always had to pretend that my life was happy and safe when in reality it was anything but. No more. I am an adult now and I can be REAL. I can share my story. I don’t have to hide in shame that didn’t even belong to me. The shame is on my abusers. I am a survivor.

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