I am the elephant in the room – the ‘ugly’ part of self-discovery

A new year and a new exercise book have a lot in common. When I was young, I loved receiving my stationery at the start of the school year. Fizzing with belly wobbles of excitement and intention, I stroked the clean front page of my exercise book as though it was a precious gift. A blank canvas. An invitation to create fresh colour where every squiggle and stroke would be my absolute best work.

Those days are long gone, but I still feel those same belly wobbles of excitement the new year offers. It still feels like an invitation to add fresh colour and make new shapes, an opportunity for a fresh, clean start. Splashes of colour normally festoon my canvas from day one. I make new intentions with sincere intention – a fitness promise, new writing goal and, of course, something spiritual to contemplate – giving no thought to what lies between the idea and the destination.

This year though, things feel a little different. My roadmap assisting me on my path to self-discovery is looking a little battered and crumpled. It is taking me to a place I have been avoiding with a vengeance, and I cannot U-turn my way out of it. So, I am not as enthusiastic as in previous years to daub my canvas with self-appreciating images and dreams. Instead, I find myself delving into a painful family truth. I am the elephant in the room.

What do you do when you realise how your past parenting behaviour has deeply affected your children’s lives? What a harsh, ‘where the rubber meets the road’ moment of self-discovery. In hindsight, I can see that parenting is as much about self-discovery as it is about nurturing. It is a time of relentless self-revelation. What we consider to be the absolute best of ourselves is challenged, and what we know to be the very worst of ourselves is exposed. And I made some terrible parenting choices I wish I could erase.

In 2017 I wrote an article about my family’s experience of domestic violence and sexual abuse. During the separation period between my leaving and finally gaining custody, my two girls suffered the most horrific, sexual, mental, and physical abuse by family members. The article describes how we got there and the consequences of my thinking making a fresh start was a complete ‘fix’ for their pain. The effects have lingered longer than they should, due to this attitude about this very dark period of our life.

The article was called Consequences. Here is an excerpt from the article:

“My stomach clenches when I hear how my youngest daughter is forced to lick the genitals of her babysitter. My eldest daughter forced to stand the other side of a locked door calling out to her sister. When my eldest daughter told her father what was happening, she was given ‘a hiding’ and returned to the babysitters. The feeling of helplessness and hopelessness of not being believed must have been achingly devastating. Of how their abusers told them to take their underwear off then hung by their feet out a window. Family members beating and raping family members.”

It’s a challenging story to tell and read. Mistakenly, once again, I thought I had ‘fixed it’ by writing about it. But the healing had only begun. Over the years, I have watched my daughters grapple and wrestle with life as they attempt to expunge their pain and hurt. I find it hard to immerse myself in the trauma and pain my two girls suffered during this time and the part, I as their mother, played in it.

Yes, there are aspects of self-discovery that are dreadfully and uncomfortably unpalatable. Self-discovery not only includes the healing of your wounds but also confronting the damage you have inflicted on others. Especially those you love. This truth is my point of no return – a place where I cannot go back, cannot unknow what I already know to be the truth about myself, and cannot erase the ‘ugly’ from the self-discovery journey.

It is easy when you are in the pilot seat driving your soul-searching – where you control the unravelling and rebuilding of your inner and outer life. But even though I sit at the controls, I sense I no longer have control of where the journey is taking me. I am deeply aware of how my children need to continue to address their feelings of the past with me, as part of their healing process. It is a humbling discovery to experience, and there is a sadness in knowing this.

Understanding the past and dwelling on the past have two different outcomes. Understanding is liberating. Dwelling is debilitating. If we deny or ignore the importance, the past has on the present we will always dwell in past pains. I can see this now. And this is where I start the new year.

The belly wobbles are still there … still simmering with hope. But this year, I am reluctant to colour my canvas with pre-empted plans when my family is very much part of this stage of my journey. A healing process is happening, and I do not want to cage, capture or ‘fix’ how I perceive this year should unravel. So, for now, my canvas remains blank, but I do hope your canvas fills with bright colours.

Happy New Year

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