I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. Some people with multiplicity point to key experiences such as wishing whatever was happening, was happening to someone else. I’ve never been able to relate to that. But the idea of not wanting to grow up? Oh yes. And what better way to achieve that then splitting off child parts and forming more parts when circumstances required new skills?
There was not a single adult in my world I envied. No one whose life I wanted to have. What I saw around me was a lot of pain and loneliness. Often they didn’t even seen to be aware how unhappy they were, but for me it was painfully visible. I could smell it on the air, feel it in my chest. An empathic child, I felt the cast off emotions and denied anguish of everyone around me. I felt stuck, in a body growing older, when there was nowhere I wanted to grow to. Perceptiveness can be lethal. I saw, and understood, far more than I could emotionally process. I was constantly caught between the dark and the light, between the way everything seemed to be on the surface, and the underworld. A good loving family, and the constant threat of violence. An upright private school, and the casualty list of victims too underprivileged to be worth protecting from the bullies.
Adults close to me had their own issues with the adult world. One told me that the process of growing up kills your spirit. Adults don’t play anymore, don’t climb trees on the way to work. They’re numb. I promised myself I wouldn’t turn into an adult. Another told me how children are innocent but adults lose this. In Sunday School we were told stories about children who could ask the challenging questions of hurt and angry adults, and be heard, where another adult would have been shut out. Many used me as a secret keeper. I heard horror stories that many had shared with no other person. I became tasked with this impossible goal, of not growing up, by adults who were mourning their own lost inner children. I tried very hard to comply. I kept the secrets of my peers also, even those who bullied me. I was steeped in the knowledge of unspoken pain.
“Adults are the corpses of children.”
Oddly enough, I was expected to function at an adult level at a very young age. For an oldest child in a family under massive stress, this isn’t an unusual story. Not all of that was a bad thing. But some of it hurt. Some of it was lying in the dark at night, afraid of the shadows, because I was now too big a kid to have a light on. Some of it was lonely and overwhelming, heavy burdens of expectations and responsibly.
I grew up surrounded by the myth of the Golden Age of Childhood. Constantly being told these were the best years of your life. I swore to myself never to rewrite my history and pretend this had been the case for me. I lived in this surreal world where everyone was locked away with their private pain, where everyone pretended there was no war and no dead bodies. It was like being able to see blood all over the walls and no one else acknowledging it was there.
A boy stalked me when I was 14. He was profoundly distressed, suicidal, and self harming. When I sought help for him from the head of our school department, I encountered endemic denial. The boy had started coming to school with extensive fresh injuries on his arms from cutting. I begged the head teacher to intervene. He asked the boy how he received the injuries. He reported back to me that they were ‘from falling into a rose bush’. I cried and said you know that’s not true! The teacher said well there’s nothing else we can do, with the relief of an adult out of their depth who has been allowed to keep running with the easier cover story. You could scream for help very, very loudly in my world without anyone hearing.
My peers were not the same. They yearned for adulthood. They craved power, freedom, and sex. Impatient with childhood, they raced towards an adult world that contained everything they desired and were denied. This difference became a rapidly widening gulf between us, bigger every year.
My sexual development was screwed up by weird attitudes, secrets, teachings, and abuse. I feared my own desires. I feared power and corruption. I had no illusions about the freedoms of adulthood. The only freedom I craved and lived for was to leave school. Responsibility and failure weighed heavily upon me.
I’m 30 now, undeniably an adult, at least physically. I have child parts, and sometimes I think they are the best of us. We have on some levels, admirably succeeded in our attempts to not grow up. It has been a painful mess. Sometimes I think that child in an adult body is one of the loneliest creatures in existence. My little 5 year old would sometimes just switch out and sit alone on the couch, waiting. She was hungry and wanted ice cream, but kids aren’t allowed to open the freezer so she would just wait for a grown up to come and help her. I live alone, no one was coming. I feel them yearning in me when we pass children at the park. When I read about a multiple giving a box of crayons as a gift to another newly diagnosed, a great desire leaped in my heart. It was another year before I was brave enough to buy crayons for us.
So here I am, painfully suspended between the worlds of child and adult. There’s so many ideas to untangle. That adults live in the ‘real world’. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to fit myself to that real world – the world of admin and responsibility and success and bills that need paying. I also keep rebelling against my own goals, switching in the rain, running away from my own life. I’m starting to develop new ideas. I’m starting to think that perhaps the task of all adults – multiples and otherwise – is to love and look after their own inner children. I’m starting to think that there is no ‘real world’, that the real world is just as much a dream as any other. When I live in a caravan, what am I ‘really’? White trash or a gypsy dreamer? Adults get together and dream up their version of what reality is, of what love is, and what success is. I think my idea of the real world is a nightmare. A bad dream, dreamed by a lot of hurting adults with very lost and lonely inner children. It’s not even about success, when I look at some of the ‘successful’ people I admire – like Amanda Palmer – she doesn’t live in the real world! Oh, she does admin and pays her bills, but only as a means to ends, not as a goal in themselves. They are the poles that keep up the tent in which the magic happens. The magic is the real world, the creating and adventuring and connecting and being uniquely oneself.
I’m starting to dream new dreams of adulthood that don’t scare me so much. Some days I have the most glorious glimpse of life as a mother who is very imperfect, who is sick and strange and full of dark art. And I see her painting the kids to be dinosaurs and chasing them round the yard. There’s joy and freedom and silliness. There’s a different world, that has nothing to do with the real, nothing to do with adults who are dead on the inside.
Rose and I have both been so sick this week, and yet, when I let go of the idea of what we should be doing and how I expect this to play out, something magic happens. The day becomes infinity. I’m captured by the fall of the light through the curtains, by the colour of the skirts of leaves, by the warmth of her skin, the feel of ice water in my mouth, watching the kitten chew the dog’s foot and laying back to laugh. What was a wasted day, a sick day, a day in which nothing good would happen, a day to be endured as I wait to get back to the real world, becomes the most beautiful day of my week. I read lovely books and slip in and out pain and sleep and let go of the driving and the haunting sense of failure and I am given back the most beautiful day.
8 thoughts on “About Growing Up”
Sometimes, I feel like my teenage life hasn’t ended at all. I’m in my mid-twenties and still feel the impact of what happened a decade ago. I’m trying to reconcile this, but it isn’t easy. Although I have been in much more fortunate social situations, I did have a lingering sense that I didn’t fit in. As for the notion of ‘adult’–these days, all that I care about is functioning as a unique somatic parliament, furnished with years of experience. To me, that’s what being an ‘adult’ means–the capacity to negotiate over our collective needs. In our language, we call it “internal politics”.
That makes heaps of sense to me. I can empathise with the frustration of still feeling so impacted by childhood things. I recall complaining to a friend one in my 20’s that I couldn’t beleive I still didn’t feel like I was over school. She was in her 40’s and looked at me sideways and said do any of us ever get over school? Part of being adult for me had been realising I’m going to need to tend to some of those wounds for a long time and that’s okay.
“Adults are the corpses of children.” Wow.
I love your writing. I can sooo relate!
Thankyou – that quote isn’t mine though! 🙂
The original one goes “When childhood dies, its corpses are called adults and they enter society, one of the politer names of hell.” by Brian Aldiss.
Sarah, this is so beautifully written. I so admire your talent for telling your story.
I can relate to what you have shared Sarah, and despite the pain etc. i’m experienencing the days are not wasted as each brings its own treasure within its unfolding, thank you for sharing.