Lately I have been thinking a lot about what it means to grow up in a crazy household, and how, even though you can leave, you can never really outrun the effects.
When I was younger, I didn’t want to believe this. I wanted to believe that life is what you make it – that you can leave your origins behind and create a new world and life for yourself.
Now, decades later, I see that it’s not entirely untrue but it’s not as straightforward as I had originally thought it would be. You can create a life and it can be a good life, but it will have certain characteristics that other types of lives don’t have.
Here are five things I have learned about growing up crazy:
- It’s isolating. I have friends. Quite a few friends, even. My friends really like me, and for this I am very grateful. Some of them have grown up crazy as well, so they get it – we can talk about the past and how the history affects the present and we’re both comfortable in the conversation and able to understand each other. But friends who grew up mostly normal – they care, but they don’t identify. As much as I appreciate the concern, it’s isolating to have experiences that few other people can relate to.
- You have to raise yourself, after your crazy people raised you. You have to relearn your responses and your ways of engaging others. You have to learn what’s appropriate. If you’re attentive and diligent, you eventually figure out why you were pissing people off for so long. You figure out why when you weren’t pissing them off, you were freaking them out. After a great while you figure out how the normal people do it, and you become a more-or-less normal person yourself.
- If you can’t figure it out … if you’re too defensive to read the reactions and hear the feedback, or if your perceptions are so skewed that you don’t even see how others are responding, you’ll probably continue the pattern of crazy. Sometimes this isn’t a choice. Mental illness is a bitch and it’s not always treatable. Sometimes it’s just sad.
- If you were raised by crazy people, you will almost certainly be a late bloomer, if you bloom at all, because if it takes 18 years to raise a human from infancy, it takes at least that time again to re-raise yourself. I somehow got through my twenties without wrecking my life (just barely a few times) and even managed to get a college degree in the process, but when I look back I see that I was just barely hanging on to the edge of functional. In my thirties I started to do better, but with some hiccups. Now in my forties things are mostly smooth.
- To be happy you have to accept a lot of sad things. For me the biggest sadness is that not all of my family made it out of crazytown. It may seem that I don’t care, but it’s really just that I realized a long time ago that I can’t fix it. So, I accept it, but it’s sad. And sometimes it makes me sad that I spent a good chunk of my life unhappy, but again, I accept it. Overall I would choose life over not having been born, so if this is the deal I get in order to be here, I’m OK with that, but you know, if someone had offered me a better deal, I totally would have taken that instead.