I remember kindergarten clearly. That is, I remember one moment in kindergarten, formatively. I was sitting on the stiff, short cut, bluish carpet with a chalk board in my hand. The kind that is about the size of a normal piece of paper, eight and a half by eleven. The kind that is designed to rein in one over sized child drawn letter. It had two faint green on green lines, put there to show me where the curve of some lower case character ought to start. I wish I could remember what letter we were learning but I don’t. What ever it was though, I did it wrong and my teacher freaked out. That’s it, that’s the whole memory. My mom tells the story of me coming home from my first day of school in tears, when she managed to get it out of me, my explanation was “it’s such a waste of my time!” leave it to six year old me to treat my mom as an equal in moments of duress. I don’t think the chalk board incident was that same day but that statement summed up how I felt for most of elementary school. Back to the carpet. One of the first things that interested me about trauma is the way in which it is subjective in nature. A traumatic experience has very little to do with the reality of a situation and everything to do with the way the person viewing it interprets the event. If I really think that someone is going to kill me it has the same psychological effects whether that person is likely to do it or not. The reality of my teacher’s reaction could have ranged from, a reprimand at the worst, to (quite possibly) a raised brow. And we shall never know because of the some fifteen people in the room at the time, I am sure to be the only one that remembers the occasion. What we can talk about however, is my interpretation of that fateful day. Now, calling it traumatic is exaggerating, I do that sometimes. I don’t mean to take away from where I was going with this. So, where was I going with this; let me read over it again, it’s been a couple days since I started.
Right, that moment in my school history was formative, it and many others like it (real or imagined) shaped the person I am today. It left me with beliefs about the world that greatly alter the way I relate to myself and the people that come across me. In the case of the carpet ordeal, what I took away was a certainty that it was a very bad thing to have the wrong answer –something that haunts me still, although not nearly so much as it did for the rest of my school life. From the tenth to twelfth grade I would miss large segments of the class as I rehearsed an answer to some long ago asked question. This was a situation where the truth that I held about the world –formed in some long lost emotional experience—was no longer congruent with the reality of my life. Really, there are times when it is important for me to have the right answer, and times when taking the risk of looking like a jackass is a much surer road to fulfillment. More often than not this kind of extracurricular (unnecessary) suffering that I drum up for myself is a direct product of a disjointed world view, one bred of painful experience and the clockwork reaction that follows it, designed to keep me safe.
I am six months sober yesterday. This is four months longer then I have ever gone since I first smoked pot at thirteen. In those sixteen years lies a swath of emotional wreckage, countless firings, fights, and crushing defeats, as formative as it gets, despite my best efforts to retard the learning process with depressants and sedatives. The kind of shit that makes you believe stuff about yourself and the world. So here I am sober, working, loving people and myself again, but I have trouble getting a clear picture of what is going on around me. I work, waiting for the other shoe to drop even though I haven’t done anything wrong. I worry about how the people I care about will react to things that I haven’t done. And I keep getting my usual twisting of the guts when I go to look at my account balance, only to find slightly less money there then the last time I looked. It never ceases to amaze me how affordable life is when I’m not spending my rent on booze and eighty dollar hats.