Worthy of Time

Serendipitous find on Instagram that I think has been very helpful at articulating thoughts and feelings that I would not be able to find words to describe for myself.

When Your Teeth Tells a Story

Last week I had my visit to the dentist in 2 years. Yes, I know it is waaaay too long to not see a dental hygienist or a dentist. I know that now. Growing up, I remember the first time I learnt how to brush my teeth in school. In Malaysia in the mid-80s, 7 year olds, will sit crossed legged on the concrete ground, one hand brandishing a new toothbrush, while the other a tube of Colgate toothpaste. We were each given a plastic cup, either a blue one of red one. No one had the option of choosing the colour of preferences. Our cups were filled with water. As you remember, I did mention that we sat crossed legged on the concrete floor. So, no bathroom sinks or a mirror on the wall. The whole cohort of 7 year olds, eyes glued to a nurse that showed us how to brush our teeth properly. Whether or not I knew what I was doing was beyond the point. I was just excited to sit with all the other 7 year olds, imitating the movements of the nurse, as my mouth is flooded with tooth paste foam and the taste of mint on my tongue.

You must wonder why I am telling you this story… I am telling this story to immortalise this somewhat mundane occurrence, because I realised something in therapy today. This exact moment was when I learned how to brush my teeth for the first time.

My therapist made me realised that I never had the experience of learning something this mundane from my parents. My mother did not show me how, neither did my father. Somehow, I can understand why my father never took the initiative to teach me, as he only brushes his dentures once a day… in the morning. My father has been wearing dentures for most of his adult life. As for my mother, I have no idea why she never took the time. She would shout from the kitchen or from whichever room she was in around bed time to remind me to brush my teeth. I was never interested in brushing my teeth when I was 4, 5, or 6. There were many nights that I would fall asleep without brushing my teeth.

After that morning in school when I was 7, I remembered that I actually felt ‘excited’ in the mornings and before bedtime, when I needed to brush my teeth. Like a lot of things, it was novel, new, exciting! It takes so little for a child to find the wonder in things. As adults, this magic only happens when we take note of the little things around us.

So… back at the dental clinic… I opted for no anaesthetic before the procedure. I knew it was going to be uncomfortable and of course, it would hurt. But, I just wanted to feel the pain, the physical pain… so, it would numb out the emotional pain. As the dentist drilled and chipped away the decay in my molar, I winced and clenched my fists. This went on for an hour. There was a lot that needed to be done.

The dentist sat me down, in front of large computer screen, with multiple snapshots of my teeth, as well as frames of x-rays…I am not a dentist, but what I saw on the screen, tells me that my teeth is not doing very well. The dentist looked at me, her surgical mask on, that split moment before she spoke, I could see in her eyes that… ‘this does not look good’. She was kind, professional and there was not a single tone of judgement, while she explained what the pictures on the screen are showing. Still, despite her her kindness, I was embarrassed…. I can’t put all the blame to my parents for never showing me how to care of my teeth as a child, but, I know there is truth in what my therapist told me this morning, that my the damage to my teeth, is a bigger reflection of the kind of neglect that I have endured as a child.

Unrelenting Sadness

For as long as I can remember, I have always felt sadness. This feeling of sadness is like a fog that transcends and envelops me, like a thin veil, always there, always looming, waiting to swallow me whole. Growing up, I was a tenacious kid, curious, playful, always longing for my mother’s attention and love, but never quite getting enough of it. Play with my neighbourhood friends and books, were my way of escaping the sexual abuse that was disguised as play time by my brother, and the emotional and physical abuse that I endured from my mother, every time I pushed the limits of my curfew, so that I could stay out playing with my friends, just a little bit longer. Despite knowing that I would be punished for staying out too late and breaking my curfew, I continued to stay out late because the joy and freedom I felt, for being a child, savouring each play time as though it would be my last. It was bliss before the storm – the pain endured after was worth this playful freedom.

In my teens, play time naturally ceased as my mother’s academic expectations of me skyrocketed. There was no time for play. My mother was relentless in keeping me on a strict study schedule around the house chores that was expected of me. Also, sexuality was confusing for me as a teen. Sex was to me, a form of brotherly sisterly love, and this was all I knew. I felt his love being stripped away when my brother suddenly stopped ‘playing’ with me. As my girl friends in school talked about boys with such fervour, I on the other hand, did not shared those proclivities, and because of this, I was quite the outlier that way. Books then were still my best escape from this sadness that I don’t quite understand and when I read, I felt free to explore the worlds that are so eloquently described. I devoured any book that I can get my hands on, be it in the school or public libraries or books that I rented out with food money that I saved. I hardly bought books fresh from the shelves as I never had enough money to do so. Nourishing my mind and soul with words were more important than feeding hunger. Sadness became more pronounced as I tried to numb myself from the gnawing loneliness that I felt and frequent masturbation became a substitute for the lost of brotherly ‘love’, to fill the void inside me.

When I turned 17, I flung myself into my first romantic relationship with a boy that showed me interest because I wanted to drown away the sexual attraction I had for my best friend in school, who is a girl. I wanted to cure my ‘homosexual tendencies’, per say and this boy was my get away ticket. I clung to his love like my dear life depended on it. The relationship lasted 7 years and finally, he could no longer love me, as I have put all my hopes and desires to be loved onto him and did not notice that I was suffocating him with my neediness and my need to squeeze every drop of love from him to substitute the lack of love that I never got from my parents. When our relationship ended, a part of me died with it as I was convinced that I was and never will be loveable and the sadness became all consuming.

In my twenties, I cling to any affection that I can get from anyone that showed me any flicker of romantic interest. I was open to dating any guy that wanted to date me and I would be sexual with them, if that is what it takes to feel wanted and loved. Ironically, it only left me empty and when it is all over, feeling of shame and guilt would wash over me. Paradoxically, I continued to plunge myself into these relationships, knowing fully that it would only end up hurting me even more. It was like an itch that needed scratching.

Being in my early forties now, I am just in the beginning of my journey to lick the wounds of the past. I am only just beginning to put the pieces together and make sense of my life that has passed me in a blur. It is hard not to grief the lost of time and what could have been. This sadness that resides deep inside me will always be my most loyal companion. This sadness pops it ugly head with each day that I take, totally out of my control. Because of this, I let myself ride its wave. Somehow, there is a morbid sense of relief that I know, the option of suicide is possible, it is something within my control, that I can bear to continue living in this sadness, just knowing that I have that option.

Filial Piety: To What End?

According to Confucius, filial piety is the virtue of respect for one’s parents and elders. This virtue is also embedded in Buddhist and Taoist teachings. All cultures have some form of this expectation in varying degrees, but, it is more pronounced in cultures that are more collectivist in nature.

I remember fearing my mother’s rage for as long as I can remember. My earliest memories were when I was 2 or 3, my mother would sit me on the potty and leave me there for as long as she needed to complete her tasks in the kitchen. As she busied herself in the kitchen, I would play with a locket that my grandmother gave me. It was a black stone shaped into an eggplant, attached to a gold ring, where the chain would lace through it. I remember that I would suck on it as I sat on the potty and wait for my mother to be free to wash me. I would not make a sound as I quickly learnt that if I did, my mother would yell at me to be quiet. So, I would sit, suck on the black stone locket and wait patiently while watching my mother in the kitchen, waiting for her to glance over, but she never did. By the time she picks me up from the potty, my bum was already quite numb from sitting on the potty for so long. She would wash and dress me and leave me beside a small transistor radio. I loved that thing. It was my priced possession. The first one that I got was a red one and when that broke, my father bought an exact same one but in black. It had a retractable antenna and a dial at the top beside the on-off switch that you turn to set the frequency. I remember just sitting quietly beside the radio and listen to music as my mother went along with her house chores everyday. Music was my friend, my solace.

I do remember happier times when I was a toddler, even after the sexual abuse started. The fondest ones are the ones where I would sing and dance along whenever my favourite songs get played on the radio. Being able to do Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk was my favourite move and I relished the attention I got from the laughters of my father and sisters. In those happy snippets, I remember that there were no hearty laughters from my mother, only a smile carved on her face each time, while my brother was always absent.

I think I would need to continue this post for another time. I think I need to pause and contain my distressing emotions while I write this part of my life. I’ve decided to still publish this unfinished work because I feel that I need to get this out there. There will be a part 2 of this post at some point when I am ready to reopen my containment ‘vault’ and process through this part of my life in writing.

Sins of the Father

I guess you could consider this post as a sequel to my earlier post titled Sins of the Mother . I told my mother about the abuse at the hands of my brother when I was 16, but I waited to tell my father about it until more than a decade later. I was 32 when I told him. I’m still not sure why I waited so many years before till I decided to tell my father about the abuse. Maybe, I was afraid that I would receive the same respond as my mother had given me. Maybe, I was too ashamed to tell him. Maybe, I was still in denial that the abuse ever happened. I still have not figured this out yet.

My father came for a visit in 2011. I was still living in Malaysia at that time, running a small English language centre at the state of Johor, situated in the south of Peninsular Malaysia, by the border to Singapore. We had dinner at one of my father’s favourite Chinese restaurant nearby, when he decided that he wanted to spend some time at the language centre, before heading back to my apartment.

I can’t exactly recall what we talked about before I decided at the spur of the moment to tell him about what my brother did to me as we were growing up. I tried to gauge his facial reaction as the words started stumbling out of my mouth, but I saw nothing. To be fair, I don’t even know what I was expecting to see. Deep down, I knew what was going to happen. I just knew that he would utter the same words my mother did when I was 16. And I was right. With a straight face, not looking at me, but staring straight ahead as he said, “Don’t tell anyone.”

Flashes of better memories of time I spent with my father came flooding back. Where was the father that used to bring me to the cinema for movies? Where was the father that would carry me and place me on his lap as he moved his knees up and down to mimic a horse ride? Where was the father that used to carry me to the bedroom whenever I pretended to have fallen sleep on the sofa? At that moment, I was hoping for him to say: “I’m so sorry that happened to you. I wish I knew”. Or maybe a sign of anger or disappointment towards his only son. There was none of this. Writing this blog entry makes my heart ache and his words “don’t tell anyone”, echoes over and over again in my head.

A Little Bit of Fresh Air

I got out of the house today after weeks of being at home. I have been isolating and I am aware of this. I am aware that this is not good for my recovery, but at this moment, I don’t have the energy to struggle with this. I still go out for runs and I walk my dog, almost daily this week.

The main reason I got out was because I had a therapy session this morning. I stopped therapy with this therapist for 2 months now and today is the first session after that break.

The session today was difficult. It is always difficult for me because I find it very hard for me to talk about the abuse. Since this depressive episode, this struggle of finding words to talk about it has become worse. My therapist said that I stop breathing each time I said anything that relates to my past trauma. I did not even realise I was doing this and I do appreciate him pointing it out to me. Since then, throughout the session, I became aware that I did stop breathing each time I brought up past traumas.

I came away from therapy today feeling lighter. I always do, before things start to fog up and I feel weighed down again. What I took away from today’s therapy was that I need to take the time to work through everything that I bring up in therapy and not rush into jumping from one thing to the next. I tend to do this because I can’t sit with the discomfort, pain and tears whenever I am triggered by past trauma that I talk about.

In regard to the title of this post, I took a walk at the gardens after therapy. I did not stay long, but I am glad I went because I almost just drove home. I brought my camera along, took some photos and listened to the bird song… which always brings a sense of calmness. I wanted to attach a few photos, but wordpress doesn’t seem to allow that. There is no post processing, the photo is as it was taken. Maybe, by looking at the photo, it would encourage anyone that finds it difficult to leave the safety of home, to finally venture out and enjoy some fresh air.

Thinking Differently about Loneliness

Loneliness has been my close friend for most of my childhood, adolescent and adult life. I have always felt a gnawing sense of loneliness for as long as I can remember. I was the quiet one in school, which teachers and peers concluded that I was a shy kid. But, really, I was just introverted and a little eccentric. Books has always been my best companion as it allowed me to travel into places away from the sexual abuse.

I did not have a lot of pocket money growing up. My mother was very strict and felt that giving too much pocket money means spoiling the child. I was given 20 cents for school days and none for the weekends. That money was just enough for me to buy a bowl of plain noodle soup, but I never did spend that money. I kept it so that I could rent books or buy them. The public library where I grew up was small and modest. It didn’t take me long to finish reading all the books that it had. My school library was similar as well; small and modest.

I was fortunate to have a friend in school that would let me read her Enid Blyton books that lined her bookshelf at home. She used to invite me over after school to read, and I will always remember those moments. Since we parted ways for university, I have lost touch with her. I have no idea why I have never initiated to rekindle the friendship. It would be so easy with Facebook. I saw her profile some years back, but never reached out. Maybe, I was afraid that she could no longer remember how close we used to be when we were 9 years old.

My mother was never keen on encouraging my love for reading. She always pulled me away from bookstores as she was afraid I would want to buy a book. She felt that books are a waste of money because you only read them once. She also felt because of this, books take up a lot of storage place in the house and we didn’t have a bookshelf at home. As a child, I have always felt that my mother was unloving as she never showed much affection for me. As a child would, I equated her resistance of getting me books as part of her indifference towards me.

So, I was a lonely child. By the age of 7, my sisters have moved to another city for university. I was left with my brother as a “play mate”. He was 14 at the time. As he was the only siblings that I could play with, the abuse was inevitable. It didn’t stop until I turned 13. Throughout the years of the abuse, I felt more and more alone because it was not something I could tell anyone, as my brother would always threaten that he would hit me if I ever did say anything. He had a temper. I was terrified of him as a child.

I have been trying to think differently about loneliness but it only fuels my thoughts about how lonely I feel. I’ve got a loving partner but that doesn’t mean one would not feel lonely. Loneliness is our perception of how connected we are with other people compared to what our idea of what level of social connections we think is ideal. I have tried getting to know new people via volunteering, clubs, sports & work. But, nothing really have worked. Maybe, there is something fundamentally wrong with how and who I am. Maybe it is also the cultural barriers as I am Asian and a migrant in a western country. It is a murky conundrum.