Posts tagged with "childhood"

mother dearest

The last time I saw my mom was on a trip she took to see me in Ottawa, along with a few other family members visiting from out of the country. I had table tennis practice one night, and instead of dropping me off, they decided to come watch. So five of us piled into her van, and halfway through the drive, my vision started growing blurry. I’d been working full shifts, then entertaining the guests every night, and my body decided it didn’t want to continue cooperating. With the aches getting sharper in my head, I told her I couldn’t play. She sharply asked why. I explained.

My mother has always been an emotional driver, and on top of that an “emotional” person when she doesn’t get her way. With me riding shotgun, she decided to make a U-turn into oncoming traffic. It was an attempt to go home in a huff, except there are things to consider when doing this in a vehicle, like the fact that everyone around you is also moving in their own giant metal sledgehammer. When we crossed over the median, I saw an SUV heading towards me at full speed, and in that moment, there was only the distinct realization that this is how I died. It was something I’d always wondered, and the satisfaction of my curiosity was greater than any sense of fear of what was about to happen1.

But we were saved by the grace and reflexes of the person driving the SUV, who slammed on his/her brakes, and there was no collision. My mom continued speeding back home in her mood, like she hadn’t nearly maimed us all. I knew in that moment she didn’t care about me or my well being; all she cared about was how she couldn’t show off her son in front of the family, and how that made her look.

I never looked her in the eyes after that. And when she left, I never saw her again. It was already her last chance. Proof that I still didn’t mean anything to her as a person, that I was just an ornament to her my entire life.

Fast forward many years later. A phase where I find myself learning about hate and forgiveness, how to let go of one and practice the other. I decide to contact her again, letting her know that I’m not ready to forgive her yet, but I’m open to talking. She asked what there was to forgive, as if she had no idea what she did wrong. I thought it was an odd thing to say; after all, how did she explain why we hadn’t spoken in years? I made no assumptions though, and brought up a few things to refresh her memory, the incident above being one example.

All she could say was that she was going through a difficult marriage, so I should understand why she acted the way she did. Then she meekly tried to mask her guilt with excuses about making sacrifices for me, as if a child’s acceptance or forgiveness is something that can be bought and this is why she owes me nothing. Through it all, she refused to apologize, or even acknowledge that she ever hurt me. Perhaps saying sorry would mean admitting to herself that she’s done these horrible things to her only child, her fault things got so bad he cut off all ties, and that reality would be too difficult for her to deal with. To this day, she’s in complete denial about her role in any of my suffering, and she doesn’t even care enough about me to feel bad about it.

I’m learning to accept that my mom would rather give up the chance at reconciling than do something as simple as apologize, cause it means her sense of pride is more important to her than her only child. This is exactly what makes her a bad parent. Separating myself from her so many years later was just as easy as the first time.

If only I wasn’t still dealing with the after-effects of her influence; I’m only now learning not to judge myself the way she did the entire time we were in contact, how not to hate myself for being less than perfect, how not to feel worthless when I don’t have constant validation. So many of my demons can be traced back to her. Parents are supposed to nurture, instilling strength and confidence and stability, while helping their children explore a sense of identity. Instead, she dangled love and favour and reward in front of me only if I met some ridiculous standard in school or played the piano or did exactly as she bid. Otherwise, I was a bad person, the child she didn’t want.

It’s been somewhat traumatizing to re-experience these triggers again when trying to resolve issues I’m dealing with now. Sometimes I hate myself for being so broken, but it’s easier to forgive my mistakes and accept myself when I realize such a toxic person has had so much influence on my life.

  1. Although maybe that was also cause I knew it was a situation completely out of my control. []

pulling weeds and planting flowers

Few people have been able to fill the void lately. The ones who do sing to me the unashamedly erotic songs of John Dowland and help me test new decks.

Through it all, I’ve been trying to take five breaths every now and then, inhaling and exhaling a little more fully than usual. Trying not to live like it’s a friday every day. Trying to figure out if I should apologize for using your song to score the moments I shared with someone else. Trying to reconcile my old Taoist beliefs with my new Buddhist views. Trying to be happy with the person I am, instead of letting discontent drive self-improvement.

house in the woods


Frigid winter days are teaching me patience and vulnerability. Some are easier than others. I’ve been working with the fickle swings instead of against them. Otherwise, it’s a constant struggle when trying to impose static order on inherently unstable processes. The hard part is making plans when you don’t know how you’ll feel from one day to the next.

Jesse arranges

Back in the day when we were doing covers of Frank Ocean songs. One of the most recognizable things about Jesse’s room are instruments strewn about.

The greatest test of my progress so far will be an acoustic show Jesse asked me to play with him on Sunday. Anxiety has been getting the better of me lately, and the prospect of having only two nights of rehearsal does nothing to assuage this.

I’ve been keeping in mind that we were able to pull off a decent performance last time when I didn’t know the show was going to happen until a few hours prior; one of those exercises to foster positive experiences and combat negativity bias. Fortunately, Jesse is a great frontman to be behind, cause he commands the attention of anyone watching, also taking the attention away from nervous fingers and live jitters.

cat and girl


The journey of self-discovery has been difficult. When there’s a history of trauma, it’s inevitable that an uncomfortable feelings get stirred up every now and then. I take care of myself by making sure I see the important people on a consistent basis and living in those moments. The little ways to heal are found in both the experiences themselves and the time one takes to internalize those experiences.

This is how I learn that self-compassion isn’t self-pity, and that most people bring less kindness to themselves than to others. To get on my own side, I’ve been visualizing myself as a child, just as worthy of care as any other. I would wish the best for that little person, and it helps me understand that I should wish the best for myself as well.


Thumbnail: My grandparents

When I was young and it was summer, my maternal grandparents would come from Hong Kong to babysit me. It was a strange time in my life, what I consider my fetal years when I don’t remember learning anything, or having any awareness of my own consciousness.

My grandfather was a strong, intelligent, loving, gentle man, and my biggest hero. He showed me his war wounds, and taught me about states of matter. I even learned the term “civil war” from him when he used it (in English!) one time when some old black-and-white footage of Chinese battles came on the TV, but his English wasn’t great so I thought he was saying, “zero war”.

He was my favourite person in the world because he gave me the attention and stimulation I never got from my parents.

In one of those summers, I stole his cigarettes, two at a time so he wouldn’t notice, and hid them in the compartment of a red and white childrens drafting table. It was my way of getting him to stop smoking.

One time, I heard my grandparents shouting in the kitchen. They were fighting. My grandmother accused him of peeing on the toilet seat. It was the first time I heard them raise their voices at all, let alone at each other. I thought it was strange because at that age I was probably peeing all over the toilet seat, and no one ever yelled at me for it, so I didn’t understand why it was such a big deal.

My aunt and uncle were over because they wanted to spend time with them, and they came to see what the commotion was about. But they just stood there, listening, not wanting to take sides.

Eventually, my grandfather slowly bent at the knees, his entire body sagging, buried the heels of his hands in his eyes to rub out the tears, and said to my aunt and uncle with languishing pauses, “Sometimes, she makes me want to kill myself”.

And I knew he meant it.

I was too young to even be shocked, but for my grandfather to say something like that was completely out of character. He was invincible to me. I never understood it.

Until now.

Eventually, he went to live with my aunt and uncle for a while. They slowly became warmer when they saw each other a few weeks later. I don’t know if they ever talked about it.

Damaged Goods

I have to write this so I can admit it to myself.

I have to write this because I can’t think of anything else nowadays, except for how hard it is to get out of bed in the morning.

I’ve been reading a book my therapist recommended to me a long time ago, the one that deals with lifetraps. In one of the first chapters, it goes through each lifetrap by first explaining a “core need”, which is something a child should have in order to thrive. It goes through examples on how we should have been raised, and how a healthy mind will grow from that. Then it explains how the lifetrap may develop if that core need isn’t met, by giving examples of destructive childhood environments.

And for almost every lifetrap in the book, I saw my own childhood in those examples of destructive environments, such as the one about “Self-esteem”:

Self-esteem is the feeling that we are worthwhile in our personal, social, and work lives. It comes from feeling loved and respected as a child in our family, by friends, and at school.

Ideally we would all have had childhoods that support our self-esteem. We would have felt loved and appreciated by our family, accepted by peers, and successful at school. We would have received praise and encouragement without excessive criticism or rejection.

But this may not have happened to you. Perhaps you had a parent or sibling who constantly criticized you, so that nothing you did was acceptable. You felt unlovable.

As an adult, you may feel insecure about certain aspects of your life.

When I was reading that, all I could think of was one specific incident from my childhood. I was young enough that my mom would bathe me, and she would do it in the en suite bathroom of the master bedroom. One day, she came to dry me off with a towel, and both the bathroom door and the bedroom curtains were open. I told her to close the door, because I was self-conscious about being seen naked by the neighbours across the street. I was really upset about it, and instead of walking two feet to close the door, she laughed and said, “You’re no Tom Cruise”, and left it open. From that point, I’ve had this irrepressible feeling that I’m never attractive enough for someone to even be interested in seeing me naked.

And that was just one example. My childhood was filled with so many such memories, each one branching into other lifetraps.

I’ve never wondered why I have self-esteem issues. I fucking hate how self-conscious I am, because I know the extent of that self-consciousness isn’t normal. I’ve struggled with issues like that my entire life, and I can trace everything back to my parents. It fills me with rage to know that they damaged me to the point where I feel so overwhelmed by my flaws that sometimes I’d rather be dead.

If I were ever to commit suicide — and at this point I feel like I can’t rule out the possibility of this anymore — I’d say that my parents would be 55% responsible1, with my mom sharing more of that blame than my dad.

I hope she reads this one day. I hope my entire family reads this. I hope all my cousin’s moms read this, because they usually try to defend her. I want everyone to know that if I die by my own hand one day, I blame my mom more than anything else in the world. I want parents to know that they have a responsibility to their kids because they’re people too, that they have to treat them properly, and that I was an example of what happens when you don’t.

This is starting to sound like a suicide note, and it’s scaring me. Good thing I’ve always been a rational person, and I still recognize that suicide is an irrational decision for me at this moment. Sometimes, I watch suicide videos just to shock myself into realizing how final, irreversible, and horrible that decision is.

I’m at a lot better than where I was two years ago, before I went to therapy, but I’m still far from being fixed. I can admit that to myself now.

  1. The other 45% being my own inability to deal with these things, but I attribute that to temperament, which is inborn and hence not their fault. []