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·525 words·3 mins
Family of Origin Mental Health Survival

“I’m a fraud and others will find out”

There it is, right in the “FEARS” worksheet. Fuck you, Step 4. Moral Inventory bullshit. I wince, feel the rage rise up within me. I sigh.

Whenever I experience this level of anger, what’s being said is either very true or very untrue. I focus on relaxing, letting the negativity drain out of me so that I figure out which one it is. But really, this time such reflection is unnecessary. I know incontrovertibly that this is the fear that haunts me more than all others, that makes me want to curl up in the fetal position, shrivel up like a cooked shrimp, die.

“People don’t change, not really.” That’s what I’ve been taught. It’s my mom’s belief. “They just let you down. There’s no such thing as forgiveness. People don’t change.” It’s a belief held by people from my hometown. You are who you were as a small child, stuck with whatever flaws you’re sprung from the womb with. And your family name, your family identity, such a thing supersedes your individual personality.

I’m from a poor town in Maine, quite a distance from any city of significance. In our small town, we are one of the wealthier families, my parents both having grown up poor, but through my father’s natural intelligence and phenomenal work ethic, I lived a life of relative financial comfort, especially when contrasted with many of my neighbors. As well, my mother was an esteemed member of the church, involved integrally with PTA and band boosters, and a Girl Scout troop leader. My parents are perfectionists, and my mother raised us believing that appearances were everything and to trust no one outside of the family. Sadly, I also trusted almost no one in the family either – with the notable exception of my older sister May, who I believe is responsible for any shred of sanity I’ve managed to retain over those years.

So much of who I was to most people, how I was viewed, was dictated by how I acted as a child, the public mistakes I made, my musical performances as a teenager, and my family name – and yet, all of these things have virtually no relevance to who I am then, or today. Some of it I’ve outgrown, some of it never fit and was forced on me, and some of it I’ve consciously rejected and worked to change.

It was unbelievably freeing to move spontaneously to Ohio, to now live in a place where no one here has known me for longer than a year and a half, to be able to be seen as how I am now and who I am trying to be than to who everyone thinks I am, or even worse, who they thought I was.

And yet… It is so difficult to escape my mother’s voice: “They only like you because they don’t really know who you are. They don’t know you like we do. We know the truth about you. You may fool them, but at the end of the day, it’s all smoke and mirrors. You’re a fraud.”


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