November 13, 2012

Shake, Rattle, and Roll

It all began with my sister, ultimately the less rebellious of the two of us. It must have started because of the total anxiety we felt at the hands of our parents, and the ways this nervousness manifested itself at a young age. For my sister, there were many acts of rebellion in her youth; running away, her choice of boyfriends, her marriage, etc., but overall her life was a resounding yes to my parent’s expectations.

Today, although my sister does not have the financial resources of my parent’s, she represents eloquently their ideals and their interests. She is them at their very finest. She is at peace with our parents, while I am not sure what I feel. I am very proud and very much like my parents, yet even to this day, some forty-five years after their deaths, I am still angry and defiant and in my fashion alternately saying yes and no.

When both my sister and I were very young (I probably around six or seven and she around eleven or twelve) I remember hearing in the next room, which was her bedroom, a tumultuous banging into the pillow for many minutes and then suddenly coming to a complete stop. I remember seeing her do this on occasion with no particular rhythm, rather a violent swaying of her up and down into the pillow.

I figured this was either an attempt to knock some sense into her head, or her anxious ritual before sleep. I remember this very well, and feel it obviously displayed the totally neurotic ADD, DDD, EFG family we were. It obviously worked because after an energetic half hour of head banging, my sister would abruptly stop and fall deep into an exhausted sleep.

What is to be noted here is a very important point. My sister was moving her head up and down into the pillow as if proclaiming a giant YES! It seems to me today, although tormented and anxious, she was happy with her life and even in her anxiety, was willing and able to affirm it, albeit violently.

Sometime later, for some reason that I cannot remember (maybe they were painting my room) I was moved into my sister’s room for a week or two.

This was the room of my older sister where I was frequently banished and with whom we seemed so many years apart. She was much older, more vivacious, outgoing, and social. I was a loner, quiet and serious. I envied her at times, and I would have liked to have been more like her, but I wasn’t.

Anyway, for those two weeks something happened to me. I was only a few feet away from the maelstrom, and through some miraculous telepathy learned and then associated my sister’s habit. In fact, I think I probably joined her in her bedtime ritual. Now my parents had two head banging misfits on their hands. I am sure we were brought to every doctor to confirm our physical well being. No one would dare express that mentally that we had a few loose screws. They were told we would outgrow this (which we did) and that we were just nervous anxious children that needed activity and socializing to solve all our problems. After forty-five years of therapy I wish it was that simple.

Finally after some weeks I went back to my own room to continue the party in solitude. Some years later I realized that although I had learned my lessons well from my sister, it had taken a new form with me.

Instead of moving up and down into the pillow, I had learned to move my head in a violent, defiant sway back and forth. I had learned to express myself and perhaps my anger with a head banging NO!

I do not remember this exercise in sleep preparation went on for, but I think it lasted a few years. Finally it dissipated into a general free-floating anxiety and hypochondria that filled every pore of my body.

To this day my sister has learned not only to be at peace with our past, but is able to look with great admiration and longing for the years we spent growing up. I on the other hand am still clearly ambivalent. I miss my parents greatly and I valued and loved my childhood, but still there is anger and defiance in me as if part of me is still swaying uncontrollably into the pillow with a defiant NO!



  1. It seems that we cannot escape genetics, our nurturing and the social commotion that is our lives!
    my parents seemed to always be fighting, quarreling and at odds with each other. Later in life, as adults, my sister and i, realized that much of that “fracas” was a prelude to their love making!
    So thru my life i have avoided arguments and family “discussions” as best as possible. Looking in the mirror i see my Dad! i’d prefer more my Mom. Heart Attack at same age as my Dad’s. Rats!
    Yet when i see your photographs, images of your heart, mind and soul, one sees such timed perfect perfection. Your clarity of vision in a perfect world.(almost).
    We cannot help about our beginnings, it is what we do with the journey of life. Looking forward to a long trip.Your ongoing blog my travel guide.

    Comment by jason gold — November 13, 2012 @ 6:53 pm

  2. I wonder if you have explored recovery as an adult child of personality disordered parents? This has been the key to my own recovery: understanding my mother who had borderline and narcissistic personality disorder, the latter she shared with each of her three husbands. Growing up in this environment, as the scapegoated daughter was an incredibly invalidating experience, one that I did not reconcile myself with till after my mother’s death where the revelation of her diaries revealed her disordered thinking and her crucifixion at me as the repository of her off-loaded shame; re-ignited my latent complex-ptsd, and ultimately set me on the road to recovery and awareness. Photography has been the perfect therapy for me all these years: the closeness at arms length is commensurate with my need to be a part of something but yet not too close; my keen eye can be attributed to the hypervigilance I developed at the hands of emotionally labile caretakers. I have been in therapy one year and see vast improvements, also because there are large bodies of research about recovery from this type of upbringing. Many people dislike my habit of labeling the psychological manifestations of growing up like this, but like Joseph Cornell and his wonderful boxes, I seek to contain the chaotic elements of my childhood and bring order and reason to them. It is working. I recommend Judy Hermann’s Trauma and Recovery to help you understand and move beyond what you have been dealing with all your life. I don’t need to read about your relationship with your parents to understand what you have been through. As one wise therapist said to a friend, “The symptoms of your malaise are writ upon you.”

    Comment by Alicia R. — November 14, 2012 @ 2:00 pm

  3. I really hope you read this, I had to read your story a few times to understand this head banging I felt slightly embarrassed as I read on memories of my childhood brought back images of my bad mannered cousins teasing me relentlessly about my own head banging.I’m also relieved to know I’m not the only child who needed this type of soothing my childhood was a stark contrast to yours but I suppose the remedy to calm was the same. I’ve grown into happy semi-dignified woman. when I’m reminded by my all grown up immature cousins about my head banging days I can now hold my head up and tell them there are many GREAT men and women in this world who resorted to this method including Rodney Smith. I love all your stories THANK YOU for sharing this one in particular, it made me smile all day.

    Comment by Anita B — November 15, 2012 @ 1:41 am

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