Seeing What We Don’t Want to See by Dayle Lynne

Author’s Caution:  If you are a self-injurer, the following post could contain triggers.

topic: Warning Signs

I was 14 years old when I cut myself for the first time. I wasn’t very adept at it. I used an industrial razor blade I found on top of the refrigerator. I dragged it across the back of my hand, making scratches more than cuts. For several months, that’s all I did. But the scratches became a bit deeper each time, drew just a little bit more blood.

They may have been shallow, but they were noticeable. I was asked on several occasions what happened. I told everyone that my cat had scratched me. They all, without exception, easily accepted that . . . even though most of them knew my cat only had claws on her back paws.

The more they asked, the more I learned to hide my marks. By the time I was making actual cuts, they were on my upper thighs. I remember going into a panic before my 8th grade day trip to a pool. I tore apart my dresser for a t-shirt that was long enough.

I lived with an amazing mother. She loved me, cared for me, talked to me, and comforted me. And still, she was painfully clueless. Every so often she’d catch a glimpse of the darkness inside of me. She’d sit on my bed and I’d see pain in her eyes. I was ashamed, and I used my gift for words to convince her that everything was wonderful.

Maybe it wasn’t so much my gift as it was her desire to believe what I was saying.

She didn’t know I had a bottle of “just in case” pills in my medicine cabinet. She didn’t know that every time they switched her cancer meds, I’d steal a handful of the old ones. I never did have any idea what those pills would have done had I taken them. I pretty much figured that enough of anything would get the job done.

I always had a knack for convincing people I wasn’t crazy, but looking back, I think I was ridiculously obvious. I think, “If I saw me back then, I’d know I needed help.”

But as I watch my daughter grow up in a world where pain is so much more easily accessed than it was when I grew up, I begin to doubt myself. Will I notice if she gets panic attacks? Will I sense if depression sets it? Will I know if she cuts? Or takes drugs? Or any number of other things?

As a parent, will I notice the signs or will my desire for everything to be okay keep me in a fog of denial? And if I do notice, how will I deal with it?

A lifetime of my own dysfunction has taken on a new meaning now that I’m a parent. I may have several years before I need to worry about these things, but I’ve never been one to allow time to give me comfort.

There are countless commercials, made-for-TV-movies, public service announcements, and articles about talking to your kids, listening to them, and watching for signs of self-destructive behavior. But like everything else in life, it is all so much easier said than done.

The truth is I’m terrified that my daughter will be like me. I’m terrified because quite honestly, I don’t know what would have helped me back then. On the occasions when I was confronted, I became defensive. I put on my best, “I’m better now” face and swore I’d never do it again. They always believed me.

I think it’s human nature to believe those things we want to be true.

I don’t have the answers. Sometimes, I think I should. I think experience should give me an upper hand. But in the end, I’m just another parent worrying about doing what is best for her child.

And the best I can do is make a promise to myself and to my daughter that my eyes, my ears, and my arms will always be open.

12 Responses to “Seeing What We Don’t Want to See by Dayle Lynne”
  1. talleygilly says:

    Dayle – What a gift this piece is. So much raw beauty here as you tell your story, and so much wisdom too. I am in tears thinking of the pain you felt as a child, and how alone you were in it. I can completely understand how your own experience prompts further fears of seeing the same in your daughter (or, to your point, failing to see the same signs). Your fears are the fears of many parents, just in different clothes–this is something we all share. As parents, it’s our job to keep our kids safe and make them feel loved, and I think we all fear that some day, it still might not be enough. Can we protect our kids enough from their own demons, from the outside world? You give us the answer, too–all we can do is stay open, keep communicating, and love them deeply. And perhaps we can learn to see through that defensiveness and not give up when our kids say repeatedly, “I’m fine” and our instincts tell us otherwise. -Alexandra

    • Dayle Lynne says:

      I’ve started responding to you 3 or 4 times, Alexandra. I can’t express how much it means to me that you were touched by this post. Thank you so much for you thoughts here.

      “Your fears are the fears of many parents, just in different clothes–this is something we all share.”

      So true. I’ve mentioned this before in other posts and comments, but many years ago my mom told me that nobody could ever love me as much as she did. I never truly understood that until I held my daughter in my arms for the first time. There are no adequate words for parental love . . . and with a love that deep, I think fear is natural. It’s how we react to that fear that makes the difference, in my opinion.

  2. Jen Hurowitz says:

    “I think it’s human nature to believe those things we want to be true.” I couldn’t agree more. And I can relate to the feeling of being scared that our kids will be like us. I don’t even have kids yet and I worry about that every day. But I think you are on the right track, mostly because you value communication. As long as your daughter really knows she can come to you, that’s the best you can do.

    Thank you for sharing such a personal side of yourself. I hope there are people that read this and truly are changed for the better.

    • Dayle Lynne says:

      Thank you, Jen . . . for your comment and for the peer pressure to share this post! It’s funny, kind of . . . As much as I fear not seeing the signs, I also fear seeing ones that don’t exist. It’s a delicate balance, I think. Ah to my neuroses! All I know is that I love that little girl more than anything in this life and I will always strive to make sure she knows that!

  3. Richard Wiseman says:

    I think that as you say it’s hard to tell what is going on inside someone else’s mind; how dark it can get. You have survived and that makes you wiser and stronger. Using that wisdom and strength to help your children will at least give you an edge in looking for the warning signs. I think that you have been courageous in the past and are being courageous now. Such courage is rewarded by God or Karma or whatever you believe the binding force of the universe is. God bless you and your family and thanks for sharing your very sensitive and emotional experience.

    • Dayle Lynne says:

      Thank you so much, Richard . . . After I wrote this, I hesitated for a while about sharing it here. Reading your post the other day helped push me in that direction, so thank you for that as well. I’m always uncomfortable when I share things like this, but I never regret it afterwards. It’s a part of the ongoing catharsis of my life that helps me let go.

  4. Anne Katherine says:

    Well, I should have the answers, or something close to it, as I have a 17 and 19 year old. But it is so true, as you have described, that we as parents cling so tightly to the truth we want to see… we do not want to believe our kids will have the same troubles that we did. And it’s hard to face the troubles even if we do see them. It’s much easier to minimize them; say it’s just a phase; or hope it just goes away. To do something… that’s hard. And as you’ve said… what is there to do? What will work? “I don’t know what would have helped me back then” — I feel the same way. And also, each kid is different. There are no easy answers. I have seen kids parented by horribly absent parents — and their kids turn out to be model children; I’ve seen model parents parent kids who turn out horribly. I know that being the perfect parent, doing it all right…does not always guarantee a trouble-free adolescence. Having been through it, I feel like the main job is to keep your kids as safe as you can – as safe as you can from their own bad judgments…which is not at all easy to do as you are maneuvering the whole “letting go” thing. But all you can do in the end is what you’ve said…keep those lines of communication open, do the best you can do, and above all things trust your gut instinct ALWAYS!

    • Dayle Lynne says:

      Thank you for your thoughts, Anne!

      “above all things trust your gut instinct ALWAYS!”

      I agree with this 1000%! It is not always easy, but like I tell my daughter, sometimes the difficult thing to do is the right thing to do.

      I think “trouble-free adolescence” is a bit of an oxymoron . . . I’m shooting for a less troubled adolescence!

      It’s interesting. In talking to parents like you who have raised or are raising teenagers, I see it can be done and done well . . . and still I’m terrified! I think that’s normal though. Thank you for being a positive example of a parent of teens!

  5. Deidre M. Murphy says:

    Parenting is one of the bravest things a person can do. It’s going out into the unknown with a sketchy map hoping you read the signs correctly to get to the right destination. Brava! Powerful, beautiful piece which must have been very difficult to write.

    • Dayle Lynne says:

      Thank you so much, Deidre!

      “It’s going out into the unknown with a sketchy map hoping you read the signs correctly to get to the right destination.”

      So true!

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