Who's to blame?
Hi time spent offline,
Today’s email is a bit different: I got a bone to pick.
One thing to share:
I notice it at the playground. The parent is engrossed in their phone and the child calls out: “Mom, mom, look! Mom! Look! Mom!” The parent barely looks up, disoriented by reality after being lost in a sea of digital content; “Oh wow, very cool, Jason,” and goes back to staring down. I want to scream. The child goes back to playing and I try to ignore what I briefly recognize on his lovely, tiny, innocent face: The pain of neglect, of lack of attention. Maybe I’m projecting, knowing neglect too well myself: I must be projecting. Then, I feel sad. I feel sad for the child. I feel sad for the parent. I feel sad for all of us enslaved by the attention machine.
I wonder, Who is to blame for iPad kids raised by iPhone parents? The parents? Silicon Valley? Apple? You? Me? All of us?
I grew up without the Internet.
In fact, I didn’t get on the Internet until I was thirteen. That was 2007. I lived in the part of the world that did not have Internet for common folks back then. The Internet did not exist in my world, and I was lucky enough to be raised by parents who also didn’t know what the heck the Internet was— and everyone else because that is how things are back home; all adults are default-parent-authority-figures. Imagine your teachers, neighbours, the adults down the street all disciplining, scolding, telling you what to do, and smacking you in the head when you misbehave? That was just life. And imagine my horror when I came here and realized you can talk to your teachers while sitting down? And the worst that can happen, no matter how badly I behaved was suspension. Ha! I get to miss school for misbehaving, and not a beat down in front of the whole class? Sign me up! Luckily, I was a well-behaved child. I loved school. I loved learning. I was curious and inquisitive. I followed the rules and kept out of trouble for the most part. I was a good kid.
But, I suffered a different kind of neglect growing up.
The adults simply weren’t there. Not because they were on their phones, not because the TV they kept on all evening to drown out their sorrows, and definitely not because they hated us, no, not at all. In fact, I saw them often, heard their voices, and talked to them at times, but yet they just weren’t there. We even joked and ate together sometimes, and when I felt brave enough, angry enough, I told them to fuck off, back off, just shut up, mom— by now I have assimilated to a culture of talking back to adults without risking death— but the adults simply weren’t there to pay attention. Do you know what I mean? I hope you don’t. I hope some of us made it out unscathed by the pain of childhood neglect, or worse parental attention expressed through rage; abuse. If you do, I am so sorry. How did you make it out alive?
Me? I turned the rage of neglect— of being unseen, unheard, of the feeling of being unloved, unwanted, and ignored— inward, and silently waged a war against myself for not being good enough to be worthy of the adult’s attention. Nobody was around to tell me otherwise, to hold my tiny, innocent face in their palms and say, of course, I love you, you are wanted and you are worthy of attention. And because I was a brilliant kid— with a knack for curiosity, wonder, and saving myself by any means necessary, by all means necessary— I formed the best defense mechanism a child could conjure up in her desperate attempt to save herself from drowning in all the neglect and lack of attention surrounding her: Indifference. Repress, ignore, run. I found the books first, lucky me, then the Internet; some boys too, and booze, and other things, but mostly the Internet. I learned how to get attention online and drowned my sorrows in its endless sea of content.
How dare I say anything but nice things for all that the Internet has done for me?
Where else would I have learned how to survive college, what to say on job interviews, and how to fix a broken heart? When the adults failed to show up, to tell me a thing or two to get me through adolescence, the Internet stepped in with its endless information and advice, and a few laughter along the way. It distracted me from my pain long enough to get through another class, another shift, another night spent with strange men with good intentions. The audacity of me, the nerve, to accuse the Internet of anything but. The Internet is the greatest tool ever invented— endless and portable— for ignoring yourself so you can get through life; All addiction is escapism. I used the Internet to ignore the rage I felt at the neglect and lack of attention I experienced in childhood. I was afraid if I let it come to surface, if I faced the rage, I would crumble and vanish under its weight, and they would call me another statistic. So I kept running to Twitter to save me. Save me it did.
The thing is though when you ignore the parts of you you deem threatening to your survival, you also ignore and suppress the parts of you necessary for your well-being. Again: WHEN YOU IGNORE THE PARTS OF YOU YOU DEEM THREATENING TO YOUR SURVIVAL, YOU ALSO IGNORE AND SUPPRESS THE PARTS OF YOU NECESSARY FOR YOUR WELL-BEING. You don’t get to pick and choose; I learned this in therapy. In ignoring myself to suppress my rage, to avoid confronting the pain of lack of attention, and neglect, I ignored all of me; the creative, fun, playful, curious, inquisitive, intuitive parts of me were repressed and suffocating too. I felt miserable. Restless. To soothe these emotions, I doubled down on my Internet usage. I wouldn’t allow a single moment of pause, stillness, silence with myself; I scrolled and scrolled and scrolled until I passed out. Then, one day, I was over it. I was tired of running. I was tired of waking up in terror, angry I had to be alive today too as if yesterday wasn’t cruel enough, while tomorrow mocked me with its regularly scheduled visit. I was tired of my inability to face myself, needing this and that to save me. I was scared too. I saw all around me what happened to those who couldn’t stop running long enough to catch their breath.
Sink or swim, and tired of going against the current, I surrendered.
Last year today, unbeknownst to me then, after setting my by all accounts a perfectly comfortable life on fire, I began a very important journey: The journey of self-recovery. You can run, of course, but you cannot hide. For twenty eight years, I ran: Breathlessly, relentlessly, desperately, seeking solace in all that would rescue me from myself. The Internet was my saviour. All to avoid— to remain indifferent to, unaffected by, and careless towards— a pain deeply lodged in my psyche, a pain formed in childhood, of a child that grew up lacking love, care, affection, attention. A child of neglect. And I do not blame anyone, not even the adults. I can’t in good conscience. I am a victim of generations of victims: A collateral damage. This took so long to understand that my rage, turned inwards into self-orchestrated war, almost killed me. Forgiveness is not a prerequisite to understand why the adults failed to show up, to notice you, to pay attention and rescue you. They would have if they could, if they were taught how to show up, to notice, to pay attention. They, too, were failed by the generations before them. Still, I don’t forgive them, yet or ever, but I understand. You can too. I hope you have. I hope you do. More importantly, I hope you never have to.
What do you do when you don’t have anyone to blame?
I didn’t get to play in childhood. Instead of to play, I used my curiosity, instincts, and wit to survive. And survive I did. I have earned my life as it is today fair and square; I have paid all my dues on time— it has taken me twenty eight years. I have taken a few punches all the way down, and all the way up, and I stand today with gratitude to honour my younger self, what Aundre Lorde calls the brave, bruised girlchild— to love her in the light as well as in the darkness, quiet her frenzy toward perfection and encourage her attentions toward fulfillment. I don’t blame anyone nor hold anyone responsible for all that I had to endure. I seek to understand instead. Why me, yes, but why them? I’m sure if I were to hear what happened to you, I would celebrate what happened to me. Instead of the blame game, the cheap trills and escapes, the Internet, and all that suppressing and running away, I am committing the last bit of my 20s to show up to my brave, bruised girlchild and give her a chance to come out and play. To say, look, it’s safe, go play! What do I have to lose? And what is to play anyway? I will have to find out.
That’s all for this week!
Thank you for reading, and share with anyone you think may benefit.
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Until next time,