Look on the bright side
Skawina | Poland
I don’t like your question. What does it mean that I managed?
If I compare my situation with those of the girls from my block of flats in Skawina ... it’s true that some of them died already or are in a very difficult situation. So one may say that I managed.
Sometimes I think to myself: “Aneta, don’t exaggerate. You have a nice relationship, you have children - even though they said you would never have any - you have worked out your past in million different ways, now you are teaching people how to avoid some mistakes, so it's really good, isn't it”!?
When I turned 22 I got to know I had a tumor, ovary and fallopian tubes to be removed. No children. From a psychological perspective, after raising up four sisters, the body may not want to have more children. Then a gastroscopy and another doctor saying that I have a gullet and a backbone as I were a 65 year old man lifting boulders all day long. Next, the cardiologist. He kept asking me whether I was training any extreme sport, because I have a tremendous heart efficiency. I could run marathons.
Everything has been written down in the body.
Not only mine. It was the body of Dawid, my son, that forced me to look at my life, to slow down. It started with his autoimmune disease. Then, tics came. I was running to all kinds of doctors to find a medical reason, it was easier to accept for me. The moment I had to write in the search engine “psychologist in Krakow”, looking for a doctor for myself, was one of the worst in my life. Because I had to admit: I need help.
Dawid’s tics stopped along with his diseases. He started to laugh, he moved and behaved differently. And the moment he shouted for the first time in his life – he was not able to set limits. It was only then that I realized how much troubles I brought into his life. Just because I didn’t work out anger, I didn’t allow it at home, I took it away from my own child. I believed that the distance between anger and violence was too little. And I wanted badly not to have a dysfunctional family. The fact that Dawid stopped getting sick kicked a positive momentum; I said to myself: “Okay, I fucked it up, but I managed to fix it. I'll keep on fixing”.
Not only in my own family. That’s why the Foundation was created.
In the shallow version, I always say this is the consequence of a midlife crisis, the need to quit a corporation and do something else with my life. The deeper version echoes back to the time when I was 16. I don’t remember whether my father chased me out of the house or I slammed the door myself. I remember it was winter. I ran in the snow with only my T-shirt on, with a jacket in my hand.
When I entered the house of my then-boyfriend, his mother asked me only two questions:
- Did you argue with your father?
I said yes.
- Can you come back?
I said no.
She prepared a bed for me. She made breakfast in the morning. When I returned home next day and heard that I could enter only on my knees, I could say "no". I knew I had a place to go.
It was one of the most important things that helped me out, I felt I didn’t have to put up with it. He had no such a power over me anymore. It gave me strength. I thought then that a child who runs out of the house in such a situation must have a place to go to. I promised myself that one day I'd create that place.
I never talked about what was happening at home, even to my friends.
Besides one time. I was maybe 17. The evening before at home was a shambles. I went to the teacher to tell her that I wasn’t prepared for the test. I was used to confrontation, I never ran away from school. I stood in front of her, on the stairs, and mumbled something to justify myself. I had heavy make up so nobody could see my black-and-blue marks. Anyway she immediately said: “Your father beats you”. It was such a shock, that she guessed. There was no test that day, no one did it. We went to the pedagogue. Till today I think that conversation with her was just a waste of time. She suggested that because my father had problems with alcohol, perhaps I should spend more time with my mother. I replied that my mother also has alcohol problems. Maybe my grandmother and grandfather could spend more time with me? I answered that grandma and grandpa also have alcohol problems. Aunt, uncle, cousin? Everyone has problems with alcohol. Finally she asked: how can I help you? I asked her to arrange lunches for free for all my younger sisters. I would have never asked for myself, admit I needed something. But I was already taught to find help for others, it was easier for me.
Soon the all issue dropped away: my head teacher said it couldn’t be true, I was too good a student and I smiled too often. It couldn't be that bad.
I still remember those words: “It's definitely not that bad”.
However, the fact that that teacher noticed it and somehow took care of it - she even apologized she couldn’t do more - it was important. It gave me strength, again a little more strength.
I took a lot also from observing. Seeing that it can be different. When I was 8, I used to get up an hour earlier, go to the house of a friend of mine, although I knew that everyone was still sleeping there. I knocked, her mother let me in and said that it was still early. I answered I would wait. And while sitting in the hall, I watched what was happening. I saw that my friend had clothes already prepared, that her mother made her breakfast. I discovered it could be different, there where other ways. That gave me hope. It didn’t happen to me, but it doesn’t really matter. Because it exists.
I also believed that everything happens for a reason. That God loves me, it's just a lesson to do. I will manage with the help of God and I will look on the bright side of it.
I'm obsessed with focusing on the positive side. Turning deficits into resources. Looking for gold nuggets in all this sand of life. I'm also obsessed with the fact that everything is possible. Paradoxically, my father often told me: “You can do it”! It was extremely important to me. Today, expressions like "you can do it" or "I'm proud of you" have become the base of my Foundation.
I called the Foundation Wyobraź sobie [Imagine]. As a child I used to imagine that I could live differently. Every evening. I would go to sleep and paint different worlds in my imagination. I also wrote a lot of diaries. I waited all day to write things down. I couldn’t tell anyone.
A few years ago I opened these diaries, 12 years of writing. I read them all at once, loudly, during one night with wine and with Jolka, one of my sisters, next to me. A kind of therapy. I remember that before reading I was afraid I was about to open a cage with a monster inside, that I would go through hell again.
There was no monster at all, almost no word about my father. There was a child, a very little child, with an unbelievable sense of guilt. Everywhere, on every page: "I am responsible for it", "I have nothing for my sisters", "Everything is because of me". Pouring out emotions, fears, not a word about facts.
At home I couldn’t cry. Every sign of fear made my father furious. I used to go to places in which I was allowed to cry, to funerals, to church. I also drew these tears. I drew a lot in general. And I danced even more. I was going to all possible activities, just not to be at home. At that time it was easier, they were for free, nobody asked for agreement from parents. And above all - nobody kept me at home.
My sisters? There were four. Sylwia 3 years younger, Jolka 5 years younger, Marzena 7 years and Agnieszka 14. The worst was with the birth of Agnieszka. I was 14 years old and I cried for the whole pregnancy that I couldn't manage it, I wouldn’t be able to raise next child.
It is important they were there, though. For example, for the touch. We compensated the lack of touch from parents among ourselves. We slept in the same bed, we negotiated how many minutes we massaged each other. I don’t remember my mother hugging me, but at least I was hugged by my sisters.
Although my cousins say that at first it was good, that my mother tried. They remember they had been jealous because my father played with me on the carpet. I don’t remember that, maybe those first years were important...
My father kept telling me that I would manage. I think he used to brag about me somewhere. School and good grades gave me a lot all in all. Both at that time and later - I could easily get into college, set up my own accounting firm, find a job in a corporation. You know, he gave me a lot, despite all the violence. More than my mother, I didn’t have any contact with her. Sometimes I think that it would have been enough if they had had support at the right time, if someone had showed them that it could have been different. If anyone had helped them to deal with their own past.
I remember I promised myself as a child that this would be the last generation of such a carnage. And this is not just about alcohol, because there may not be alcohol, but the pathology remains, some mechanisms and patterns are repeated, even if seemingly in a different way. You don’t have to hit a child to make him beaten.
I have done a lot of therapies last years, I look inside myself, I try to discover what helped me. Every time I catch what could have been, I bring it to the Foundation. We give children and parents skills. We give them our presence.
At the Foundation, we work in parallel with children, youth and adults. To children and youth we teach creativity, self-sufficiency, recognition and expression of emotions, we strengthen them and encourage to take action for the benefit of the community, thanks to such programs as the Akademia Emocji [Academy of Emotions], Światozmieniacze [Changemakers] and Destination Imagination. For adults, we organize Szkoła dla Rodziców [School for Parents], we help them communicate with their children, deal with conflicts and with their own emotions, together we go through changes. There are stories like a dad seriously talking for the first time to his 8-year-old son or a teenager who thanks us for her mother taking part in our workshops, because she can feel the difference.
You know, I think I’ve already managed. I created the safe place I dreamed about as a child. Not only in the physical sense. Today I understand that a safe place is above all a space inside ourselves, it is a belief that things are possible. People leave the Foundation with the hope that things can be different.
Text published also in Duży Format.
More about Fundacja Wyobraz sobie: wyobrazsobie.org.pl