An Evans-Manning-winning reader writes in the Life On The Front Lines comments thread:
The first 20 years of my life were this poverty, trauma and chaos, and I ended up being a “success case”. Because I was beginning to get my life straightened out at age 20, one can understand how this is a different case than people from the same background who continue there into middle age.
Even being one of the success cases, there are challenges that continue with me. These are not just personal quirks but are the things that very often are found and continuing in people from that kind of background, that make “success” a more complicated, fragile and unlikely outcome.
It’s hard to hold onto money – I spend too much on our clothes, not enough on more worthy things like the house or 401k, and I am likely give away every dollar in my bank account if a family or friend is in need. Literally every dollar – and that is stupid. But that is what you carry from having lived in such type of survival lifestyle that next week or next month are meaningless, you may not even be alive, so just do what seems best in this present moment.
I can’t easily take one evening meal or one weekend like people do, to be easy, drink, celebrate. A complete devil-may-care takes over, and very quickly I am likely to “celebrate” signing my whole life away, quit working to party and camp outside for the rest of my life. There is such a burden of hurt and trauma carried, from so many past things, and this has to be sat on so hard, all the time, to keep it down, or else the tendency is to just “treat myself” and give up, do whatever “fun” things I learned. When you come from rough places, you literally do not care about being homeless or other such sufferings in the same type of way that privileged people value these things. You also never really saw anyone you knew doing any differently.
In interpersonal discord, such that is normal or typical to anyone’s average life, I exist on eggshells, ready at every step for complete psychic annihilation and for laying waste. In the workplace, for example, very ridiculously tiny things have (in the past) made me quit the job, because I felt I was simply restoring the chaos and poverty which was what I best knew, or that I had to punish people for not loving me enough, or all kinds of strange ideas that came straight out of my background.
There is great resentment upon me by family relatives and old friends. There is often never any positive feedback upon these people for the good they do accomplish, but just the opposite. And these old relationships can carry so much more power than a dozen new strangers patting you on the back. You didn’t starve with them and eat garbage, you didn’t live through no toilet together with them, they weren’t there when you took bowls of dimes and pennies to pay for gas, and through much worse things. There is even a type of “survivor guilt” that is part of the struggle, when so many others have died in their situations, or continue suffering in their poor choices.
And others of these people have much more difficult cases than I ever did, in the addition of criminal activity or very severe and lasting substance abuse which I did not have, and/or have never been taught religion or whatever other philosophy helpful to life.
When I was a teenager in those types of shelters or facilities, there would always be a few totally screwed up “normal” kids in there, from nice families, who had just rebelled in adolescence and had fallen. Their families were in there after them and even when not, these kids just had something I could never find – an ability for self discipline, for scheduling, for self control, for deferred gratification, an ability to understand the strange language the social workers and others would try to talk at us about how we should want to find work, get a place to live, make something of ourselves, help others. I am not a stupid person nor careless/uncaring, but I literally could not make mental sense or picture of those concepts, from where I had come.
And in adult and professional life, I have learned how very important childhood is, the comprehensive foundation a decent childhood truly is. A lot of the help therapists and others give to adults is in a manner of “re-parenting” them, modeling and reinforcing the most basic right and wrong, the most basic things of what more privileged people have the luxury of thinking should just be what is a normal functional human psychology by default – but it’s just not.
I don’t have an opinion on this. There’s so much here to think about. I appreciate the reader sharing this intimate perspective with us, though. That’s one thing I really enjoy about this blog and its readership: we discuss issues at a theoretical level, but there are times like this when sharing a story is more important, and a greater aid toward finding the truth, than making an argument.
I sense that deep down in this is a point about metaphysics, i.e., a conviction about the way the world works, as being foundational for so much else in life.