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Lifting My Curse

31 March 2023:

On this journey of confronting past trauma's, healing, and self discovery, I have spent a lot of time unpacking how I have allowed the world to impact the way I view myself and my self-worth. I've talked about the role race has had on my life. Experiences as a woman, pressures in my career as an officer in the USAF, my christian faith and upbringing. I'm learning to let go and release the pressures these identities have had on me. But the one influence that has been the hardest for me to confront and let go of, were the invisible pressures I felt from my parents. My inherited, generational curse.

As a little kid, I frequently overheard my parents argue about money. They would do it at night time after they put my siblings and I to bed but their voices were so loud it would carry throughout the house and keep me up. My sister and I would cry as we didn't want them to fight. As the eldest sister, I learned quickly that my crying wouldn't change, fix the situation, or stop them from arguing. So I decided to focus on what I could control and my choice was to be strong for my younger siblings. I would console my sister during every argument and when our little brother got old enough to feel something from the arguments, I would console him too. I remember both of them saying, "I shouldn't have asked for that toy" or "this is all my fault," as they sobbed. I would reassure them both that our parents arguments had nothing to do with them and that it is best for them to go back to bed and just not listen to it; try their best to tune it out. While I learned to compose myself, internally it tore me apart to hear my parents argue and while I couldn't stop them (at times I tried) I decided that I would do everything I could to alleviate any stress on the family and not be a burden on my parents.

When I was 13 years old I got my first job. I worked as a babysitter for parents in my local community. I saved all of the money I made from this summer job and used it to buy my clothes for the start of school the following year. By age 16 I got my next job working at the Travis AFB Commissary as a grocery bagger. I saved my money and used it to purchase any school expenses I had throughout the school year (with the exception of the bus fare; my parents paid for that) and for any personal things I wanted for myself.

From the time I was little I knew I wanted to go to college and did everything I could in order to make myself an attractive applicant and citizen of character. Extra-curricular activities like tennis, track, the AFJROTC Rifle drill team, Christian club on campus, Best Buddies club, volunteering at the local assistant living home for senior citizens, plus others, I did to help distinguish myself. I chose sports over learning how to play an instrument because competitive sports were free. All I had to do was try out and make the teams. While my grades were okay (a 3.3 gpa) my test scores on the SAT were not competitive for the opportunities I desired. I wanted and was supported by my JROTC instructor in applying for the ROTC scholarship but halfway through the application process he realized my SAT scores were too low making me inelligible to apply. Out of the 12 scholarships I applied for, I earned six of them, totaling in $3,000. While it felt good for several organizions to see a value in me that they wanted to invest in, I spent all of my scholarship money on books and school service fees my first year of college. California has a benefit for retired military members who are residents of the state. The state will pay the tuition of any CA state or UC school (this is called the CA, VA fee waiver). Thankfully, I qualified for the VA fee waiver covering my tuition, but I still had to find a way to cover all of the other expenses of college. So, throughout my 5 years attending school, I commuted two hours a day from my residence then to and from school; then worked a total of three different part time jobs to help me pay all of my school expenses.

While attending school full-time, being an ROTC cadet in demanding leadership positions within the program, commuting two hours a day, and working full-time was exhausting, I was proud that I didn't place any financial stress on my parents and was finding a way to achieve my goals without burdening them. In my eyes, I was making my own way on my own. One semester, I remember getting up at 4am, traveling in order to be at school by 6am, leaving at 3pm in order to be at work by 5pm and getting off work at 10pm; I did my homework in between. I did this 5 days a week and it was very tough. For my next job I realized I wanted to not cram so much in one day so I decided to go to school Monday through Friday and work my part-time job on Saturdays and Sundays; I was working either as a student at school or in my part-time job seven days out of the week. While I didn't have any days off for the year, this schedule felt easier as I was able to focus on school during school days and work during work days. Although I was consistently recognized and ranked within the top third of my ROTC class, due to the government sequestration and other budget cuts, the ROTC scholarship awarded to those in the program, was cut the years I was enrolled (it returned after I graduated).

While I had friends, I did not have much of a social life. I spent $80 a week on gas due to all of the commuting so I packed a lunch during the week and bought a Razor scooter in order to move around the campus quicker as I parked off base as it was free rather than spending $250 on a semesterly parking permit. During summers, I usually took, 1-2 classes and worked in order to graduate in the timing I desired. While going through all of this was extremely draining, I repeatedly told myself to trust God and to know that all of this is building my character. It will strengthen my ability to lead, inspire, and connect to other people.

When I joined the Air Force I was looking forward to just doing one thing: learning and doing my job. But every senior officer I met encouraged me to get my masters degree done as a Lieutenant as we will need it one day to promote to Col. The feedback I consistently received was that our Lt years were the best time to do it. I was not happy about having to do more school while I simultaneously worked a very demanding full-time, leadership job, but I did as my mentors said and earned my master's degree as a Lieutenant; just three months shy of my promotion to Captain.

In 2018 I started my Junior Officer Cryptologic Career Program (JOCCP) internship at Ft Meade in MD, and arrived already burnt out. I wasn't completely sure of the source of the burn out but I blamed the Air Force and the pressure to get a master's degree early on in one's career as we are still learning our full-time jobs and adjusting to being an active duty officer. I had a lot of resentment towards the Air Force and didn't know how to rest without a fear that if I did so, I would be cut from or fall behind in my career. In my previous Wing, some of the feedback I received was that since I hadn't deployed yet, another person was stratified higher than me. So the first opportunity I had to deploy, I took it and was gone for six months.

The deployment was a great learning experience and had some positive moments but overall was very taxing on my mental health. I did not have a peer group there and often felt very alone. By the time I returned to the states, my gratitude in being alive and reconnected with the people who care about me, re-energized me to heights I had never experienced before. I was doing things, leading projects, solving problems, working out in ways I had never done before. "My burnout is gone!" I thought.

Then 2020 hit. The Pandemic. George Floyd. I was sent home from work for 73 consecutive days because I was not a "mission essential" member during the onset of the pandemic and I HATED it. I had attached my self-worth to my "non-mission essential" status, and staying home not doing anything I believed was productive to the mission and being alone with just my thoughts was miserable to me. I pleaded with my boss to let me come back to work early and after my second attempt of begging him, he let me come back.

By July 2021, I moved to Korea. Everything seemed fine until August, when I found out the stuff with my family. Korea was experiencing the rolling lockdowns and extensive restrictions due to the COVID Delta and Omicron Variants. Work, specifically the high pace of operations and personnel challenges, were extremely stressful. My marriage felt like it was falling apart before it could barely begin. I was carrying so much but felt that there was no where emotionally safe for me to fall apart. And despite my attempts for help, I just continued to hit a wall and an absence of the level of support that I needed.

Then I fell apart.

After being hospitalized and waiting for a month to start the intensive outpatient (IOP) treatment, my chosen self-therapy was watching the movie Encanto. I watched it once, everyday for most of the month of August in 2022. I found each character relatable. Isabella, with her pressure to be "perfect." Mirabel, feeling like she has no power or gift of value to others, making her less than everyone else. Bruno, mentally trapped and choosing to keep himself hidden as he is misunderunderstood and frequently criticized by the people he thought he could trust the most. Luisa's story probably resonated with me the most. Because her power is superhuman strength and she can do things no one else can, she felt this pressure to always perform and take care of others. When she said, "I'm pretty sure I'm worthless if I can't be of service." I felt that. But I asked myself, who am I serving? Where is this pressure to serve to have any sense of worth, coming from?

The discoveries I had in therapy revealed to me many sources for the various types of pressures I feel. I felt pressure to achieve as a black person, to be a positive representive for my race, combat negative stereotypes, and inspire others. Pressure to be perfect, and not sin "like Christ" from my interpretation of my Christian faith. Pressure to not only uphold the current standards but to exceed the standard as an Air Force Officer in order to be worthy of the phenomenal Airmen that I was privileged in leading. I felt pressure as a woman to make Michael's life as comfortable as possible as he made (in my eyes) the ultimate sacrifice by uprooting his life, to be with me (for some reason I couldn't trust that Michael made his own decision and wanted this for himself). All of these revelations helped me understand myself but even then, I still felt pressure to please others. I still worried about the opinions of other people. Where is this coming from?

One day, I was in the bathroom getting dressed and I had a flashback from when I was in High School. I remembered how all of my teachers knew my dad and would tell me they knew him. While I was proud of my dad, I realized this made me feel like I was under a microscope. I remember being hyper conscious of how I behaved in school because I never wanted to do anything that would embarass my parents, or get back to them and get me in trouble. I then remembered the relentless pressure I felt from my dad for two straight years to get a PhD after I had just completed my masters degree and was exhausted. I then felt intense rage. I realized how so much of how I operated was to please them. Or to not threaten the "image" they wanted our family to uphold, even if it meant supressing or never discovering, how I truly feel. I didn't want my mom to yell at me over not understanding my elementary homework so I worked harder to figure it out on my own. I didn't want my parents to argue about money or feel any burden from me so I started working at 13, and haven't stopped since. I always consulted them before big life decisions. I shared with them stories of my travels, accomplishments, gifts, etc. I wanted them to be a part of celebrating the victories. I wanted them to be proud of me and bring them evidence that all of their hard work, sacrifices, and support allowed me to have the succeses I've had. I wanted to cancel out the bad things and make them feel good and happy. I had been living in a state of denial all this time, because I had convinced myself that my desires, my interests, my way of thinking was my own. But truthfully, I cared so much about what my parents thought and felt, I unconciously at times manuevered out of a fear of not pleasing them.

I looked at my brother and sister. They've been in the business of pleasing themselves and disappointing at least one parent for years. My sister even said, "I've never felt that pressure that you feel. I've always felt free." My brother related to her. How come they never felt this? How does one become free?

The hardest decision of my life was deciding if I should include my dad in my wedding or not. This was NOT a decision I EVER imagined contemplating. While I was never a big fan of being walked down the aisle and "given away" to the groom (given away sounded too much like I was a piece of property), I knew from the time I was a little girl that I wanted to do the father daughter dance. From the moment I heard Luther Vandross' "Dance with my Father Again," while in the car riding with my dad, I knew that would be our song.

But here I was today, confronting the truth and now I didn't know what to do. I thought, if I do the dance at my wedding with my dad, it's going to feed this image he's created of this model, "family man". Me doing the dance with my dad would likely support his ego and image. But the dad I grew up with. The dad I THOUGHT I knew, I really loved. I was so confused and afraid I'd make the "wrong" choice. I was blinded by my pain and was afraid I'd make a decision that I would one day regret.

I shared with the Psychologist I was seeing at the time, that I was struggling with this decision and asked questions about my dad's life. He brought up the movie "Fences" starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. The film follows a family of four during the 1950's's and shows themes of family, love, dreams that don't come to fruition, and racism. In the movie Denzel Washington's character is a garbage man with a wife (Viola Davis) and son. His borther (who is a disabled war veteran) lives with them too. He dreamed of one day becoming a baseball player but because of racism, he was unable to pursue his dream. While there are moments of laughter and joy in the film, Denzel's character drives a huge wedge between him and his son, he cheats and has a baby on his wife, then asks her to help him raise the child as his mistress dies in childbirth. Because Viola Davis' character see's the child as innocent in the matter, she chooses to be her mother but says to her husband, "From right now this child got a mother. But you a womanless man."

My Psychologist relates the theme of racism and how HARD it is to be a black man in America. He compared my dad to the lead character and said how much the world just beats black men down. I interpreted this as an attempt in helping me gain empathy for, and humanization of, my dad. I then said to my therapist a very similar line that Viola says in the movie. I asked, " But what about his wife?! She was standing right there, getting beat down with him, the whole time! What about her?!"

I was not in a place of accepting the beatdown of black men as a suitable justification for behaviors that break the hearts of black women. After that conversation I decided that I may need a new therapist. A woman therapist.

When it came to my wedding, I ultimately decided not to do the dance with my dad. I barely made the decision to let him come to the wedding. I knew people would wonder why my dad didn't walk me down the aisle or dance with me; especially given their knowledge of how much he means to me, but my attitude was let the people wonder. While it hurt me deeply to do this, I could not enable him or contribute to this facade of what our family is. I didn't want to pretend anymore.

While unpacking this in therapy, my new therapist (a black woman officer) asked, "Why did you think it was your responsibility to hold your dad accountable?" I told her, "because who was going to stand up for my mom? Someone needed to stand up for her."

After the session and more unpacking into myself, I realized I have been attempting to stand up for my mom for a long time. Through my attempts to encourage and find resources that could help her to take care of herself. My attempts to buy her different accessories for her hair to help strengthen her self-esteem and to give her more hairstyling options after her options have become more limited over the years. I stand up for her when I felt that some of my siblings were taking advantage of her financially, or if my dad didn't give her a gift on valentines day.

The sad and hard truth was, that despite my efforts to stand up for my mom and give her love and support, I can't save her. Only she can do that.

And I can't save my dad by accomplishing the goals he wanted for himself but for various reasons to include racism, were never able to achieve.

I have been trying to save and help both my parents for pretty much my entire life. I became the child they could pour their dreams into and watch them come to life. I was consistent, someone they could depend on and not worry about; the child who gets stuff done. The child who, for the most part, did not subscribe to any negative racial stereotypes. The resilient child who made mistakes but would always adapt and recover. I was an example to my siblings and was consistently someone my parents could brag about to, to their friends, coworkers or other parents for my achievements or show off pictures of my beauty. I accepted this role because I liked feeling valued and I trusted them. I trusted the foundation they built for our family. I trusted the God they introduced me to.

But seeing unhappiness in them made it impossible for me to fully embrace joy.

This became the most visible to me in my marriage to Michael. I felt bad or guilty everytime Michael did something nice or good for me because I wondered if my mom ever experienced this. I feared that the goodness I was experiencing would go away at anytime, so I couldn't fully trust it. I couldn't trust that Michael could actually mean what he says to me, and truly love me. I consistently waited for the other shoe to drop. I carried a sadness for every new travel experience or adventure and wondered how my dad would have felt if he got to do this. If my mom would ever agree to experience some of the outdoorsy adventures he enjoyed.

After the fall out with my family, I told my mom how I was afraid and guilty about the many good things Michael would do for me. My mom said to me, "You found a man that was willing to cross an ocean for you. Kristin, that is a good thing. It's OK to enjoy your life.... you don't have to carry the pain of what happened with me and your dad. Let me carry that."

I said to my mom, "But you didnt deserve that, Mommy. You don't deserve to carry pain."

"I know." She said. "But that's not your pain to carry Kristin. It's OK for you to enjoy your life. Seeing you and your siblings truly happy makes me happy."

In one of the books I'm reading, I came across this quote:

"The most powerful ancestral or generational curse we face is our unhealed trauma..... You are not betraying your ancestors by healing your trauma..... We are attached in so many ways to our identities. It makes sense that we would fear that if we heal our trauma bonds, we are betraying our collective. No, our Ancestors WANT us to heal the bloodline. That is evolution. That is why you were born...These fears are all blockages in the soil energy channel. So how can we ever be completely safe? Safety is an internal job. And it starts with being planted, grounded, rooted on solid soil."

After reflecting on my life, and reading this message it hit me: I have been carrying a generational trauma. I feel UNWORTHY of rest, of joy, and in some cases of love because so many in my family, ancestors before me, and those in my community went, or are currently living, without. My identities have been rooted in struggle, adversity, betrayal, service of others before myself, and overcoming. But I WANT rest without having to "earn it". I want to be loved, to trust fully, and experience true loyalty, accountabilty, live courageously rather than in fear. And most of all, I want to be free. A freedom in being my authentic self and having security with this.

I didn't know I carried this because for so long I have been unaware of myself. Unaware of my family and not acknowledging how history has specifically impacted each of us. I was living in pretense. I kept myself distracted with work and external things. But just because I wasn't aware, didn't mean the curse relieved itself from slowly killing me from the inside out. It was killing me. It took me becoming severely depressed and attempting to take my life to confront this. And while I hope to never reach such extrememes again, I am here now. Listening and aware. Confronting my pain and trauma's, some of which I inherited. I choose to speak my truth and seek truth in all things, because I want healing for me. I want healing for my whole family and the larger community. And while I can not do the healing work for anyone outside of myself, I hope each of them know that they are worthy of healing and all of the love, joy, peace, and freedoms that come with it. For those fruits are connected to our TRUE identies. Our true roots and soil that we come from, not the lies we've been conditioned to believe about ourselves. And despite how something feels or seems, its NEVER too late to heal and be free.

Reference: Abrams, A. (2021) "African Goddess Initiation: Sacred Rituals for Love, Prosperity, and Joy."

Photo: At the beach in Busan, South Korea


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