The Bruiser

For someone with a crushing amount of insecurity and self-esteem challenges, I don’t present that way. This is in large part to a persona that has been a longstanding topic of conversation in my monthly check ins with my therapist.

Recently I’ve decided to call her “the Bruiser”.

The Bruiser appeared early in my life as a response to living in an unpredictable and challenging environment. I am the daughter of a high functioning and unreformed alcoholic. My childhood was chaotic, traumatic, and confusing.

Compared to other children of addicts, my experiences with my alcoholic parent are pretty tame. We were an upper middle class family. My parents are both college educated. We always had food on the table, clothes on our backs. I come from a privileged environment, there is no disputing this fact.

But I wouldn’t call my upbringing “happy” or “easy”.

There was considerable emotional neglect and abuse in my formative years. Not malicious or intentional, but powerful.

My father was in many respects absent and unavailable emotionally. He was an evening drinker, sipping his first beer around 4pm when my brother and I would arrive home from school and retreating to the basement to drink himself into a total stupor after dinner. When he was around his presence was disruptive and volatile. He was often irritated, confrontational and judgmental, often without provocation. Much later I understood this behaviour to be part of his cycle of substance abuse: constantly looking for things to justify numbing his reality.

My mother tried to shelter us from the hardship. She tried to deflect and distract from my father’s behaviour when we were little. I think she thought that it was better to try and shield us from it than burden us with it. When we were older, she continued struggled with boundaries in the other direction, treating me as her friend and confidant moreso than her dependent and daughter.

The whole experience was confusing. I think on some level I understood I was powerless, and vulnerable but accepting that my parents were deficient was a reality that was nearly impossible for my young brain to fathom. Instead, like many children of substance abusers my subconscious attempted to give me some control in my powerlessness by allowing me to believe that I was able to control my situation.

Enter the bruiser. As an adolescent I started picking fights with my father at the dinner table. I began to get satisfaction from bringing on his anger and hastening his retreat to the basement to drink. On some level, I think it felt like I was restoring peace to my world. With the alcoholic out of sight in his lair I had the illusion of safety and control.

Over time the bruiser started working its way into my other relationships and the way I present myself to the world. She gives me confidence and hides my vulnerability. She makes me feel capable and competent. She pushes me forward when I only want to mope.

The downside of the bruiser, however, is that when she is bored she creates chaos. In my current home life she has no clear purpose. I’m in a romantic domestic partnership with someone who is healthy and respectful. She sees danger at every corner and pushes me into fight mode when it is no longer needed. She causes me to be hypervigilant and angry and the smallest slights.

It feels like outgrowing my best childhood friend. I have genuine appreciation and gratitude for all we’ve been through together but she’s annoying as all hell and I shamefully want to ditch her. Her views are polarizing and she has a hard time controlling her impulses.

Instead, my therapist advised me to try and talk to her. Tell her I’m grateful for her actions and sacrifices and invite her to tell me what kind of role she wants in our life going forward.

So far, nothing. What purpose does a warrior have in modern society?

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