Snapshot #10: A Lost Smile

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Early Programming…?

I’ve recently been thinking about the day I realized I had lost my smile, and, for many different reasons, wondering if my lost smile had anything to do with early programming.

I make a differentiation between what I call “professional” programming and the everyday brainwashing I endured through the cult environment of the UPC/Apostolic churches I was born into. The effects of both are just as devastating, and can take a lifetime to work through. But there is a difference between the two.

As I’ve written before, I’m not sure which “professional” programmer came first: the woman I call “Pam” or the man I refer to as “Dr. A.”, but I’m not even entirely sure of when the professional programming began. In SoCal, I was probably around six or seven when it began there, but it’s possible that the programming began much earlier, because there are other frightening memories I have of a hospital when I was much younger, still living in the deserts of west Texas. Those memories are inadequate in duration to be able to form a clear picture, yet still just as vivid as full-blown memories, and when those teensy little snippets of memories are placed within the larger scope of what was happening in my life at the time, it makes me wonder: what happened at that hospital? Was it early programming…?

And, no, I’m not talking about when I fell from the top of a twenty-foot slide at the park and was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. I remember that event very well, and yes, it was traumatic, but in a “normal” way, if that makes sense. I’ve previously written about that incident, but my perception of what took place that day in the supernatural was probably skewed because: a) I hadn’t taken the time to fully process everything before I shared the full story with others; and, b) because I was interpreting the events through the eyes of someone who was going through the programming of so-called “deliverance ministry”; so I’ll probably write about it again some other time, but with more care to have a broader and more accurate perspective than previously held.

But although the terrifying memories of the hospital that I’m speaking of here may be too short to even be called “snapshots of memories,” they are just as vividly imprinted upon my mind: of hospitals and doctors and long white halls and small dark rooms; of things being put over my face and being held down and feeling as if I couldn’t breathe; of bright flashes of different colored lights shining painfully in my eyes; of a very mean nurse who was pretending to be nice forcing me to drink something I didn’t want to drink; and of a very mean nurse who didn’t pretend to be nice, who threatened to chop off my fingers if I didn’t stop fiddling with the spokes on the wheel of the wheelchair.

It’s also entirely possible that the bad memories of that hospital are simply a “normal” traumatic trip to the hospital due to a natural illness or an accident.

(aside from the hateful nurse who threatened to chop off my fingers, of course… that wasn’t behavior becoming anyone, much less a nurse)

Or, I may have sneaked a peek into a hospital room that I shouldn’t have been in (which I had done before), and seen something that I wasn’t meant to see: the normal sorts of painful and traumatic things that can happen in hospitals that most adults try to keep young children from seeing.

Certainly, I see where each of those snippets of memories could be explained in a similar type of manner.

But still I wonder, particularly because when certain elements of my system are taken into consideration

one fish two fish red fish blue fish

what did the tawny scrawny lion swallow and why is he crying

momma bear, poppa bear, and itty bitty baby bear

it makes for a slightly stronger case (in my opinion), that perhaps there was early programming going on in west Texas, and of course, the hospital is first on the list of suspected programming centers.

On the other hand…

Perhaps those childlike elements were found within my system simply because I was already learning to cope with the frequent abuse suffered from my mother’s fists by dissociating and shrinking deep within the safety of my own mind, and so perhaps I unconsciously integrated particular elements of certain children’s book into a mental place within myself as part of that overall coping framework.

That’s a strong possibility, too, and one that shouldn’t be dismissed or overlooked.

Either way, there’s something about those memories of that hospital in west Texas that has been niggling at the back of my mind for several years now, especially because I remember one incident where I came back from the hospital very, very ill, and my condition dramatically deteriorated, as I will explain momentarily.

So, if I were to stop and really think about it — reach deep inside myself to that little girl who was there and who remembers — then I might be able to make more sense of the confusing snapshots of memories, and maybe even be able to give that part of myself some peace and closure.

But it doesn’t need to be forced.

First, because “closure” can be an elusive beast that is sometimes best left alone (although not always, of course…. it just depends upon the situation).

(see: Closure is Overrated)

Second, regardless if the traumatizing memories I have are of a benign, yet scary event (in the mind of a very young child, at least) or not, then even if I don’t remember everything, or am unable to have an understanding of it, then, at the least, I feel as if I will gain a type of closure through the writing of this chapter in my bio, and most of the time, this is the only thing I can ever get: a “type” of closure.

Not a complete closure, no (see again the above link). Most of the things I’ve been through in my life will never feel to me as if I have any real closure. But, in my opinion, however, a “type” of closure means that I come to the realization

the acceptance

that I will likely never have actual closure… that I may never know the truth… or, in most cases, that although I know the truth, the others who know the truth will never admit the truth… and that I have to move on with the rest of my life, such as it is, in spite of the lack of understanding, the lack of firm answers, and/or the lack of affirmation of the truth.

So, to me, this is a type of closure: an understanding and acceptance within myself that I will never be able to have true closure at all… at least in this lifetime.

Lastly, however, and more importantly, I don’t want to force remembering because if those memories do have anything to do with programming

(maybe they do, maybe they don’t)

then I don’t want to risk the re-traumatization that comes via remembering things that shouldn’t be remembered, unless it comes to me naturally. I’ve remembered enough of the bad. There’s no sense in forcing an unnecessary re-traumatization upon myself just to get the whole picture, when the picture I have is already enough.

But in the spirit of whatever type of “closure” may be available to me, here’s what happened.

The Hospital and a Lost Smile

My mother used to work at the hospital in the nearby mountains there in west Texas.  I believe she was a nurse’s aide, but regardless of her work title, she worked there before I was born. At some point, she stopped working there, but I’m not certain of the ins and outs of that situation, so I won’t write much about it, because I’m liable to be wrong.

Mother took me to visit the hospital sometimes. I have very vivid recollections of walking through the waiting room… of walking through double-hinged double doors that led into a series of long, wide halls… of walking down those long halls with her, holding her hand… of wandering off to look for snacks, and then backtracking through those same halls, looking for Mother… of peeking behind closed doors… of a nurse in a white uniform taking me by the hand and bringing me back to Mother… of Mother showing me the nursery where she used to work…. of marveling at all the white, everywhere, and all of the equipment lining the walls… at meeting some of the nice nurses… of visiting with some of the doctors…

Those types of memories. They were nice memories. I had fun “exploring” the halls of the hospital.

Thinking back now, some of those remembered visits (or it could be memories of a single visit) were probably due to Mother’s gynecological appointments with Dr. Byrd, as she became pregnant with my brother close to the time I turned two.

Dr. Byrd was our family doctor, and he worked at that hospital. Whether or not he was a good man, I don’t know, but I do know that as a young child, I loved him.

He might have had a clinic off the grounds somewhere, but if he did, I don’t know about it. But I remember that he worked at that hospital in the mountains of west Texas. Mother told me that he and his wife attended her at my birth (and at my brother’s birth, as well), and Mother periodically brought me to see him at the hospital, sometimes when I felt good and sometimes when I felt sick.

I wasn’t sick often, I don’t believe, but there was one illness that had me feeling so sick that I was certain I was going to die.

I suppose it sounds silly. Melodramatic, perhaps. The sort of thing that perhaps sick children sometimes say that gets overlooked or pooh-poohed by adults

“I’m dying”

“Don’t be silly, you aren’t dying, you just have a little cough/fever/tummy-ache, you’ll feel better soon, here drink this down and you’ll get all better”

although, after bearing and raising three children myself, I don’t ever recall my own children ever making such a declaration when they were sick.

At any rate, over the years, in thinking back on this incident, I always thought I was somewhere between one and two years of age when I became so sick that I became convinced I was dying.

I have believed this because I didn’t remember my brother having been born yet, but I recognize that I could have been wrong all along about the timeline, of course. And since Mother recorded in my baby book that I was just barely three when I had a “slight lung infection” that was treated by Dr. Byrd, and if that is the illness I remember (it likely is), then I suppose it was after my brother was born, which would have made me closer to the age of three, and not one or two.

I’ve always thought that the illness came after one of the visits to the hospital (which, given all the facts and the timing of other surrounding events, is a good possibility), but irrespective of the timing, I was coughing a lot and couldn’t catch a good breath, and I could feel myself — my consciousness, my spirit… those integral parts that make up me — slipping away. I couldn’t do anything about it, and even if I could have stopped it, I remember feeling so depressed that I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to stop it.

Like most adults would, perhaps, Mother didn’t seem to be taking my complaints seriously, however, so some time passed before she deemed that my fever was bad enough, or my cough bad enough, or something was bad enough to warrant rushing me to the hospital again.

I don’t recall what happened once we arrived at the hospital

(although, maybe my traumatic recollections have something to do with those short but vivid memories I have, which is very much possible)

but I remember the long drive up there. It was still dark, so either it was the wee hours of the morning or late evening.

And I remember being bundled up in my jacket and covered with a blanket, so I can safely assume that either it was cold weather (given the climate where we lived, cold nights are possible even in the summer, and Mother recorded my illness as being in the summer months), or my fever was so high that I felt very cold.

And I remember Mother and Father exchanging harsh words over where to park.

And I remember Mother wanted to carry me into the hospital while Father did a better job parking the car, but I didn’t want Mother to carry me, I wanted my daddy, and so he carried me inside while Mother parked the car in a manner or in a place that was satisfactory to her.

And I remember Mother telling me that Dr. Byrd was going to make me all better, and I remember feeling happy that I wasn’t going to die.

Mother has since told me that I got so sick that I had to learn how to walk all over again, although the seriousness of the illness certainly isn’t evident by what is recorded in my baby book.

So is this the truth?

A lie?

A sickly hybrid of the two? An “embellishment” or a “rewriting” of the truth, which is the same thing as a lie?

Or perhaps I’m remembering wrong…? Perhaps it wasn’t me who forgot how to walk, but a few years later, my brother who got ill and “forgot how to walk” (as Mother has put it)…?

For many reasons that are too tedious to write down (and probably even more tedious to read about), I’m as sure as I can humanly be that Mother said it was me who forgot how to walk, but I’m not “stand before God and swear” sure.

And anyway… it’s been exhausting over the years trying to figure out the truth based upon what Mother has told me — based upon the house of lies and half-truths and embellished truths that she has so carefully constructed throughout the years for public display — so I mostly just reflect upon my life based off of what I know to be absolutely factual and upon my own perceptions.

So regardless of whether or not I forgot how to walk, I do remember realizing that I had forgotten how to smile.

One of Mother’s friends from church had been visiting our home one afternoon.

For the most part, I was disinterested in the visit, and played with some books on the living room floor near where Mother and her friend were chatting on the couch. But when Mother pulled a photo album from one of the lower shelves beside the couch, I was curious to see what they were seeing, and so I wiggled my way into the middle of them and peered at the photos.

Most people I didn’t recognize, really. Only vaguely, perhaps. They were family members that I wasn’t around very often, and I hadn’t quite made the connection between them and myself.

(This was a connection that was never satisfactorily made, really, because we moved away from family when I was very young, and when I was around them during special times, such as holidays, it was hard to keep track of who everyone was and how they were related to me. I remember Mother trying to explain it to me once, when I was much older, but it was a difficult concept for me to understand, and as embarrassing as it is to admit, I still have a hard time conceptualizing the connections between myself and my family members.)

But a particular picture of myself caught my eye, although I barely recognized myself. In the picture I looked… happy. Smiling. My eyes were smiling, even.

I sat there, bewildered, staring at myself in the photo book, wondering why I couldn’t recognize myself, even though I knew, cognitively, that it was me, and feeling a strangely familiar something-or-other that I couldn’t name but could feel, stuck on the inside of my chest, weighing me down and tying me up with invisible chains.

I’m able to give voice to those emotions, now, but then…? Not then.

Then, I didn’t know the words to explain grief. Sorrow. Loss. And the baffling feeling that came when I stared into the smiling eyes of a little girl who I knew was me… yet, not me. It was a strange feeling that was the inverse, perhaps, of being self-aware. It was the feeling of being aware that I was not myself… of being unable to associate myself with myself… of dis-associating… feeling dis-connected and separated from myself.

Writing it down now, I feel as if it sounds silly and strange, but that was how I felt all those many years ago, sitting on the couch in the living room of our trailer house in west Texas, flipping through a photo book, vainly trying to make a connection with the me that smiled in the pictures, and feeling a strange sense of loss… a loss of me.

Where had I gone?

Mother got up and went into the kitchen, still chatting with her friend, then came back into the living room and took notice of me still sitting on the couch, staring at my picture, tears rolling down my cheeks.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“I forgot how to smile,” I sobbed, trying to stuff the incriminating photo album behind the couch cushions.

“Don’t be silly,” Mother responded, taking the book from my hands, and then she and her friend spent the next several minutes showing me how to smile again.

I tried to follow what they were telling me, but it just didn’t feel natural. I could form my mouth into a smile if I pretended to laugh, as they showed me that day

(and as I sometimes still have to do when pictures are taken of me… something I usually abhor, because I often have a hard time seeing me in my reflection, and then I hate what stares back at me from the photo paper, because I can’t connect with her… she’s a stranger who is simply pretending to be me, and it’s disturbing and embarrassing to feel alienated from my own self)

but the smile was gone from the inside of me, and I didn’t know how to get it back.

I eventually learned how to smile again, of course. I found a new smile. Not the old one, but a new one. The old smile is still held by a blue-eyed little girl with blond pigtails merrily sprouting from either side of her head, who lives inside me somewhere. But I eventually found a new smile. Several of them, actually: a joyous smile; a smile of confusion; a smile of acquiescence; a pretend smile; a knowing smile; a contemptuous smile; a brave smile… these and many other different smiles for many different situations.

But the smile of innocence…?

Well, none of us keep that one very long, do we? That would probably be unnatural, and somewhere along the way, we probably all lose that smile.


I always connected the loss of my smile with the my illness, and my illness to the hospital, and, more recently, wondering if there is a connection between my illness and early programming.

In the so-called “deliverance counseling” I used to be involved in, that narrative — early programming at the hospital in west Texas —was certainly encouraged by my so-called “life coach.” It never sat completely well with me, however, although I recognized then, and now, that it’s a possibility that early programming was going on before we even moved to SoCal.

But now….

Now, after writing it all down, I see now that the loss of my smile and my illness aren’t necessarily connected in the way I had always thought, because I see that the scary memories I have of the hospital are more likely due to a “normal” traumatic experience at the hospital, and not early programming.

This seems to be the simplest and most logical explanation, given all the surrounding facts.

And as far as the loss of my smile…?

Well, if I go by the entry in my baby book and I consider that I was three when I got sick with what Mother recorded as a “slight lung infection”

(although, I think that is yet another example of Mother “rewriting” the truth, because, given all the facts, it seems clear that the lung infection was more serious than what she indicated on paper)

then that was also right after my dad left us.

So, having gone through an illness where I felt as if I were dying… and having (likely) experienced a traumatic hospital visit that was precipitated by my illness… and all of this within the context of my dad having left us so suddenly and in such a traumatic way… well, it’s no wonder I lost my smile.

As a very young child, my identity was wrapped up in who my parents were, and losing my father was like losing part of me. So I was unable to connect with the smiling and happy little girl in the pictures because she hadn’t yet had a brush with death, and she hadn’t yet lost her daddy.

So then…  I lost my smile likely not because of early programming, as I have recently wondered about, but because not only had I come face-to-face (in my mind, if not in reality) with my own mortality, but perhaps more influentially, because I was grieving the loss of my father.

And now that I’m at the end of this chapter of my bio, I realize that I have my closure, after all — my understanding and acceptance of the events surrounding when I lost my smile.

Well… that was unexpected. In fact, I meant to write about something a bit different, and was using this as a way of introducing it, of sorts, but sometimes when I write, one thing leads to another, and then I end up in a completely different place than where I had expected to be.

Isn’t that just like life, sometimes, though?


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