The Power of…a Light Bulb?

Posted: January 16, 2011 in active neglect, childhood, hoarding
Tags: , ,

It’s true. Because of my childhood, simple things like light bulbs now hold an extraordinary amount of symbolic power over how safe and secure I feel.  It all stretches back to being a child and learning very early on that just because something that broke around the house was an easy fix didn’t mean it would be taken care of. Replacing light bulbs for instance.

The bathroom in our house in California only had one light fixture in it. It was in the middle of the room (which was small) and it was a glass globe that shielded a single bulb. If that single bulb burned out, there was no light in the bathroom. When it did burn out, it generally didn’t get changed for a while.

Because of where the bulb was placed, it couldn’t be changed without a step stool. My mom had neck and back problems that made it increasingly hard for her to handle reaching overhead to change the bulb, so for a long time, I suspect my brother was the one who took care of it. He left home when I was 11, and after that, there were lots of times that the light burned out and just never got changed. My dad just didn’t do it. It never occurred to me that that was odd, because that’s what I was used to.

When I got old enough to reach the bulb from the top of a step ladder, I started changing the light when it burned out. But there was a period in the middle there where no one changed the light. The idea of candles still brings my dad to tears because he’s afraid the house will burn down (a real possibility considering the hoarding, but I’m quite certain he’s never put two and two together). The only option left was a battery-powered lamp, which provided just enough light to figure out where things were.  Now that I think about it, it almost made the situation more pleasant…dim lighting made it harder to see the worst of the dirt…

There's only so much dim lighting can do...

Flash forward to the present, and sometimes the simplest of things jolts me back to that place where the people who were supposed to be taking care of me quite simply failed. The house that I currently share with my boyfriend has standard lighting fixtures in the bedrooms upstairs that cover two bulbs each. Since we have three bedrooms, a master and two smaller ones, my boyfriend and I each have an office. As a general rule, I stay out of his and let it be his man cave full of computer equipment I don’t understand and various other odds and ends that cover the floor. I stay out of the man cave because it looks like a tornado hit it, and it drives me nuts. It’s the messiest room in our house, and sometimes it gives me flashbacks to my childhood home. When it gets too bad, I complain, throw around official-sounding words like “peritaxis”* and eventually boyfriend gives in and cleans it. (His version of cleaning does not equal mine, but I try to compromise).

So imagine my reaction a few days ago when I ventured into boyfriend’s man cave to collect some stray dishes, flipped the light switch…and nothing happened. Nothing. The bulbs were burned out, and instead of replacing them, boyfriend elected to use his desk lamp and ignore the overhead lights. I marched into the master bedroom, where boyfriend was sniffling with a cold and watching TV, and gave him a short, concise lecture on how his failure to replace the light bulbs made me feel like I was back in California.

This is one of those situations where tiny things turn into happy reminders that I’m in a much different place now. The next day, the lights had mysteriously been replaced everything was back in working order. Now if I can just get him to clean up the floor…

*Peritaxis, as my therapist uses it, refers to situations where the present is experienced as more than just what it is. In my case, for example, it means experiencing the past, and the neglect I suffered, in situations in the present where something is occurring which mimics certain aspects of something I’ve gone through before.

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