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Growing in Rotted Soil

By Rome Lim

A plant only blooms as well as the soil it’s planted in. When we reuse old soil, we increase the chances of root rot, thus killing the plant altogether.

As immigrant children, the love we receive is rooted in the pain our parents have endured. When they express love, it is an extension of their suffering masked by the hopeful wish that someday their children will save them.

All my life, my mother’s love has been rooted in her trauma.

I grew up thinking that being cared for and provided for was love; that in order to love someone deeply, to show immense gratitude to them, I, too, must make an ultimate sacrifice of myself every single time.

My Mom drove me to school, made me breakfast, lunch and dinner like clockwork; she bathed me, clothed me, helped me do my homework, and took me to the doctor when I was sick. She enrolled me in extracurricular activities and drove me to those too. She did a lot for me, my siblings, and for her whole family.

To say, “I’m tired” to her face was an act of war. What could I be tired of? I was only 8. To say, “I don’t like when you…” translated to, “I am not grateful for you.”

To say, “I need love” was to mock her sacrifices and turn them into one more thing she had lost when she left the Philippines to start a new life in Canada.

Generational trauma has poisoned the foundations I needed to understand what exactly love is, especially in the context of self love.

It is only recently that I’ve realized that the reason why I do not know how to love myself is that I have given so much of it away in order to please others.

“Selfish” and “ungrateful” were just a few of the words I was called whenever I expressed anything other than gratitude towards my Mom. I grew up yearning to be perfect so that I could give the way she did, and to show my immeasurable thanks for her sacrifice.

But as I got older, being perfect became harder and harder to achieve. I started to want my own things. I started to stand up for myself; to say “no” when I didn’t want the choices my Mom had made for me; to walk away when I was not being heard.

I had to learn that, despite what she thought, or maybe even what your parents think, we do not have to earn our pain.

Trauma had tricked my Mom’s mind into thinking that life was a Bingo card; if I did not hurt the way she had, sacrificed the way she sacrificed, then I had to wait for my number to be called so that I could put a chip on my paper just like everyone around her had done too.

Now, as an adult, as the eldest in my family unit, I have to work til my bones break in places my elders can recognize.

So much of my pain was silenced by those who swore they loved me - but only if I became a lawyer, a doctor, a nurse, or an engineer.

Patawarin mo po ako. I became a writer, and I bleed onto my words for a living.

That’s my sacrifice. That’s how I love. And unfortunately, as many of my past lovers will tell you, I love until my heart is dry and all I’m left with is my mother’s anguish and my own.

I’ve been raised to give up the best parts of me because I yearned to feel the warmth of the sun, touch my roots to help me grow. Because I do not know love, I do not know how to grow.

If only I had known that loving myself was not disrespectful; that giving thanks didn’t always mean doing the same as others or outperforming my fears. If only I had known that love wasn’t a verb that left me feeling empty.

Maybe, if my Mom had fulfilled herself more, if she had found her joy beyond my birth, maybe my mind would’ve been strong enough to fight against its own self.

We often forget to thank ourselves for the journey we have made to reach certain points in our lives; for things big and small, and everything else in between. We are worthy of joy and happiness amidst unlearning the ways other’s scars have shaped us.

A plant may only bloom as well as the soil it is in; but it is the tenderness of the gardener that discerns whether or not the soil is fertile.

Let us be gardeners in our own healing.

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