It’s been said, very likely hundreds of thousands of times, in philosophic as well as brutal business speak – your problems always follow you. Yes, but –
“There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.”
Everything is impermanent. The truth is sometimes the emotional strength necessary to extricate ourselves is found in circumstances beyond our control, a final wake-up call where the universe provides the mechanism for a karmic smackdown which demands that we actually MOVE or be forever stuck in a place that is filled with angst.
I have an ugly anniversary coming up. An anniversary that still niggles at my being, catches me off guard and can reduce me to tears – sometimes it is ‘just’ my throat constricting and catching, sometimes sobs or tears of the kind that well up and spill over like the water at the edge of a mill pond race, thankfully, less frequently now, tears that I can’t seem to stop no matter how much I might wish to control them – even more than a decade later. Anything can set me off, seeing a ‘normal family’ circumstance over-flowing in tenderness, reading gorgeous words from an anonymous father to his daughter, picking up on the tension in the air between people clearly part of a familial unit who I don’t know as well as those that I sometimes do, snark-y words expressed – all can serve as a catalyst for my ‘going to ground’; my emotional response isn’t one of anger or jealousy or longing but it is a difficult pain to process, escape from proximity is my only recourse as neither wretched vulnerability nor confrontation are within my comfort zone.
Nice people don’t trash talk about other people, let alone their own family. Really nice people wouldn’t dream of expanding the cosmic contamination of negative energy by mentioning ‘from personal experience’ in a passing conversation – it’s bad karma; I am a really nice person. But my threshold of silence is slipping away from me, even as I have tried to slam home the iron pin in the stone doorway to the house of beauty I try to live in each day.
Oh gosh, I know that my position is far from unique and better than that of a lot of people. By most standards it was a normal childhood in the middle class America of the 1960s and 1970s. I wasn’t physically abused or sexually molested and while it took me until I was 39 to realise that my parents drank far more alcohol than anyone I knew as an adult living in Boston, I had known for years and years that I was the outsider to the dynamic triangulation formed by my (younger) brother and my parents. I distinctly recall the epiphany I had in the Thorold, Ontario, Canada ice rink (age 11) where my brother was playing hockey – they shared some huge karmic drama which didn’t include me. Though I confess it has made me less receptive to letting people truly ‘in’ than intended my karma has clearly been to learn self-reliance (in all things) and to leave the room lighter than it was when I came into it.
Tacitly verboten in my childhood home was not sharing – a ‘what’s said in this room, stays in this room’ philosophy that I am grateful for learning because I keep the confidences of others like a sacred trust. It is so much more polite to smile nicely and discretely change the subject then it is to admit to being from an environment of dysfunction of any kind. Besides, who really wants to hear such melodrama? 2002, in the weeks following Thanksgiving and leading up to New Year’s Day, I fell out with my parents, eventually severing all ties with them, no text, emails, or words spoken since. I tried for the first couple of years to send greeting cards on the appropriate days, to no avail. What’s lost sometimes should not be found again.
I speak of it infrequently and I try not to dwell on it, I didn’t even include a reference to it in my book (written three years ago) much to the surprise of many who knew my circumstances. Finally, pushed to the absolute limits of being treated like a second class citizen, denied, ignored and ridiculed because I was born out of some archaic preferred sequence of primogeniture my father held dear and with far too many ideas and opinions and too much independence for ‘a girl’ I stood up and said enough. The final straw coming as my father cornered me in his garage, raised his fist threatening to hit me and said, “Someone should have put you in your place a long time ago you little bitch.” My last words included dropping my first and only F-bomb at him and promising to have him arrested for assault on New Year’s Day if he hit me.
My ‘white lighter’ friends know that I am a receptor and try to keep my energy safe but if I haven’t figured out how to protect myself from such haunting memories how can even a small army of capable loving people bathe me in sheltering light? I think that it’s really enough to have held this inside me for so long and in doing so, not give myself the liberty to be free of the shackles and chains that cut into my soul like a huge bleeding abscess. The debris of all this is that real intimacy is hard won for me, harder still to accept because I have this deeply embedded belief that if my blood relatives could be so indifferent what could possibly make anyone I let into my life really wish to ‘stay’. I know people who collect people, in some cases tens of thousands of them through social media outlets, I am not one of them; on one hand can be counted the people I trust implicitly. If I let you in and in time I sever all ties it is because I recognise that the role that my presence played in your life has been fulfilled – people come into our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime. Equally so, I have established inviolable boundaries around mutual respect – to quote Jane Austen’s Lizzie from Pride & Prejudice, “My good opinion once lost is lost forever.”
It can be embarrassing for me to be in the midst of really happy family dynamics because I know, ripping across my soul is a searing pain that should be apparent to everyone breathing, that I am an outlier to their experience of civility (even in the face of stress) and more so to their very genuine warmth. It fills me with a beautiful ache to bear witness to such love. As a child we always think no one can see what we are experiencing, that we are so very good at hiding the truth by being bright as a penny in the sunlight. In the last couple of years childhood friends, friends of my parents who no longer speak to them, even my ex-husband have shared their perspective on my family with transparency that stilled my breath. Their words were like falling through ice into shockingly cold water – perhaps more painful for the idea that I had gone through it alone, yet they all saw.
My reality is that I have stayed in this emotionally bereft place too long – it is largely because I am the eternal optimist that I haven’t wrest myself loose and unstuck myself. I hoped, against all odds, logic, and years of experience that somehow I would be included in the lives of my niece and nephew, but it’s patently clear it’s never going to happen in the way I would like it to.
A man I met on the ski lift wrote a magnificent poem about me and sent it along weeks after our shared day of white powder:
sadness already cuts in so many ways
soar to the top and speak with the sun
frolic in life – leave nothing undone
eyes with laughter and soul with a song
the essence of living so warm and so strong
My New Year’s 2014 resolution was not to run away, but toward ‘leaving nothing undone’ and finally put all the pain of being born into the wrong family on the other side of a vast ocean. Here now at the end of 2014 I am in Croatia, cleansing my soul and body in the healing waters of the Adriatic. To own my truth and not only start ‘the walk’ but finish it. Distance doesn’t provide a guarantee of being emotionally safe but inaccessibility does offer me a brilliant excuse for not subjecting myself to the harm of longing for something normal with my blood relations.
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