When I was growing up, I suffered all types of abuse, but I find the most difficult to overcome was the abandonment and neglect. While my abusers stayed in my life (to my dismay), they emotionally left me before I was born. They neglected me in my early life by not meeting my basic needs. So while they were still around, they were not, unless of course, they needed something from me. This feeling of abandonment was exacerbated by the bystanders who walked out of my life while I hoped they would help me.
In my adult life, I struggle to find gratitude and appreciate what I have. It seems as though the people, animals and things that matter the most to me are appreciated the least. It seems that way, but it isn’t the case. As a child, I “learned” that what mattered to me most would be taken away. In some cases, this was a result of manipulative parents who would use my favorite things against me so they could break me. They would also remove my favorite people from my life because they were dangerously close to exposing the family secrets. And their methods certainly worked. So, I developed a defense mechanism.
The interesting thing about defense mechanisms is they work very well at keeping us alive, but are horribly dysfunctional once the traumatic situation is over. I learned to pretend someone or something didn’t matter to me. Sometimes, I would pretend only to my parents. Other times, I would pretend to everyone. But there’s a problem with that approach. People aren’t likely to hang around someone who is indifferent to them. And most people won’t feel any desire to put effort in to something I don’t seem to care about. So many times, I still lost what I loved.
My heart was so broken and cut-off from feeling, I had no access to my grief. So every time, I lost an opportunity or a person left, I just shrugged my shoulders and said I didn’t care. It became so ingrained in me that I was convinced it was true. I wasn’t consciously acting. I believed that nothing mattered much. And I was numb, so it appeared that way to everyone else too.
As an adult, I find it difficult to experience joy and gratitude despite the presence of things I know I would never want to live without. Deep inside, I know I desperately want this in my life, but I am still trying to fool someone, maybe the universe, maybe the make-believe parents that haunt my psyche. I am always bracing myself for the loss. And when it feels inevitable, I find myself distancing from it so that I would not have to feel the pain of the loss, instead of fighting for what I love. I hear the inner talk about how it isn’t that important. “I didn’t really like it that much anyway. I wanted something better to begin with. There’s a million other people, things, activities that are just as good.”
So my life looks like a series of losses. What appears to be my own resilience is a well-honed defense mechanism to expect and brace for more traumatic loss.
During my early adult life, there wasn’t much worth changing for. I was fine with staying closed to the pain and the vulnerability of loving someone or something with all my heart. It seemed worth it. It seemed safe. But then I had children. My recovery began when they were born, and while there have been many aspects of my recovery that have been critical to my growth as a parent, this is the big one. I cannot and will not allow myself to treat my children as though I can take them or leave them. I will not allow myself to brace for their eventual abandonment. In reality, it is inevitable. They will leave me one day. That is a part of the process. But my love for them won’t change when they leave.
And I know I spend too much time contemplating the possibly of outliving my children. I guess that comes with a life full of abandonment. And I am coming to terms with the fact that I cannot control that. It is not within my circle of influence (notwithstanding the normal parental responsibilities to keep my children safe).
So, I have to prepare my heart to feel and to be inevitably broken, not just because there will be loss, but because there will be love.
And with true love comes the pain of letting go, of never knowing what happens next.
But true love is living, so if I don’t take the steps to love fully, I don’t live.
If I don’t live, my abusive past wins.
And that’s not an option.