A few months ago, I did a mental exercise before an appointment with a new therapist. Over the years, I had seen several therapists, for a multitude of reasons. I was determined to break the cycle of seeing a professional, being brought back to reality, then going on my merry way for a few years, just to find myself back in the place I started—and then slowly sinking below “ground zero” each time more confused than the time before. This time I took a serious step backward to reflect on who I was before I sat on the therapist’s couch. It was a harsh reality, and I didn’t know where to begin to pull all of these realizations together. So I started with a timeline of events I remembered from my life, mainly the pivotal ones that left a mark. And I can see now that my journey is really a story of looking for love.
My earliest memory is when my grandfather passed away. I was seven years old, and I remember it vividly. My mother shut down completely after that. My grandmother had only passed away the October before, so within a year my mother lost both of the people who brought her into this world.
I experienced my own sense of loss when, in the fifth grade, the two people who brought me into the world divorced. I have wondered at times if my parents ever truly loved each other, but I have never had the heart to ask each of them for fear that it is true. I am fifty percent my mother and fifty percent my father, so if they never loved each other but then created me—what does that mean?
In some ways, their divorce was a relief because they had a very toxic relationship. I often felt hated by my own family because I was part Mom and part Dad, so with all of this negative bickering going on, where did I fall into the mix?
But that sense of relief didn’t prevent me from feeling abandoned, lonely, like I was “less than” others after my parents’ divorce. I lived in my own surreal world, alone in my room. I was always trying to busy myself with singing off-key, dancing terribly, acting, you name it. I was blissfully living in some fairytale world where people loved and adored me for my creative outlets. I would even prepare acceptance speeches.
Meanwhile, my mom rekindled an old flame, her first love, and all was well with her world. My dad was remarried as well and they seemed happy. I was thrown into the mix as a pre-teen. I was not sure where I fit into these new family dynamics, so I stayed back, observed quietly and then would often act out and cause friction when I couldn’t handle it anymore.
My mom was too busy working and spending time with her new/old soul mate to hang out with a kid. My dad was too busy doing other things as well. I remember begging my mom to let me stay home, instead of going to visit my dad. In reality, I was always “stuck” with my step-mother instead of spending any time with my dad, which was the point of the visitation. Nothing was ever “quality” time.
I was required to attend the family’s church on my Dad’s side, and there I heard a lot of whispers and gossip about how “awful” my mother was. My dad wanted pity from others so that they would feel sorry for him, and it was easier to just play the blame game. Both parties were at fault for their failed relationship. I remember feeling very hurt by all of this. (Unfortunately, my view of organized religion became tainted because of those hurtful words, and also because of their general demeanor toward Christianity.)
With all of this going on, it was difficult to learn what love really was. But, as we all do, I craved love and “found” it in unhealthy places when I was in the awkward teen years.
Some of the things I considered to be “love” were beyond unacceptable. For instance, I was assaulted when I was seventeen years old by a longtime “friend,” and even though I knew it was wrong, I had hoped that it meant he liked me. I would have been his girlfriend if he had only asked. I was absolutely, undeniably ignorant and desperate for any kind of attention.
This was partly because I never had a good example of a man and a woman who loved each other. My parents’ new marriages could have been models for me, but they were often overshadowed by the feeling that I didn’t belong anywhere. I didn’t feel that unconditional love that a parent is supposed to shine onto their children. And I am an only child, which made it even more difficult for me to find anyone who could understand my pain.
I don’t write this to feel sorry for myself or to hurt my family. I love my family and do not blame them for the difficulties of my childhood. They were each dealing with their own hurts.
Instead, I write this because I realize that the first step to healing is to acknowledge the pain that exists. I hope that my story can help others who feel abandoned or have felt that way at some point in their lives to know that they are not alone and that it is never too late to learn to love. It’s taken a lot of counseling and mental strength, but I’ve found a healthier understanding of love. (Despite our backgrounds my husband and I met at a young age and discovered what love is supposed to look like.)
I no longer believe in coincidence. I think that each life lesson comes from a very intricate plan that God has for us—even though we don’t always understand or accept that, or even believe in such things. I have become stronger because of the life I have lived. And so can you.