Do you long for the place where you grew up? Or do you still live there? For me, it is neither though there is still the attachments to home. Those attachments come in the form of family, especially my siblings that still live where we grew up, and wonderful friends who chose to make their life “back home”. It is a funny thing, home…your childhood home. It never quite leaves you and there is always a pull that draws you back, beckoning your attention.
For most of my youth I imagined a life far away from ‘home’. I am sure that years of turmoil and conflict inflamed those desires to leave, to run away. From the mother that drank too much, from the father that seemed always just out of reach, and from tragedies that somehow came to define us as a family. To this day, when I do go home it always fills me with a mix of excitement, and dread. Odd, right?
For years I have tried to visit the cemetery that holds some of the people that have meant the most to me throughout my life, but going there never gives me comfort. Instead it fills me with anxiety, and angst. So I do not go. There is guilt in that. I feel that Daren, dad and mom may wonder where I am? That my grandparents feel forgotten? I hope that wherever you go once you leave this world, they know in the next that each day they are in my thoughts, and never far from my heart.
There is always guilt.
Much the same as it is when I think about when I left ‘home’ and never looked back.
In addition to my home life, I never felt totally comfortable at school either. We had little money, and if we were lucky we got one new outfit for the school year. I didn’t wear the name brand clothes or shoes. In fact, I rarely went to school. Mostly, it was circumstantial, I was needed at home. Then later, it just became my normal whether I was needed at home or not. I never had that ‘pull’ to school and friends that I envy so much in my niece today.
For me I felt shame, and yes, that guilt word again. I believed that my circumstances defined who I was, which back then meant that I was unimportant, and unworthy. I carried that far into my adult life, making choices and mistakes that are haunting. I have always said that I would never blame my past on the mistakes of my present, or my future. But I found myself asking if that was true? Maybe I never voiced a blame or negativity, but subconsciously I carried it deeply. As much as I may have denied it, the past weaved itself into my present day.
Recently, I had a small duel with Anxiety Girl (my inner me) and for a bit, she won. But somewhere in there, I began to realize that by years of running from my past and refusing to deal with it, and the pain it had caused, I had inadvertently let it have a power over me. In some ways that power was good, I pushed myself hard in college, straight A’s and the Dean’s list were my only options. I did that while working full time and raising my two young boys (along with Bruce). It felt good though, those accomplishments. It made me feel as though I was reaching above the ‘label’ that I felt had followed me from my youth.
But there was also evil in the power my past had over me. As much as I succeeded, there was still the overwhelming feeling that it was never enough. I was constantly searching for things to fill the void that was my past. There is emptiness in that.
Probably my biggest battle was my inner one, the one where I was angry at my mom. I blamed her for so much, for everything really. Even after mom was gone, I would still battle that inner anger and place the blame of our dysfunctional past by picking fights with my little sister Roxy. She is ever mom’s defender. We would battle via text as though we were dueling for our lives! I laugh because I am unsure that we really even knew what either of our points were by the time the battle ended. Half the time, we ended them confused. Even more funny, Dawn would spend the entire time playing peacemaker and Ally, as always was mostly MIA.
Of course, there is unfairness in my memory of mother. She is a person, and human as we all are. We make mistakes. And right there is where I’ve recently started to see things differently.
I also realized that by running away from my past and doing nothing, pushing it down deeper to where I hoped it would be forgotten was my choice, and that was causing me pain. As much as I said I was not letting my past steer my future, I realized I was lying to myself. My past worked into every part of my present, and my future.
My history had obviously influenced my decisions into my adult life, and also that history had defined how I looked upon my ‘self’. I realized that although I said it hadn’t influenced my present, I realized that it had, on an unconscious level of course. So what to do? I decided that the only way to really move forward, was to revisit my past. Always a catch-22.
I walked around my house and looked at the pictures I had up on my walls. I sat on the floor of my room and looked through the boxes of pictures that defined my ENTIRE life. As always, there was a mix of happiness mixed with sadness, and joy mixed with anger. But as I looked through those pictures, I realized just how much my past MADE me who I am today. I also asked myself how I could take what I was feeling, as I looked at my past through these moments of living our lives out one photo at a time, and find a positive lesson worth carrying forward.
I realized that I was able to see my life experiences as they were, things that happened to me and around me that truly, I had no control over in my youth. I also began to see and understand why I did some of the things that I did into my adult life. For example, my biggest Achilles heel has been that every time I felt slightly pinned down or cornered I would almost panic, and I would rebel or run. Usually in unhealthy ways. After a counseling session I was able to understand that part of that action was a defense mechanism. As a child, I felt like a caged bird with no escape in sight, which was furthered by the pressure of caring for my family, as I was just a child myself. Because of that, I have a deep-seated need to feel unrestricted. I run, as Bruce can attest. Not just the obvious, but throughout if we had conflict, I simply walked out the door and went for a drive. To this day, if we need to have a conversation that I feel “pinned down” in, my first inclination is to walk away, but I now force myself to sit and muddle through it.
I also learned that by trying to escape my environment as a child, meant that often I disconnected from people, or attached too tightly to others forming unhealthy relationships and situations. Again, that longing for “something” that I talked about earlier. That vulnerability, and confusion followed me into my adult life.
I think the key component for me was realizing that the guilt and shame that I carried with me as a child by having a mother who drank too much, a father who was out of reach emotionally, and limited financial means did not define who I am as an adult. Those experiences, though conflicting through the years, have made me stronger today. There is a mental and emotional strength and resiliency that has come with the years of vulnerability and conflict that has lead me to now.
I truly believe that if my sisters, and even my brothers would weigh in on this, they would agree. We are all very alike, though we have all walked a slightly different path, and yet such a similar one.
I believe that the greater story is this. It is not the same to say that by accepting ones past, that they are okay with it. There are definitely parts of mine that will never be ‘okay’. But by welcoming my past, as a stepping stone to the <stronger> person I am today, I am okay with that.
For awhile I may have looked happy, but I was not. My journey has lead me to this place now, where my experiences have helped me to realize that happiness is more than a fake smile, or a forced laugh. Instead, I define happiness as being content and satisfied with who, and where one is at in their life. We have all heard the adage, “with age come wisdom”. The truth in that is deep and accurate. Realizing that HOW you choose to live your life is key. Then choosing the idea to either continually run from the past and do nothing (a choice), or actively evaluate one’s past to change what isn’t working now (also a choice), I realized was the first vital step to finding contentment, and acceptance.
Mostly, I have accepted that I will always be a mix of two people. The little girl of so many years ago, vulnerable and confused, and today, a strong woman with life experiences to share.
Essentially, by accepting the fact that the entire length of my life has lead me to today, is soul healing.
Looking back, my life though filled with perplexity, was a blessing in so many ways. I have known infinite love, and acceptance. I have become empowered to deal with whatever life holds. And for all eternity, I will walk with the people that matter most.
My parents, both of them, taught us lessons in the most unconventional of ways. I laugh because I am sure some of them….. NO, most of those lessons, were unplanned and unwitting. But they did teach us so much. Where else did we learn to love like we do, and honor those around us? Where else did we learn to be who we are today, some of us natural leaders? All of us, strong beyond belief. With all of their flaws, there was so much beauty in each of them. And so much talent. And above all else, their humor. I sit here now remembering back at all the times we laughed. As many as I can remember! And I am smiling. My mom’s goofy side where she would break out in a random, “Jesus loves me” song (totally off key), and with a dumb little dance! Or dad, his humor dry and sarcastic. Remembering his laugh to this day warms my heart.
Last night I made a couple of signs for Halloween, and I thought of mom. She instilled us with so much ability, and creativity. We can paint, scrape, stain, build and wallpaper. We can imagine new life into castoff “junk”. We can color coordinate and beautify most anything on a budget. And my strength, I learned that from her. As much as she had her moments of weakness (I despised that of her long ago), she was strong beyond belief (I realized this too late). My only regret, that she didn’t smile and laugh more. The reason she didn’t, her own insecurity with her teeth. But her smile, and her uneven teeth were heavenly to me. She was beautiful. This is my favorite picture of her…..
My dad, I think of him every time I am giving new life to an old piece of furniture. He never threw anything away. When you opened our garage growing up, it looked like dad was a service repair man. He would save every broken appliance for parts. Back then it embarrassed me, now I would do anything to have him here, tinkering in that garage. I think of him every time I need to service the car, thankful that he taught us how to care for our vehicles properly. That sounds silly but so many people do not have that basic knowledge. Mostly, dad’s humor and personality is my greatest gift from him. My sisters always say that I am “dad, as a girl”. This is my favorite picture of dad, ever the ‘cowboy on a tractor’.
My parents though imperfect, loved us perfectly. Mom and dad both lost battles to cancer (a few years apart) more than a decade ago. To their end, they sought our company and gained strength from our lead, when they could no longer lead us. We had always been labeled dysfunctional, and we were. Heck, we still are and honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. But through the years, and even with our dysfunction we always held tightly to one another. And even through the confusion and the fear of losing them, we gathered together and were at their sides, each of them, caring for them in our homes, to their end. Today as siblings, we text, call and gather together regularly enough to gain envy from people that know us. That is our parents gift to us. Our love of each other, infinitely. Can there be anything greater?
So now as I meander back over the years, I am finding a new peace where there used to be moments of anger. I am realizing, and accepting that life leads us down the path that we were, and are meant to travel. Every bit of mine, bringing me to who I am today. Every bit of my siblings lives, also bringing them to who they are. All of it a blessing in disguise.
Life is funny. It takes our lowest moments, to build us to our greatest self. All of it a lesson. Every bit of it, worth it.
Eternity, Empowerment and Everlasting Love
*The featured image is of Lon and I. I chose it because I am wearing cool shades and a kickass 70’s jean jacket…… WHILE sucking my thumb! I guess the coping mechanisms started way back then 😉 tehheee…life