I sat in my backyard crying into my phone. I was at my wits end. I felt like I was grasping at straws to try and make sense of my life, so I called my mom. My mother and I had always had a turbulent relationship of being very close, and then not talking at all. For the last 8 years or so we had barely spoken, but after my father passed away she started coming to my house every year for Thanksgiving. So, we had re-established a tenuous connection that I never felt fully trusting of. My mom could be sweet in one moment, and the next moment make outlandish accusations.
For example, one Thanksgiving she brought me a letter that my dad had written to her when they were dating as teenagers, that I had never seen before. She had it in plastic wrap to preserve it, so I knew how precious and sentimental it was to her. In the evening after dinner we sat by the fire and read my dad’s words of love, longing and devotion to my mom. We both cried. It was a rare moment that I felt connected to her and my dad. It made me feel happy that even though their relationship had deteriorated, there had been a great love between them at one point. But a year or so later my mom called me and asked if I had thrown the letter away. I was very confused about the accusation, as I treasured that letter. No, I hadn’t thrown it away. She demanded it back from me. She called me, she wrote me, she elicited the help of my sisters to try and convince me to send my dad’s letter back to her. I was deeply hurt that she would think that I would destroy the letter as that moment had meant so much to me. The connection and gratitude I had felt towards her for sharing something close to her heart disappeared. I was on the defense. I had done something wrong in her eyes, and I didn’t even know what it was. This was the pattern of our relationship. I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop.
But on this particular Saturday morning I was desperate, so I decided to call her to see if she could provide me with some clarity in my life. I was 50 years old and I was lonely, depressed and searching frantically for answers. I cried to her about my sadness and disillusionment, I told her that I wanted to move to Southern California. I cried to my mom that I thought that moving there might be the answer to my anxiety and confusion. I was looking for connection and validation that my life had meaning. I wanted to move, but more than that I wanted my mom to care if I moved. I wanted my mom to care about me.
Maybe family was the answer, maybe reconnecting with my mom and siblings would ground me and not make me feel like I was going to float away. I learned later that I was only partially right. I did need to reconnect to my family, but not for the reasons I had thought. I had to go back and see the reality of my childhood and the truth of the relationships with my family. I had to feel all those feelings of inadequacy that I had covered up so that I could live in the illusion that I had people that cared about me, even though intellectually I knew otherwise. I had to go back and reconnect with my family, but this time I had to do it for me and not for them.
It was hard to admit to myself that my family never had my best interests at heart, and their unhealthy confusing patterns brought me nothing but sadness and anxiety. I always knew this, but to go back and feel the feelings of sadness and isolation that went along with that truth was almost unbearable. I had to connect to myself to that 7 year old girl who invented imaginary friends and lived in an alternate world so that she could survive abuse and neglect. It was devastating. But I had to go back in order to appreciate the person that I was who survived that. Instead of hating that little girl for being a victim, I had to give her the love she always deserved. Once I felt all that devastation and hurt of that innocent 7 year old girl, I could no longer have relationships with the people that hurt her.
I didn’t have to move to find the grounding that I longed for, because the answer to my search was inside of me and actually the opposite of what I thought. The answer was letting go of trying to mend relationships that never gave anything to me, and in fact took away my energy and crushed my self esteem. The answer was to walk away from trying to make something ‘right’ that had never been right to begin with.
In breaking away from these old patterns and relationships, I had the energy and time to form new beneficial relationships. I discovered aspects of my old friends that I never saw before, and I made new friends that were supportive of my journey. They listened to my ideas that my family used to make fun of. They encouraged me to follow my dreams even when they didn’t fully understand what I was talking about. I took in their energy like it was water and I was dying of thirst. It felt so good to move forward in positivity rather than using my energy fighting off nay-sayers and defending myself.
I wanted something different so badly and I found it. I made that call to my mom that Saturday morning thinking that the answer was to connect with her. I was wrong. It was to connect to my past, and therefore connect to myself. But looking back, I see my strength in the fact that I was willing to make that call and once again open myself up to hurt in order find my truth and my peace. I have learned that there is no end point to my journey, and that it continues every day with me taking the next small step towards my truth and what feels right to me.
I used to live my life to please others and fit in, but now I am living my life for me.