grief, loss, abandonment, self awareness, alcoholic, worthy, despair, grateful, narcissist, control, perspective, choice, reframing, children, parenting, ashley rhodes courter, abuse, longing, aging, feelings, self
I just finished reading ‘Three Little Words’ and am a bit confounded at how I related to the author, Ashley Rhodes Courter. Ashley was raised in 14 placement foster homes until the age of 12 when the Courter family adopted her. My heart broke as I related to the desperation she felt as she longed for her birth Mom to keep her promise and take her home. Her observations are honest and painful. It’s a heartbreaking story that gives one pause for the mere blessing of being raised by your biological parents.
I related to Ashley and how she felt. It was odd for me; we were raised in such different homes. Her mother emotionally and physically abandoned her, time and time again. She was moved about and suffered untold challenges, changing families, getting lost in the shuffle of displaced children.
Yet, I saw a thread of similarity. The hope that our parents will change and the hard reality that they are simply people themselves, with their quirks and their issues, was something I understood. I was born when my Mom was 19 and my Dad was 21; they were elementary school sweethearts and I suspect I was a big surprise after one of their passionate dates.
My parents separated when I was 13 and subsequently divorced, and then subsequently remarried (within six weeks of each other) by the time I was 15. I certainly wasn’t moved from home to home, with instability in terms of environment or family. And yet, the pull of loss I felt then and carry with me now was as if I had experienced Ashley’s world and had been through the same thing.
What I have come to realize is that my longing for my Mom is the same as hers. Many of us with negligent, abusive or disassociated parents feel the same way; we wish they would offer some praise or recognize us for who we are instead of who or what they want us to be.
On the one hand looking back at this seems a bit silly to me. I am, after all, in the middle of my life . There are a few of us, and I am one, who think it would be incredibly ‘neat’ to have 3 digits in our age; getting to 100 is one of my life goals. At this time in my life, from what I have learned, I am supposed to take up hobbies, chat quite a bit with anyone who will listen and take things slow. It’s certainly not the time to ponder my life and digest unresolved feelings which was supposed to have happened about ten years ago.
Yet here I am sitting with this pile of emotional muck and wondering about it all. My gratitude to my mom includes teaching me manners and social graces, blessing me with her incredible energy level and giving me the awareness that life is much bigger than the small community in which I was raised. I logically know the other side of this coin; she is a functional alcoholic and a Narcissist, with a ‘me-lake’ that is so big it’s hard to fill up. If it’s not about her, there is nothing to discuss. She also considers me her buddy, her confidant, and her parent of sorts, constantly looking for me to nurture and take care of her.
My earliest memories of her talking to me revolve around a few set messages – the first and primary message I received was 'you are lucky to be here, I didn’t have to have you and you owe me your life'. The other message was ‘take care of your sister.’ That was quickly followed with ‘take care of your sister and brother’. Internalizing these messages, I was grateful to be here and happy to have something to give back. Watching over my siblings was a delight.
As early as I can remember, I have experienced emotional abandonment. These feelings of despair left me with an ache and a worry, the ache that maybe I was indeed not worthy, and the worry that I had caused some awful tragedy of historic proportions in another life, and now I was here to serve my penance. Who was I to question? I knew nothing other than what I was told and what I experienced.
I am not alone. The old wounds from childhood fill up our suitcases of experience with toxic junk, and we dutifully carry this stuff around with us until we open it up, take it out, look at it and deal with it.
Sometimes we smash it, throw the entire thing away or the easy and probably most toxic option, pretend it’s not there. Suitcase? What suitcase?
There are many of us wounded little children walking around in adult clothes. We are mothers and fathers, executives, business owners, politicians, cousins, entertainers and teachers. We are on a variety of paths and roads. Often we hide our hurt and just manage the pain with a distraction – a drink or drug, a person, a need for perfection in all that we do, a need for control to keep these ugly feelings away from our daily routine.
Some of our paths cross with others of the same ilk, sometimes we pass on the suitcase of hurt to others. After all, hurt people hurt people. And sometimes, in the oddest and most unusual of ways, we are gently reminded of the tender hurts and difficult feelings and realize that we are not alone with our box of stuff and suitcase of hurt, many of us have shared challenges and we are in good company.
What do we do from here? The reframing of our situation resonates with me as the key to understanding. After all, no child should be abandoned in any way or any fashion; it’s a crime against nature.
Reframing is such a gift and so simple. It’s the Super Bowl of techniques, without all the hype. Turn the situation around; look at it from another perspective. This isn’t about rationalizing what has happened or excusing it away. It’s about looking at it for what it is and then finding the good. Even the tiniest of positive thoughts can grow to offer another view. There is always some good, even if it’s that we are ok, we are part of the mix, we are breathing and we are able. That is more than most.
I caution this might be trite so bear with me as I remind both of us – the responsibility of perspective is on us, not on our parents, and not on our events. (If you choose, you can replace the word ‘events’ with job, spouse, school, wealth, etc.) The perspective is within our mindset and within our grasp. I’ve been accused of being too positive, which to me is akin to being too healthy or happy or content. That's simply isn’t reality. There is no ‘too’ to positive, it’s a choice, albeit a conscious one, but certainly a choice.
Perspective = responsibility for one’s path = happiness and a recognizable awareness that some of us might need to re-parent and reprogram the muck that we were handed long ago.
After therapy and countless books on everything from alcoholism to codependency, (not to mention a disaster of a marriage to Darth Vader, but that’s another story), I left my Mom’s ‘me-lake’ alone – a loving, yet difficult choice – and began the hard work of figuring it all out and working on myself.
And I now revel in the warmth of gratitude, for it fuels my day. The feeling of thankfulness for those (thank you Ashley) who share their toxic challenges and childhoods, all in an effort to help others, is overwhelming. Can you begin to imagine not having the ability to connect, to learn with, and from each other? Arm in arm we walk together, learning, sharing and helping each other along, it’s all so healing, it’s all so beautiful.
Me? My suitcase is full of good.
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All rights reserved. Kim Roman Corle 2010
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