I was text chatting with my daughter the other night, as I was getting ready for bed and she was packing for a weekend getaway to visit a college friend.. Somewhere in the exchange of text messages, I let her know that I needed to have hammer toe surgery on my right foot (I had the same surgery on my left foot 5 years ago). Her return text came quickly … who will take care of u?
I was struck by the sweetness of her response, this 23-year old woman who just began her “real” grown-up life in this past year – graduating from college last May, beginning her first full-time job and moving into her first apartment last August. She remembered the surgery on my left foot, how she and her sister took me to the emergency room with a painful groin pull as the result of walking unevenly with a walking boot on my left foot in the aftermath.
But something else struck me – the recognition that her question “who will take care of u?” was always a question for me, one of those BIG haunting questions that colored my life journey and though unseen, defined some of my darkest seasons. It’s a question only uncovered 3 years ago while I was in treatment for an emotional eating disorder, when my therapist abruptly halted the condensed version of my childhood I was offering, with a “WHOA … you just said your mother died when you were 10 yrs old and went right on to say that your Dad remarried when you were 12 yrs., like your mother’s death was nothing. Do you realize how huge that is for a child to lose a parent?” Well, probably for most kids it would be huge – I understand that, but my Dad remarried 2 years later so I had a mom growing up, I had someone to take care of me … that was pretty much my M.O. anytime I shared that info with anyone – to minimize my mom’s death as though it had no impact on who I am now, to dispense the story void of feeling and utterly ignorant of the recurrent theme that had played out my whole life since. Who would take care of me after Mama died … me – a middle child, not worthy of the attention the “baby” of the family got, not capable of the responsibility that the oldest would have to take on to run the household? My Dad of course, that is if you define care-taking as providing a roof over my head, food on the table, an education …
But then there was the move I made to New Jersey for the man of my dreams, leaving behind my family, friends, job and home – I traded in everything familiar to chase true love. And it was good, until we made a move back to Boston where he was from and I felt alone and abandoned. He resumed life where he left off – not that he was doing anything wrong – but I had different ideas of what marriage was supposed to look like, and I didn’t understand why we couldn’t commute together, why he would want to stop for drinks after work with his buddies, why he would choose golf over time with me on weekends, why it wasn’t important enough to him to visit my family in WI when we spent so much time with his family. I wanted him to help me make my way in this new place of strangers where he easily slipped back into the coziness of family, friends, work relationships and familiar surroundings, but arguments only left me feeling needy and high maintenance in the relationship department.
Back in New Jersey, 13 years later we divorced – now more alone than ever with my entire family in WI, isolated from our “coupled” friends, a single parent struggling financially, the muted question ruled my heart and fueled my behavior … who will take care of me? That seems so long ago, and I guess it was, but in the sweetness of my daughter’s text message, I also felt a sense of pride – pride that who will take care of me post-op was not a question on my mind. Do you ever just feel really good about yourself when you recognize that you’ve grown in some area, that something that used to trip you up has somehow lost its power? That’s what I was thinking – no worries about who will take care of me (I have a wonderful church family and community that I know is there for me without question) so I guess recurrent themes from the past can be dealt with.
Or so I thought. This morning I opened up an email from a good friend of mind, one that over the years I had received many times in different versions from different people …. you know the cutesy “send this to all your friends” kind – rarely do I send these emails on. But as I read this email, something happened to me – I had a total meltdown, started sobbing … something about this FRIEND email touched such a deep place of sadness, resonated with comfort like a salve on an area of pain I didn’t know was there.
When you are sad, I will jump on the person who made you sad like a spider monkey jacked up on Mountain Dew!!!
When you are blue, I will try to dislodge whatever is choking you…
When you smile, I will know that you are plotting something that I must be involved in.
When you’re scared, we will high tail it out of here.
When you are worried, I will tell you horrible stories about how much worse it could be until you quit whining, ya big baby!!!!
When you are confused, I will use little words.
When you are sick, stay away from me until you are well again – I don’t want whatever you have….
When you fall, I’ll pick you up and dust you off – after I laugh my rear off!!
This is my oath and I pledge it to the end. ‘Why?’ you may ask – because you are my FRIEND!
I had been reading Milan & Kay Yerkovich’s “How We Love” – a book and workbook I highly recommend, and I listened to a CD teaching on the Vacillator love style this afternoon, hoping to discover what brought on all the tears earlier when I opened the email. According to Kay, a vacillator is raised in a home where connection is there, but it’s inconsistent. It is based more on a parent’s mood than on a child’s needs, so when a child experiences something really good from a parent and then the parent goes away for a period of time, the child gets mad as they wait and wait for the parent to reengage. The child feels both in need of the parent and anger at the parent for making them wait, for not being available as much as they’d like. How does this play out as a vacillator begins dating or interacting in adult relationships?
Milan & Kay tell us vacillators that our longing for love gets stuck on HIGH, and we set off on a quest to find consistent connection we missed as a kid. We like it intense, we want to feel it, and we want it to last on that passionate level. When “the honeymoon is over” and our relationship settles into a normalcy as all relationships do sooner or later, we eventually get to that place where we have to wait for the attention we want … and when the waiting happens and disappointments come along, we get mad – just like when we were a kid and our parents weren’t meeting our needs the way we wanted them to. So what are we so afraid of? We’re afraid of feeling in our current relationships what we felt growing up – abandoned, unseen, invisible, misunderstood, unknown … we’re afraid of feeling those childhood feelings again, afraid to let the past flood into the present, so it’s easier to get mad, to cover our fear by idealizing our future (I’ll find someone who does love me and is available to me all the time) – in either place we don’t have to feel sad or hurt or feel those painful childhood feelings again.
I thought listening to this teaching would explain my morning tears, but it only added to them as Kay described the picture one of her vacillator clients produced when she asked him to use shapes and colors on a piece of paper to draw his childhood. He took just a moment to draw one small dot with a black marker before handing the paper back to Kay … that was how he felt as a child – small, insignificant, unseen, unimportant. That dot was me as a child, and it’s still me on some days as an adult … this morning, reading that email, connected with my “dot identity” and I felt like someone saw me, was there for me. It hurt to remember how long I had searched outside the dot to find someone else to love me like I wanted to be loved, to become something so I would be noticed, to do something new, find something better – anyone, anything, to avoid the pain of facing that smallness, those feelings of insignificance again.
Thankfully Kay offered some direction to enlarge the shape and color of my adult landscape on paper. She said if a vacillator is going to grow and really face their fear, they have to be willing to go back and realize the pain they felt as a kid is what they’re trying to avoid in every relationship and in every moment of every day. The solution is connection – the healing from childhood wounds can only be found in a group of people supporting you to face your childhood feelings, providing comfort in memories of pain from the past.
Milan sums it up this way … we’re all afraid to go back and feel the feelings we had as a child, facing the fears that we may experience as adults. But we have to remember that we have an adult version of ourselves now, and we have a relationship with God that can fill in the holes as people miss us. So true … God in His extravagant love is with us, and we are perfected in His love. And so I finished off the afternoon with one more good cry as I listened to JJ Heller’s “What Love Really Means” knowing I am loved and held in His grip.
I will love you for you
Not for what you have done or what you will become
I will love you for you
I will give you the love, the love that you never knew