I started doing a therapeutic, personal growth type program, and one of the first things it had us reflect and write on was: Tell the story about your deepest fear (with as much drama and flavor as possible). Partway through I realized, like an angel had brought me a brand-new revelation: OH MY GOSH! I am terrified of being abandoned and left by those near and dear to me. Perhaps even worse, though, is to be thought less of by people who matter to me, as that’s like being deserted over and over and over again! That’s why when I share beliefs and practices that bring me greater aliveness with said people and he or she disapproves (disagreement is fine), or I “think” he/she does, I feel like I’m being stabbed in the chest. Isn’t it crazy how much our fears can hold us hostage? YET, just by being vulnerable and sharing them, don’t we begin to enjoy and taste freedom? I think so!
Remember the awkwardness of middle school, hitting puberty, and such? The summer before I started middle school, not only did we move from Germany to Washington state (my dad was in the army), my parents got divorced. This meant shortly before I started sixth grade with kids I didn’t know, my dad (who I hung out and played video games with quite a bit) moved to California. While I distinctly recall the ball of anxiety in my body on the first day of school, I don’t think it was too long before I formed some pretty good friendships.
I don’t remember when it started, but near as I can tell, I was bullied for most of those three years by a few boys. They’d call me names, make fun of me, poke me, swipe things from me and get me to chase after them while they tossed it back and forth, threw small things at me, and other standard stuff hormone-fueled tormentors do. The worst part, which plays into the deep dread I feel over the possibility of being left, was when the bullies came and I looked to my friends for help, they melted away.
While I do remember trying to get a teacher or two to help me over the years, with limited success (and in eighth grade a teacher letting me eat lunch in her classroom to avoid that peak period of pestering), I’d always just assumed I must have told my mom. Yet, just this week we were talking about it, and turns out I didn’t! In that moment it dawned on me: It wasn’t just my friends who abandoned me, I abandoned me!!! By not speaking boldly for myself. By not sharing the struggle with my parents. By just accepting my fate.
One of the great ironies of life is how often we get trapped in the same less than optimal, or even destructive, patterns without knowing it! I mention that because I now see much the same thing happened during my second marriage. Acting from her woundedness, there was a lengthy season wherein she wanted us to avoid my family’s gatherings. In fairness, there were some other things going on at the time too, which played a part and helped make this seem … umm … sensible, but that’s not my story to share. In a similar fashion, I too was operating from my deep hurts, so, in my desperation to avoid being left I supported her wishes.
As you might guess, she eventually did leave me. In part, I imagine, because I’d left myself. Seven years, oodles of healing and therapy, and being CRAZY happily remarried to a magical, soulmate of a lady later (Lisa), the wound of my second wife’s exodus feels raw and like it’s still bleeding. Many times, I’ve found myself confused over why it still hurt so much, given how long it’s been and how blissful my life is not. Now, I have a hunch why: My history of and deep seeded fear of abandonment!
I don’t worry about Lisa ditching me, truly she sweetly soothes this anxiety in me, yet it shows up in other ways. For instance, when I teach a yoga class and make a mistake, I’ll fret over students disliking me. When yogis who have been regulars in my classes and I’ve built a relationship with stop coming, I feel that “left again” sensation in my body. Likewise, when I share a personal story, tender thought, or passionate belief with friends, later I’ll almost always experience a vulnerability hangover. I’ll grow anxious, fret over what they think of me, ruminate on whether I should apologize or clarify, and sometimes will say something just to soothe my fear of being left. By far the worst form of this comes when someone dear to me disapproves of my beliefs and way of living. It feels like I’m being ripped apart, stabbed, and left alone in a cold, dark cave.
Much of this is a new revelation to me, so I’m still processing and healing, but a few things are clear to me. (1) It’s easy, and dare I say normal, to become prisoners to our fears, stories, and beliefs about others and ourselves. (2) There is something incredibly freeing about seeing with clarity and sharing deep fears and tender wounds. It’s liberating. (3) Often the answer isn’t “out there”, it’s in “here”. Victims, as I had been, think “they” are causing the problem for “me”. Survivors though, as I plan to be, realize answers are already at hand. Not only can I choose to stay with myself come what may, I’m also confident the God I know always will! (4) At the risk of mixing metaphors, the act of naming the “monster under the bed” can be like slaying the dragon terrorizing you. It feels like victory … at least to me! I hope my stories and musings bless you, and that you have a beautiful and amazing day!
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