The day Dad shared the news, I believe, started off as an ordinary day. My sisters and I went to school, came home, maybe ate dinner. That evening, before the announcement, he first took me, Sandi, and Amanda to Brookpark Fun & Games, which maybe I thought was a little odd, being a school night and all. I won a small stuffed animal. I don’t remember what it was, or how I won it. I just remember I had it when he sat us all down on Grandma’s couch.
I think he was standing, we were sitting, Grandma in the other room. He and Mom, he said, were getting a divorce.
At first I didn’t understand it. I think I was only 6 or 7. My only timeline is that my uncle, Dad’s youngest brother, passed away from Leukemia the year before. My sister tells me this is the first time she remembered seeing him cry, the second being just a few years ago when Amanda passed. Soon after the news, Dad had a heart attack, age 40, cause: a broken heart. I remember helping him put on his socks as he recovered that winter. I faintly remember mine and Sandi’s (my twin) kindergarten, 1st grade, and 2nd grade teachers feeling bad for us.
As I was sitting on Grandma’s couch, I remember picturing me and my sisters floating away in boxes in the ocean. Separated. It sounds silly, but I was so little, still partially dependent on my parents for shaping my understanding and view of the world. I must have cried. I just don’t remember. I don’t remember what happened next, when we saw Mom at home.
I think this is the day I first learned how to dissociate. My body partially shutting down and my imagination floating somewhere else, to protect me from my emotions, the emotions that my little body couldn’t yet process on its own.
I needed to my parents. I needed them to comfort me. To tell me that they loved me and that everything would be okay.
But they were in their own pain. They had learned themselves as children to shut down their emotions from their parents. A survival technique most likely used for generations to get through the hardships of life. And so, I was left alone, inside my own inner world.
For much of my life, I tried to dismiss my parent’s divorce as having any affect on my. After all, I figured, lots of kids experience the divorce of their parents. Of course, some of the wounds started to creep up in relationships as I entered my late 20s. Then, I recently learned that divorce, especially when kids have no voice in the matter, affects the part of the brain that associated with self-worth. [To be more specific, the frontostratial pathway, which links the medial prefrontal cortex (self-knowledge) with the ventral striatum (motivation and reward). Thank you Dr. Bruce Perry for sharing this research in What Happened to You? and https://www.huffpost.com/entry/self-esteem-brain_n_5500501]. I don’t think I felt that the divorce was my fault, but I didn’t feel like I had control of anything happening and I certainly had no one to comfort me, save for my stuffed animals Big Abu and Little Abu.
My brain, at the time, must have associated this with not being enough. A belief that I’ve only semi-consciously carried with me for the last 25+ years.
As a kid, self-soothing came in the form of eating, until I heard the “chunky” comments, and then I numbed my way to anorexia. Then there were sports. Sports, of course, aren’t bad. Except exercises fed my anorexia. Basketball, thinness, and grades all become closely associated with my self-worth.
Eventually, I became ruled by the belief, the fear, that I wasn’t enough. My body was too anxious to play basketball well. My shooting wrist would lock up. I’d have panic attacks, simply playing against boyfriends. In running, I was determined to leave the pressure, the past, behind me. I just wanted to bask in the freeness of running outside.
But you can’t escape the shadows that you don’t know are there. (Aka, the unconscious.)
I loved running.
Yet I got caught in the traps of a culture that said “do more” over and over and over again.
My body had enough. The left hip developed a “hitch”. On flat ground, I felt like I couldn’t control the leg’s swing. I developed calf strains. Running, limping, fainting 100 miles through the first one. And finally, an Achilles tendon injury that stubbornly wouldn’t heal.
I was frustrated for so long. Now I am simply grateful. I believe my Achilles was telling me “I’m not going to let you run until both you unconscious on conscious believes that you are enough. You don’t always have to do things to feel that way. You don’t have to work so hard to be loved. Only then will you know what it’s like to run embodied with freedom and joy. “
Joy and freedom have always been what I’ve strived for. And I have felt that way in the mountains, yet never without that little voice in the back of my mind too, coaxing me like the serpent of Eden, “You a have enough time. Do that mountain too.”
Now, there are times that I do want to extend the day outside. It’s the pressure in my body that feels awful, unloving, persisting even after I call out my ego and choose to stop. The should haves on the drive home actually driving me further away from myself, the home inside my body.
Striving, I realize, is not the right word for what I want to obtain. For striving for love is not love. It’s actually a returning. A returning to my 6 year old self, reminding her that she is loved. That she has nothing to prove, no need to claim her worthiness. A returning to that core truth, so when the world around her spins in a way she can’t control, only that truth exists. That love, joy, and freedom are always present, if not outside then within. The heart that exist outside of protections, ego, and human form.