I love receiving gifts, but sometimes it’s not the right fit, or you wanted a different color, or the gift in no ways satisfies your wants or desires. It’s terrific when we have a gift receipt. We can find out the value of the gift. We can make an exchange or return. We don’t have to keep what we were given. Yesterday I found a gift receipt and I didn’t even know what I had before I found it.
During part of my Advanced class, I really took a look at my parents. At the end of the day, I had a good childhood. It might have been cold in some ways. Dad would shut down and sit inside of himself. Mom was physically affectionate but as I got older, her affection looked like encouragement to be better. I’ve accepted that I may never reach who she wants me to be, and I only ask that my kids are loved and loving others because of how that feels. There was a space of disconnection. I love my parents, and they’ve given me all that they thought was best for me, but I had to look at how they shaped my ideas of love and connection.
Let’s start with my Daddy issues.
Dad is a war vet and he lives with PTSD. His war experience is never farther from him than yesterday. Emotionally, he is disconnected. It’s not something I’m angry about. It’s just what I grew up with. I realized I tend to feel like he can’t see me. He’s in his head so much that he can’t see me. He stands bravely, but I’ve always known the fear he lives in. I spent my adolescence, declaring to myself that I can’t live in his fear or face his demons. I just can’t let them control how I live. I spend a lot of time on the town alone. I don’t always remember to lock my door. I don’t carry the taser he bought me. I refuse to live in fear. At the same time, I’ve been afraid of deep relational connections. I’ve been afraid of letting people in. I’ve been afraid to dream big and expect greatness.
Dad has kept things at a distance. He doesn’t share who he is outside of his faith and maybe it’s because he can’t see his value outside of his faith. This summer he kept asking my kids, “What do you think of Grandpa.” I finally said, “I need you to be strong for them, and not question who you are. You don’t need acceptance. You need to just be who you are and get your answers by who chooses to be around you. You tell me you are the son of the Most High God, and I need you to act like it. My sons are learning who they are from those around them.” He once tried to share his experience of Vietnam with me. I don’t remember what he said, but he remembered the look on my face and uses that as an excuse to hide who he is to protect me . . . to protect him.
This showed up for me in a way that I could see how every man I’ve ever dated was emotionally unavailable or stunted in some way. I have always been attracted to men that feel like I did when surrounded by my Daddy’s demons. His fear . . . His emotional distance . . . His superficial connection . . . His need to control that made love feel like obedience and service to him. I found his gift receipt and I don’t need it anymore.
And now, my Mommy issues.
The Basic class showed me that I never appreciated what it was like for my mom. She came here from Thailand as a teenaged mother, not knowing the language and leaving her entire family. She was in a controlling relationship, but she’s strong, and for years, her strength looked like distance, and angry yelling. It looked like financial independence and generosity toward those less fortunate. She had three daughters, back to back (just like I did), then I was born seven years later. I was the surprise. I came along after she had settled into who she was as a mom. She had gotten comfortable with finding her financial independence and stepping outside of my Dad’s need to control. I barrelled through her body, giving her stretchmarks and messing with her thyroid. When she wanted to make medical decisions at my birth, it was vetoed by my Dad and the doctor wouldn’t follow my Mom’s wishes about her body. She never gave me anything other than a sense that I was a cherished and treasured child. I got hugs and kisses. She bought me everything she could. I married a man so much like my Dad, that when he left me, my Mom knew exactly what I needed, but never gave me a deep heart to heart about what she felt.
My Mom is emotionally distant, but she does it out of love. I have no idea about my Mom’s history before she met my Dad. I asked a cousin about it and his response was the same as hers. There is so much pain in the family past that they need to protect me and will not say anything at all. What I know is that they grew up extremely poor in the countryside in Thailand. My mom had to work by free climbing up coconut trees. She never went past elementary school and yet she came to the states and earned an A.A. Degree. She lived in such a way that she needs to protect me by hiding who she is from me. There’s an emotional disconnect.
The way I see my mother in my romantic relationships is I tend to want to get lost in the history, the desires and dreams of the man I’m dating. I hide my desires, putting myself last in getting to know them. I mirror what I want from my Mom. I want to be seen and sometimes I don’t feel that I am. I never doubt that she loves me. I don’t feel a deep connection, and I fight for that with my boys, often giving them more transparency than others think is appropriate.
What this means is . . .
I can look at this. I can see what it means in my life and how it has created who I am, and I can decide that yes, I had a loving childhood, but I’m still trying to fill gaps that were created in me. These gaps aren’t things that my parents did wrong. This is more that my parents were unable to be who I wanted or needed them to be and now that I see that, I don’t have to keep filling those voids in others.
I can see how the circumstances of my parent’s life never allowed them to fully express who they are. I grew up with so much empathy for others and a total disconnect from myself. Part from my parents . . . Part from my suicidal years (1993-2006). There are things I feel so deeply that the only way to survive has always been to shut it off. If I don’t allow myself to feel, it can’t take me deeper than I can stand. I hide in my smile. I hide in my confidence. I hide in not allowing others to see who I really am because my darkness might be too dark (thanks Mom and Dad). They didn’t have a choice. I won’t suggest they should do better because I know they did the best they could. I’m certain that my Dad must have grown up with love as a barter system because I’m learning unconditional love now. It comes from choice. It comes without a cost or expectation and it’s independent of the ability to be disappointed.
I understand that the distance from my parents in hiding who they are is because they still need protecting from what life has offered them. It’s not at all about me.
I’ve had so much kindness in the last few days. I’ve had so many people give me their love from the gut, with openness. They’re just as raw and gutted as I am right now. I’m seeing how I’ve been in my world, trying to fix parts I didn’t know were broken, and shutting out decent people.
A week or two ago, someone at work was opening a door for me, but I opened the other side because I’m not used to this kindness.
Wednesday, a man looked me in the eyes as I was opening up about my bruised parts, and he told me I was beautiful. I could feel the zit growing on my cheek, and the tears streaming down my face, and my face was in an open and ugly cry. But I was beautiful to him.
I had someone feed me. He offered food. As simple and human as that is, he offered food without expecting anything more than the company I offered. And I keep trying to mother him. What does that say about my mommy issues?
I found my gift receipts. I know the value of what they’ve given me and how it looks in my life. I’m taking it back and deciding what I’m committed to creating in my life. It’s going to being brave, courageous, and heart led. It’s already pretty epic.