|Photo courtesy of Aisha Yusaf|
“I know that his dad has a hard time being engaged because of his dad. I know his dad walked out of his life and then his step-dad tried but there were a lot of issues. It just worries me that he’ll grow up and do the same to his kids one day. Do think that will happen?,” she shared
I knew her worry. I didn’t know it is a parent, but I know it for myself. I knew what it was like when the mind wandered on the long plane ride, zoned out in the “urgent” meeting, took a leave of absence during the bubble bath, caught it’s reflection during the lecture that was not at all what you thought it was going to be, and ends up in that familiar town of “has my dysfunctional past damaged me so much that I am destined to screw up my future romantic relationships and my kids?” In fact, I was so convinced that mine would that for years my response to wanting children was an instant, firm, said with a smile but don’t ask follow up questions “No.” I was not willing to have a child whom I would pass on the same dysfunction.
“Here’s the thing.” I said. “At some point he will have to make his own decisions. He will have to face the way his father parented an decide that he can do similarly and accept that as a healthy style of parenting, or he can decide to do differently. He can decide it wasn’t healthy, that it hurt, that he asked you if his dad loved him, and that he never wants his children to ask that question or feel unloved, or like a bother. As for you, you can be that parent now. You’re not his dad, but you can be the example of healthy parenting.”
|Photo and caption courtesy of slapcaption.com|
I chose to revoke my right to use my past as a crutch. I gave up my right to use it as an excuse to not seek better and thereby do better. I canceled my subscription to “That’s how I was raised” quarterly. I had a choice. I could either depend on the challenges I experienced and harbor them, nurture them, and let them grow into a garden of continued pain, malfunction, and brokenness or I could choose different. I could choose to reject the past as the foundation for healthy and instead use it as the catapult to exploration of what healthy looked like.
I don’t mean to make it seem as we get to choose to live life today and moving forward unscathed from the pain of our pasts. If that were the case I would bottle that recipe and have sold it to you on one of five different commercials during the Super Bowl. That’s not the case. Our experiences, the awesome ones and the woefully traumatic ones do shape us. They do leave their mark. If you want to look for their mark, pause and think about the college you went to or didn’t go to, the career you chose or didn’t choose, where you are raising your family or where you aren’t if and that’s if you chose to have a family. Think about how you view politics, faith, community, relationships, family, service, etc. Your values and ideals whether you like it or not have been stroked by your past and that includes those experiences that you had no control over and the ones you did. It includes both the experiences of triumphant confidence builders and defeated confidence attackers.
I do however totally make it mean to seem that at some point we choose how much of our lives will be impacted by our past, particularly the negative experiences. For me, that memo came as a second semester freshman in undergrad. My mother suggested I stat going to counseling so that when she left my father I would know how to deal. While she didn’t leave my father until several months after I graduated from undergrad I did go to counseling. In that first session my counselor, Deb, looked me in the face with her pale freckled face, strawberry blonde hair, and glassed over bluish grey eyes and said “Your father was abusive. It makes sense to me that you cut and that you’re depressed.”
|Photo courtesy of Elmer Batters|
I remember walking out of her office in a daze and trying to wrap my head around that sentence. Never mind all of the other sentences that preceded and followed after those two sentences. I remember sitting on the low brick wall in front of the office/house that was host to all of the volunteer opportunities on campus, my legs dangling, and staring at the brick path wondering what that meant and why this woman readily picked up on it and no one else did. If they did, they never said anything.
I kept going back to counseling all the way through my senior year. The more I shared my experiences with her the more she exposed the dysfunction I and the world I had lived in accepted as the norm and wasn’t. All I learned to do- stay quiet, out of the way, not question, outburst of rage are acceptable, throwing things or pinning people down is okay if they anger you enough, disappearing from 7 in the morning until 1 in the morning the next day- was in fact not normal, preferable, functional, or part of technique that got the best way to parent award- EVER. Furthermore I learned you don’t tell, you keep secrets not matter how many stomach aches or headaches you get. You work all day and then go to school at night to avoid it, or you spend and spend increasing your debt to provide emotional damage control. Nope, none of these tactics were a part of encouraging normal or positive child and adolescent developmental experiences. Imagine that. No seriously, I had to imagine that. I had to imagine my steady diet of dysfunctoin was malnourishing not nourishing.
I learned that wasn’t how healthy people lived. Furthermore I didn’t have to keep living that way nor did I have to use that model as the model for my future. I could reject it. I did reject it. The rejection hast cost me, and we’ll talk about that at another time. Instead, I accepted the possibility of different and that if I worked on cultivating different for my life then I didn’t have to truly fear that I was screwed up beyond repair and destined to create the same unstable more bitter than sweet environment for myself or future family.
I also want to make it very clear that even post college I still had to work on my commitment to the choice I made for a different, safe, stable, self honoring, self aware, empowered, inspired, other inclusive but not other centered, hopeful, whole life. When my mom finally did leave my dad the first seven years were awful. I mean ridiculous. I thought when they were together things were unstable, after leaving all that was stable was the instability. One day there was no talking to my dad, the next they were going to dinner and the movies together or spending weekends away together or there was the marriage retreat about five or six years post separating. I’m not even kidding. And yes, they are still separated. So the post leaving kept me working and in counseling. It kept me in counseling mostly because much of my extended family bought into the normalcy of the abnormality (there were people who knew the maltreatment and dysfunction was happening and didn’t do anything) and I needed, so I paid, for someone to say “Ahyana don’t go back, it’s toxic, you deserve healthy and I am here to help you go after healthy.”
|Photo courtesy of Nike|
“He’ll be okay if you teach him about the power of choices, especially his choices. The more he learns that for as many things happen in life there are just as many that we can choose to make happen or at least choose how we react to and how they impact our lives.”
He will be okay. I will be okay. You will be okay. If we send back our black card to club “I was wronged so I don’t have to do better.” If we stop picking fruit from the orchards of “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. If we shred the photo id that grants access to “The past is more powerful than my power to create a better future,” we will be okay.
Life is hard. It’s complicated. Even in moments of triumph, awe, and connection, it is still dynamic and far from simple. We can make it simple in whatever way simple looks like for each of us by the power we exercise in our choices. We can make it simple when we choose to let go of the things that no longer serve us, push us forward, pull us up, or lead us closer to abundant living.
Some weeks I encourage you, sometimes I flat out tell you, sometimes I ask you to ponder, and sometimes I pray for you. Actually I pray whenever I put up a post for whoever reads it because I believe in prayer and thus pray that anything I write helps you in any way, from crying unwanted but necessary tears, to freeing stifled but needed to be released laughter. This week I am hoping for you. Although I am still struggling with hope myself, I am hoping that you will revoke your right to render yourself powerless, your current situation hopeless, a completely false perception of being sentenced to repeat your past. I am hoping that you will release your right to the easy way of living via blame shifting and will instead choose the fulfilling way of living via exploring the alternatives and seeking out different in order to create your new normal.
|Photo courtesy of The Edit|
*By the way, my childhood wasn’t completely awful. There were moments of happiness and joy. There were times of connection and kindness. They did exist and while they weren’t the norm, I figure if I am going to tell you about the dysfunction which was more of the norm, I have got to tell you that these moments existed as well. In fact those moments are what help give me hope that I can create the same as the norm for my life and the life of whatever family I may have. They remind that nothing is ever all bad or all good, and there are plenty of times in life when I get to choose to invite more of the good than the bad.