Ruminations on Being a Young Child, Divorced by Many Adults

One of my greatest fears is that I’m so damaged at my core that I’ll never be whole or “good enough.”  This sense of defect comes from very early survival-level fears of being abandoned.  This all began when my parents divorced when I was a baby, and my mom, older sister and I moved across country to be near my grandparents 4 states east of where I was born and my father lived.  My mother remarried when I was 3 years old (the first of my three stepfathers), and I was instructed to call my new stepfather “Daddy.”  So when at 4 I was told I was going to FLY to go visit my “real daddy,” I was very confused.  I only knew my mother and only caregiver had just placed me on a commercial airline jet to go see someone I didn’t know as an unaccompanied minor, told to say I was 5 (since that was the minimum age required to fly alone), and instructed to “be a good girl.”  But I wasn’t because I wet my pants waiting for my real daddy to reach the gate and he didn’t know what to do with me (and I was certain he wanted to send me to someone else for “messing up.”)  

What parents would leave a 4-year-old to deal with that alone in this day and age? I didn’t even ask myself that question until I was 54 years old and trying to understand my “anxious” attachment style. Because it didn’t just happen once. No, I did this every summer and at least one holiday a year. I was constantly saying goodbye to people I loved at airports… throughout the entirety of my childhood and college years.

This early pattern of being flown from one family to another resulted in a grasping panic at the moment of leaving my current parent, preceded by a increasing tension and sense of dread and sadness about the impending goodbye. These goodbyes were ALWAYS hard because I ALWAYS bonded with whichever family I was with at the time. My dream all the way through high school was that my WHOLE family had a giant palace somewhere so that we could all live together. It’s laughable now that i never thought about their lives in their separate cities - and that I actually thought they would live together, essentially, because of ME. As if the concept of ME ever kept my parents under the same roof!

But I don’t want to go down my “rabbit hole” here. I want to think of all of the benefits I’ve received from being born to my parents when I was, where I was, and having the childhood and upbringing I had. It’s in my ENFP optimistic nature to have to find the sweet in the bitter, so these are the BENEFITS I believe I received from my chaotic formative years:

1. I was born as a sensitive child to begin with (not a ‘HSC’ highly sensitive child, just more sensitive than most). I realize if this trait had been absent, I probably wouldn’t have imprinted everything so deeply and suffered so much pain. Yet I would never change this part of me. Why? It’s ESSENTIAL to my personhood, wrapped around the double-helixes of my emotional DNA. I can’t imagine being me without my more heightened emotional responses to the stimuli of life.

2. That grabbing, clutching fear when leaving each parent at the airport is a major driver of my fear of abandonment machine that I have allowed to drive all OVER my adult life! And I think the reason I get that panicky and UNBEARABLE ‘what did I do wrong NOW?’ feeling when a relationship goes South is rooted in this SPECIFIC childhood trauma. It’s always ugly when it rears its head, and it always leads to the opposite outcome (push away) of what I intended in the moment (please draw near). I throw out these angry-seeming or equally gushing words in my begs for reassurance, and I’ve got the cringe-worthy texts to prove it. But the goal here is to look at what benefit, if any, I experienced from these traumatic experiences. And the main one that was fed by these in particular is my RESILIENCE; my survivability. I was always terrified that my heart would literally explode with anguish each and every time I said goodbye to my parents at an airport gate. I could never stop the tears as I boarded that long walkway to the plane. I remember one flight where I actually cried until halfway through the flight, but that was the exception rather than the rule. Usually I was no longer crying by the time I reached the cockpit, and each flight I completed proved I could survive the separation from my caregivers. I had to experience the pain of the separation in the moment; and in that moment, walk away anyway. Such bravery was expected from this scared cryer of a little girl who WAS and IS great big strong me! And just look at what a force I am now, people!

3. This is really a re-statement of #2, but here goes anyway: I learned at a very young age to adapt to my surroundings in order to survive. I believe this is why I’m still here - if not yet fully thriving, I’m at least energetically growing, learning, and becoming a better version of myself every day. And that’s not nothing!

July 30, 2021

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