Have you ever noticed that life often seems to consist of a series episodes with similar themes? It’s kinda like reincarnation—we get to keep coming back to work on things based on all the stuff we’ve already been through before. Whatever the themes, if you pay attention, you’ll notice that as far as you go and as eventful as your life may be, you keep finding yourself in familiar emotional territory time and time again.
For me, some repeating themes are abandonment, disillusionment and maladjustment. No matter how hard I work, no matter how far and wide I travel and no matter how drastically the details of my life change, I seem to always be back to deal with these common themes of my emotional life. They have helped shape and mold me, having a big hand in the creation of my strengths and weaknesses and my view on life beyond myself.
I frequently find myself agonizing over the fear of being abandoned or of being an abandoner. I view many things through this lense: soured relationships, illness, infancy. My fear of being abandoned and of abandoning colors everything. This is why I have such a hard time walking away from any and all emotional and professional connections, no matter how hurtful they might be. I watch the world, so blasé about walking away, so quick to throw away years of dedicated service and professionalism, cutting ties so arbitrarily, and I react by holding on tighter and by not letting go, even when letting go is the wisest thing to do. I notice how fickle people are—in love one minute, walking away the next—and I remedy the sadness I feel over having been tossed aside by never tossing anyone aside, even when that might be the best thing for me. I just keep holding on because I can’t bare abandoning any one or thing in life.
I agonize over the rawness of abandonment—its cruelty—over and over and over again. I fear it. I mourn it when it comes. When it happens to me, I have very tough time recovering from it. And I view it as a fate more terrible than death.
When my father’s Alzheimer’s got so bad that caring for him at home became impossible, my mother began speaking about moving him to a care facility. I lost a piece of my soul during that time. I couldn’t shake the deep sadness I felt about “leaving him behind”. It was so sad to me that I felt like dying from a broken heart. I imagined him waking up in the middle of the night, his mind wracked with the effects of dementia, feeling abandoned, looking for us and wondering where he was. This thought haunted me for as long as he lived. I felt a visceral fear every time this thought visited me, which was a daily occurance. And each time I though about it, I died a little inside from sadness and guilt.
This feeling, the sheer terror of the remote possibility of causing another person to feel abandoned has found me again since the birth of my baby. Tasks as ordinary as sleep training strike such fear and sadness within me. Right now, I’m reading over 10 books simultaneously, just to find a way to help her learn to sleep without one tear shed and without triggering my anxiety of having “abandoned” the baby at night. And it turns out I’m the kind of mom who cannot bare to hear her child cry, even for a minute. I cannot because I believe it’s my job to make sure my little one never feels as though she’s been left behind. In theory that sounds great. But, practically, I’m killing myself trying to avoid things that are part of life. For example, if I’m driving, I can’t stand hearing her cry in the car seat with her back to her mother. I imagine her feeling fearful and abandoned because she can’t see my face or feel reassured by my presence. I’ve had times when I’ve cried hysterically right along side with her, as I’ve repeatedly begged her to calm down, until we got to where we were going. I’ve also had times when I’ve pulled over, gotten into the back seat to just hold and reassure her, again with a tear-stained face. And at all times, I feel responsible for making sure she knows I’m there with her, even if that means contorting my arm backward to shake a rattle at her in the hopes of making her feel safe and stopping her from feeling any discomfort, even when she’s simply crying to complain about the car stopping at a red light. And don’t even get me started on the jumbled up emotional upheaval I feel when I leave her with a caregiver, whether that’s a nanny or her own dad. I see her looking at me as I give her over to someone else and walk away, and all my abandonment fears come rushing back. This constant pressure to alleviate all traces of feeling “left behind” from my baby’s life is wearing me down—physically, emotionally and psychologically. But my fears of abandonment are bigger than my need for sanity, so I keep putting undue pressure on myself and feeling like I’m failing in the worst way.
Motherhood has triggered another huge common theme of my life: feeling maladjustment. Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve dealt with being the odd bird, the black sheep and the fish swimming upstream. You can’t really be a misplaced adolescent, living in exile without any friends or the ability to make friends and not be permanently affected by the experience. At 10, a revolution took away everything that would make a child feel safe and secure, changing the course of my life forever. At 13, I left behind everything I knew— my home, family, friends, first crush, way of life and country—and moved to Europe with my mom and dad. I didn’t speak the language, had no friends my age and felt like life kept going without my participation in it. At 15, I moved to Texas, unable to speak English, behind in school, unaware of the customs and culture of this new place and utterly incapable of making friends. Imagine being a teenager going to high school while stuck under the cone of silence. It gives a new meaning to “teenage angst”, doesn’t it? To call me girl interrupted would be an understatement. I stuck out like sore thumb in the worst way possible. Maladjustment was my way of life back then. In many ways, it became my way of life from then on. At some point, I took those feelings and created a new narrative: I wasn’t maladjusted; I was unique. Being unique, being different, being myself, being reinvented—these are what I’ve come to value and revere most in life. I am defined by these ideas. But, as much as I value being one of a kind, I’ve always secretly felt a lot of loneliness and such longing for fitting in.
These days, that longing for “being normal” has come back with renewed force. As a new mom, filled with doubt and exhaustion, I am dying to “fit in”. I want to belong to a tribe, do what everyone else does and just be another “normal” mom. I want to read the same books, do the same stuff, shop at the same places and be busy doing the same mind – shaping activities all other moms seem to do with their babies. I want to look and sound just like everyone else. Of course, I’m finding that goal elusive and nearly impossible, because that’s just not me. I can’t seem to find people to fit in with. I don’t seem to belong anywhere. And no matter how often I’m told to just be my own person and do what I think is right, I feel a deep sense of loss over this maladjustment. I feel odd, awkward, different, ethnic and foreign. I don’t fit any of the mom molds I’ve seen so far. And, at least temporarily, I’ve lost my ability to value being unique. I worry that my tendency to swim upstream affects my baby, and I don’t want anything to handicap her life and her journey as she grows up. Where is that gutsy girl who thrives on being one-of-a-kind? Why isn’t she proud of being unique? How come she’s wasting so much time trying to fly under the radar and become a cookie cutter copy, when she knows that’s not the life for her?
Disillusionment is the natural derivative of my fears of abandonment and of feeling like I don’t fit in. Suddenly I see everything for what they are and not as I imagined them to be. And that’s more disappointing than I imagined. No, I’m not that girl who’s surrounded by a village to raise a child with. No, I don’t seem to be the “Super Maman” I wanted to be. No, I’m not the one with a busy mom social calendar. No, our days aren’t overflowing with play dates and mommy/baby get-togethers. And, speaking frankly, not every day is idyllic like I imagined. I’m not disillusioned my baby at all. She’s a dream come true and the light of my life. I’m disillusioned by my own high expectations, as well as my perceived shortcomings and weaknesses. Of course, logically, I know that these aren’t what matters. I know that I am raising a happy, healthy and beautiful little girl. But, emotionally speaking, I’m reincarnated to work on my perfectionist tendencies and the unreasonable pressures I put on myself in life.
So I rinse, repeat and redo. It’s the nature of the journey. It’s the order of things. It’s life as it should be. It’s live and learn.
Life is series opportunities to work on the stuff you have yet to resolve. You owe it to yourself to learn from each episode, grow stronger, become wiser and use your past experiences to resolve your emotional issues one step at a time. In the haze of my life’s busyness, my confusion and exhaustion, I’m still holding on to the idea of growth and evolution. I’m still striving to mature and advance. I still seek wisdom and knowledge. And I know I need to ease up on myself, relax and enjoy the journey. Life unfolds, one experience at a time, and so do I.