No, no, no, wait! Come back.
Because I know. Trust me, I know.
I know how the word ‘abandonment’ feels.
It feels like flipping through TV channels and briefly landing on The Exorcist. And your immediate reaction is, “Oh Geezus!” And you frantically try to change the channel with your eyes closed while yelling “LA LA LA LA LA LA!!!” So you don’t see or hear something for even half a second that’s going to leave you with nightmares for a week.
Ya. Like that.
I’ve actually been trying to write this blog for two weeks. I’ve debated a hundred times how I want to say this, and how much to reveal about myself. I didn’t want this to be about me, but I didn’t think what I needed to say would make sense unless I broke down how I know what I know about abandonment.
Finally, today I thought, “fuck it.” So, you’re going to learn a lot about me.
Abandonment sucks. No doubt about it. When it happens, it sucks. But it doesn’t have to.
Because maybe, just maybe…actually…I’m pretty damn sure… it’s a gift.
Did one or both of your parents abandon you?
Did your spouse abandon you? Did they walk out of the marriage? Did they cheat?
Did your child abandon you?
Family? A friend? An entire peer group? A cat?
I say that because I once had a cat abandon me. No shit. I raised him from a kitten. One day he got mad that I put him in a pet carrier to take him to the vet to have an infected wound treated. On the way home he shit himself, chewed his way out of the carrier, bit me, exited the vehicle, and ran. If cats had an opposable middle finger he would have used it as he loped away, I assure you. He befriended a new family and went to live with them. Every once in a while he’d come over and meow at our door. I’d get all excited thinking maybe he was coming home. He’d enter, eat my other cat’s food, and leave.
Yes, abandonment is so powerful that 20 years later I still get a little angsty about a cat who turned his back on me.
Now, what I’m going to do today is attempt to walk you through why abandonment is a gift. That said, I have no silver lining to offer you about that friggin’ cat.
Sometimes parents abandon their kids. For seemingly no reason at all. Or after a divorce. Or perhaps they die. Or sometimes they’re physically present but emotionally unavailable.
My mother was an alcoholic. I wish I had a dollar for every night I stood in front of her and asked her to choose me over that first drink, only to have her pour the bourbon in resignation. We both knew what the first drink meant, though only one of us (me) acknowledged it openly. The first drink was a slippery slope of belligerence, suicide threats, physical violence, police intervention, drunk driving, and worse… absolute mental and emotional torture. Oh yes, by drink number three, things were ugly, and I was retiring to my room to pray to God to survive this night with minimal damage. Every night, for four years. And as I said, every night for four years I asked my sober mother to choose me and not take that drink. And she poured the drink.
Abandonment. Every night.
And I wouldn’t change a single thing. What I learned from my experience with my mother I couldn’t have learned in any other way, and I guarantee you that it made me who I was. I can tolerate almost anything. Having been through absolute fucking hell, I can put things into perspective pretty quickly. I’m determined to enjoy life. I’ve learned how to protect and grow my sanity and happiness.
It was an inconsistent path at first. And it started with me abandoning my mother.
I still remember in vivid detail backing out of my driveway to leave for college. I drank my mother in because I knew what was going to happen. She could not survive without me. And I could not survive with her. I chose me over her. Because abandonment is not always bad.
That was the best decision I ever made in my entire life. Any decision after that has paled in comparison to saying “I love me enough to walk away from you.” The strength of it still keeps me going sometimes when I’m down, or I don’t feel lovable, or I question my worth.
My mother died three years later. More abandonment.
And another gift. I wouldn’t recognize it for years, but when my mother died, I finally got to start living. I had learned all I was supposed to learn from our relationship and then life granted me a new beginning and more gifts. I learned to resolve the unresolved with someone who was not even present (or on this earth). I am gifted at forgiveness. I don’t even need the other party present. I just generate it, and with it, PEACE.
Now, the pain was sometimes overwhelming…and the gifts weren’t recognized initially. No, over the years I’ve certainly fallen into some of the unhealthy behaviors you can form when you’ve been exposed to abandonment…when you fear abandonment.
Those were all favorites of mine at one time or another. Actually, in truth, some of those behaviors started before my mother died.
For instance, in my youth I abandoned good friends more than once. One girlhood friend in particular, I abandoned for no good reason. Essentially, I was just being an ass. Not long after that my other girlhood friends abandoned me, because I was being an ass and they didn’t want to put up with it. I went crawling back, wounded, to the friend I abandoned, and she took me back, unconditionally. I was young, but I learned a valuable lesson there (though I wouldn’t be fully aware of it for years). Don’t take your mess out on other people, take responsibility for your mess, and thank God for friends who love you unconditionally. I’m actually close friends with every one of those girls now.
For a very long time I’ve lived in fear of abandonment, because all I could remember was the pain. I’ve been through hours and hours and thousands of dollars of therapy trying to overcome the behaviors you adopt when you fear abandonment…and all of its related conditions, like “I’m not enough.”
But then last week, in the midst of an abandonment/”I’m not good enough” shame spiral, I took a good long look at my abandonment. And I realized, holy shit, THANK YOU. And…there’s nothing to fear.
After the pain of abandonment, a windfall of greatness always followed.
Not one single instance of abandonment in my life turned out bad. In fact, each instance has been a gift. In some cases I learned something invaluable. In other cases, life tore me away from someone or something I was holding on to that was taking me down…keeping me from being happy, or successful, or great. In other cases it freed me TO BE ME.
I dug deep. I tried to find an instance of abandonment, other than that fucking cat, that wasn’t a gift….and I couldn’t.
And just like that, I was free.
I see people fighting this same fight, though we’re all on our own path and timeline, and I want to point them to the light switch that exposes abandonment. Abandonment isn’t the dark scary monster lurking in the closet. Nope. It’s a sharp new outfit hanging prettily on a hanger. You just have to flip on the light.
Take an honest look at your abandonment past and present and ask yourself, “is this a gift?” Divorces, sometimes under the worst circumstances…infidelity and such. Parents, grown children, and friends who physically or emotionally turned their back on you. What blessings are hidden there?
Did you learn to love yourself? Did you learn healthy boundaries? Did you become someone who helps other people by using what you learned? Did you clear the path for unconditional love? Did the abandonment protect you from unhealthy behaviors or circumstances? Did you learn forgiveness? Determination? Self-Reliance? Creativity?
Seriously, the list could go on forever. And in some cases, only God knows. But instead of resisting, I highly recommend accepting and letting go. (And saying, “Thank You”)
I looked up the definition of abandonment. It made me snort. I think it’s funny that a girl who has lived so long in fear of abandonment, is also the embodiment of it.