This I Believe

Cynthia - Denver, Colorado
Entered on May 12, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65
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May 11, 2007

It’s essential to process pain from our past to glean its treasures for our future. Painful in itself, but worth it.

Like always, the recent Mother’s Day “season” was the hardest part of the year for me. Yes, I too grew up in a dysfunctional family. Our upper-middle-class life, the epitome of the African-American dream in the 1950s and ‘60s, was secretly challenged by mental illness, sexual abuse in the previous generation and alcoholism.

My brother and I seriously suspect that our mother was molested by her father. We’ve each been through extensive therapy to overcome painful memories of childhood. Not THAT crazy, we’ve never spoken of our suspicions with our mother, but all the signs are there.

I’ve always been the one targeted for my mother’s unresolved rage and trauma, even into adulthood. She chose a man to marry and to father her children whom she knew wouldn’t repeat the horrors of her childhood. I think it just got too hard for her to watch as I reaped the benefits of having the Daddy she’d never had.

Therapy taught me how to process my experiences and emotions. I learned to re-enter the pain, exploring it without it destroying me. I learned that, when needed, I can even re-visit the pain by choice and glean the lessons there.

Recently I did just that, to discover why I seemed to choose the friends I did. Unemployed with physical illnesses that took five months of treatment to resolve, I’ve found myself in the uncomfortable position of needing financial and other forms of help. All except one of my friends disappeared.

Slowly it became clear. One of my legacies from childhood was the knowledge that the surest way to NOT get something I wanted was to ask for it. When, at the age of 14, my mother made me refuse a voice scholarship offered by a private boarding school in Massachusetts that focused on the arts, I stopped asking anyone for anything.

Imagine my surprise when I realized I’ve deliberately chosen friends who continued that legacy. With fewer resources, less energy, less ability to visit or call or to offer help around the apartment or with transportation for errands, less of a sense of “enough-ness.” I’ve selected very sad people, “takers,” as friends. As long as I was the one doing the giving, things had been fine. But the tables turned and I‘d begun asking for things they just couldn’t provide.

The kind of people I want as my friends want people like themselves as their friends. So I’m the one who’s changing, being more energetic throughout my life, physically active, connected, more available for living. Happier! Healthier! I‘m becoming more assertive on my own behalf and making better choices for myself.

Ironically, this is the person I’ve always wanted to be. And now I’m not afraid to ask even the Universe for this–or anything else!–anymore.