Steve, I’d like to share another part of a story that I recently wrote. I’m going to unlock it next week, but for now I’ll just leave the part of interest here:
I was a miserable child. Absolutely miserable. I was a miserable adult, too. I thought marriage might change things. I thought children might make me happy. Nothing made me happy.
The only thing that ever briefly made me happy was “the event.” The event was my private oasis where life would be perfect, and I could finally be happy. It wasn’t a place, it was a time, a future day that I knew would be better than the present. The only joy I felt was in looking forward to that future time when I would be fulfilled. It was always a special occasion, but not necessarily a life-changing one. Just a future day when I hoped to be content.
I thought it was the event that would make me happy — be it a Broadway musical, a special dinner, a trip to Disneyland, or a first date. But as soon as I found myself at the event, it was like the old Peggy Lee song, “Is That All There Is,” except that she kept dancing. To me it was “Is That All There Is,” and “I’m still miserable,” so let’s find something else to look forward to. And on and on.
Years later in 2010, I was still stuck in my ways, and my ways only reinforced my unhappiness. I was married again, and my daughters had moved on to begin their own lives, and at this point I certainly didn’t believe my life would change. Interestingly, the day my life did change, there was no event. It was a quiet day at home, and I remember feeling sad and upset. A simple thought, a different way of seeing my life, occurred to me, and it was an epiphany that fundamentally altered my universe in a meaningful and lasting way. It changed me from being the negative, worrying, angry person that I had always been to someone else. I am not a spiritually enlightened individual, but I am, mostly, content.
My parents were both gone by that time. They could no longer do anything that would influence how I felt about myself. Do I blame them for the lack of self esteem I felt throughout my life? Do I blame them for ruining my childhood? Do I blame them for my depression and anxiety? Do I blame them for my unhappiness and lack of self worth for most of my life? Do I blame them for everything they did or did not do? Absolutely!
Of course I could have spent the rest of my life in constant blame and misery, but how would that help me become the person I ultimately wanted to be? At some point I had to make a choice, and my decision was to take care of myself. I finally saw the wisdom of looking inward to find self-worth and happiness. I was finally ready to put aside past affronts and external circumstances and to give myself all the love and acceptance that I’d always needed, that my parents were unable to give. I was finally ready to nurture myself.
Like everyone, my parents were flawed people, and whatever their intentions, they had failed me. I first learned about myself through their eyes, and I learned my lessons well. I saw myself as the disappointment he saw and had no respect for anything good or positive that she might have seen. I failed myself.
I hope you love your parents, and I hope they raised you well. That is not my story, but my unhappy childhood does not have to be the end of my story. I believe that at some point all of us have to move onward without our parents, whether they were good or bad, but especially if they left scars and resentments. We have to pack our own suitcases with everything we need to go forward. Starting with this day and this moment, it is up to us to give ourselves a rewarding and joy-filled life. No one else can do it for us. Let’s begin to take care of ourselves.