“Alright, Amy, relax! Uh…too relaxed. Sit up straight, but not uncomfortably or rigid. Don’t just sit here, do something…grab your phone…wait, what if I look like I am not able to sit peacefully and in silence for a few minutes without needing a distraction? Then they will know something is wrong. Remember, make eye contact, but not too much eye contact.”
This internal conversation sounds more like what careens through your mind before a blind date, not when you are about to enter conversations with a potential therapist. Sitting in the living room of a counselor in Brentwood, TN, I am starting my first session. I am nervous and excited at the same time; with flight/fight/freeze reactions on high alert and prepared to engage. Just give me a good reason or possible excuse and I am so outa here. The door opens to the office and that is enough. I pop up like an overly excited jack-in-the box only to meet one of the most loving, safe, comfortable, honest and helpful human beings I will ever know.
Before I go any further, let me take a step back into time; about twenty years back. One of my earliest memories is sitting in a kitchen with my mom and grandpa. Mom was upset about something and I could not quite figure it what. She was crying and pacing and eventually left the room, and then left the house. Through the front window I watched the car leave. As far as I am able to pinpoint, it was in that moment that I began to believe and was absorbed into a cadre of lies.
“I did something so bad that my own mom, upset and angry, would leave me.”
“I need to be ‘good’ (enough) so that nothing like this will happen again.”
“I am responsible for my mom’s happiness.”
“I did something bad because I am something bad.”
What I did not know at the time or could have even understood at that age was that my mom had caught my dad in an affair with one of her best friends. Children, if left to process without guidance, do not have the capacity to manage chaos. If no one tells them otherwise, they will conclude it is their fault.
These lies laid a foundation of underlying assumptions that framed how I let other’s treat me and defined how I would walk into and pursue relationships. If someone ‘wanted to talk to me’ I assumed that it was because I had done something wrong. Terrified of lying, I told everyone everything. I stopped having any opinions of my own because I couldn’t risk being a disappointment, which always led to a sense of rejection. If our understanding of relationship and grace is being good ‘enough’ then we will always and continually be sabotaging the first and falling from the second.
High School was basketball, volleyball, drama, and conforming to each person or conversation in order to be accepted, but never finding home or being comfortable inside my own skin. So fearful of losing a place with my friends, I was unable to enjoy them. I felt the need to work and serve, to take sides in private and remain silent and invisible in public, all to create and maintain the momentary illusion of value. So afraid of disappointing others I would cycle through quitting and re-joining, whether a sports team or a potential friendship.
During my junior year, my volleyball team started talking about the dreaded ‘c’ word: CALORIES. They compared and contrasted while I listened. Some were obviously much smaller than me and if they thought they had a problem, mine was even ‘bigger’. To a teenage brain it is emotional logic and I become obsessed with how I looked and unhappy with every image I saw in the mirror. When you look for flaws, especially when you are convinced they must be there, you will find them. I could always find something that wasn’t quite right, not up to the invisible but seemingly real and harshly judgmental standard. If I saw in my own reflection, I surely saw it in the eyes of others.
I decided to attend Oregon State University with one of my best friends. Having lost any sense of personal preference or opinion, it was a lesser risk to simply tag along. We even signed up for the same classes and made the big move into a house with 55 other girls. With the expectancy that often comes with new beginnings, I started my life as a college student. It wasn’t as glamorous as it looks in the movies, the class requirements to sun tanning ratio was way off, and I was more interested in Hollywood’s presentation. Unhappy in school and lonely in a house of 55 girls I did what I always did, went to the gym and worked out, more than I slept, ate or sat in class.
I began University 5 foot 7 inches and 125 pounds but within the first two terms I had lost 15 more. Depressed and dismayed at the girl I saw in the mirror or heard when I spoke, I finally called mom and told her I wanted to come home. She supported my ability to choose and within an hour I had talked to each of my professors and the admissions office, and arranged for her to collect me along with my belongings a couple days later.
Perhaps we believe that it is an easier path to transforming ourselves if we can only change our circumstances. Undoubtedly there are times when we do need to leave, or quit, or escape but often it is more running away than it is growing up. Maybe we think if we can find a way around life we won’t have to go through it. Doesn’t Hollywood tell us that if all else fails, to simply alter reality?
Check in for Part 2 on Sunday night!
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