Almost all of my closest friends, the ones who really get me, the ones who I’m most likely to reach out to when I face my greatest challenges, experienced some pretty heavy stuff in their childhoods.
I’d like to say that this is a case of opposites attract.
No such luck.
I think, rather, that I relate best to these friends because they are the ones who get that when I say, “I love them to death, but my family can be a bit crazy sometimes,” I don’t mean my grandfather says embarrassing things too loudly in public, or that my uncle keeps pet squirrels.
I mean that I spent more than my fair share of nights during my childhood afraid to go to sleep because I didn’t know what I would wake up to in the morning.
I mean that I know what it feels like to see a cop car driving through your neighbourhood and get that pinched feeling in your stomach because there’s a decent chance it’s heading to your house.
Don’t get me wrong. I also had loads of love and laughter in my life as a kid. It’s just that the positive rested uneasily alongside fairly continuous and high levels of tension, fear and stress.
I’ve blogged before about my on-again, off-again relationship with my emotions. My most detailed post about the subject was probably this one, scribed just before I moved back to Toronto . . . in large part to be near my family again, after 13 years apart.
To say that I am happy I made this move would be an understatement. I am so, so happy that I came home.
That’s not quite right.
I am so happy that I reclaimed home.
Because to be honest, the reasons I left, the reasons I stayed away, had a lot to to with the fact that as much as I love them, the coping mechanism of playing hide-and-never-seek with my emotions that I developed in order to keep functioning around the turmoil in my life as a kid was well served by living 400 km apart from my family — the people who could most easily shatter the walls I had built up.
Coming back here, putting intention and energy into renovating my relationships with my folks and my bros . . . it hasn’t been easy. It has, however, been worth it.
I read a passage today that I connected with very deeply in relation this part of my journey.
It resonated not just because of my own experiences with my emotions, but because of having heard of similar disassociation experiences from my close friends who also experienced some form of childhood trauma.
From “True Refuge” by Tara Brach:
“Some people tell me about the despair of not really living, of skimming the surface. Others have the perpetual sense of a threat lurking around the corner. And many speak of being weighed down by a deep tiredness. It takes energy to continually run away from pain and tension, to pull away from the life of the present moment. Roots in the air, we lose access to the aliveness and love and beauty that nourish our deepest being. No false refuge can compensate for that loss.”
Many things came to mind when I read this passage.
A sense of pride for how far I’ve come from my days throwing all my energy into running away from the tough.
A sense of gratitude for the therapist who helped me recognize that this was what I was doing, and helped guide me in building new tools and pathways.
Most of all, however, I felt a soul shattering sense of sadness for my friends who I knew would see themselves in this passage as much as I did.
Some had it far worse than me.
Some slightly better.
One I even had a “struggle off” with once, tossing back-and-forth our families’ most extreme experiences in a dark-humour-infused form of bonding that my friends from less tumultuous upbringings could never understand (cop cars at your house, FTR, were out struggled by both of us within the first couple of rounds).
I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support and understanding of my fellow survivors of shitty childhoods.
I wouldn’t know what it meant to truly trust in a friendship.
To share with someone the worst, without fear they would think better of being friends with you upon hearing it.
These relationships are beautiful, soul satisfying things. The opposite of false refuge — they nourish me in a way that makes me feel grounded and loved and accepted.
Would I give them up if it meant just one of us could have had an easier path to adulthood?
In a heart beat.
But that’s not what’s real.
And so instead we lean on each other. We grow with each other. And when we spot another of our kind in need of refuge, we invite them into the circle.