Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Safe Haven

I must have been about 7 or 8.  My parents went every November to a neighboring city to do their Christmas shopping.  We went to stores several times bigger than the ones in our small town.

We'd gone to one of the biggest stores in this large neighboring town.  Suddenly, I looked up from whatever it was I was looking at, and found myself surrounded by people - none of whom I knew.  My parents were nowhere to be seen.  They had assumed I was with them and moved on to another area of the store.  All I could see was a sea of elbows, purses, and winter coats bustling around.

I was small for my age - but up until that point in my life I had never felt so tiny, so alone, so vulnerable.  My chest hurt, as if it were being squeezed by giant hands.  My breath came in small gasps.  I felt a lump in my throat ... it was getting larger.  Tears stung my eyes as I struggled to see someone - anyone - I knew.  There wasn't anyone.  A vague sense of nausea nagged at me. My mouth was dry - I'd been breathing through it.  My pace quickened.  I began frantically going up and down the aisles, calling out for first one parent, then another.  The purses and coats became a blur as I went from fear to panic.

It seemed like forever to me before I spotted them halfway up the wide staircase and ran over to them, breathless. 

Sometimes even as an adult I have felt the cold fingers of panic creep around my neck. Usually it's the very same reason - fear of losing someone, of being abandoned and alone.  In fact, I lived my life ruled by fear and there were times that it paralyzed me.  

What I didn't realize was that my fear made me overreact and push people away from me.  I took it upon myself to look after them and to make sure that nothing ever happened to them.  But, as Dorie says in Finding Nemo,  "Well, that's kind of dumb.  If you never let anything happen to him then nothing would ever happen to him.  Not much fun for poor Harpo."  I protected them from things I thought would hurt them, even the consequences of their own actions - and I went entirely too far.  When they were 18 and 15, they wanted nothing to do with me, took my caretaking for granted (or resented it) and only tolerated me.  I had never felt so alone, not even when I was in that department store.  And I had only myself to blame.

My epiphany came when I admitted that I was powerless to change them, powerless to fix them, and that they had the right to be who they were without my direction.  In short, I learned to let go.  And when I started to actually release my grip, I found that not only did my own panic level go down, but my loved ones started to relax around me and enjoy my company more.  My relationships with them started to transform. I knew that this was something that I was empowered to do and not something I had the strength to do on my own - for I had tried for many years to change, and couldn't.  All the credit for this miracle goes to God.  Peace and gratitude began to dawn in my life.

And one day I looked around me and discovered that I wasn't alone anymore. My kids enjoyed being around me.  I meant it when I smiled - when I laughed.  I had entered a safe place - a haven where I no longer felt as though I or anyone I loved was under attack or in danger of abandonment.  

I must admit it felt rather strange after all those years of bondage to fear.  But the longer I live in that safe haven, the more at home I feel there.

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