Mine is an all too common Irish childhood tale.
My father was more fond of his Guinness than he was of my mother and his family. Being one of 14 children, he was bereft of love and attention, so I don’t blame him for his neglect, erratic behavior, moments of violence, and controlling presence when he was around. I don’t even blame him for his infidelities, which led to a new half-sister.
Instead, I just feel sad.
I feel sad for myself, my sisters, and also for my father. And, if I’m being honest, I feel the most sad for my mother. To raise two children with a broken heart… it’s hard for me to imagine how that must have been for her. And yet, as I said, it’s all too common.
Even now my heart sinks and my fingers slow with the weight of thirty-odd years of caged emotional pain. It feels heavy, re-entering this emotional landscape.
You know, therapists aren’t born therapists. We’re molded into healers through the flames of life’s betrayals and hardships. I consider this a necessary qualification to help others heal: an array of personal scars.
We loved each other, the three of us.
I lived my childhood shivering under a heavy blanket of grief, fear, anxiety and shame. My mother, sister, and I made the best of it, as the Irish tend to do. Sure, it could be worse.
Relativity has it’s function, but if it’s the only available refrain in times of emotional pain, it’s more likely to drain your vitality than deflect your pain.
We leaned on each other and fought mercilessly. We were three heavy hearts aching below the surface of everyday life. Hearts that would throw a wobbler when those yearly events laden with celebratory expectations barrelled in. Birthdays, Christmas, and New Years were times to let go and have fun, right? In our house they stoked the flames of shame and our longing for a sense of family unity. The alcoholism that robbed it from us laid bare for all to see, along with the figure of grief that sat in the place my father should have occupied.
When I was 15, my parents gave up the fight for good. Finally. It was over. My Dad would never live in our home again. And all I remember was relief.
Off to America the three of us we went for the summer, so our mum could get away from our dad, and maybe bypass the pain of yet another family break-up.
She got a job doing child care in Long Island, and my sister and I were shipped off to a summer camp in Connecticut. It was a computer and circus camp … you can’t make this stuff up. While most kids were sent away for 2 week sentences, I mean sessions, we were there for the whole 8 weeks. The camp counselors called us “lifers.” At the end of our stint, I was relieved to be back in the presence of my mum.
At last, the three of us were finally back together in New York. I spent the whole first day outside playing, barely aware of the hot August sun. I burnt as only a pale Irish kid can.
That night we settled into my mother’s little au pair apartment. I felt so glad to be in our tight quarters together, just the three of us. I took my shirt off, lay down on the floor, and my mother applied After Sun onto my screaming red skin. I watched my sister a few feet away gobble up the last of our feast of sweets. How could life get any better than this?
We were together, contained, protected, and content in our self-made cocoon of belonging.
Over the years when I’d participate in emotional process workshops, I’d often return to that small apartment, my sister beside me and my mother gently soothing my pain, and I’d think, this is exactly where I’ll go if I’m fortunate enough to be conscious as I’m dying.
You are the one you’ve been waiting for.
Today my work to help others move through emotionally transformational processes is a magical vehicle for loving and attending to my own wounded parts. When I return to that room in Long Island, I’m both the little boy happy to be loved and soothed by his mom as well as the little boy missing the loving presence of a father I longed for. I’m that little boy every day and I am the devoted presence I was waiting for.
I often extend a loving invitation to my clients to show up and care for the little child inside who got wounded all those years ago. He (or she) is still within you and you’re here now, the grown-up that you needed so long ago. It doesn’t matter how competent or successful you’ve become in the world; he never grew up or gave up.
Embrace that child with the love and acceptance that you needed. Take his hand and take him with you everywhere you go. Never make him stay hidden. Let him know you’ll always look after him, and you won’t abandon, reject or shame him.
While self love is an important developmental journey, the destination is an emotionally connected life. I am not an island. Self love allows me to care for the wee little one inside and see the wee one in the people I’m closest to (and clients), which then enables me to reach out for and offer love, comfort, and soothing.
I’m the one I was waiting for. And by showing up for myself in this way I’ve become the one my wife and daughter deserve.
These days, at the tender age of 45, much has changed.
I’m married to Teale, an amazingly positive, fun-loving and kind woman, who will likely achieve sainthood for putting up with me. We have a beautiful, vivacious and crazy-smart toddler, Grace, and our furry, feisty, and loving girl, Zephyr. Goofing around, we refer to our crew as “Team Awesome.”
Every night we all go to bed together in the smallest room in our home. We sleep with Grace in the middle, flanked by mammy and daddy. I never could have dreamed my life’s journey would have brought me to such a reliable (set your watch by it) contentment and scrumptiousness.
I no longer have to return to that small room in Long Island to feel a sense of comfort and belonging. I feel that ease and completeness every night, and I often think, where else could be better than this? It’s amazing.
Because I show up for and share the pain of that little boy and let my family love and comfort him, I’m able to inhabit my place in my current family. Loving, holding, supporting, and cuddling them each night in our snug bedroom cocoon. Together, we create a new and more complete place of belonging.
This is the warm, safe place I’ll go before I die.
Dedicated with love to my family.
This article originally appeared on Be Yourself by Medium
Photos courtesy of author