I recently read a very insightful book called “Share Your Stuff, I’ll Go First”, by author and podcaster Laura Tremaine. I actually saw the book as an ad on Instagram and read it on my Kindle through my library. The book has stayed with me so much that I just ordered a hard copy to keep in my library. I keep very few books, so this book is very meaningful to me.
The premise of the book is ten questions to ask yourself to become a better friend. By asking these questions of yourself, you can better ask people more about their lives; therefore creating deeper, more meaningful relationships. Most of the questions are things that I have worked through in my personal journey of healing, but one question jumped off the page at me. WHAT BROKE YOU? I immediately knew the answer to the question and I also knew that I had no control over the situation. What broke me was the very fact that I was born.
Now, I know that sounds overly dramatic, but I need to share with you my family dynamics. My parents were very much in love and married at the end of WWII in June 1946. They tried for years to have children with no success, so in 1954; they decided to adopt a baby girl. (My sister Kathy). In 1958, they adopted a baby boy (my brother David) and their family was complete. Except it wasn’t. My mother suffered from endometriosis. Unbeknownst to my parents, endometriosis thins out as you get older and my mother became pregnant with me at the age of 39 and gave birth at age 40.
I was always called their “surprise”, but I don’t believe I was a pleasant surprise to my mother or my siblings. My dad used to talk about the day I was born, but my mother never really talked about it. No feelings of gratitude for finally getting pregnant or enjoying having another child. I can tell you all about my sibling’s adoptions, but my own birth was never really discussed. From my earliest memories, I had to be “fitted into” the family. We lived in a very small house and adding a third child made it very cramped. What makes me very sad is that I don’t believe my siblings ever loved me. My mother told me that my sister stated that my parents didn’t need her anymore because they had their “real” daughter. Hence, my parentage was not talked about in detail.
When you are invisible to your family, you feel invisible to everyone and I grew up very shy. I had a hard time making friends and an even harder time keeping them. It wasn’t until I entered 4th grade that life became a little less lonely. A new family moved in two doors down from us with two girls my age. It was a gift from Heaven. I will be forever grateful to this family that included me in more activities than my own family. (One of Laura Tremaine’s other questions-”WHO SHOWED UP FOR YOU?” ). The years they lived by my family and even after they moved away to northern Indiana were some of the happiest of my childhood. I grew up with them and I never felt “in the way”. I was closer to their grandmother than I was to my own. When they moved away, I would always visit them several times a year and we wrote long letters to each other. Sadly, when I moved away from Fort Wayne after college, we lost touch. I hope they know how much they mean to me.
Junior High was the toughest time of my life. Being 13 is hard enough, but being 13 and invisible to your family is even harder. I developed OCD and anxiety. I would rather die than talk to my parents about it, so I suffered in silence. I cut my hair in weird places and started lying to people to make my life seem more interesting than it was. When I developed nervous coughing, my mother took me to her ENT and was surprised when the treatments didn’t work.
High school was a little better. I got a job and I came out of my shell a little. I made friends and went out on the weekends, But I never had a boyfriend and I never went to prom. By then I had become anorexic and had gained the attention of my mother because she thought I looked better skinny.
Finally, life began to change in my Junior year of high school. I got a job at our local department store and started to gain some self confidence. My brother was dating the woman that would become his wife and my best friend and she helped me grow my confidence greatly. By the time I met Kevin at age 21, I was very social and flirty. I took a horrible job out of college (still working on self esteem), so when Kevin asked me to move with him to Hickory, NC, I jumped at the chance to leave my past behind. My mother made my move all about her and how I was deserting her. Funny, I didn’t know you could desert someone you were invisible to. (My dad was none too happy either, but more from the “living in sin” point of view).
Entering into a serious relationship with low self esteem causes issues too. I put up with way too many things from Kevin at the beginning of our relationship. Some of those issues are still being worked on by us even today. I don’t believe I became my “real” self until I became a mother. Even with the bedrest and the postpartum depression, becoming a mother was the best thing that has ever happened to me. It gave me a self confidence that I had never had before because I was making a life for a child I loved more than anyone in this world.
That is when my childhood family relationships really started falling apart. I started standing up to my mother more and I started questioning my sister-in-law’s parenting decisions. When you start standing up to people that are used to you being a doormat, it causes problems. I believe that my dad enjoyed this new found courage in me and we became very close until he passed away.
When I hit the age of 42 and entered perimenopause, I broke again. Severe depression took over my mind and my body and I truly wanted to die. Luckily, I had two reasons to live-my husband and my daughter. I still suffer from depression and I know that I have to take care of my mental health. I am grateful that my anxiety and OCD have been under control for many years now.
So here I am nearing 60 years of age and I can proudly say I am no longer broken. I haven’t been for a long time. I have long time friends that have been through this journey with me and I have new friends who love me for the strong woman I am. I also have people in my life that I have decided to let go. People who enjoyed the ‘broken” me and not the strong me. And that is okay. A dear friend recently said that some people are friends for life and some for a season. The people in my life now are people who add joy, love and laughter. The ones left behind, I hope they figure out how they are “broken” and find healing.