The reality is that no one yelled. No one hit. No one was overtly cruel or intentionally harmful. Violence? Neglect? Abuse? No, never, these were not things that happened in our home growing up. We read books. We played board games. We lit Hanukkah candles and played Frisbee golf in the backyard.
Silence, though. Silence has its cost. We did not feel pain. We did not go where it hurt. Avoidance. You cannot teach what you have not learned. You cannot be emotionally present for others when you cannot be emotionally present with yourself.
Now– here– today– Adult Me– I’m rereading Harry Potter this summer. Concurrently, in the past couple weeks, I’ve been overcome with anger. Stuffed up and unable to shift emotional energy through my body. I have learned over the past couple years that under anger is fear and under anger is grief. Yet here I am, stuck stuck stuck. Forcing energy to shift doesn’t work. How can I access the grief? A couple years ago, this was so easy. When there was a fresh loss. That’s what healing is– grieving. Why is it so stuck now? Because frustration always helps move things along smoothly, after all.
Then, this morning, I turn the page:
Mrs. Weasley set the potion down on the bedside cabinet, bent down, and put her arms around Harry. He had no memory of ever being hugged like this, as though by a mother. The full weight of everything he had seen that night seemed to fall in upon him as Mrs. Weasley held him to her. His mother’s face, his father’s voice, the sight of Cedric, dead on the ground all started spinning in his head until he could hardly bear it, until he was screwing up his face against the howl of misery fighting to get out of him.
When I have howls of misery, I tend to hold myself tightly, wrap myself in myself. Only by holding myself can I feel– I don’t know another way, I don’t have memories of loved ones teaching me that it’s safe to be held, safety is in holding on to each other and letting go into each other. I pull away. I don’t trust that we can hold each other.
Boundaries are complicated.
My dad told me several years ago, when I was caring for an ill family member, that when it’s family, you don’t ask. You just do. You just take care — bring food, spend the night, make tea. You just do. You don’t ask.
Somewhere along those lines, though, across the years– within an enmeshment of miscommunication and avoidance — somewhere along those lines– where was the taking care? Sometimes when you’re a kid, what you need isn’t what you want. I never wanted to feel grief. I never wanted to be seen crying. I never trusted it was okay to feel. And I did not learn how.
Growing up takes time.
I recently fell apart at work, emotionally activated by an intense community meeting. Afterwards, a coworker held me tightly as I sobbed. As the meeting ended, knowing I was about to fall apart, I tried to make a beeline for the bathroom to hide. But no– she intercepted and held me. I started to resist, but I felt the sureness, the safety. She wrapped her arms around me and carried the weight–physical and emotional mass. She held me as I let go into her. She held me. And she did not look away.
He had no memory of being held like this, as though by a mother.