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LOVE ME NEVER LEAVE MEDiscovering the Inseparable Bond Our Hearts Crave
By MARILYN MEBERG
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2007 Marilyn Meberg
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Look-and Feel-of Abandonment
I have chosen you and will not throw you away. -Isaiah 41:9
I didn't realize my daughter, Beth, was providing a picture of what abandonment looks like when she was a nursery school dropout. I was totally mystified by her tears of protest when I left her at the Cozy School, a place warmly decorated with doggies, kittens, butterflies, and baby bears. She could play with other four-year-olds, get out of our childless neighborhood, and socialize with those far younger and cuter than I. So why was I asked to return to school and pick up my sobbing little girl who refused to be pacified by either green or orange popsicles?
Arriving in rescue mode, I bent down and enfolded her wracked little body into my arms and said, "Baby, baby, what's wrong? Why are you so sad?"
Her muffled words spoken into my neck were, "I don't want to leave you, Mama. I want to stay with you. Please don't leave me here."
So of course I took her home. We made cookies together, played Candyland, and squished Play-Doh into unrecognizable shapes. Gradually her little spirit was mollified as I promised her she would not have to return to nursery school ever again. She could go with me wherever I went and participate in all the wildly exciting duties of each day.
So Beth witnessed the complicated process of coloring my hair at Betty's Beauty for the Taking shop. She tagged along as I attended Christian Women's Club board meetings and luncheons, and she participated in the heady decisions of whether to buy hamburger or tuna at the grocery store. She had a little Barbie doll suitcase that was ready to travel with only a moment's notice. We went everywhere together. I loved it, but I didn't understand it.
Now I know what I didn't know then. Beth is adopted, and either consciously or subconsciously, all adopted kids have to deal with the idea that they were given away. Mental health professionals often describe this process as "working through abandonment issues." My precious little girl didn't understand why she couldn't bear to be left, and neither did I. But I knew without a doubt that the cruelest thing I could have done was force her to stay in nursery school.
Actually, I did have one rather vain suspicion back then about Beth's desire for constant togetherness. I flattered myself, thinking maybe she found me such a wonderful mama she simply chose me to play with instead of her fellow four-year-olds. But I now know that Beth's sobbing came from a place of anguish that was far deeper than her attachment to me. Her little heart was torn by an innate craving that neither of us could identify or understand at the time. I only knew what the craving looked like. Beth knew what it felt like.
All these years later, I know more about that anguish, and although it exists in different forms and plays out in different ways, I also believe that all of us, at various points in our lives, are affected by that dark emotion. It is a craving for an inseparable bond that will protect us from the soul's greatest fear: abandonment.
Beth is now a grown and competent young woman with two wonderful sons and a master's degree in social work. Her professional training and her personal experience have enabled her to better understand the issue of abandonment and to use that understanding as she helps others. Throughout this book, Beth will share with you some of the growth processes that are enabling her to overcome what was at one time a near-paralyzing fear. It is with enormous respect and pride that I commend her journey to you as you discover and examine how unknown, unexpected, or unrecognized issues of abandonment may have affected your own life.
I predict you will find this work in self-discovery both troubling ... and freeing. As Dr. Evelyn Bassoff says in her classic book Mothers and Daughters, "If one is to know the joy of living with abandon, perhaps one must face and overcome the terror of abandonment."
The Fear of Getting Left
When I think of the terror of abandonment, I remember my first boyfriend, John Pitter. I used to call him Patter, or sometimes Pitter-Patter. I think I got by with that sauciness because he really respected me. I could run faster than he could; in fact, I could run faster than anyone in our school. Patter liked that in a woman. I always liked older men, and since he was eleven and I was ten, we were a good fit.
Patter dropped into my world abruptly and unexpectedly. He was, as he described himself, a foster kid. He came to live with the other foster kids living with Mrs. Selfridge, who made the best cookies in town. If I remember correctly, our town's population then was 372. Obviously, Mrs. Selfridge had lots of competition, but she always won the "best cookie in town" award at our annual school fair. I was impressed. So were the other kids lucky enough to be placed in her foster-care home. At least I thought they were lucky.
One of our favorite small-town-kid games was hide-and-seek. I found it mystifying that Patter would always tell me, "Stay with me, Ricker" when we'd all go hide. It seemed to me that one person could hide better than two, but I was flattered that he seemed to want me close by. The same "Stay with me, Ricker" was also customary for Patter to say as we walked home from school. I didn't understand that either. I was a runner, not a fighter. If he needed protection, I couldn't provide much. Besides, he was a big kid, and no one would mess with him anyway. So why did he want me to stay with him?
Mrs. Selfridge attended the church my dad pastored, and she insisted "her kids" go with her each Sunday. One day Patter told me he didn't want to hurt my feelings, but in his opinion my dad didn't "know nothin' from nothin'."
I was shocked. I asked Patter what he meant by saying such a thing. He told me that, contrary to what Dad preached, God did not take care of people and instead He left them whenever He felt like it. Patter's final word was, "Your dad seems nice, but he really has no idea about God, like I do. God ditches people."
Not long after this conversation, Patter disappeared as abruptly and unexpectedly as he had come. That hurt my heart enormously. Mrs. Selfridge told Dad that John Pitter had been adopted by some family "a ways away." We never had a chance to say good-bye.
I didn't know then that John Pitter-Patter suffered from abandonment issues. I didn't know then that abandonment is one of the most excruciating assaults to the psyche. I didn't know then that its resulting lacerations leave indelible imprints on the soul-tracers of feelings and behaviors leading back to early hurts and fears. I just knew he always wanted me to stay with him.
Now I know it's what we all want ... the security of knowing those closest to us will stay with us.
The Difference between Loss and Abandonment
When my grandson Ian was four years old, he was having a sandbox conversation with his friend Adam. I love sandbox conversations and eavesdropped through most of them when my kids were little. Now, as a grandma, I see no reason to change that tradition, so I lurked behind the kitchen door for better hearing.
Adam wanted to know where my husband was and why I always came alone when I visited Ian and his family.
Ian told Adam he didn't think I had a husband.
This was apparently a sobering piece of information for Adam. After a few minutes he asked how come I didn't have a husband.
Ian's response was, "I don't know for sure, but I'm pretty sure she got left."
Ian was right. I did get left. My husband Ken didn't choose to leave me. He didn't choose to die. Just as John Pitter-Patter had said to me, I wanted to say to Ken, "Stay with me, Meberg." But far too quickly, Ken succumbed to cancer. When he died, I felt abandoned.
No one on earth is exempt from feelings of abandonment. Sometimes those soul-lashings are less severe than others. Sometimes, with time to heal and determination to make a new beginning, those lashings don't inhibit us from moving on with life. Not only is it possible to move on with life, it's possible to experience joy and purpose in the moving. In fact, it's possible ultimately to see it working together for good.
But why is abandonment so excruciating to begin with? Isn't abandonment the same as loss? We read a lot about losses in various books and magazines. Judith Viorst's classic bestseller Necessary Losses discusses the inevitability of loss, its effect upon the human psyche, and how those losses play out in our interior being by dictating our external behaviors.
Most of us recognize loss but sometimes we miss-or misunderstand-the different look of abandonment. It's crucial to know the difference between loss and abandonment because abandonment is more toxic. According to the dictionary, to be abandoned is to be deserted or forsaken. Loss is defined as the harm or suffering caused by losing or being lost.
I can experience loss without anyone having intentionally caused it. For example, I may experience loss because of a loved one's debilitating illness or death. The loved one's death probably had nothing to do with me personally; he or she didn't decide to die. On the other hand, if I'm deserted or abandoned, a decision was made by someone to leave me. And if someone decided to leave me, my assumption is that something must be wrong with me or that something about me is simply not good enough. I must be defective, flawed, imperfect, undesirable, and not worthy to be kept.
If I am abandoned, I can assume that I am a throwaway. Someone important to my life made that decision to throw me away. It was not a necessary loss; it was a determined event, a moment when someone rejected my very essence ... my entire being. That is a broken bond, an excruciating rejection that produces shame. When I am abandoned, I become a shameful reject. In contrast, when I suffer loss, I may become the object of others' increased admiration and affection. Let me explain.
I've made a distinction between loss and abandonment, and I've said Ken's death was the former, not the latter. He did indeed leave and it was a horrific loss, but he did not choose to leave me (in spite of Ian's pronouncement that I "got left"). Why is that distinction important? Why does it matter that Ken left me through death and not choice? Because his death does not produce a sense of shame or personal rejection. In fact, there is a certain dignity to being left through death. There is no social judgment resulting from becoming a widow. I'm not viewed as a throwaway or a person unable to maintain her marriage. That respectability grants me the right to receive flowers, casseroles, cakes, and cookies after the funeral.
The Shame of Abandonment
Patter seemed to feel tremendous shame about being a foster kid. He never told me why he was at Mrs. Selfridge's foster home or if he had been in other homes. I knew nothing about his mother or father, and neither did I know if he knew them. His personal history was a blank page to me and possibly to himself as well. All I knew was he seemed embarrassed to be there and thought God had ditched him. Whether he knew the word or not, Pitter-Patter had been abandoned. Someone had chosen not to keep him.
A friend of mine was reading this chapter prior to my finishing it. When she read about Patter, she said, "I really identify with that kid. In fact, a lot of your readers will identify with him. My husband chose not to keep me, and that rejection continues to hurt as well as embarrass me. I too choose not to tell people about it. I don't lie, but neither do I talk about it if I can avoid it. Unlike widowhood, Marilyn, there's no dignity in divorce.
"No one brought flowers, casseroles, cakes, or cookies the day my divorce was finalized. That was a day most of my friends pretended to know nothing about. They too were embarrassed (embarrassed for me but not by me). They knew I wasn't the one to leave my marriage of thirty years. They knew I 'got left,' and they knew I got left because of another woman. That's not only terribly hurtful but also embarrassing because the interior tape that plays in my head is, You weren't good enough ... You are flawed ... You failed ... You've hurt your kids. I was reared to believe divorce is a sin. If someone were to ask me what I consider to be my biggest failure, worst sin, and greatest source of shame, I'd say my divorce."
Perhaps we should pause here and do a review on shame. This is a subject that has occupied the minds and writings of mental health professionals for decades. As a result, there are many worthy books and articles that can help us understand why our shame feels so ... well, shameful. I wrote extensively about shame in my book The Zippered Heart, but for our purposes here, let's simply say shame is not what we do. It is instead who we perceive ourselves to be. Shame sends messages from our very core that condemns everything about our interior being. It gnaws away at our foundational sense of worth, causing us to devalue what we think, what we feel, and who we are. When we are sufficiently shamed, we don't feel or think we are worthy to love or be loved. We believe we're worthless-worth less than nothing. Or, as Barbara Johnson used to describe the feeling, "like a zero with the rim rubbed out."
As if these deep churnings of shame aren't difficult enough, those who feel rejected often have to cope with shame's cousin, which bears a family resemblance but is born of different genes. That cousin is guilt.
Guilt and shame often appear to be the same, but guilt does not function the same way shame does. Guilt is connected to behavior. It springs from something we've done that we don't approve of. For example, if I behave in an unattractive manner, I will feel guilty. To relieve that guilt, I need to apologize. Once having apologized, I will no longer feel guilty.
But if I do continue to feel guilty in spite of apologizing and being forgiven, the emotion I'm feeling has moved beyond guilt to become shame. I am ashamed of who I perceive myself to be in addition to feeling guilt over what I did. But it's the shame that gnaws away at me, not the guilt.
For example, one afternoon when Pitter-Patter and I were walking home from school together, he complained of being hungry. I knew that condition wouldn't last long because Mrs. Selfridge always baked cookies every day so that when her kids came home from school and entered the house their nostrils would be assailed by the smell of straight-from-the-oven cookies. That's one of the reasons I loved my "stay with me, Ricker" job. Mrs. Selfridge always invited me to have cookies along with the other kids. Those moments were as close to heaven as I ever got at 3:00 p.m. every day.
I pointed out the fact that Patter would soon have a cookie in his mouth and would no longer be hungry. Ignoring my words, he stopped dead in his tracks in front of my dad's church. "Hey, Ricker, I'll bet there's food in the kitchen there. Let's take a look."
I was horrified. "Patter, there's no food in the kitchen. That room is usually the third-grade classroom. It's only a kitchen if there's a potluck dinner or something."
"What about those communion crackers, Ricker? I love them," he answered. "They're small and crunchy. I'll bet those crackers are on a shelf in there." With that, Patter took off at a trot, heading for the side door to the church. The church was rarely locked, so I wasn't surprised to see Patter disappear into the building.
My "stay with me, Ricker" job had suddenly become complicated. I needed to be with Patter, but somehow I needed to protect my dad or God or something or someone too ill-defined to name. I sprinted to the church side door and into the kitchen-third-grade-classroom just as Patter let out a triumphant hoot of discovery.
"Here they are, Ricker, a whole box of those little crunchy crackers!" He slid down the cupboard wall, sat cross-legged on the floor, and tore open the cracker box. As he began munching, he noticed my look of horror. "Ricker, relax. These crackers aren't the body of Christ ... they're crackers from Boehm's Grocery Store!"
I knew the origin of the crackers, but I was stumped at how to explain their symbolism and that they were more than an aisle-three item from Boehm's.
Excerpted from LOVE ME NEVER LEAVE ME by MARILYN MEBERG Copyright © 2007 by Marilyn Meberg. Excerpted by permission.
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