The Ultimate Gift: How I Decided to Break Cycles

In early elementary school, I had two best friends. We happened to live in the same neighborhood when our mothers met at a garage sale. They became best friends almost instantly. With daughters all the same age, everything we did, we did together. Only a few blocks stood between our homes, so we were gifted with some of the greatest childhood memories.

My backyard had a swing set, sprinklers and toys, space to run around, and plenty of wildflowers and dandelions. As an adult, it would probably look pretty pathetic compared to the memory of it for my little five-year-old self. It was marvelous to me then.

Some of our favorite pastimes before afternoon school included picking flowers and attempting crowns to excitedly show our parents. There were always plenty to pick from and we would be so proud of our creations.

I recall one morning picking flowers where I felt compelled to do something sweet (and imagine the innocence of trying to do something nice as a child for someone else) for one of my friends, Lexi. I had wanted to make a bouquet of flowers to give her as a gift and spent a lot of time getting as many as I could, different colors and sizes, trying to make it the most beautiful bouquet to date.

As soon as I finished this bouquet of flowers, I ran over to her, so excited and eager to give this simple gift and maybe give her a hug, too. She was standing alone and I beamed before saying, “Lexi, I made you something.” I pulled the bouquet out from behind my back. She looked at it, took the flowers, said a polite thank you, and she walked toward our other friend, Julianna. I was slightly disappointed, but felt good about my gift originally.

Next thing I knew, Lexi had walked over to an unsuspecting Julianna before handing my bouquet/gift to her as Lexi beamed with excitement, similar to how I had moments before. They hugged and Julianna said, “Oh this is amazing! Thank you!” and took the bouquet from Lexi’s hands.

I was crushed. Not only did she not appreciate my gift, but she gave it away to someone else? She must not care about me.

This is the first time in my life I can remember feeling the sting of feeling not good enough for someone. Clearly the gift was special and beautiful or Lexi and Julianna would not have been so excited to exchange with each other moments after. Was something wrong with me? Why was the gift from me less special? Was it because it was from me, specifically?

My childlike brain wasn’t asking these specific questions, but children are intuitive as hell. They pay attention. They see when someone gives them love and affection and what behaviors encouraged that love and affection in the first place. Then, children repeat those behaviors so they can continue to receive love and affection in the way they know how to earn it. It’s actually quite beautiful to know how much our brains crave that connection and how much it will adapt to obtain it.

I ran into my house crying and told my mother the devastating events of what just happened.

She kneeled down and hugged me before saying, “Did you give that to Lexi as a gift?”

“Yes,” I whimpered, still wiping tears and snot off my face. My mom smiled and said in the most simple and childlike way:

“I see that probably really made you feel sad. I am sure she did not mean to be mean to you. Gifts are special because when we give them, we are giving them without asking for anything back. Did you want something back from, Lexi?”

“No,” I softly whimpered.

Except I did. I wanted her appreciation. I wanted her to like me more. It was inherently selfish as any child’s behavior would be. And of course, Lexi’s behavior wasn’t necessarily kind. But I internalized that. I made it personal.

This became a theme in my childhood. I had a father who brought the hammer down when I did not do enough. I could list times where I would have simple slip-ups like spilling milk or making a bad grade on a test and my father would ignore me, not talk to me, or harshly punish me. More so, it seemed our relationship only did well when I was successful and doing what he wanted.

My father has his own wounds, but he projected those on me as a kid and because of it, I became someone who truly believed achieving and succeeding and doing the right thing at all times would earn me love and affection from those in my life.

Leaving my marriage was the first real decision I had ever made for myself. Ever. You would think I am kidding, but I truly don’t think I had done anything in my life without the mentality of “what will make more people accept me?”

I moved to California with the intention of finding myself (yes, I am a walking cliche). But it was deeper than that. I had spent years of my life morphing into the version of myself that would appease the ones I loved and wanted love from. I was a true chameleon.

When I noticed this the first time, it rocked my whole world. I was sick to my stomach. I no longer knew who I was or what I liked or what I wanted. It felt like I was looking at everything I had previously seen as comforting and suddenly it was terrifying, horrific even.

I spent months asking myself, “What do YOU want?” and would cry when I realized I had no idea. I was desperately trying to cling to something familiar and was grasping at straws.

I’m not sure why California seemed like the answer but it was. Everything lined up TOO perfectly. The job offer I received was the right salary, the right timing, and the right move. So I just didn’t even think. I accepted the job, sold most of my stuff, and moved 10 days later.

And it was the best decision I could have ever made. I almost immediately felt a peace when I stepped foot in San Diego. People there were all living their lives, choosing their hobbies, beliefs, friends. Everyone mutually respected and even deeply valued each other’s differing opinions and lifestyles. That part was radical for me. I had never seen such a thing in my life.

For the first time, I was beginning to feel the warmth of belonging. True belonging. It was… freeing. It was like a massive weight I never knew existed had been released off my back and suddenly I was living for the first time.

Even more incredible than all of that are the changes I’ve found in my relationships back home. I knew that if I began taking steps toward the real version of myself, there would be those who didn’t like that. Why would they? They liked the version of me that made them feel good and self-sacrificed to meet their needs.

And so there’s been some “pruning.” Some relationships hurt, some strict boundaries set, and others were just completely lost. That part is hard. It goes against the very nature I knew with wanting their approval.

But I was no longer the person who saw benefits from self-sacrifice. I knew that the pain of sacrificing who I was became much deeper and infectious than the hurt that came with losing relationships with people I once catered to.

I missed out on a childhood I deserved, too. That’s something I occasionally process and grieve when it needs to be felt. My parents did the best they could with what they knew. They did love me. They just didn’t always know how to love me the way I needed to be loved. They loved how they were taught to love. It’s a cycle.

And you know what? The GREATEST gift I could ever give them is breaking this cycle for my children one day. That I may be so healed and full, I can love my children just as they are and allow them the same freedom I missed out on.

My future revolves around choosing this freedom daily. I will have to do it for the rest of my life. My friend was very right in her words about choice:

“You know, Megan, there’s no doubt that you belong where you are or that you are capable of great things and happiness. The only potential roadblock is whether you choose to accept that love that you have always deserved. Because you do deserve it. And it’s yours to keep. So just take it. And give it out when you feel YOU want to, not when you think it will help you. True belonging and love doesn’t have a scoresheet. It’s not a bank account where you have to worry if you have enough or where to get more of it. You’re deserving simply because you’re human and there are others who are more than willing to give that to you.”

I know that even if my vulnerability resonates with one person, then that is enough. The  pain of wounds from our childhoods being carried into adulthood is crippling and suffocating. You are deserving of love exactly where you are. Not for what you do or for how much you give to others or how much you achieve, but by being you and you alone.

I hope you choose your freedom someday, if not today. I hope you choose to be the version of yourself you were meant to be, whatever others may think. It will require sacrificing what our brains know as a “comforting chaos” and it may even have stir up anxiety from the resistance your brain is giving you. But your mind is to be treated like a child– gently and with love. Our wounds are real and deep. Our inner child still exists.

And one day you will be able to say to that ego inside of you trying to protect that inner child, “Thank you for trying to protect me, I understand you don’t want to see me hurt, but I am okay and I don’t need protection anymore. I am choosing healing.”

Cheers friends and happy healing,

MT

 

 

 

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