I don’t know about you but I have a hard time accepting love. I don’t trust it. People give and receive love in all sorts of ways, and people take their love away, be it an hour at a time or for forever, either way it can vanish. I’m suspicious of it. I have to look closely for love when it’s not given to me the way I want it. I want love to be tangible and secure. This is impossible. Love can’t be held, I can’t manipulate it in my hands, it has no form and yet it’s strong. I am not comfortable knowing that I can’t possess it, I can’t control it or find a way to keep myself safe.
A friend told me, “Love people and trust God.”
Hmm. Hold that thought.
So this has me thinking about my mother. When I was ten she told me, in her third person version and baby pout, “Shannon, Momma’s going to have a baaaby. Isn’t this wonderful?” Her eyes were wild, fake smile.
No, this was not good news to me at the time.
She became pregnant with my middle sister from a different father. Even from a child’s perspective the relationship was anything but healthy. He was never home and when he was they were always fighting. There were many tears, moans in the night and of course, bags of cocaine and bottles of blue pills. The extreme ups and the low downs.
She cleaned up (a little,) for a while during and after the pregnancy. She didn’t seek help from a mental health facility or from a support group but what she did find was Jesus. And Satan. (She was really afraid of that guy.)
She loved watching the charismatic Jimmy Swaggart; the crying sweat-drenched Jesus lover; and The Baker’s, the notorious evangelical couple from the 80’s. (TV ministry became almost as big as MTV during that decade; those guys were like mega-stars on the Christian Circuit, famous and tight with the banks.)
I would often come home from school to find her anointing the corners of our house with demon-repellent oil she had received from mail order, or praying over rice packets in a—what I considered to be a made up—foreign language, she and her people called, “Speaking in tongue.”
(Still to this day I don’t know what the rice packets symbolized, but Tammy Faye told her from the screen-of the thick and bulbous television set-that she needed them, she listened. She bought everything they were selling, from potions and cassette tapes to books.)
My mother became as addicted to religion as any heroin addict was to their needle. It was scary. She would hit me in the forward with the palm of her to “Rebuke Satan” when I was doing something unsavory. She learned about this parenting tactic from the preacher man himself. Needless to say I wasn’t buying it. Even at eleven I could see through it, but in a weird way it did help her some. She was more functional. She was cleaning the house and waving at the neighbors. I was hesitant.
There was still a lot of crying and cover girl running down her face. She had the same frosted, big hot-rolled hair as Tammy and wore thick clumps of mascara. She talked out loud to Jesus, non-stop. I felt put upon and still burdened by her problems. I was held captive by her constant neediness of her Savior. When she talked to him I felt like my life force was being drained, like I was supposed to rescue her but I couldn’t.
I hated her for this.
I hated her for everything she said in front of me.
During this time she tried to do a better job loving me but I couldn’t accept it. By that time I already had an imprint of her, an impression that she wasn’t to be trusted. I had developed fears and coping mechanisms of my own. I was just as incapable of receiving her as she was of giving me what I needed.
This doesn’t mean that she didn’t love me and that I didn’t love her, we just couldn’t find our way to each other. She loved me all along, from the time I grew in her belly to infinity, but God I felt so betrayed by her. I couldn’t feel her love through the sickness of addiction, and I couldn’t hear it through the words of her religion.
So I too became sick with an illness that I’m still healing from today.
I created an idea of love in my head. I knew what it looked like. How it should feel. And I refused anything that wasn’t what I thought it should be; I wanted proof, empirical evidence of love.
For me that meant all of my insecurities would disappear, that the missing attachment void would be mended by that one human connection. In sum, I have been waiting to go back to my childhood to be loved again. I’ve hoped for a second chance.
But I’m still waiting.
So in the meantime I put my trust in people and lacked faith in God, or for me, love.
When I put all my faith in people I am disappointed, and when I don’t trust God, or the flow of love, or waves of life, the uncertainty feels terrifying.
My fears around lack of love and wanting to own it and pin it down are the side effects of my disease and I have the cure.
The one and only love I can touch, hold, and control is the love that’s inside, the part of me that is connected to the source. I have to give myself another childhood, re-parent myself in a satisfying way.
I have to grab my own little cherub face, holding my own gaze and tell myself all the things I longed to here like:
Oh Dear Sweet Shannon,
I am so sorry you didn’t get what you needed darlin but I am here for you now. I love you so much, sweetheart, more than you’ll ever know, more than you’ll ever need or desire. You are such a treat to this world. You make me so proud. You are a bright spirit in our lives and I am eternally grateful for you. My love for you will never die, it can’t be taken away because we are one and can’t be separated, know this baby, know this in the depths of your soul and the corners of your heart. I love you then, now and always, you are never alone.
Healing, this is what healing looks and feels like.
Do you remember what my friend said, “Love people and Trust God?”
When I trust life, my path, I have an easier time loving people even if that means I don’t understand their love, and when if it feels like their love leaves when they exit my life. Trusting in love means believing love never really goes away. It may blur or be taken away but that doesn’t mean it’s gone or never existed. Knowing this makes it easier for me to give and receive love.
Loving, for me, is a practice.