Time to wade into the murky, Jungian / Freudian waters of self-analysis again.
The first sensation as my feet touched the water was shame; embarrassment that I don’t have all this worked out by now. I’m a 55-year-old man who has access to the Throne of God through the redeeming work of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit…but I’ve still got work to do with my 5 year old self.
This ego-business is the first hurdle to overcome. I’m put-off by the fact that I’m put-off by doing this work. I thought I had at least my “basic” shit together, and I thought that included not being proud of having my “basic” shit together. Not true. One of the things that has been holding me back from continued growth these last couple of years is my un-willingness to expose the basic brokenness I must still face. I want to be a Jedi Master, and when people around me begin to treat me like one, it’s an assault on my ego to be seen back in Light Saber 101 Class.
2 weeks ago when my Spiritual Director first opened up the idea of dialogue with 5 year old Dan, I resisted (internally) because I didn’t want to move in what felt like a backwards direction. I was able to admit this to him, which is good, but the struggle is not over. Even this moment, as I type the title I have chosen for him (Spiritual Director) I recognize that I am (and have been) avoiding calling him my counselor. Counselors are for the needy. That’s not supposed to be me.
But let’s not get too bogged down in the ankle-deep water. As I move in up to my knees and start considering childhood wounds and their impact on adult-Dan, I encounter the critical voice that points out that my childhood was actually pretty good; compared to a lot of people I know and love it was ideal. My wounds should not be counted among those wounds. The temptation to back up into the ankle-deep water is strong…
…because, while I never went hungry, was never beaten, abandoned or denied much of anything at Christmas or birthdays, there were “issues”. I was sexually abused at around age 5. While I was rarely a participant, there was nearly constant conflict in the home (sometimes physical) that occurred at an altitude right above my head. Alcoholism, drug abuse and a cyclical climate of chaos.
I have provisionally summarized the state of 5-year old Dan’s life this way: I was loved, but I was not seen. The grown-ups and older kids existed in this other plane of drama and complexity that I was not allowed into, either because they were protecting me from it or they just didn’t want me underfoot. After all – I was really just a late addition to a cast that had already been acting out this family tragedy for decades by the time I arrived. The end result was a gilded cage. I was isolated. To illuminate my provisional summary:
When I was seen, it was in the role of “baby” of the family. That’s what I was brought into the world to be. I don’t think I was viewed as an actual PERSON for the first 11 years or so. My identity was not self-contained. It was entirely referential, based on my role in someone else’s movie.
It’s not that I wasn’t valued. By no means. In fact, I may have been over-valued by my mother, at least. But I was not valued for who I was, only for my role. I recall having to fight to breathe, to be allowed to move and stretch and BE. I think my mother was suffocating me.
When I did manage to get out from under that from time to time, I discovered a father, brothers and a grandfather who just didn’t really want, or know how to deal with a little boy, so a certain amount of neglect and occasional hostility was what awaited me.
I was a show dog. I was well fed, groomed and cared for. Legitimately valued and yes, loved. But my value lay in what I could provide for my owners, and if out of the kennel behaving like a regular dog, I was often an annoyance. I was prevented from doing things that would threaten my “showbility” so there was not a lot of chances to explore what being a real dog was like.
I’m not sure anyone really wanted a dog and everything that comes with one. They just wanted the IDEA of a dog…a caricature. A cartoon. A portrait of a dog.