Transitions are hard. I know this, objectively. I still wasn’t prepared for how hard the transition I just experienced would be.
This summer I lived with a couple I’d met in college. They were older, between my grandparents’ and parents’ ages. I tried to live at home, but that lasted all of about 2 weeks before it was clear that it was compromising my mental health. I started having flashbacks; I had trouble separating the past and present and would start to melt down when either parent got angry. Along with that, my parents were still trying to figure out how to tell my younger siblings I was gay–which would have included them telling them I was going to hell. I couldn’t relax.
I was working at a summer program which was stressful as well, though it ended up being an ultimately good experience. I had a great co-teacher and and a couple good coworkers, despite the creepy and aggressive guy I worked with and the insane director.
Since I wasn’t living at home, I started to relax. For the first time, I had a friend over without supervision. I watched a lot of movies. I learned to let people touch and hold me safely. I practiced better self-care. I started to believe that I was worth caring about. I reluctantly let myself be taken care of. It was hard. I missed my siblings, even though I saw them every week. I didn’t know how I could live without seeing them all the time. I felt guilty for not being at home with them, but I desperately wanted to have a safe place. And where I lived was a safe place.
But transitions, even to better and safer places, come with pain. In my case, not having to live on high alert ate away at my constant guardedness, and I started to feel things I thought I’d dealt with. Turns out, “dealing with” things and “intellectually acknowledging there were problems” are different. I started to hurt, deep inside, about things I thought I was “over”–not being held as a kid, or being told I was loved, being hit and yelled at, being forced to take on adult roles as a child. The contrast of living in a place where I was treated with respect and dignity, given autonomy, and unconditionally loved just made the deficits I’d grown up with even sharper. Even though I’d graduated, I still didn’t have much autonomy or respect at home–there was a list of expectations I was expected to adhere to if I lived at home in the summer. I’m not talking about reasonable chores/paying rent/etc.–who I could have over, being home for family dinners, not talking about certain things, church–control tactics. These had been part of my life for so long I’d forgotten what it was like to not have them. In fact, I’d never lived without them. I couldn’t believe that love and acceptance, hugs, autonomy–these things were “normal” in families.
Growing up in a home that is emotionally neglectful is hard. It makes you think you’re crazy for wanting to be loved, told that aloud, hugged, and kept safe. Growing up in a home with no expectation of privacy and no respect or autonomy breeds a system of deceit and fear. You can’t ask questions, so you try to find out things on your own–not always the best tactic. Growing up in a home that is physically abusive makes you cringe at the most innocent motions from other people and feeds a deep mistrust of and simultaneous overwhelming craving for the approval of authority figures. And it’s all super confusing. Living in the middle of that and trying to figure it out hurts and is messy and awkward. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. In the middle of trying to figure your issues out, you have to live with the consequences of others’ actions in your life–and still manage a job, school, social life, and all the other obligations of being an adult.
And it’s hard. It’s messy. But when you start to do that work, it is incredibly rewarding and deeply fulfilling.