Throughout my life relationships have always seemed to come and go- which never really bothered me because in reality, it was all that I knew. This even happened in relationships that, from close observation, I realized didn’t happen to most people. These inconsistencies happened in relations with my dad, my grandparents, my cousins, my pets, and even some of my close friends at a young age. An uncle (or someone else) that I never knew existed would come in, spend weeks with us, and then disappear never to be heard from again. It happened so frequently that I no longer desired to become emotionally attached to others because I’d just assumed that I’d wake up one day, they’d be gone, and life would resume its normal pace; like they were never there to begin with.
The result of this mentality no doubt contributed to the reckless behaviour I began to take on in early adolescence. Reflecting back, I feel that this behaviour was me reaching out and searching for a hand that was not just willing to help me up briefly and move on, but a hand that would be there to help me up, and remain by my side to catch me in the instance that I fell a second time, or even a tenth time. I just wanted, or more accurately needed, something or someone that showed they cared not just with consistency, but persistence as well.
This “reaching out” continued for years but to no avail, that is, until I realized that I was not alone and that not everyone in my life had abandoned me at some point or another. Despite everything that had happened to us, and despite the fact that the universe seemed to be providing us with every reason to leave one another, I still had some people that I could turn to no matter the situation: my mom, and my brothers. That’s when I decided to take a closer look and see how they were dealing with things. However, all I managed to uncover is that they weren’t.
The reason that this similarity between us went undetected for so long is because they too had become disconnected from the world. Just like me they had every reason to avoid relationships because feeling alone was just that much better than being let down or disappointed. Further, because we had remained detached for so long, we had trouble with experiencing even the simplest of human communications: love, admiration, connectedness, and the list goes on. For example, if I was to receive all A’s on my report card and went home and told my family, they wouldn’t respond with excitement or engage me with a hug. Instead they would smile, give me a pat on the shoulder, and refuse to acknowledge the fact that something good had finally happened because in an instant it might not be there; better to dismiss it yourself than have the carpet pulled out from under you when you least expect it.
After these findings, I realized that my brothers were acting out in ways similar to me, and that maybe they too were searching for someone or something to take hold of them and show them the path of least resistance- if one even existed. So I figured that if such a path did exist, that I would be the one to find it and become the hand for my brothers that I never had the chance to embrace earlier in life. Whether this was possible or not I accepted the challenge, but also accepted the fact that I would need to improve my own sight before I began leading the blind. However, no matter how emotionally disconnected I had become I couldn’t dismiss how good it felt to find out that I wasn’t the only one that this was happening to. And just like that the world felt a little less cold, and a lot less lonely.
So, I swallowed my pride and for the first time that I can remember I willingly accepted the fact that I wouldn’t be able to do this on my own. For my brother’s sake, I would have to accept… help. The word seemed so heavy on my tongue. It felt so… foreign. Additionally, I decided that if I already had people that would stick by me through thick and thin, maybe, just maybe, I could find more. After this thought my belly filled with a warm feeling, something that to this day I find hard to understand; a feeling I presume was: hope. Not only had I not given up on my brothers, I realized that I had not given up on myself, and that was crucial.
Extending my arm once more- this time with more vigour and determination- I searched and I searched, until finally I got a bite. However, this proved harder to reel in than anticipated in a sense that this response was so new to me, that I didn’t know how to answer back. I continued to struggle with the reel until finally I had pulled something to the surface that I would never have thought possible: people that were willing to work with me. This may not seem like a lot to most people, but to a troubled youth who is accustomed to being cast aside the minute they become “a problem”, it was a big catch.
In the beginning, I would push and pry at these individuals with everything I had in an attempt to test their will and patience and to see just how far their trunk would bend before it snapped like everybody’s before them. But like a palm tree, they would bend but they would not break- no matter how hard I pushed. However, pushing as hard as I was ended up having a recoil effect, and in the end, it was my will and patience that was being tested. Everything that I had learned about adults was beginning to seem like a lie, and without warning it occurred to me: maybe they can be trusted. Suddenly, like dynamite going off in my head, the wall of defense mechanisms I had so carefully built up over the years had been blown wide open. Exhausted from the blast, I no longer had the strength or the desire to fight them off. As a friend once told me: “persistence beats resistance”; and looking back, he couldn’t have been more correct.
Beginning as a child with an anxious-resistant secure attachment would, I began to explore my surroundings very cautiously when using these newly found relationships as a secure base; occasionally finding and opening new doors that I had not known existed previously. Once these relationships were established, and once I was confident that these individuals were not going anywhere, I was able to begin making change in my life. As I became more accustomed to these individuals presence, my attachment turned into something that further resembled an infant with a secure attachment, which allowed me to explore areas that I would have never thought possible because I now had the persistent pushes in the right direction when I felt like giving up, and a consistent level of care being provided despite my initial resistance. Success was beginning to become a term that I no longer had to attribute to only people on television and found that it also could be used to explain some of my experiences as well. And I won’t lie, success felt good.
I never did find a concrete way to help my family “break the cycle”, but that’s because I feel like there aren’t any. Never has one method of guidance worked for everyone in every situation. Nevertheless, because imitation is something humans are predisposed to, and because my own successes had changed my attitude toward life in a positive way, it became contagious and my brothers began looking for ways to find it to. Evidently I ended up not becoming the physical hand of guidance I initially intended to be, but their secure base on a psychological level which allowed them to explore their potential; and this alone was enough for me.
I have heard people call me a “success story”- and who knows maybe I am- but it certainly wasn’t a story I was able to write alone. Whether it be by replacing the pen in my hand when I felt as though it was running low on ink, or by adding excerpts of wisdom or knowledge to the plot when it began to take a weird turn, in one way or another the people around me have altered my experiences and helped to edit and rewrite a more desirable ending to my story of success. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be able to pass on some wisdom of my own and one day help to coauthor some success stories myself. Nonetheless, the situational irony in all of this is that the relationships I once chose to avoid in fear of disappointment or failure, actually turned out to be the platform that would soon become the foundation in my search for connection and success.
If I’ve learned anything from my personal experiences with change and resilience, it’s that perspective matters. How I perceived situations throughout my life was detrimental to how I responded to the environment around me. For instance, previously I had focused on areas that were inconsistent or non-existent in my life which created a negative sense of worth and self-esteem; and ultimately resulted in negative attitudes and behaviours. It wasn’t until I began to focus my energies into finding the things that I did have, or potentially could have, that I was able to build the positive self-image and confidence that I used to promote change in myself. In life things happen. People leave, good things come to an end, and people let you down; but we can’t change that. What we can change, however, is how we think about and perceive these things. The way I see it, when it comes down to perspectives we have two choices: “we can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses” (Abraham Lincoln, n.d.). My transition from the former choice to the latter one was a vital component in my journey for change, but just as no two situations have the same solution, no two stories are the same either; and this is but one perspective of change among many.