I don’t think growth happens without pain.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think pain is something that is prescribed in this life. As a person of Christian faith, I don’t believe that God desires us to go through painful situations, nor do I believe that God causes pain in our lives. I believe that pain is an inevitable part of living because we are human, we are broken and we care.
That being said, it is been my experience that times of growth are painful.
Last week I shared a post about my relationship with the man who was my stepfather when I was a child. I talked about being estranged and the anger I felt towards him following the divorce of my parents. I’ve carried around my hurt and anger for almost twenty years. I wrote about my feelings of seeing him for the first time in five years and I shared my anxiety and fear about that visit. However, in spite of my fears, I made the decision to confront my issues and ask him some difficult questions. An important thing to note is that I have been dealing with my emotions around this situation in therapy and I had resolved to forgive him regardless of the outcome of my visit. It was time for me to let some things go. What happened during our visit was extremely painful. It went a little like this:
He told me he never saw himself as my father; that he was just filling in. When his marriage to my mother ended and when my biological dad came back in the picture, he stepped aside. Hearing these words were extremely painful because in my mind, he was my dad. I never thought of him as anything else. But it also clarified something for me. I have been asking myself for years how a parent can just walk away from their child. His answers revealed a different reality. He didn’t see himself as my parent and he could walk away.
He said he’s not a guy who is affectionate or easily gives love. I experienced this as a child as I don’t remember him ever tell me he loved me. The first time he uttered these words that I can vividly remember was on the day he moved out. He said that he did the best he could and that he took on the responsibility of caring for me, another man’s child, because it was the right thing to do.
It was an emotional and difficult conversation, one that put so much into perspective. I could never understand how he could leave me because I thought he viewed me the same way I viewed him. Our conversation revealed his truth: that he did not view me the same way I viewed him.
A lot of tears were shed and I left my time with him feeling devastated. I’ve been romanticizing my relationship with this man since I was 14 years old. I can look back and clearly see how he was but I never cared about the difficulty of loving him. I only cared about him and being loved in return. I realized that my relationship with him (and with my biological father) have significantly informed how I engage men. I have always chased love and operated from a sense that something was wrong with me because I could never quite get the love I so desperately wanted. Every relationship culminating in my marriage and divorce featured me, the woman operating from her woundedness, seeking to correct a formative relationship using a current one.
Here’s what I learned from this:
Always listen to your heart and share your anger appropriately with those who have hurt you.
Realize that people can only give you what they have to give and sometimes, they might not be able to give you what you are seeking.
Reflect on a situation for many angles. Sometimes your vantage point only reveals one truth and there are many truths at play.
Remember and lean into the love that is present in your life; the people who welcome you with open arms and love you as you are.
Realize that letting go and moving on is a painful process.
Recognize that the greatest love you can ever have is the love you have for yourself.
I am grieving the end of one chapter of my life; the end of a relationship that was, yet will never fully be. I am grieving for the young girl who just wanted to be loved as she was. I grieve for many of you who have broken hearts and a broken sense of self due to relationships that were not life giving.
But I am also hopeful. I have hope that the reality of my past will now positively inform my present and future. That my ongoing work of growing in self love is allowing me to see that my stepfather’s inability to love me in ways that I needed love were and are no reflection of me. That I have love to give and I am worthy of receiving love.
I happened to see this TedTalk featuring Tracy McMillian the day after my visit happened. It was beyond timely and reminded me that I can provide the love for myself that I have sought from everyone else.
After that day, I was exhausted. And sad. And hurt. But I see more clearly now. I realize why I am the way I am. And I am transforming the pain into an opportunity for growth.