From time to time, I realize that I feel lost, as if my grounding has given way, leaving my identity floating and vaguely unclear.
In these moments, I ask myself where my feet are, and I worry that I’ve lost or forgotten myself in some way.
This disassociation from my identity seems to come after I’ve spent time projecting myself into the middle of other people’s problems, struggles, or dilemmas. You put your mind and your compassion into play as part of your identity as a Helper. If you do that often, or too frequently, you may hit a saturation point where your needs have been eclipsed so often that you cannot find them when you want to use them. So, you say “I need a break, but what should I do?” I’m sure parents go through this reconnection dilemma every summer. I’m sure caregivers do too.
The story I tell myself, the narrative I’ve nurtured in the past ten or twenty years, is that I want to be a Helper, and being able to help others gives me satisfaction and feeds my pride and sense of worth. In the past five or ten years, my wife has convinced me that I am empathic, and tend to experience others’ emotions to the deteriment of my own. Basically, I treat others’ problems and feelings as if they are more important than mine.
Every family has some kind of drama, and occasionally, some very serious emergencies. My family is no different, and I will always be there to help in whatever way I can. My upbringing from about 3 years through 23 years kind of conditioned me to be the good, responsible kid, to help clean up messes when parents could not, to make the visits to hospital, and to be responsible around the home when nobody else could. Now, past 50, I find that in little ways, my recent moments of loving family support are really reflections and echoes of past events. I get triggered a bit, but in a good way – with a little voice that says “you’ve been here before, and you know what to say and how to act, and how to help”.
Thinking of those moments as positives, as evidence that my love and caring can be communicated and can make a positive difference, is one way my heart and mind feel rewarded and replenished. Another way I recharge my battery is to spend quiet moments with myself, reflecting, and sometimes just enjoying silence; allowing my mind to rest, and to just enjoy pure moment-to-moment sensation, without the personal, internal monologue. In those times, I recognize myself and appreciate the feeling of my existence. I give myself a hug internally, and reassure myself that I’m good and will always be good. Those are times to let the caring fold back around towards yourself, and charge your own batteries.
There are previous generations of Loves, Clarkes, Owens, and Markses who lived their own dramas, faced their own challenges, and left their footprints for me to find. The strongest example would be my maternal Grandfather, Ernest Huntley Clarke, my namesake and my beloved “Poppy”. He was a good man, and I need to believe that there are still good men in the world. My Dad’s legacy went down the family toilet posthumously, but Poppy’s legacy, for me, never will. That is a tether I can hold on to when I need to.
Finally, there is my internal imagery regarding my parents, which for forty years has wavered between sadness, fatigue, desperation, and worry, and in the last ten years transformed into bitterness and resentment. My father severely damaged both his families, and in the past few years, I’ve seen evidence that time doesn’t really heal all wounds. I feel heavy and tired in my resentment of them.
But their legacy doesn’t have to only be framed by loss and sorrow. I have also had a few beautiful moments remembering them at their best, brightest, and most virtuous. I can celebrate Angela’s inner and outer beauty, her idealism, and creativity. I can celebrate James’ tenderness and care, remembering calloused hands being used gently on me to heal an illness, or his strong voice going quiet to speak in gentles tones to a small child or the neighbour’s puppy.
Their unrealized potential, their unlived idealism, stands out for me like a reverse shadow, like a glowing aura. That is another strong tether to hold on to.