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500+ for 50 – day 23: the first day of school

Summer is nearing its end.  Newspapers and televisions are flooded these days with Back to School advertisements.  Office supply stores are gearing up and checking their inventories in preparation for the crowds of parents that will be rushing their doors in the coming weeks.  It’s an exciting time of the year for many.  By my accounts it appears that most parents tend to be ready and eager to get their kids back into the school led routine by the time that August arrives on the calendar.  The kids however are generally a mixed bag of emotions.  There are some children who absolutely love school.  But many would rather that their summer freedoms continue on forever.  It can be hard to give up those days by the pool with friends.  There’s really nothing better than summer break as a young child.

I know with certainty that I was never one of those kids who was excited to head back to school.  I dreaded it.  But it wasn’t nearly as discouraging for me as I got older.  During high school it became pretty difficult to complain much about the first week of class, after all that meant that our two-a-day football practices were over, and that’s something that everyone welcomed. The time that I really remember it being hard for me was during the early years of elementary school.  I can recall Kindergarten being a bit of a challenge for me emotionally.  I had a hard time letting go of my Mom.

The elementary school that I called home for K-2nd was just a short walk from my parents’ house.  At the time, our district offered half day Kindergarten.  My Mom would walk me to school from the house, often with our dog by our side, and then she’d be there waiting for me at the end of the day to pick me up.  I remember never wanting to let go.  I was afraid to say goodbye to her.  And while I became a bit more accustomed to it as the year went on, I never really felt comfortable being on my own at school.  There were many days when it was very hard for me to concentrate on my school work because really I was just nervous and desired to be at home. 

At the time I wasn’t mature enough in my emotional development to really understand what it was that I was feeling.  And although my initial thoughts here were to describe those feelings as fear, I think it was something a bit deeper than that.  I felt the pain of loss when I said goodbye to my Mom and headed up the stairs to my classroom.  It was the same type of feeling that one might encounter as an adult when they truly do experience tragic losses in their life, possibly as the result of a relationship ending or a loved one passing away.  That’s what I experienced day in and day out when I left my Mom’s side and headed in to my Kindergarten class.  The deep rooted emptiness resulting would stick with me all day long, making it a real challenge for me to focus and remain at the top of my game mentally.

Looking back on those times now as an adult, I can identify what took place then as the first experiences that I can recall that led me to encountering my fear of abandonment.  When I was at school, I don’t recall dealing with any worries that my Mom would not return for me at day’s end or that she would perhaps love me less as a result of our time apart (object constancy).  I just remember feeling a deep emptiness when I left her side.  And it was powerful.  It felt as though my whole world had been turned upside down, day in and day out.  I felt emotionally heavy, as though I was holding back from sobbing all throughout the day.  In fact, I was even brought to tears just moments ago as I reminisced on those experiences so that I might be able to share them with you in this blog.

My first experience in dealing with my fear of abandonment was certainly not my last.  Unfortunately, when these types of things present themselves during the early part of your life, they often reappear with regularity.  Looking back on nearly 31 years of a life filled with heartaches, I can tell you that many of my relationships have followed a similar pattern.  And I am to blame for many different aspects of those that did not work out because I brought to the table with me a very destructive fear that will show no remorse as it devours loving relationships time and time again.  My fears of abandonment led me to compulsive behaviors that caused others to feel claustrophobic in my presence.  And I became controlling and demanding at times in my life with those whom I loved because that was my way of surviving and knowing that I would not be left alone.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that my best efforts to maintain security for myself were only driving those that I cared for further away from me. 

The fear of abandonment is a wrecking ball.  It will destroy everything that you love if you do not harness it and work to reform your illogical ways of thinking.  It takes a relentless commitment to retrain a brain that has followed the same patterns since early childhood.  But in order to live a fulfilling life, it’s something that I and others who suffer with this powerful fear must do.  We cannot sit back and continue to allow it to direct our courses of action, or our life will be no prettier than a daytime soap opera.  And we all want more for ourselves than that, don’t we?  I know I do.

I was made an emotional being.  My early childhood experiences did most certainly mold me into the person that I am today.  And for all of the struggles that came with reinforcing my deep rooted fears throughout the first 31 years of my life, I am not discouraged, but rather I am thankful.  Because those experiences have made me more aware, and they will serve to make me a better father someday when I see my children encounter their own adversities as they grow and develop.

I’ve received a priceless education in life.  And for that I am forever thankful.  Even if it was difficult to let go of Mom’s hand.  I see no shame in that.  It has all served to make me who I am today.  And of that person I am very proud.

May God Bless!