So, I turned 30 about a month ago and it’s made me start evaluating a bunch of things in order to move forward in my life in a better way. One of the main things I’ve been thinking about is how little stability I’ve had in my life so far.
In the past ten years, I have attended 3 schools, lived in 6 states and one foreign country. If I didn’t miss any in my list, then I’ve held 24 jobs in 11 industries. All of this had kind of been a source of pride for me–my ability to land on my feet in any situation–but an astute observer pointed out both that I might be running away from something and that the continual chaos might make it hard for me to develop certain skills that I needed.
And of course, she was right. Now, I have a pretty good sense of what I’ve been running from. But what has this prevented me?
Well, the little man who I’ve mentioned on here so many times, has found himself some new stability in the past two years. He is with his mum and they have been in the same apartment in the same town for over a year. He’s been at the same school. And he and his mum are both in therapy.
To the casual observer, he’s kind of a wreck. He’s doing poorly in school, getting in fights, stealing, gaining weight . . . But I wonder (AKA hope) if this is actually a good starting place. When he was with us and there was a court custody battle going on and his future was so up in the air, he was violent and dissociative. We had him in therapy but he would just completely melt down every time we tried to take him. He was like a feral animal basically.
It seems like there is a fundamental shift in his life now. All the trouble he’s in might actually be a sign that he’s starting to work through the tough stuff in his life–it’s likely that the weight gain is. My understanding is that his therapy is going really well, and he has language to describe the things he’s gone through that amazes me for a ten year old. Also, it sounds like his school has really figured out in the past year how to work with him. And, he has all of the people who care about him in his life in a fairly regular, steady way.
When kids have been abused and tossed back and forth, I think it’s a pretty natural reaction to assume a constant fight or flight reaction. When our little guy was held back in school, he assumed it meant he was dumb, but he really wasn’t. It was just that he had no energy to focus on school–he had to point it all towards dealing with all the upheaval in his life. I think that stability is finally what allows kids (and adults) to start to make sense of their lives and to start learning to move forward emotionally, intellectually, and in all other aspects of their lives. Unfortunately, part of that initial settling down process is probably falling apart. Because facing a lot of painful memories and events isn’t the funnest thing ever.
So anyway, we all need stability. What does that mean? For a kid (or an adult) to feel secure enough to start dealing with his past and start maturing forward, he needs several things. All his needs need to be met and in such a way that he no longer doubts that they will continue to be met. That means staying in the same home for a long time. That means always having food on the table for every meal. It also means having the same person take care of him without a lot of unexpected departures and for that person to be emotionally available. It means having steady helpers (like therapists and teachers) to help him understand and contextualize his life. It means having friends and other loving adults in his life in a fairly steady way, as well.
That way he can stop worrying about survival and he can start processing and then learning and growing. And it means that he will have the help that he needs to take that journey.
For my part, I have always had people–strangers and casual acquaintances, mostly–tell me how incredibly wise and mature beyond my years I am. I can see what they’re saying, but the truth, that people who have been closer to me know, is that there are fundamental emotional tasks that most people learn at a much younger age that I am only starting to grasp. When it comes to relating to other people or my own emotional life, my growth is really stunted. And it’s affected every aspect of my life and it’s made it harder to move beyond entry-level work, and it’s made my studies challenging, as well.
I’ve been so engaged in the fight-or-flight response in my life for so long, that it wasn’t until I finally found myself living in a home for four years with a family and a community and the little guy I’ve mentioned that I even started to realize that this has affected my life. And if it weren’t for watching what he’s gone through and trying to help him, I don’t know if I’d be starting to move forward even today.