With both my parents leaving me at separate times in my life, the holiday season is a challenging time for me. At the age of seven, my father made the decision to leave, and in April of this year my mom would do the same. In witnessing my parents go through addiction to substances, I observed so much internal pain within both of them. Seeing this pain was never easy, and as I got older and developed greater emotional intelligence and maturity, it became even harder to experience their destructive behavior. With my mom leaving me so recently and so close to summer, a lot of past trauma from my father’s abandonment resurfaced.
As an only child, I take pride in my ability to be independent and self-reliant, but this situation was something I could no longer handle on my own. As a last resort, I sought help from faculty members here at the University of Redlands. I didn’t know what to ask of them since I was in such a state of panic, so I would start off by simply explaining my story and my current predicament. In making the last-minute decision to stay for Mayterm, I was able to give myself a little more time to figure out where to go and what to do during the summer. Thankfully, my good friend Sarah and her family graciously offered to host me for the entire summer in Chicago.
It’s a big deal for me to ask for help; after having both of my parents and their respective families leave me, I never thought I deserved to get help or love from anyone else. Because of my parents’ departure, I was convinced that I was incapable of receiving love from people, even from friends. It therefore came as quite a surprise when I would tell people my story and they would immediately offer to help in any way they could. “You want to help me out of all people?” “Do I deserve this?” “Am I taking from these people?” “How can they help me when I can’t even give anything back to them?” – these were the thoughts that constantly permeated my mind. And yet, this person I’d met less than a year ago had offered her home to me for an entire summer. I was amazed, confused, and so grateful.
Sarah and her family may have no idea how powerful their act of kindness was, and how their actions tremendously opened and grew who I am today. Through their love and acceptance, I was able to enjoy a safe space to begin my healing process. In doing so, I learned to let go of my grudges, and the negative psychological and physiological effects they were having on me. Being in this loving environment, I became able to understand my parents rather than blame them any longer for their actions. I came to see that my parents are undergoing so much suffering that they are now overcome by it, and thus cannot properly handle their emotions. This allowed me to see that blaming them is extremely unhelpful – they are acting from an emotional state, and it is not necessarily who they are intrinsically. People are not born malicious or in a state of suffering; rather, suffering is developed over time.
I realized how could I expect anyone – even my own parents and family members – to love me if they couldn’t love themselves? You can’t! In fact, it’s actually extremely selfish and toxic to have a mindset like this, because you render yourself incapable of fully loving and understanding others by setting such high expectations. By seeing my parents and family members in a completely new light, I was able to realize that, yes, I am worthy of being loved – I’m being loved right now by all the incredible people caring for and supporting me in this very moment. Just because I had a few traumatic experiences in which love was inhibited did not mean I was unworthy of love; only that those individuals were unable to give it.
This, of course, brings me full circle. In being in such a loving environment, I became open to brand new experiences and people and, being willing to heal, I was able to begin the process of shedding myself of past suffering and trauma. I now see that life works in your favor; it’s just your job to figure out what exactly the blessing is. For example, I’ve always wanted to travel. Now, because of my situation of not being able to return home during the breaks, I am somewhat forced (but happily so) to travel. In this short time, I’ve already been to Chicago, Portland, Los Angeles, and Seattle. What’s more, I’ve had the opportunity to experience my friends’ family settings and be in the positive, loving environment I’ve always desired. In doing so, I’ve had the privilege to meet wonderful new people. Through all this, I have rid myself of the belief that I’m not good enough to be loved.
The purpose of this story isn’t to give myself pity, but to illustrate what the simple acts of love and kindness can do for someone. You never know what people are going through internally, so even the smallest of acts can have a potentially great effect on someone. Viewing me on the surface level, many people wouldn’t guess that I’ve had recurring experiences of abandonment. Yet, regardless of how you might think someone is doing internally, you truly never know. Love and kindness make the world go round, and it is crucial that we begin to appreciate and practice these powerful actions.
Simply put, love others and love yourself. We are all, to some extent, interdependent on love. Do your best to be mindful of others and their internal states, and remember that it is unfair to blame someone for mistreatment; instead, recognize that their emotions and suffering are causing them to act a certain way.
I am grateful and amazed by the love that I’ve received from so many people and their families on and off this beautiful campus. Remember that there are times when we can’t do everything on our own, and that this is okay. Life is meant to be shared with others; by allowing yourself to understand this, you can open yourself up to receiving so much more love throughout your life.
I want to give a special thank you to the Durning, Dolan, Boynton, Johnson, Grosswendt, Ruhl and Heegard families for being so compassionate and giving.
[photos provided by the author, Julian Adame, while staying in Chicago, Illinois]