I think I’ve been full of fragments my whole life.
I’ve separated out the part of me that hurts from the part that grew up with a family and a few friends. It’s like that part was “too real,” and I knew, before I had words, that sharing it meant not being in the relationships I needed to survive. I only felt fragmented through the turbulent years of adolescence. I really thought that I came together in college, developing a core sense of self I was comfortable in. I did that by defining myself first and foremost as a dedicated student — I was intellectual, smart, good at school. I narrowed that identity further as I chose a major, went to grad school, and then defined a career.
I became, by profession, an historian. An historian who would have told you, maybe 7 years ago, that my own personal history did not matter. That I was complete, that I did not need to know, that I was solid and grounded in who I was. And yet I researched the past professionally. It would be funnier if I didn’t make me sad to even admit it.
The truth was that I was scared. I did not actively seek reunion, or even a meeting, because I was scared of being rejected. I had registered on several reunion registries online, and I’d registered with my birth state. I got no matches. I figured no one was looking for me because they did not want to find me, and I pre-emptively rejected them. All of them, anyone I might be related to who wasn’t looking for me because they didn’t want to know me. I was scared.
I dedicated my life to my career, forming my entire identity around it and how I could be within it. I picked up and hauled myself across the country three times, following this path, letting the move away from everything I knew and the subsequent (very steep) learning curve each time consume me. I’m an introvert, and I believe in doing my job to the very best of my ability. This means it takes me years to settle in to a place, feel comfortable at work, get to know people, form a social circle.
Four years ago, just after the new year, that sense of solidness led me to a scary decision — I was ready to search. I was comfortable, grounded. I had a support system — supportive friends, a supportive significant other, a supportive, if small, adoptive family. I was pretty sure I could handle rejection, if that was the outcome. Between my non-ID, some court papers with my original surname, and a kind and generous search angel, I had a name and address for my first mother in about 6 weeks.
I was prepared (or so I thought) for all sorts of negative fallout from this decision. Mostly, I was convinced I was prepared to withstand the blow if I was turned away, not acknowledged, or flat out rejected.
The good: I was completely unprepared for a good outcome with my maternal first family. I was welcomed, but gently. I was not a secret. I had been searched for (registries do not seem to work. They didn’t for me, at least). I was wanted. That comes with its own set of regrets, mourning, and sense of loss, but given that we can’t change what happened well over 30 years ago, my reunion with my maternal family has had the best possible outcome. I was unprepared, but pleasantly surprised by that.
The bad: My “supportive” significant other, well, wasn’t. He couldn’t stand his over-bearing parents, and couldn’t understand anything at all about my families or my needs to figure out where I fit in with them. I tried very hard to make things work, was unceremoniously dumped without reasons stated (literally: “I’m done.” Over the phone.), and found out just a bit after that he’d been cheating for weeks, maybe longer. Four months later, he tried to work things out. I wasn’t very nice about it.
The ugly: My relationship with my A family is irrevocably changed. That subconscious childhood knowledge that the traumatised infant me was “too much” for them? It was true. That fragment, the baby who just wanted her mother, surfaced and squalled, refused to be denied her pain anymore.
The self I’d defined around my career began to break apart. That definition relied on me being a professional, first, a hobby-ist second, and somewhere way down the line, someone defined by her connections to other people in the world. All of a sudden, reunion made me someone who felt she was trapped in a web of relationships with other people, none of which I understood all that well.
For three years, I’ve struggled with these selves — the angry fragments, the sad fragments, the disconnected fragments who seek comfort in annihilation. Without feeling all the loss and sorrow, all the anger, all the loneliness, all the emotions I’ve denied by fragmentation, I can’t move on. I can’t move forward. I hate sorting through these emotions. I hate how, now that I’m forced to face them, they crash in on me unannounced, tidal waves. I squashed these things for so many years that having to deal with them makes me cranky and angry at myself for needing time. I am not patient, least of all with myself.
I’ve been working on awareness and compassion. I’ve been working on being able to admit, out loud, that my parents — all of them — made decisions which didn’t work all that well for me. Those decisions hurt me in ways I didn’t have the words for and therefore never expressed. The problem is that this non-expression became a habit, something I’d learned to do for my own “safety.” But it also doesn’t work.
Every time someone hurts me — intentional or not, sometimes just hitting a weak or bruised part of my psyche with an ill-chosen or ill-timed word — those jagged bits, those fragments crowd forward to cut me off. In the world of fight or flight, I’m a runner. Rather than feel pain, my instinct goes towards writing people off, moving on, insulating myself, being alone.
I fight every day to NOT run away from relationships with other people. I keep hoping that some day it will get easier. I am dealing with the reasons now, but it’s weird how little understanding why helps. I get why, now. I just can’t seem to change the reactions. I’ve learned not to act immediately, though. I can react, feel hurt or scared or ignored or rejected and then figure out how to act. But I still wonder if it’s so much work for everyone else.