I hate unpacking. Especially when I’m the suitcase.
I have moved. Tonight will be my second night sleeping in the new place, and we turned in the keys to the old one this afternoon. Now comes a period of unpacking, adjusting, and dealing with my mental and physical condition. Some of the disorientation I feel is a perfectly natural response to change, while some is more personal. I’m finding that in order to deal with the stress and fear, I have to examine more of my old baggage around moving.
Is this really necessary, and is it really a good idea? I’ve heard people say that there’s no need to wallow in our old childhood pain once we’re adults. That the healthy thing to do is say shit happened, it’s over, let’s move on.
Using my childhood to blame others for my problems or justify my bad behavior is not something I want to do. I believe passionately in the need for me to take responsibility for my choices and for how I live my life. My parents didn’t create me from nothing, and they don’t make my choices now.
Looking at my past doesn’t need to be like that, though, and I believe just as passionately that if past baggage is creeping in–if that is my truth right now–only trouble will come from not acknowledging it. It doesn’t matter if I am proud of it or ashamed, or whether it seems traumatic or trivial to an outsider.
It’s like looking at a bizarre old structure built from different materials at different times, a four-dimensional contraption that needs maintenance. If I want to get in there and do something constructive, it helps a lot to know which pieces are oldest, what they are made of, what their original purposes were and how they relate to each other.
It’s an exercise in both compassion and realism. I get to see how the child that became me improvised with what she had, and I get to admit that parts of the structure need to be updated. It may have been clever of her to build that load-bearing strut out of styrofoam, but it’s not the only thing we have available now.
So what is it that I haven’t already seen and felt, or not felt on a deep level? What about moving hits me more deeply than can be explained by the stress and chaos?
I know that my parents were fans of what twelve-step folks sometimes refer to as the “geographical cure.” This expression refers to trying to “start over” from some consequences of the addiction in the hope that a changed environment will fix the problem. We moved quite often, often enough that until I was fourteen I never finished a school year in the same place I began it. Usually it was two or three moves during that time.
Resigned to doing a little introspection, I sat down and actually tried to remember all the times I’ve moved. I couldn’t do it. The incomplete list I made has eighteen entries on it between age five and age fifteen. Just trying to make this list brought up stuff for me, usually just one or two details that stayed with me.
The first one I could remember was when I was five…that was the one where we had to find a new home for our dog Tweeter. Then there was the apartment where the big snowstorm happened. The one with the patio I could roller skate on; the rock house where we found a snake, my uncle’s house that had a cornfield in the back yard.
Then it started to get weird. And a little pathetic. I remembered things about several moves that brushed at that tender feeling I sometimes have for the young girl I used to be, and they just kept coming. I have dismissed them so casually for so many years, with a “couldn’t be helped,” that it was hard to admit any feelings still exist.
They do, though. Okay, here’s one–my doll Jenny. I was seven or eight, and she was the only doll I was attached to. She got left behind in the move, and my folks couldn’t or wouldn’t go back to find her. Many of our moves were pretty sudden, and maybe there was a reason we couldn’t go back. I didn’t talk about it much, but I thought about her a lot after that move. I hoped she found a new home but feared that she had ended up in a garbage dump or being chewed up by a dog.
And the Brownies. About a year later I was allowed to sign up for the Brownies, and my little socially isolated self was in heaven. I already had my uniform, and that sash might as well have been made of spun gold because I was going to belong…we moved two days before the first meeting.
Interruption of some social progress or of a chance to be more “normal” seemed to be a common theme. I remembered that when I was about to start junior high school, I got my class schedule and found out I had been put in the choir class I had longed for since being rejected from choir at seven. When I got the word that we were moving the week before classes started, I cried for that lost choir–but only where no one could see me.
As I went on thinking, I followed my emotions forward in time to all of the moving I have done as an adult. Moves spurred by breakups. By family problems. Moves that didn’t last because I couldn’t find a job or was unhappy in the town. But it wasn’t just those…I never felt good about myself when I was moving, even when it was a normal thing. It always tasted like failure. It always tasted like loss and what-ifs and I wish. Like the sick, hollow feeling I always had in my stomach when I had to show up as the new girl in school again.
All right, I see it. I know there’s a pattern. I admit there’s a connection between that scared, lonely girl and the woman who still fears being the new kid. There’s a connection between the girl who learned not to expect stability and the woman who has lived in places for years without ever hanging pictures on the walls.
What I do with this awareness is up to me.