Where are you? Where are you? Where are you?: Where Our Relating Stories Come From


"We tell relating stories to help us make sense of overwhelming experiences when we were little and it is smart and wise.  Some of us are called to liberate ourselves from these stories in our lives and the call comes in pretty common ways - relationship struggles, depression, anxiety..." -Traci Ruble

Where are you? Where are you? Where are you?: Where Our Relating Stories Come From
by Traci Ruble, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist 

The need to pee wakes up three-year-old Sam from a deep slumber.  It’s dark.  As he peels his sand-filled eyes open, slides the comforter back and squishes his pink toes into the crunchy carpet he darts his eyes around the room to make sense of where he is.  A gurgle of fright comes up in Sam’s chest as the night light and wall it is plugged into are not his and the silver and brown wallpaper are like a scary and unfamiliar cage.  “Mama where are you?” he yelps.  No one comes.  And then he remembers  that he is at baby sitter Bev’s house.  Confusion sets in as Sam tries to recall the lay of this house, of the people in it, and as he does his sad feelings drown him.   He falls on the floor wishing and crying for his mom to scoop him up.  “Where are you Mama, where are you?” 

Just before the convulsing sobs start, Sam instinctively responds to this all-to- common occurrence.  He wipes his tears, straightens his body in an erect and braced fashion as if walking in a wind storm and steps out into the hall lit by the bathroom light that is on down the way.  For a moment, Sam feels his three year old body shiver at the realization that he is all alone and shrugs off the longing to be scooped up by someone who heard his cry.  He braces again, not quite able to brace enough to fight back the tears as he makes his way to the bathroom.   Spiderman-jammies  wet from the silent rivers pouring down his cheeks he pads over to the toilet to do his business.  The release opens Sam up to his terror and agony yet again.  His three year old mind cannot make sense of where his parents are.  “Mama!  Where are you?  Papa where are you?”  

His body and mind rescue him from that storm of blunt objects pounding him…it’s too much.  They construct a story.  It’s not a nice story his body/mind writes but he has some power, at least, over the narrative.  The story says "He is not wanted, he is bad, he is too much, if he were better someone would be here, he’s weak for needing, only perfect boys’ moms come" or any other configurations….Sam in all his wisdom is protecting himself to survive.  What a wise kid to make up such an intricate and clever story and to have his whole body play its part.

Katie Read and Elizabeth Sullivan inspired me by their two articles in the last week on the importance in taking time for your relationship.  Sam, in fiction above, details how some of our attachment patterns get laid down at a really young age gradually in small doses. Making time or not making time to connect in our current relationships are shaped in subtle and big ways by our pasts and those pasts are shaped by the circumstances which are shaped the culture, shaped by policy, shaped by history, shaped by myth, shaped by archetypes.

In the story above we don’t know why mom and dad are away.  Maybe mom has to work two jobs to make ends meet and pay the medical bills for a sick dad who needs dialysis that isn't covered by insurance.  Or maybe Sam’s parents work all the time because they want a fancy house and fancy cars because they need stuff to be happy, or maybe they think that work is what gives life meaning instead of relationship and so on and so on are the possibilities….  Who knows the reason.   It’s clear there has been an impact on Sam.  Truth be told, none of us come out of childhood unscathed and some of those scrapes and bumps make us interesting and propel us in interesting directions.  Along the way though, adversity beckons some of us to go inside and reclaim what might be covered over by these narratives.  

What kinds of friendships might Sam pursue because of his narrative?  We like to feel like we KNOW who we are so better not to disprove that story we have made up about our self no matter how painful or exhausting.  Better to keep repeating  and proving it because challenging our story makes us really anxious as if our life depends on it.  So Sam wisely chooses relationships where he gets rejected over and over again just like as a boy.  Or Sam precociously charms unavailable people into never leaving him.  Or Sam lives his life, grasping after phantoms of his mother - reaching for relationships or jobs that aren’t quite right, not supportive, suffocating them until they are gone.   

Sam lives his life, pushing out of is his mind those blunt objects, braced against them, numb to vulnerability, numb to love, numb to needs. He lives out his 3 year old story in one fashion or another and either the strategy succeeds or Sam gets a symptom of some kind that troubles him - anxiety, depression, rage attacks, sleeplessness, panic attacks, porn addiction etc.  Sam searches to find a place safe enough, consistent enough, connected enough, relational enough where he can  let go, unburden himself in unfiltered ways - dive into the ocean of his unconscious without drowning in it.  Sam finds his way to a therapist he can connect with and over time, Sam, the man, unearths three year old Sam the boy, they meet and say hello.  Little boy Sam reveals all his secrets and Sam the man learns to soften, listen, care and relate. 

After awhile Sam the man knows 3 year old Sam with such compassion, wisdom and heart the two are one.  Now when he feels the bracing in his body against blunt objects or convulsing sobs when his wife leaves for a business trip and notices how he wants to avoid saying goodbye he makes a new choice, writes a new story.  Sam puts one hand on his chest, takes a deep breath and says to himself inside “Hey there little guy.  It’s all good.  I’ve got you.  I am right here.” And he goes to the door grabs his wife’s cheeks in his hands and says “Wow I am going to miss you.  A part of me aches and a part of me is excited for you.  See you soon.”  She beams at him and says “Sam thanks for saying that.  I love you.  I will call you as soon as my flight lands.” 

Traci Ruble is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist working in downtown San Francisco and Psyched in San Francisco Founder.  She specializes in working with couples, adult individuals and leads online mother's support groups. You can find more out about her at www.traciruble.com.

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