I was about 5 years old when my parents got divorced. I remember some days before then, surprisingly. My dad had a snowmobile that he would drive around in the field behind our house, and my brothers would put toys in the heat vents, after they figured out how to remove the guards.
Divorce changes things very rapidly for kids. Everything was sure and constant, and then suddenly everything was secret and turbulent. I remember wanting to know what was going on, at one point bugging an adult member of my family while moving furniture. I was shooed away. It was painful for them, and they didn’t mean to be brash, but I felt the sting of that land like a blow from Mike Tyson. I wouldn’t have said that at 5, I had no idea who Mike Tyson was then.
We can never be sure how our childhood effects us unless we remember it very well, and I don’t remember mine very well. I used to like thinking I had a great memory, and to a large degree I do, but not when it comes to childhood. I blocked that out. Grandparents share with me some of what was going on at the time and I remember very little of it.
But I’m sure it’s there. Deep down inside my soul is the pain and the hurt and the separateness of the divorce. It is always known as “The Divorce” to me, which tells me that it is still down there somewhere. It’s also a part of me in a very real sense. Through counseling I have come to recognize the ways I have personally been fragmented and chipped into pieces. I have talked to myself about myself, a counseling technique, and while I do not have multiple personalities, there are two selves within me, and I am not referring to the True Self and False Self that contemplatives talk about.
Over the years I have grown, developed, and learned. I am an incredibly funny, intelligent and capable young man who most people like to be around. My friends know that I love God, love to serve, and am overall pretty sure and confident in what gifts and abilities I have. If I were to write a quick biography it would sound really cool, most people would think I have it together.
Yet there is the 5 year old Matthew who is still hanging out in my soul, wondering about security and sureness, looking for stability and wanting to be held. About 6 years ago a girlfriend told me, “I can’t be your mom.” I thought she was crazy, but there is an aspect of me that still wants to be held and comforted because of the wounds from the divorce. I don’t know if stuff like that ever goes away. At least, not until Jesus returns and every wrong will be made right.
Matthew at 5 is really scared. I’ve talked to him about it during counseling, and he doesn’t even know what he is afraid of anymore. It’s kinda crazy. He is just living in this constant sense that the world is mean, people are going to hurt him, and he can’t trust anyone. I feel so sorry for him, for me, because I know so many great, wonderful, caring people. People who stay together, who work together, who don’t separate, who won’t leave you. The world isn’t out to get me, and I know that I can trust many people who truly care about me.
It’s strange to me that I talk about him, and not about myself. He is me, we are the same person. He doesn’t have as much influence over my actions anymore, but he is still there. Every so often he pops up and makes me want to give up on everything and just curl into bed. I don’t most of the time. I’ve even stopped taking really long hot showers, not because I don’t have moments of depression and hopelessness, but because I can choose to take a short, cool shower and have control over me. I used to take showers to soothe myself, but I don’t want to act out based on depression, I want to make a choice and stick to it based on what will be best for me. Pro-tip: short, cool showers are better for your skin, hair, and health.
I’m not sure what it will look like to be fully merged with these two senses of who I am. 5 year old me brings joy and fun to older me when he is feeling loved, and older me brings confidence and hope to the younger me. It’s a great journey, and the destination is a mystery.
But my story always starts with, “When I was 5 years old, my parents got divorced…”