An Essay on My Life and Conditioned Responses April, 2019
By Jennifer Clay
After years of personal development, reflecting on my life and soul-searching, it’s fairly easy to tell why I have tendencies toward negative things such as procrastination, impatience and the need to control things. Put those road-blocks together with such things as how I can Self-sabotage and not allow myself to truly shine bright or feel deserving of success —I think that may be the biggest one really— then it’s often a wonder I have succeeded at all and yet the things in my life that have caused these reactions & habits are the same things that drive me forward in many ways as well. For the sake of keeping it an essay and not a novel, then I will do my best to keep it concise while still getting vulnerable and honest, deep and thorough. For it is in that type of work we grow and I’ve come to realize that my life story has almost caused a sort of arrested development… where I have been the one to really raise myself in many ways and do the best I can with what I’ve been given. Often seen as survival mode. How did that happen? I’ll share with you here.
My life was set upon a certain trajectory when my mother was killed in a car accident when I was just 18months old and my brother only 41/2. I’ve come to see the importance of the role of the mother in all things and the devastation that can happen with the lack of that nourishing role. My father remarried when I was only 3 and my step-mom could have been my mom for sure. Yet that is not how it played out and my brother and I lived a classic Cinderella story where we were often told we weren’t wanted and in fact were a huge inconvenience and mistake she made in marrying my dad. My dad withdrew from us a lot and became completely wrapped up in her. She was 12yrs his junior and I can hardly blame a 20yr old that married a 32yr old widower with 2 kids. I don’t, these are just the facts. Growing up unwanted makes it hard to feel wanted anywhere. It makes me second guess myself, makes me feel like I am always having to prove myself worthy because my default is … I am not good enough. I have a difficult time trusting and combine that with my life of loss then it is also my default to expect things to be taken away when it is what or whom I love the most.
To explain how ingrained those feelings are you’ll have to see it was not just one instance of loss, but a pattern. When my mom passed, her mom, my grandmother became a huge role in my brother and I’s life. We lived with her for some time right after it happened and then stayed with her often and then every 3 months of the summer. Until, for me, I went to live with her my sophomore year in Highschool. Two reasons there… I fell in love and my grandmother was sick with breast cancer. I watched her struggle and then life took a traumatic turn. My Highschool sweetheart was killed in a car accident on his way to my house to pick me up for a date. This was now my senior year and I was devastated. A month later my grandmother died. I was only 17 and very alone.
I moved back home to Georgia and even lived with my brother while I went to hair school. Alan and I were like twins growing up. We were super close. Even in the years of me living away we still wrote to each other and called on the phone. We had this “us against the world” life and we always had each other. Years passed and life was good in ways and in others I hadn’t processed I don’t think. I made a poor decision on a relationship and got married in 1995 to an extremely toxic person. I’m not sure then that I even knew what I was doing. I don’t know if I cared. The constant in my life was my brother. As long as I had him I was good and yet at this point he was married, I was too, we didn’t see each other as much… life moves fast. It was what it was. I was going through the motions of life. I had a daughter and I knew I needed to get out of my marriage so I reached out to my brother. He was going to help me leave.
A few months later and I get a call from him… he’s been diagnosed with colon cancer. My defender, my confidant, my best friend. At 35 he’s a triathlete, mountain biker and seemingly in perfect health. I remember like it was yesterday. Talking to him on the phone, assuring him he would beat it and then later collapsing to the floor and just bawling. Somehow I knew. At one point during his second year of treatment, we were on the phone and he said to me, “Sometimes I feel like Frodo, like I have been given this impossible task and that my cancer is like the ring and no one else can carry it but me. I have to do this but I really don’t want to and I know it will kill me.” I sat there on the other end and after years of us growing up on LOTR —my middle name being Arwen and all— I simply said, “Well if you’re Frodo then I am Sam because Gandalf said ‘Don’t you leave him Samwise Gamgee and I don’t mean to.’” His battle lasted two years and I was with him at the end to help him leave this world. To witness him take his last breath and to feel his presence go. I’m not sure I have fully been myself since. That was 2003. He was only 37.
Amidst all this there was the toxic, abusive marriage where some of his go-to lines were “you’re so fucking worthless” and I was hyper-vigilant to not make mistakes and to try and see what all could go wrong before it did so I could try to avoid things getting bad. I’ve just recently had that awareness that I often think the worst and I feel it comes from that.
Combine all of that with my experience of finally getting out of my marriage, 2010, losing weight, feeling confident, traveling, making things happen for myself…. And this is when all of that overcoming seemed to backfire because while I was growing, my business partner was getting jealous, resentful and plotting. That’s another story but the short end is — here I was shining bright and what happens? A key person wants me gone! That was January 2013. Even though the result was that my team stayed with me and I am better off without that person… I carry that residue of, ‘shine bright and people hate you.’ I know it’s human nature but it still is hard for me to get pass.
In conclusion I want to say…. I have done A LOT of work on all of this. Sharing here does not mean I am still in the thick of all of this history. However, loss & grief is something we carry with us forever. It shifts and changes, it comes in waves, it goes away and comes back, it makes us who we are … and I love who I am. Yet, it’s still a void and it does make me predisposed for certain reactions and unconscious ways of being. This is why I never stop working on myself. I never stop peeling back layers to expose these wounds and let them heal because until the last 5 years I don’t think I was healing. I think I was still on survival mode. So here I am at 50 and I am equally aware of my greatness and my shadows. I am fully aware how all of this has set me on a trajectory for amazing things. Ok, actually I am not fully aware of my greatness. I wish I was, I wish I felt it in my being.
I am here and if I was given an ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ opportunity to go back and change anything… I wouldn’t. I have a lot to offer the world and myself. I have a lot of love to offer and a lot of guidance. I have not only survived but I thrive… I think lol. These are stories that can heal others while I continue to heal myself. I didn’t come here to experience all of that and back down from the karma I brought into the world. I am here to move past it, to love all of it and to succeed in ways I’ve never imagined.
My brother and I saw the first 2 LOTR movies together while he was ill. I went to the theater by myself to see the 3rd. I knew, of course, how it ended. I sat there weeping in the theater, all alone. When Frodo gives Sam the book and tells him you have many more chapters to write…. It kills me, but I do, and I will.
How do all of these things affect my need to control? Because so very much in life feels out of control when you are dealing with death and illness. It makes you feel helpless, powerless. Why do I procrastinate? In many ways it’s simply my nature. I need the downtime for the next big launch so to speak. It’s also because … I keep going without these people and as I type that I weep. I can’t make time stand still. I can’t stop and keep from getting further away from them all… I have to keep going, They would want me to. I want to but it’s part of my nature to get overwhelmed sometimes and feel I just have to stop.
Why do I get so impatient? I think that comes from the depth of life I have experienced. I see-saw between my experience making me KNOW we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff and take life so seriously because we are all here a short time… to, everything is a BIG deal because we aren’t here long! I see myself trying to teach my kids all I know as fast as I can because… what if I am gone tomorrow? I approach learning that way too. Like I have to know now, right now and I beat myself up if I don’t. This doesn’t work.
There’s the rub I think…. How do I slow down without stopping completely? Aka, that feeling of grief, depression etc… I have to slow down or I’ll burn myself up. Life on survival mode has not been kind in this area.
On the horizon I feel the last bit of self-doubt over shining bright. I am still uncomfortable with feeling I deserve it, whatever “it” is in the world of success… money, love, freedom, time. I feel this comes from never having anyone in my life long, except for my brother, that made me feel I deserved. My role models, and biggest loves, were all gone by the ages of 29, 21, 61 and 37. I have raised myself and my own kids on my own. I’m doing good… and then I doubt. It is why I gravitate toward positive role-models, mother figures, coaches and more. I need these people. I don’t want to go it all alone anymore. I am learning. I realize some of these feelings and habits may be with me all of my life. My intentions are to always see my demons and play along with them while my light gets brighter.