Shannon's Story

Like so many people, a lot of what I struggle with in my adult life is rooted in my childhood. I think it is central to my father taking off. I was three. My mother was only nineteen when she married my father. He was not a good husband and had a very bad drinking problem. She was brave enough to leave him, but she still needed to find work and to get things together. She left me with his mother on good faith because she had to. This was meant to be a very short time.

My father ran with this. He told the courts that my mother was a prostitute and a drug addict. Turns out my grandmother had always wanted a little girl of her own to raise, and so she supported his lies. It wasn’t until he became engaged to a “Native American woman” that my grandmother went to court and told the truth because she “didn’t want that Indian woman raising me”. That was the day my mother finally got custody of me back.

My father was awarded temporary visitation. The last time I saw him as a child he came to pick me up, but I wanted to go to my best friend’s birthday party. I was only 5 years old so when he asked me if I wanted to see him I said no because I wanted to go to the party. He ran with that too. That was the last time I saw my father until I was an adult.

All the while growing up, I believed he left because I told him to. When I was 25 I learned that he had failed to arrange child support in time, thus losing his visitation rights. Instead he moved to Alaska to pan for gold, fish, and trade horses.

Therefore I began a long struggle with abandonment issues and depression from an early age. I really believed that people didn’t like me; if dad could walk away from me, anyone could. I had few friends as a child, fewer and fewer the older I got. We moved often as my mother worked her way through college and graduate school, divorce, and remarriage. The longest I lived in one place was four years and I attended four different high schools. It became harder and harder to form relationships as a young person in that environment. My mother’s PhD is in Clinical Psychology so as she learned new concepts, she taught them to me. As a smart kid, she expected me to understand and integrate concepts that I was too immature to grasp. I remember her saying to friends once, “I don’t know what to do with Shannon, I’ve tried everything, I’ve tried gestalt, I’ve tried behavior modification, I’ve tried this, that…” When I was in 7th grade and I wasn’t doing my homework, my teacher asked me why and I said, “because I’m passive aggressive,” but I couldn’t define it when he asked what it meant.

I was ashamed. I believed that I was so damaged that no one would want to take the time to really know me. I feared that I couldn’t be a good friend because I was so needy and I couldn’t give back. I didn’t know how to connect with people, due to moving so much and my father’s abandonment. I was told that if people said they liked me they were only “pretending to be my friend” because I was “shallow and didn’t have anything to offer”. If people told me I was pretty and they liked what I was wearing, they were “just being nice to me.” When I did make a friend, we would have to move, we would promise to write, but no one ever follows through.

Dance was my “little lovely place to go to” from a very young age. I always wanted a career as a dancer. The problem was that I couldn’t put myself out there in front of anyone or anything. I couldn’t look in the mirror when we were practicing, I was too afraid. I would just look at myself from the knees down.

When I was offered an opportunity to study at the School of the Boston Ballet, with a grad student mom doing an internship at a VA hospital, I would have had to find my own transportation from the suburbs to the city and pay for it myself. We lived two hours outside of Boston at the time. I would have to take the bus, and the train, and then there was a lot of walking to get there. I never studied with Boston Ballet. I was only 12 at the time.

I struggle with depression. I sometimes still believe that people don’t really like me; they don’t really want me around. When I find people I want to know, I become afraid that, because I am so needy, I will just smother them, or maybe when they say they like me back, it is just a lie. Trust is an issue for me.

Depression comes in waves. Sometimes I just want to be invisible. If I have to walk down the street, I just try and look at my feet. I do what I have to do, I take my children to school, pick them up. I teach my dance classes. But other than that I hide from people. I won’t pick up the phone. I can’t clean my house. I can’t do anything. I know it sounds crazy, but sometimes it just is all I can do. But I recognize my depression now. I go under when I go under, but I come up faster. I’m learning that people really do love me, and it is not a lie.

I’m 46 years old. I am moving forward in my life. I finally went down and got ABT (American Ballet Theater) certified. I was terrified, but I did it. I am trying to start my own dance studio. It’s scary sometimes, but I believe it will work.

I have thought about suicide many times in my past. But for me, it comes down to the fact that I’m not really ready to step out of this life. For me the urge to step out is more about relieving the pain and also shaking the people around me and saying, “Please notice! Please notice me! I’m hurting! Look at me, LOOK AT ME! I hurt! I’m in pain!” I have never been able to let go of the future enough to kill myself. And now that I have children, I could never, ever do that. I know it would hurt them more than it would ever relieve me.

What I would say to someone who is having a hard time is to hold onto the future. If you step out, you will never get to see what happens! You don’t know what may be coming up. Even if it feels like you are in a spiraling drain, almost down a dark hole, just pull yourself up to the edge enough to look out, hold on until the water washes over you. Hang on to the edge. Just find one person to talk to, even if it is the operator on the phone; they can actually be very nice. You need to talk to somebody, anybody. Just talk. Find someone and talk when you hit critical mass.

And for God’s sake, don’t miss out on your future. Abandonment issues come in many forms. Don’t abandon yourself.


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