The Risk of Attachment

“Don’t go,” I plead as I nuzzle my head into my husband’s dress shirt. I feel like I’m 3 years old and my daddy is leaving on a long trip. My chest feels achy as he grabs his brown leather shoes from the shelf in his closet.

This young, vulnerable part of me has come to the surface for air during this pandemic. After 3 months of working from home, today Michael is leaving for the office for the first time.  My young girl has found safety in having him close by.  He has been learning to play the piano for the last year and the sound of Puff the Magic Dragon has provided a sense of familiarity and grounding as I come out of our home office to refill my porcelain mug between telehealth counseling sessions. The whimsical melody takes me back to Peter, Paul and Mary’s LP spinning on our record player as my dad whistles along.

One surprise of this season of quarantine is that it has brought a simplicity to life. As events have passed on my calendar for social events, cancelled conferences, a speaking event or activities at my children’s school, I wonder how my body was keeping pace. Typically my cortisol is trained to wake me up at 5:00AM. The past month, I have begun sleeping until 7:00AM.

The word vulnerable comes from the Latin word “vulnus,” meaning “to wound.” I feel ambivalence over this part of me that seems more relaxed and simultaneously more exposed. We are all designed to find safety in the face of another person. We were meant for our mother’s and father’s eyes of delight to comfort and soothe our bodies. As I become more open to finding safety in another’s presence, the risk of attachment feels terrifying.

As Michael’s car pulls away, I am preoccupied by the fact that he doesn’t seem as impacted by this departure as I do. After months of quarantine, he is excited about a scenery change and the opportunity to reunite with his clients in person. While this seems more than reasonable to my adult brain, my little girl is scared of not mattering and not being able to carry him with me while he’s away. This is an ancient wound from my past that keeps me grasping for connection while also building a safe wall of self-sufficiency.

This scenario could easily end by polarizing him into believing he’s a distant, cold man who will betray me, or polarizing myself as a needy and clingy woman. I struggle to stay in the interior work of my story and allow myself to see his full face and allow him to see mine.

I have kept this little girl well-protected by my competent part, who is composed and self-reliant. The day I met Michael, I was 24 and planning to go to seminary.  Upon first meeting, I shared about my plans to buy a house. Recently, at our 15-year wedding anniversary,  we chuckled as we reflected on my pick-up line, “What’s your 5-year plan?” I have needed a confident and well thought-out plan for survival. It is part of my glory and how I lead and invite others to explore their gifts and ambitions.  It is noble in its desire to protect the little girl from abandonment or harm. Yet, I am aware of how exhausted this competent part has become. She longs for wider arms to fall into and for her body to rest in the presence and protection of another.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat, author of Wholeheartedness, Busyness, Exhaustion and Healing the Divided Self, reminds us that the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest; it is wholeheartedness. To live wholehearted is to honor each of these parts of me and to acknowledge their desire and need for God.

The little girl in me is worthy of care, and I need her in order to love myself and others with my whole heart.

As I look back on that day, I wish I had taken time to curl up in my bed and listen to Puff the Magic Dragon. I wish I had offered her comfort for her separation anxiety and named the goodness of her desire for consistent care.

When we suppress parts of us, we are more prone to polarize and exploit one another. We tend to see caricatures of those around us and not their full face. In our world today, we are becoming snow-plowed by our own dogmatism.  May we look with curiosity into our own interior landscapes and in effect be more curious about how to behold one another; paying close attention to places of legitimate and holy anger, heartbreak, and younger parts that need care and attunement. This is a risky endeavor, but essential for love.

Rachel Blackston loves all things beautiful…rich conversations over a hot cup of lemon ginger tea, watching her three little girls twirl around in tutus, and Florida sunrises on her morning walks. She resides in Orlando with her lanky, marathon running husband and her precious daughters, priceless gifts after several years of infertility. Rachel and her husband Michael cofounded Redeemer Counseling. As a therapist, Rachel considers it an honor to walk with women in their stories of harm, beauty, and redemption.