My earliest childhood memory is the sudden alarm clock of a screaming mother for an infant son, snatched by the unsolved mystery of sudden infant death syndrome. I was five, and my baby brother was just shy of eight months old. I remember circling around an oak tree at the Lakeside cemetery to say goodbye to Joshua Dale DePoy, and his tiny, white casket.
For years, I could not sleep. I was paralyzed with a fear that somehow, I would be forcefully separated from the ones I loved. I had an obsessive compulsive pattern: the door had to be propped open exactly two inches, enough for the distant light to gently remind me that my parents were still awake, and that I was safe. I incessantly demanded my mother to affirm that she would stay awake “for [at least] an hour or so…”
I was home-schooled through my primary years of education. You know, us home-schooled kids are ferociously anti-social, and do not play well with others. We are out of touch with popular culture, but not for lack of wanting. In fact, the opposite was true. I memorized the names and faces in the yearbooks of the neighbor kids. I imagined myself walking the hallways of Mona Shores middle school, high-fiving the jocks and dating the captain of the cheerleading squad. From a distance, I knew who was popular and I desperately sought to be in the inner circle of acceptance.
For as long as I can remember, my closest friends were seasonal.
The other day I was knee deep in a therapy session with my trusted counselor. He challenged me to peel back the layers of scar tissue that have formed over my heart. I realized, perhaps for the first time, that I have for most of my life been seized by the iron-fisted fear of abandonment.
Would you really be my friend if you knew the depths of my depravity? Are you going to leave me when you find new friends? Are you going to walk away disgusted, when I show you my scars? Are you going to suddenly leave in the middle of the night without warning?
This fear of abandonment has taunted my like the neighborhood bully for as long as I can remember, picking fights with me at every corner, and mocking me in the bark of the neighbor’s dog, early in the morning.
My counselor pointed out to me that a fear of abandonment often fuels the following responses:
1) Borderline Personality Disorder. “I know it sounds terrible”, he said, “but a person with a tremendous fear of abandonment may, without cause, begin acting hostile in an attempt to drive a loved-one away before they choose to do it themselves.” In other words, pushing someone out of your life before they have the chance to abandon you. This could have a diversity of expressions, including the aroma of arrogance, indifference, or independence. But in reality, it is a counterfeit for elemental insecurity.
2) A Drivenness/Works to Prove Self-Value. This takes visible form in the efforts we take to surround ourselves with people who will agree with us, or let people only see what we want them to see. We are ignited with an ambition to work harder, achieve more, serve at an absurd pace, and demonstrate that we are worth the investment.
Obviously, this pressure builds and will eventually explode. There must be a release, or the swelling of fear will detonate and obliterate an otherwise healthy relationship. Unfortunately, this outlet often takes the form of addiction/escapism. Multiple expressions of negative behavior, alleviating the immediate tension. But this is only a band-aid to a cancer that is eating away the heart.
“So is that it?” I asked. “Are those the only two options?” I wondered if there were a healthy alternative choice to an otherwise fatal diagnosis. He leaned back and smiled, “No, there is another answer.”
3) Ecclesiastical Koinonia – The immersion of oneself into an authentic, Biblical Community; a family of Christ-followers who share in each other’s sufferings, bear one another’s burdens, and meet each other’s needs. The remedy for this ancient disease is to embrace the promises of the cross, the hope of the resurrection, and the life everlasting.
This fear is alleviated when you covenant with others to journey through life together, share a common cup, sing a common song, and join hands with brothers and sisters who mean it when they say, “’till death do us part.”