Saturday, October 17, 2009

Darwin Schmarwin - Survival isn't All it's Cracked up to Be

"Survival of the fittest" - a phrase most often attributed to Charles Darwin, but not really his own, seems to declare a victory of sorts. According to Darwin's theory, those who are most suited to their environment are the most fit to survive.

The ability to survive in the worst circumstances has been emotionally depicted in the true personal diary of Anne Frank, a journal of survival that was written while she and her family were in hiding from the Nazi's during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. It is an amazing story of courage.

In today's world, survivor has become anonymous with ribbons - pink ribbons for breast cancer, yellow ribbons for prisoners of war, red for HIV, and over the rainbow we go.

I have been called a survivor on many occasions. Not from a life-threatening disease, but from "the vicissitudes of life" to use the words in my patriarchal blessing when it references the challenges of life that I will face.

But I don't feel courageous; I would never compare myself to Anne Frank. And I am not adorned with ribbons, although if I had to choose a color it would be green - for new life, new hope, new beginnings.

So that leaves the option intended by Darwin of being 'most suited to my environment' and I beg to differ. I was not suited to be a single divorced unemployed mother.

I didn't plan to be a single mother. I never planned to be divorced. I would never have dreamed that I would have to live mouth-to-mouth while raising six kids. And more importantly, I wasn't prepared, or trained, or ready to do any of that, but it happened and I survived, and it does not mean that I was suited to that environment.

I survived because I had to, there wasn't another option. I am still on that same course.

Yes, I raised six kids - but while raising them, I was raising myself - even though I was an adult. I had never had to take care of myself. I had never had to earn a living. I had no education, no formal training, not enough financial support to even mention with 6 kids to raise, an understandably withdrawn pre-divorce in-law family, a not-sure-what-to-do immediate family, a few friends who called to ask how things were and help when they could, and a lot of friends who had their own lives to deal with and never bothered.

And because I was ill-suited for my environment, I made a lot of mistakes. Poor judgments about money, partners, even my kids. I suffered from depression through it all too, something I have just recently figured out. I never had time to stop and think about it until now. Idle time produces a lot of thinking, at least for me, and all kinds of revelations have been coming forth in the past year that I have been an "empty nester". It's a bit scary but very exciting too. Things that never made sense, suddenly do. Behaviors I could never understand are suddenly transparent. The me I used to be is finally returning. I should celebrate; someone's been found who has been missing for nearly 20 years. Me!

So the reality is that I was definitely not suited for my environment, so much so that I had to bury the real me to survive. Oh sure, I have always been here, and the person who made it through the past 20 years is part of who I am, but me - Jeannie Baugh - the happy, confident, bright-eyed redhead who loved and laughed and lived life with her family in tow - she was lost for a long time.

I may have adapted to my environment, but I was never suited for it and I wasn't fit for it either. I was a fish out of water, and not much has changed today, although I am slowly becoming exactly who I thought I was and who I want to be. And the best part? I like me!

'Survival of the fittest' has some merit, but it makes a very large assumption about reality.

My reality is simple. I raised 6 kids on a dime, or maybe a few dimes. Mostly my dimes and sadly, some of the kids dimes too. And finally, after all these years, I can see that.

I became a chameleon to fit into whatever environment I had to in order to survive. I only gave up my deep-seated principles in acts of depressed desperation a few times as my marriage was falling apart and as I was trying to grasp the reality of being a single Mom with six kids. Those few times were a cry for help or a plea for attention that went unnoticed, and those few times have been regretted and repented many times over. No one can beat us up more than our own consciences. I hope to rid myself of those old memories soon; they are fading more every day. But the reality of the fallout from our ill-suited situation never will.

But I survived, and lived a life of quick smiles and shallow laughter - EXCEPT when it came to my kids. They were always why I did anything, although sometimes I am certain that was not easy to always see. I laughed and smiled and enjoyed them more than anything else in life, I still do. They are my reason for still being here. They are the reason I chose to survive.

But choosing to survive and making good choices aren't necessarily synonymous. I was running around before and after the divorce trying to balance family with work with church while their Dad worked and played hard, often absentee when I was around, but almost always there when I wasn't. What I didn't realize - to my detriment - is that my kids were dealing with everything that I was - all those things that were making me feel as if life was slipping away from me - plus one added challenge, they were also dealing with an absentee Mom.

I was too short-sighted and too self-absorbed to realize that my 'fueled-by-depression avoidance behaviors' were simply adding one more thing to the pile of issues that were being dumped on six innocent kids. And they didn't know what to do about any of it. They just jumped in together and swam frantically upstream. And thankfully, with only a few mishaps, they survived.

It isn't me that was hurt the most by all of this, it was them. They were short-changed even more than I was. Our lives were stolen from us and we never got them back. Ever.

Suited to their environment? Suited to my environment? I don't think so.

Surviving isn't the way to live life; after all, surviving is exactly that - surviving. It isn't living.

Thankfully my kids have one-by-one found life after their broken childhoods. When I look back and think of all the things I didn't do that could have helped to lessen their load, I always cry. A lifetime of sorrow can't fix it, but that green ribbon mentality has given them new lives with amazing spouses and darling children. They are my heroes in life.

So now, for me, it's time to finally close the door to the past and start living again. It's a process, the door isn't slamming shut, it's creaking closed slowly, but I really hope I am up to the task; a lot of life has been lost - my life, their lives - do to betrayal, depression, and being ill-suited for the environment and I don't want to lose another minute.  I hope to have many years ahead of me and I have not only kids, but grandkids (and me!) to live life with and for. It's way past time to do that.

So, we are all survivors, me and my kids. After all (and no thanks to Darwin), whether we were suited to the environment or not - what choice did we have?

I would never choose to be well-suited for an environment of betrayal, heartbreak, confusion, hurt, pain, depression, abandonment and divorce. I wouldn't choose that for anybody. And none of us chose it.

We chose to move on and move forward. We survived and will continue to survive. And thank God for that.

I am done with the past.

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