Are these phrases familiar to you?
“I’m still glad for the experience”
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything”
“I’d rather have been in India than in the U.S.”
“My parents were worse, so I was better off away from them”
“I’m okay now, so it must have been okay”
“It wasn’t all bad”
If stuff like this sounds familiar it’s because it is familiar. These are words that get said all the time in relationship to dysfunctional and chaotic upbringings, including our upbringing in 3HO Sikh Dharma.
Thing is, these are philosophically hollow and emotionally dishonest things to say.
Childhoods are full of experiences, both good and bad and which form the basis for development. Whether a child’s basic human needs are met or neglected/denied can irrevocably shape how our brains work, for better or for worse. Pertaining to the deprivation of basic human needs, we should not be getting used to saying that we would “rather have it that way”. Ever.
What is okay–healthy even–is to be able to recall childhood with a realistic sense of ambivalence. Our difficult childhoods in 3HO and in India were nevertheless filled with ambiguities and contradictions. There were bad times and there were good times. There were tears but there was also laughter. The connectedness between us kids–the play and the laughter in the midst of what can only be compared to Lord of the Flies–was a sure sign of our resilience and determination. This in no way signifies that the decision to send us away was in any way acceptable. That decision was inherently wrong.
And the ambiguity can be explained. Our brains were working really, really hard at creating artificial, internal scaffoldings and supports for ourselves, out of the need for survival. Because the actual reality–the total lack of support and affection– is so bleak and depressing that we wouldn’t have survived it if we hadn’t invented internal coping skills. Those mechanisims–that might have once been really crucial to survival–do become vestiges later on, and carry over into adulthood and manifest in a myriad of emotionally dysfunctional ways.
Being emotionally honest about this is an important first step in stepping back from your ‘normalized’ experience, and toward healing, and building a truly healthy sense of self. One in which you are deserving of a good quality of life, self-esteem, self-love, and mutually healthy and beneficial relationships.
I actually coped pretty well in India. I joked around a lot, played a lot, got good grades, kept myself busy and creative, and avoided the big kids and grown-ups as much as I could. And my (personal) outcome after coming home was also pretty good. I went to college, I found love, I got married, made a nice home and I built a rewarding career for myself. None of this negates, erases, excuses, neutralizes or normalizes the actions, the poor judgement and the bad decisions of my parents or their guru Yogi Bhajan.
Put it this way: I’m okay. It wasn’t okay.