Oh, hey… Remember Me?

My son, Austin, is doing well after a decade of struggles. During those hard years, he would go “dark,” meaning I would not hear from him for weeks on end— a mother’s nightmare. Thankfully, as he has healed and found success in life, that has gotten a lot better.

And yet, no matter how often he picks up the phone when I call, the one time he doesn’t, I’m triggered. Maybe it’s a little “mothering PTSD,” but last year we had a string of instances where I would call to check in with him and not get a call back for several days, not even a text to say, “Hey, anything urgent? I’m super busy at work. Unless it’s an emergency, I’ll call you in a couple of days when things settle down.” And based on our past, I would worry. Then, I would panic. Then, I would obsess. By the time he did return my call (and I learned that nothing was wrong), I was angry. But because I don’t want to treat him like a child or upset our newly repaired relationship, I said nothing.

My reasons are valid. I don’t expect him to drop everything for the rest of his life to speak with me the minute I call, but based on years of strained relationship and negative surprises, all I was asking is that now that we’ve rebuilt trust, just send me a message that all is well and set a time that works for us to catch up and talk.  Seems reasonable to me. So, why don’t I just make the request, clearly and non-judgmentally?

The answer is simple and silly: I didn’t want to rock the boat now that it had stabilized. And yet, if I predicted the future based on the past, this was likely to continue to be a small but nagging unresolved issue for me. And it was destined to get in the way of our growth together.

And then, miraculously the problem seemed to just go away. We had a good 3-4 months of answered calls or calls quickly returned. Whew. So glad I didn’t have to say anything. Then, last week, it was suddenly back again. My calls went straight to voicemail with no return texts or calls over several days. Instantly, it all came flooding back—all my emotions, all my dread, all my frustration. It tapped me on the shoulder saying, “Oh, hey… remember me?”

On one of my daily walks, I invested some time to look at this issue from my balcony.  What I noticed from that vantage point was this issue is not about Austin but rather about me and an unarticulated request that I was somehow reticent to make. It was worth a look at why I would avoid the conversation with him, what emotions were triggered for me and what fears those emotions are tied to. I reminded myself that he can’t read my mind, that he likely has a lot on his own mind, and because of that, I might need to practice some patience and repeat my request more than once to help him create a new habit. I considered how useful it would be to have an open discussion about what his boundaries and needs are as well as what mine are. How often does my calling seem like a pleasure to him and when does the frequency and timing of my calls cross the line and become too much? When does he view them as nagging, overbearing, even controlling?

Of course, once I used the tools I teach to others and opened up a non-threatening, non-judgmental conversation about how we felt, what we needed, and my desire to have our ongoing communication work for both of us, we ironed it right out. The conversation reminded me of the power of stepping out of blame as well as the victim’s seat and stepping into our power and love.

I was also reminded that it’s never helpful to continue to stuff down what we feel, need, or desire over time because it comes back. It always comes back. The things we don’t deal with, the feelings we don’t sort out, the boundaries we bend. We can go years without thinking about them and then one day, seemingly out of the blue, they tap us on the shoulder and say, “Oh, hey… remember me?”

This week, notice what’s nagging at you. Pay attention to the voice that seems to judge and blame others or makes you feel like a victim to someone else’s actions or non-action. Look inward. What are you not claiming, saying, or requesting?  Consider how you could suspend your judgment and step up and into a conversation based in love.  We are just as much to blame for the dysfunction as the other person if we hold on to the irritation without at least attempting a healthy conversation. Be brave. Be kind. Stop holding on to things that eat you up and will hunt you down over time. Be a leader and deal with them so you can step into your freedom.

“When we avoid difficult conversations, we trade short-term discomfort for long-term dysfunction.”

~ Peter Bromberg


  1. This is so good, Katherine! About 10 years ago I recognized that throughout our 30-year marriage, instead of asking for what I needed from my husband, I would drop hints and then be so wrecked when he didn’t respond with a resounding, I would love to do that for you!! I’m so much better these days, but occasionally I fall back into that pattern – only now he calls me out on it 🙂

    1. I have done the same, Kim! And you’re right that once we begin to have the courage to be clear, things get better. Hope you have a terrific week ahead and thanks so much for commenting!

  2. So good! Reminds me of working hard to be a “secure connector,” borrower from the work of Milan and Kay Yerkovich. Particularly with the people we love most, this takes effort! Most of us don’t do it well. Thanks for another deeply insightful blog!

    1. You’re welcome, Lori! I love the idea of “secure connector” … it definitely does take effort but it’s so worth it. Thank you for commenting and enjoy a great week ahead.

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