I may not be a parent at this point in my life, but there was a time when I was a kid. Looking back at the many years I was living under the Dawson household in Poughkeepsie, NY, I realized there was one thing that was greatly absent throughout most of it……unconditional love.
My parents did the best they could to raise my sister and I under their circumstances. Both were alcoholics and both dealt with bouts of chronic depression and anxiety. For a person to be suffering from any addiction, there is one thing that is very difficult to do and that’s caring about anyone else but their own self. To make matters worse, having mental imbalances such as depression and anxiety only furthers the inability to care about anyone else’s needs, wants, or desires. So in the Dawson household, because of both of those things, any love that was present had a level of toxicity within it.
Much of the love my sister and I received growing up was given with conditions, meaning there was always something that was attached to any kind gesture that my parents might have offered…
“If you do this for us, we’ll do this back in return.”
“If we give this to you, you need to give us this back later.”
“If we offer you this, will you help us out with that later?”
Unfortunately, what I don’t remember much of because it wasn’t present often, were loving acts of kindness that came without any attachments. I see movies all the time with family’s that portray those types of values. A son comes home from school having been bullied and his mother holds him tight while he cries in her arms instead of being lectured to stand up for himself in the future. A daughter is dumped by her first boyfriend and her father consoles her with words of how beautiful and special she is instead of telling her what she needs to work on to hold on to guys like that. A child walks into the home office and asks to have a catch outside with their father who promptly gets up and takes some time with them rather than saying he’s too busy. The parents surprise their children with a trip to their kid’s favorite restaurant, just because. And those are only just a few of the many examples of what unconditional love can be all about.
As a kid I desperately wanted to have a lot more of taking walks, having catches, and getting warm embraces and consoling without having to bargain or beg for them. I desperately wanted to be listened to by my parents without them saying anything when I was really struggling with something, such as my sexuality. I desperately wanted them to just look at me and say how much they loved me just as I was and that I was good enough in their eyes. Instead, any love that was given came with a price attached, and thus guilt trips were introduced into my home.
“I gave you this, how come you are being that way?”
“I did that for you last week, how come you won’t do this for me today?”
“Don’t you remember I helped you out with that, so can’t you help me out with this?”
That’s not unconditional love. Placing a guilt trip on something later that one needs or wants and basing it upon an original gesture of unconditional love only will take away from the power that unconditionally loving act of kindness once had. Unconditional love is when something is offered with no expectations of anything coming back in return………….EVER!
Sadly, all of the conditional love and guilt trips I received as a kid became how I was with everyone else as an adult and it’s taking me a lot of hard work now to reverse engineer all of that out of me. I don’t want to live my life offering love that comes with a price. I’ve started this healing by doing random acts of kindness for complete strangers where I know I will never be able to ask them for anything in return. I’ve bought coffees and snacks for those waiting in the lines behind me. I’ve held the doors open at various stores for all sorts of individuals. I let people get in front of me in lines when they seem to be in more of a rush than me. I slow down and allow cars to merge onto a crowded road I’m traveling on. The more that I have done those things, the more I have felt the desire to go on a more personal level with offering unconditional love to those I do know. I drive friends to and from AA meetings. I help people out in the 12 steps. I take my free time to speak at various recovery centers on addiction. I offer warm embraces to those that are hurting. I do chores just because I want to help ease someone else’s burdens. Thankfully, all of these things have helped me to learn how good it feels to love unconditionally.
What I really needed and wanted as a kid was to be loved like that. What I got instead was love that generally came with a price. Over time, I became like my parents and learned how to love conditionally and often resorted to guilt trips to get what I wanted. Through my journey of trying to get closer to God, I have been able to undue much of that early on conditioning that came from my younger years. Today I want nothing more than to love others without expectations. I know I still have a ways to go. But with God at the helm so much more in my life now, I’m seeing that it’s becoming much easier to love unconditionally, and much harder to love with conditions.
Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson