There’s a book inside me trying to get out. It’s called I was beaten more days than not. It’s called the beatings are still with me. It’s called I love you and I’m smiling but my heart is crying inside. Screaming in pain. The book is fighting with fear. Fear was my best friend. Fear kept me alive. But now fear is keeping the book inside and it’s going to kill me if it doesn’t get out. It’s going to grow and eat me like cancer. Or give me actual cancer. The book wants to be heard. The book is me. It’s all the ages I was when Fear was keeping me alive. Or hope. Because I think Hope might be Fear’s cousin. Not that I understand family or anything. Family, after all, is what Fear and Hope tried to save me from for all those years. In all those dark moments. You know, the moments when you’re told by the people who brought you into this world that you are disgusting to your core. That they never actually wanted you. That you’re always on the verge of wrath and judgement. God is looking at you and He wants to vomit. All that lovely, nurturing honesty that builds loving and confident members of society. I lived in the dark for years after I left the darkness. I took it with me. It lived on in my barely breathing soul. I pretended to be a living person. I even fooled myself for a time. But a living darkness like mine cannot be tricked into dying. It knows it’s alive. And when my careful charade of life was struck a blow by another version of what first tried to end me, the darkness began to weep. It made myself heard. All the me’s had found their voice. And gave it to the pain. The vibrations cracked my shell and I hatched. I was reborn. As a newborn, yet less helpless than before. The metamorphosis startled me. It knocked my back off my feet. I tentatively thanked the fear for keeping me alive, and handed the keys to hope instead with trembling hands. I can see colors I didn’t before. I can hear sounds I was deaf to. I can feel the life. I can see it teeming all around me. In its glory and agony. Sometimes I break again from the weight of it. The darkness is still with me. Some days it rides shotgun. Some days I can call it an Uber. Other days it stuffs me in a trunk and I’m not sure where we’re going. But then I hatch again. Another part of me is born and freed to begin again. Quivering with possibility and apprehension. Most do not welcome my darkness. Very few can accept the constant rebirth. I am too much for many and not enough for nearly all. But there is a book inside me, fighting with fear to get out. And maybe when Fear and Hope and Me can walk into the light together, I will feel heard. And the pain will settle to a dull roar. Which is preferable to the constant ringing in my head.
Personing is hard. At any given moment an infinite variation of life is coming at you.
Mothering is hard. It’s complicated. Consuming. 4 people’s perfect souls are in my care. They are all 4 so vastly unique. They each need something different from the others. And possibly even different than what they needed 3 hours ago.
Being a wife is beautiful. Amazing. Rewarding. And hard. It demands that your ever evolving humanity hyphenates wholeheartedly with another person’s ever evolving humanity.
PTSD is hard. Actually, it sucks balls. It is vicious. Unpredictable. Parasitic. It is about 5 full-time jobs rolled into one that you can’t clock out of. Your body is constantly picking up the slack for your brain. Your brain is all, “Bye, Felicia” when you need it most and your body is left to pick up the fragments. Flashbacks are always at the most inconvenient times and inappropriate situations. Scratch that. When is it ever a convenient time for your brain to unload out-of-context horror?
My soul is tired. My body is exhausted. My mind is weary.
Yesterday, I threw an adventure/pirate party for my 7-year-old daughter. Including my 3 oldest, there were 14 kids here. I think. Lucky for me, my 2-year-old was napping. A few parents stayed. A friend and her husband came to help. My husband’s participation was on fleek. My house was full.
I love my children fiercely. So I asked my anxiety to hold it together while I facilitated the fun.
But I am tired.
I’m getting better at knowing when I’m going to need to recharge. I’m more mindful of how decimated an interaction is going to leave me. I’m learning to plan self-care into my life.
A few years ago I read The Shack. My heart wept with recognition. When the movie was announced, my heart exploded with anticipation. As soon as I was able, I purchased a ticket to see it. For a showing immediately following church. The day after my daughter’s birthday party.
I need to tell you about church and me. A majority of the abuse I endured as a child was religious in nature. Clarification: it wore a Jesus hat. “Christianity” was the tool that 2 broken and hurting people used on their offspring to make themselves feel less out of control. They discharged their anguish onto their children in the name of God.
I struggle with church. I struggle with the Bible. Hear me out before you burn me at the stake. The words, the phrases, the settings… Triggers. A lot of the concepts, though far removed from how I grew up knowing them, look very similar outwardly to their rightful essence. This is the danger. While I am rewriting the real version in my heart and mind, there is an incredible amount of scar tissue there. My mind is rejecting the transplant as it looks eerily familiar. I’m constantly looking for new versions of the Bible. Versions that I can read and hear God’s healing love pour over my soul like a soothing balm. As of now, my all time favorite is The Jesus Storybook Bible. I am not embarrassed to say that I own it in hardcover and audio forms. And that when the crazy gets heavy, I hide in my minivan and listen.
So I stayed home by myself this morning. While the rest of my heart drove away in my van. They went to church without me because my soul needs some rest. Church is hard for me. Church is work. I pray it is not always this way. I hope some day to be edified without the complication of very conscious mindfulness exercises throughout the duration. I long for the day when I can join in with the worship and the teaching without fighting a panic attack. Someday maybe I will be able to hang after church to fellowship without being acutely aware of the crowd and scanning for exits.
Today is not that day. Today I am where I am. Jesus loves this me. Jesus is fully invested in this me.
So I am going on a date with Jesus to see a movie. That is my church today. I am so looking forward to it.
But first I have to find a box of tissues.
I am a phoenix.
I regularly burst into flame. And am reborn.
Hurts like hell to burn but I come back fiercer, stronger, more loving every time. I will burn this mother down as many times as it takes to come out the person that I am, under all of the shit that obscures the beauty of who I was meant to be.
I will burn. With the fierce passion of knowing that I was made for Love. I will die a little every time that I may come forth in new and new and new life. And all of the me that isn’t truly me will burn up little by little as I become.
It is terrifying to stand on a new truth, or a more refined truth. What if I am wrong? Well, chances are I am and will be wrong many times and many ways yet to come. Hence the burning down. And rising forth. A baptism of fire. A rebirth of anguish and glory.
I will burn this mother down. I will burn this sister down. This friend. This wife. This citizen. I will be wrong. And I will be new.
I said yes to life and health and all of the magic and pain that will bring me alive. I will face the difficult. I will trod forward in weariness. I will triumph over the victories and so often weep for the failures. Because all these things ignite me. They consume the false and reveal the authentic. The genuine. The truly precious. My soul.
I will burn this mother down.
I am a phoenix.
I feel the fire coming on.
I was invisible.
To the world. But most importantly, to myself.
I was raised in an environment that eroded the knowledge that I had value. My therapist said once that the last place I probably felt safe was the womb. I think we come into the world demanding to be cared for because we have an innate sense that we are helpless and that it’s our right as living, breathing, precious humans to be nurtured by the people who brought us here. The fact of being alive comes with it the appraised value of immeasurable worth. And then life… Usually it is the simple fact of living that erodes our known value incrementally. In my case, and in the cases of so many who have been treated as less than, the increments are staggering and crippling. The once secure infant, squalling for acknowledgment, becomes a shrinking, ever-fading wisp of apologetic humanity, becomes a hustling, boundary handicapped adult.
So I became equal parts hidden and flaunting. Validation was nectar of life to my soul. I couldn’t move to the right or left without a strong sense that my decision would be met with acceptance. I was crippled by having only the possibilities that I could see in my immediate now. I struggled to see beyond. To imagine more. I wore a flashy disguise to cover the shame of my stunted resilience.
I couldn’t see me. No one else could see me. So I yelled and screamed above the crowd, hoping, praying, dying for a shred of recognition.
Until I was recognized falsely. Having worked to the bone to put my heart on display in an aching need to be known, how was I so unknown? How had no one heard me? Did I even know me? What if I wasn’t? What if I didn’t? What if I couldn’t?
The questions drove me to retreat into myself.
Shockingly, what I saw in there was me. The real me. The valuable me. The worthy, precious, wildly loved me. The me that hadn’t been seen in decades. The me that was screaming and weeping and dancing invisibly with little hope of notice.
My world got quieter. Because I didn’t have to shout to be heard. Because I didn’t need to be heard. I could hear me. I could see me. I made it quieter so I could hear myself be.
The superfluous had to go so that the genuine could shine. The excess was shed so the authentic had space to flourish.
I’m thriving on less these days. I’m giving myself space to see so that I’m not consumed with the need to be seen. I listen so that I am heard by my own self. I’m getting acquainted with me. I like her. I’m not so worried about other people’s acceptance of me. I’m not perfect but I don’t require myself to be so that’s ok. It’s messy. It makes very little sense some days. But it is so much more peaceful here in my new existence of acceptance. So much happier. So much less fearful. And so many more possibilities ahead. Once I’m ready for them. I don’t need to have it all.
I am. I am loved. That is all.
I finally did it.
I took down my tree.
I said goodbye to last year’s Christmas.
I’ve been thrashing myself with a whip of cords for the last 10 years. I’m such a bum. A lazy mom. A loser that would leave the tree up until Valentine’s Day.
I walk past it over and over, wincing at the thought of unwrapping the lights and boxing up the ornaments. The stockings come down first, usually around MLK Day. Then the mantel lights. The tree skirt comes off. The Christmas Tupperware sits on the floor by the tree for a time and I throw in a few of the kids’ handmade goodies as they flutter to the ground.
Lazy, lazy, lazy.
My manger is still up. It might not go for another month or so.
The deck lights might become permanent. I unplugged the porch ones. That’s good enough for now.
I figured it out this morning. While I sawed off the branches. Yes, in the house. While it was still in the stand. What? You have you your process. I have mine.
The Christmas tree represents for me the magic of the holiday. The 6 of us picked it out and cut it down as per our tradition. Jim sets it up. I light the tree. The ornaments are about 40% handmade by my children. I didn’t even hang them this year. My children did. Well, 3 of them hung ornaments. My 2-year-old threw them at the tree and clapped when they landed on a branch. It was pure perfection in my eyes. We sit around it on Christmas morning and hand each other gifts. My kids buy for each other now. Watching them light up over the thoughtful choices was the pinnacle of Christmas spirit.
It is us. It is love and joy and magic.
By this time every year, I have a dried piney fire hazard in some corner of my living room. An old man of a tree. An elderly Christmas past.
And I have to euthanize it. Every year, I have to kill Christmas. I have to put it out of its misery and make way for the new year to blossom.
I’m not lazy. I’m grieving. Just a little bit. But enough to give me pause.
What if we’re not lazy every time we think we are? What if we’re anxious over change? What if we’re sad at letting go of something? What if we’re overwhelmed?
Feel your feels, peeps. Give them a name. Own them. Embrace them. Give them the attention they need so you can move forward in your life. In your day-to-days. In your living and loving. You are included in your loving. There are 6 people in my home that need me to care for them, not 5.
So today I am saying goodbye to 2016’s Christmas. I’m giving myself room to grieve so I can be wholeheartedly in 2017.
January 2018 will bring the death of 2017’s Christmas but I know what it is now. I can embrace the goodbye. I can beat myself up over one less thing. I can go forward feeling the unpleasant emotions so that there is room in my heart for the other ones.
I had to hibernate for a while.
Winter came suddenly to my soul. Not a death, per say, but a necessity to hide away in quiet in order to be reborn and transformed. It was brutally cold and dark and the only way to survive was to withdraw and conserve my resources. I didn’t know it was coming. Rather, I may have known in a way, but didn’t yet have the instinct to nourish myself in preparation. I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to survive the season.
In hibernation, I shed a skin, a former life, as a fresh me began to come together. As the ground thaws and the stirrings of new life whisper in the breeze, I’m seeing a new world around me as I, myself, am changed.
I’m opening my heart to Love and health. I’m opening my mind to pursue new branches of wisdom and inspiration.
It’s terrifying. As hell. But so brilliant. Like beams of warm, healing light breaking through the forest canopy to kiss the needle covered ground below.
The shedding made room for new. For beauty. For depth. For uncertainty. For adventure.
In slowly, carefully, emerging from my cocoon, and reconnecting more fully with the loves in my life, I am coming to see a new facet of Love’s glorious wholeness.
Love is not linear.
It is a window into eternity. It is the finest wisp of understanding of the Love of our Creator for us, outside of time.
When someone comes into your life, when you let them in, when you love them, you love all the someones they have ever been. All the someones that have made them who they are today. Love doesn’t simply begin at one point and move forward. It is born in the center of a moment and expands to flow out in all directions. To the past that made you who you are. To the future and all the promise of who you can be. To the depths of experience and the heights of emotion.
A friend told me that she loves who I was because that person birthed who I am now. That awkward jean skirt wearing teen me is in her heart just as I am now. It was a deeply healing moment. Teen me smiled through crippling pain. Teen me was not worthy. She was, as Brené Brown so aptly words it in her speaking and writing, “hustling for her worthiness.” In that moment, my friend gave now me, as well as teen me, an exquisitely perfect gift. Love reached through time and gave unloved, awkward, unfriended teen me a friend. A long-aching part of me felt healing.
It was eerily similar to a conversation I had with another friend the night before. We discussed an exercise that my therapist sometimes asks me to do.
“What would 31-year-old you like to say the little girl you that feels in pain and terrified and uncared for?”
“What does 6-year-old you need from adult you?”
It is always an incredibly vulnerable moment. The best moments are.
There is very little chance that I will ever have my childhood pain acknowledged by the ones who inflicted it. But that doesn’t mean the wound has to remain open and weeping forever. In learning the eternalness of Love, I have gained a new ability to give myself the acceptance that every child deserves. The more I learn of Love, of connection, I can more readily acknowledge the trauma I lived through, the pain I carry, and the utter worthlessness that suffocates healing Love.
I am retroactively valued. I can give myself acceptance. All of my selves and evolutions. All of the me’s that felt rejection. Abuse. Denial. Worthlessness. Because I still am and will always be me. In the same way that Love is, has been, and will be.
And winter will come again. That is the nature of life.
But this time I will take a layer of nourishment into the cold with me. I’m feeding my soul with Love and beauty and acceptance. I’m letting the nonlinear, wildly eternal, all-encompassing, divine nature of Love reach into the dark, sleeping parts of me and assure them, assure me, that I am Loved. I am worth. I am accepted. All of me.
Which brings connection. And more Love.