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.
Go talk to someone.
I mean it.
Someone who’s been educated to understand the spaghetti noodles in your head. It’s terrifying as hell. I know. Been there. Doing that.
It doesn’t toggle a cosmic switch that puts you in “that category”.
But if you are a warrior fighting against the demons in your mind, get some backup. Enlist some troops. I promise you are not lesser for acknowledging that the thing you battle is bigger than you. In fact, just the opposite is true. One of your very best and strongest weapons is acknowledgement.
Like, o, yeah. I see you. I know what you are. Now what?
Owning your struggle is powerful and empowering.
Because, guess what? We are all victims of Planet Earth. Of Life. Of Existing. And if you are reading this then you are also a survivor. Add warrior to your resume. I’m sure you are already a warrior. But put it on your card.
I am Victim. I am Survivor. I am Warrior.
Own your worth. Own your place. Own your value.
And go to the armory for tools. For weapons. For power-ups.
You were never meant to fight alone.
I went to bed early. Like way early. And then I woke up at an ungodly hour. There’s a 5 o’clock in the morning too. Who knew.
So I did what any reasonable person would do. I read book reviews on my phone in bed. I came across the scathing opinion of one reader. Mind you, I haven’t read the book. But the feelings in the review…
It got me thinking. About healing. And self-care. And about hiding from what will make us better. About being mad at other people who are healing because it spotlights the places we are still sick.
The process of pursuing health often looks ridiculous from the outside. It looks selfish. Downright weird. Believe me, it feels weird on this side of it, too. The growing pains, the exhaustion, the unusual choices.
The thing is, staying where you are is a choice. And timidly peeking your head out from under your pain to look for help is a choice. And both of the choices will hurt. Hugging your abuse tumor hurts. Getting it removed hurts. Emotionally crippled hurts. Reconstructing your heart hurts too. But the sickness kills.
I put off a lot of things that could help make me well because it felt like it was too big of a deal. It felt selfish. I felt unworthy of them. My luggage wasn’t heavy enough to merit getting someone to carry it for me. I put down people who I felt were recklessly open to caring for their hearts. It wasn’t proper. It was self centered and irresponsible.
Irresponsible is knowing you have something eating away at you that keeps you from living. It’s knowing that part of you is crushed and dying and that the dying part is hurting you and your closest tribe. And choosing to look the other way. Denial will decimate you so much quicker than the sting of admission. It will hurt your people. It will drain the color from the sky.
Does something feel not quite right? Trust that. Educate yourself. Search for answers. Do weird things like yoga on your back deck. And if you’re wrong about something helping you, scrap it for something you’ve found works better. There’s absolutely no shame in changing course when you learn a new thing.
The harshest protests often come from the greatest pain.
- “I wish I could just throw money at my problems.”
- “The rest of us just have to suck it up.”
- “Wow. Look at that mess.”
Um, yeah. Pot, meet kettle. Mirror, mirror…
It’s longing. It’s jealousy. It’s the desire in ourselves for improvement. It’s called hope. And fear. It’s a terrible dance. I know I can be whole but I’m afraid I can’t be. I want life but I’m terrified it will kill me. I am too big of a mess and I think it might not be bad enough to merit all that.
Listen to the warrior inside that you keep trying to hush. You are a hero. Put on your damn cape.
I see this view a lot these days. The carpet in my therapist’s waiting room.
It’s wave after wave of messy, chaotic emotions. And not nice beachy waves, but those giant killer waves they write gut-wrenching surf movies about. Documentaries on tsunamis and category 5 tropical storms. Rain boots are useless. Waders only weigh you down. I need a scuba suit with an oxygen tank.
But I get tiny glimpses of hope. I see shreds of future. Tiny shards of possibility. The brutality that made me the way I am seems to be the very thing breaking down who I am so that who I’m meant to be can be born.
I’m so in over my head. This life is not a spa or a wading pool. It’s the ocean. And it crashes against you. It burns your sinuses and your eyes. There are sharp rocks at the bottom. Currents and tides buffet you.
But there’s coral reefs and vivid underwater life. The dolphins leap into the sunshine once in a while chattering to each other. Briefly the harshness of it all contrasts sharply with a miracle and your heart gets to rejoice for a moment suspended in time.
The cold sweat. The pounding in your ears. The racing of your heart. The sudden waves of nausea. And it can hit you out of nowhere. Take you down completely. What was it? A brand of shoes. A smell. A memory stored in your brain’s pop-up software. But not even a memory. A portal. You have a superpower that is a curse. In a moment you can be transported through time and space to the moment(s) that the trauma wrote itself indelibly on your awareness. Getting back to today isn’t part of the power. Buckets of adrenalin being dumped into your system against your will. Fear becomes almost tangible as your brain is telling your body to fight and flee and freeze NOW! Because NOW DANGER DANGER!
You breathe. You tell yourself to feel your feet on the ground. You recite the month, day, year. For however long it takes you. Hopefully you were at home on your couch or had someone to come get you from where you happened to be. You live through the moment and on the other side you are a wrung out dish-rag. It can take your body days to recover.
Some days are good. Sometimes even weeks. There isn’t a handbook for being the adult survivor of childhood trauma. There isn’t a timeline or a protocol. There is only trucking along and being as ‘normal’ as possible, whatever the hell that is, until one day it all comes crashing into you. There is a lot of mimicry and mirroring as you attempt to create a life out of the fragments of knowledge, assumptions, observations, and pieces of instinct that you have managed to hold onto. Until it hits you unawares from behind and the slivers of life that you had welded together with willpower are scattered in front of you on the ground.
It is frustrating and agonizing. It is devastatingly lonely at times, but with a fierce gladness that most of the people in your life have no idea what it is like to experience the things that knock you off your feet without warning.
It is chaos in there, sometimes. The confusion takes up so much space that daily tasks and everyday routine is too heavy to remember. I live my life by the hour by a digital calendar with reminders. I struggle to remember things chronologically as linear events. I have no sense of direction. Days run together and I often cannot give a clear account of things. I probably sound like I’m making things up. When I’m stressed or anxious, I can’t find my words. I have been to the point of stuttering on occasion.
For 30 years, I lived a life that I could manage to an acceptable extent. I did the things I should do. I looked marginally appropriate. I cared about enough of the things people care about to maintain family relationships and a few close friendships while being married, homeschooling my children, and being involved with my church. The darkness hovered slightly behind me but as long as I kept moving and pouring myself into the lives of the people I love, I could stay just ahead of it. In quiet, still moments, I felt silent agony, studiously ignored poignant questions, and carefully repelled doubt and fear. I could be uptight and nervous but worked hard to be fun and full of life. Knowing somewhere deep inside that at some point I would have to turn and face the demons head on.
In all my reading about trauma and surviving, they speak of the pre-trauma you. Putting back together the pieces and learning to integrate the trauma into your memory and life instead of the trauma being a current reality that continues to hijack your life. There is no pre-trauma me. There is only a frightened little girl who wished to be loved but was fairly certain, and for good reason, that she was too gross and stupid to be worth much of anything. The abuse began before I can even remember, if what I saw of my younger siblings is an adequate representation of us all.
It was in the name of God. The one place I might find peace and hope is tainted by the damage. My desire to know and trust God puts me in the path of trigger after trigger. I’m coming to learn slowly that it is not the same Jesus. I’m throwing out the old knowing and finding the new truth. There are Christian buzzwords and religious phrases. There is Christian-ese that was used to justify the beatings. It’s slow. And terrifying.
Affection itself is tainted. When you had to earn love by betraying a sibling or by confessing to wrongs of all shapes and sizes, whether truly committed or not, it feels dirty to let someone love you. To be embraced after an argument feels unsafe. The sweetest of emotions and loving actions are not to be trusted at face value because they are a part of the control. It is a fight to honestly love and be loved for who you are.
I feel so less than enough. I cannot love my husband the way he deserves to be loved. There are holes in my care for my children no matter how fiercely I hold them in my heart. I am learning and I am growing. But every step forward is a dance: a step to the front and several to the back and sides. And in the process of learning, I am crowded and scattered in my mind. I am anxious. I forget everything. All the time. I walked into my kitchen 4 times on Monday trying to remember what I was doing. Eventually the kids got sandwiches for their lunch. I think that’s what I couldn’t remember. I feel like a disaster. I am exhausted after short amounts of social interaction. Getting out of bed every morning is almost more than I can handle some days. Simple tasks can seem overwhelming from time to time.
I keep putting one foot in front of the other, knowing that another horizon is up ahead. I fight the trauma everyday. I fight the fear. I fight the worthlessness. I fight the confusion. I go to therapy. I take my vitamins. I exercise. I read and study about the things that happened and how to be better. I’m researching treatments and making horribly tough decisions about how to best take care of myself and my family. I have better days.
I am painfully aware of how unavailable I’ve been. I feel each time I let my people down. I cry over the things I forget or confuse. And an apology seems far too little. The times I have to withdraw to recharge myself feel like slaps in your face. I’m sorry. Please be patient with me. It will get better. But it might get a little worse once in a while as I learn how to navigate my new landscape.
Unfortunately, the only way to the other side of this is through. I held it to the side for 30 years so I could get my bearings. Apparently my brain has decided I’m safe enough to face it. So I’m on a ride someone else bought me a ticket for.
I will get better. I will get through each wave. They may knock me down and carry me a little out to sea but I refuse to let the trauma win. My wins might not look like wins to you. It might not even look like I’m fighting. But since when is fighting ever pretty? When has battle ever been glamorous?