Gratitude: It’s Complicated.

Listen you guys.

I know I’ve been sort of a pain in the ass lately. Sad and angry and full of hard feelings. I appreciate the support and the love many of you have shared with me.

I know I have come across as bitter and resentful and that’s because I am on some days. On many days, actually.

I was talking to a friend on the phone today–someone I haven’t caught up with in awhile but someone who, every time we do finally connect, lets me know that she’s thinking of me and lets me basically talk about all of my stuff like a self-absorbed jackass until we run out of time and I realize I should have asked her more about herself and what’s going on in her life, because I really do want to know. (Thank you, friend, for letting me do that.)

Anyway, in today’s monologue I was telling her about this anger I have toward the idea that I will somehow be “better in the end” for all this suffering. How the idea that I should be grateful for the potential of a positive outcome to all of this is just infuriating.

So I think I have a new thing, and it is Finding Pins on Pinterest that Infuriate Me. Here is one of them I found today while writing this blog:

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What’s that I smell? Oh, right. BULLSHIT.

This one is just…no. NOPE.

Because guess what guys? I already know that I’m strong. I am a goddamned iron soldier. I don’t need to find my strength–I grew it as a kid who did everything she needed to survive.

This healing process, for me, is all about the vulnerability.

I already know I can be a rock solid badass who withstands some serious shit.

But now that I’ve withstood it, now that I’ve endured and survived, can I still be human instead of iron? Can I actually feel the feelings of sadness and anger and despair and show those feelings to other humans without feeling like doing so is a failure?

This is the real challenge. This goes against all of the hard wiring I’ve developed in my childhood, which tells me NOT to feel.

Which tells me that I am a burden to others, unworthy of care and kindness and love.

Which tells me I MUST stay firm and steadfast and look like all is well no matter what rages in my heart beneath the surface.

Which tells me I cannot break apart and ask for help and cry AGAIN and show that I am weak and flawed and hurting so deeply.

But I am. I am all of these things. And to forgive myself for being a flawed, broken, hurting human who shares her pain and asks for help and tells the secrets goes against that hard wiring in my brain.

I learned that these things are WRONG and BAD and NOT HOW PEOPLE SHOULD BE and every time I write, or share with a loving friend, or ask for help, or cry or scream, it’s like having to hit the manual override button on that hard wiring every single time so I can carry on with this process.

But, here’s the catch on this whole “being better for my suffering” thing:

The truth is that I will be better in the end.

This is a healing process, and healing is always better than staying injured and broken. Even though we’re all a little (or a lot) broken, I know that there is a positive to the hell I am going through now, if I stay the course.

I can be less broken, and more whole.

I can connect with other people more completely. Share the human experiences. I can love and feel joy and friendship and kindness in a real and complete way instead of amid the fog that I have been half-living in all these years.

I can be the absolute best version of myself, warts and all…not some faux-perfect best version that I might show on Facebook.

And I will do all those things. Eventually.

And I will be incredibly grateful for it. Eventually.

But for now, my relationship with gratitude is incredibly complicated, because the anger and the bitterness and anti-gratitude of today comes from knowing that I could have been better from the start.

Under different circumstances, I could have been the best version of myself for all these years instead of just now clawing my way to it as a forty-something with kids of her own.

I could have had happy and productive relationships with friends and romantic partners instead of destructive ones that left me feeling even more broken and worthless.

What more could I have achieved in these last 25-30 adult(ish) years had I not been so very broken from the start? Who else could I have been? What else could I have done? What opportunities did I miss?

These are all questions I am letting go of. I can feel them loosening their grip on my soul even as I type.

I imagine, with hope, with optimism, that they will soon be replaced with gratitude for and pride in what I have already achieved despite these challenges; who I am now and all I have already done; and the opportunities I have created and acted on along the way.

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Oh, I have the strength all right. I’m doing it.

I am so very grateful for the possibility of a new kind of life, full of genuine happiness, joy and love.

There is sure to still be pain and hardship along the way, but just not so much, and/or not so all the time-y.

I look forward to being grateful for less soul-crushing pain in my life.

Most of all, in this moment, I am grateful for the people who have made me feel safe to share my weakness, my vulnerability, my pain and my heart with them.

People like the friend I talked with this week…she is going through her own version of hell and we just sat and shared in each other’s misery and strangely it was the best hour and a half I’ve had in a long time.

We waded through the epic sucking of life together, knee-deep, that friend and I. We carried a bit of each other’s burden and it was a revelation for me and I was so incredibly grateful for her sharing my load and I hope she felt the same.

This is where gratitude hits me these days, in the appearance of a few people who, amazingly, care about me and who love me for exactly who I am in this messy, chaotic time of my messy, chaotic life.

People who show up for me even when they don’t know what to say or do, but they show up anyway. People who don’t abandon me; instead they stand with me and carry a bit of the load.

For me, having people who do that is just so…different and miraculous.

Even though it can be hard for me to trust the good intentions of these people given my background, I am forcing myself to take the leap and accept them as the miracles they are.

And I am determined to force myself to a place of gratitude, not only for these miraculous people, but for the many wonderful things in my life that are being so completely eclipsed by the pain right now.

I’ll get there. Eventually.

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A Blog with Many Swears and Capital Letters

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Last night I had another bad dream. They have become a common occurrence over the last few weeks and I find I am in a new place where sleep is no longer an escape but another minefield to navigate in this awful process of healing through pain, of getting through to a place where I might call myself a “survivor” instead of a “victim.”

But last night was awful…because last night one of my abusers appeared in my dream (a first) and the twist is that HE was there to confront ME. (How’s that for irony?)

He told me that he “knew what I was up to” and that I was not only a liar, but a ridiculous person. He had a piece of paper in his hand and said he wanted to talk to me about what was on that paper, and I just knew, I just knew with dread and terror and overwhelming fear that the mysterious paper had all the worst things about me written on it.

He had them, all the terrible things inside me, written on that paper, and he was wielding it like a knife that could cut through to my very soul.

I couldn’t actually see the paper but I knew–like you know stuff in dreams–that he was going to tell everyone all the terrible things and expose me as the fraud that I am, and I was so afraid and ashamed.

In the night this dream terrified me, and I woke up in the darkness shaking a little, and it was so hard to get back to sleep.

In the morning the dream had lost some of its power, but I was still pretty rattled. I realized, with a little help from a wise favorite person, that these were my own inner demons talking to me in my dream.

These horrible thoughts that I have internalized over the years will not go down without a fight, and even if I can banish them during the light of day, they are still going to show up and whisper maliciously in my ear in the middle of the night.

All the work I’m doing, all the effort, is infuriatingly slow with such incremental gains in this process followed by setbacks. One step forward, dragged forcibly back three steps.

And you guys, I am PISSED.

I am just so angry and bitter and full of rage at, like, everything.

Example: We went to church this morning, only because Emma was singing with the choir. Otherwise I’d probably be still in my pajama pants in bed instead of presentably dressed and make-uped as I furiously pound this blog post out on my keyboard

At church I didn’t sing. I didn’t smile. In fact, I was actively enraged in my heart by the ongoing discussion of Advent and joy and God’s love. Immediately at the end of the service, I stalked out to the car and sat there stewing by myself until Drew collected the kids and came out. I just couldn’t do it–I couldn’t people, I couldn’t church, I couldn’t pretend. I was angry.

Our pastor gave a sermon that I would have otherwise (in what seems like another life) loved and greatly appreciated. She talked about not asking “What should I do?” but instead being called to ask “What can I do?” To be driven not by uncertainty of “what to do” but instead to be driven to take any action within our power when we see need. It’s a powerful message and one in which I believe strongly.

Plot twist! Today, this sermon only added to my growing fury.

Why?

Because I am just generally infuriated at all the shit that I ALREADY HAVE TO DO and I don’t need to go to church to be asked “What ELSE can I do?” because basically all I can do every day is just exist and try to seem normal and get through the hours without wanting to scream and punch things almost every minute.

Here’s the thing I think is at the root of my general outrage at life: One of the ongoing conversations I’ve had recently with my therapist is about “re-parenting.” I have to re-parent myself, she tells me. Because there is a sad, neglected, lonely, hurting little kid version of Steph Nash in my heart that never got what a child needs.

And I, fully grown adult Steph Nash, with two children who I am already actively parenting, and a husband and a job and a house and a bunch of pets, have to re-parent little Steph Nash.

I just want to make sure you got that. I have to parent myself. Even though I was just a kid when all these things were done to me and some caring adults should have helped me and didn’t.

I HAVE TO FUCKING DO IT MYSELF.

You may not be surprised to learn that I am feeling a sense of barely controlled rage just typing those words.

What kind of bullshit is this??? That is a serious question. What. Kind. of. Bullshit.

We actually started talking about re-parenting a couple of months ago in therapy and for whatever reason, it did not enrage me then. I was just like, okay, that makes sense. Children have to be loved and nurtured or they grow up without good coping skills. It follows that I need to love and nurture myself to make up for that. (Mentally check off box for being so awesome at healing from my traumatic abuse. Look at me, winning at therapy!)

It was all very rational. I didn’t put much stock into the unfairness of it at that time, I just sort of accepted it (or so I thought).

I even made up a little mantra:

“It’s not my fault, but it is my responsibility.”

Isn’t that ADORABLE? Maybe I should create a little inspirational graphic and post it to a Pinterest board! Because it’s so adorable and re-parenting is so easy, amirite?

OF COURSE IT’S NOT. It is a ridiculous concept that infuriates me.

It is unfair. It is so ungodly unfair, and I am so, so, SO angry.

I shouldn’t have to do this.

IT WASN’T MY FAULT AND I SHOULD NOT HAVE TO DO IT.

But…but…I have to do it anyway.

I have to cry and scream and fight and do the right thing for myself because other people who should have, didn’t. I have to work and work and every time I think I have made progress and am “moving on” I have another bad dream or anxiety attack or sleepless night or day when I just can’t get out of bed.

I just have to keep doing it and it’s not fair and it’s so. fucking. hard.

So, thinking about doing hard things, here’s something I pinned on Pinterest about 8 weeks ago as a source of inspiration for myself:

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SHUT UP stupid Pin.

I loved it so much when I pinned it and now I look at it and I am like FUCK YOU!

OF COURSE I can do hard things because I have been doing them my whole freaking life! I do all the hard things ALL THE TIME!! They don’t get easier because you tell me I’m beautiful!

Riddle me this, PIN, why do I have to keep doing the hard things over and over and over? Why does it ALWAYS have to be my responsibility to do all the hard things? (FYI, The Pin did not answer.)

Here’s an idea–why can’t the people who hurt me and/or the people who were supposed to take care of me but didn’t do the hard things instead of me?

And, to make this idea even better, while they do the hard things, I will do some easy things…things like, I don’t know, eating all the pizza/ice cream/cheeseburgers I want without getting even fatter than I already am, or just laying on the bed with a bunch of puppies all day–puppies who somebody else feeds and potty trains and I just get to lay on a big comfy bed with them and play and pet them and get my face licked with delightful puppy breath.

Either or both of those suggestions seems way better than having to “re-parent” myself. They seem fairer and less rage-inducing, for sure.

But here I am, in this reality. Every day. EVERY. DAY.

And as much as I might rage (and I do), it IS my responsibility, even though it wasn’t my fault. Because nobody else can take responsibility but me. Nobody else did, so I have to. And it sucks. It sucks to a degree that I cannot even come close to conveying with mere swear words and capital letters in an angry blog post, even though I tried really hard today.

I have to keep working–this hard, hard work–to silence those voices that tell me I am unworthy and unlovable. I have to kill the demons that show up in my dreams to tell me that I am a liar, that I am a ridiculous person with terrible things inside of me and that I should be ashamed. And those demons are like, invincible or something I think.

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At least I hope it’s bravery.

I have to remember that my answer to the question my pastor challenged us to ask ourselves today, “What can I do?” may simply be “I can go on.”

I can get up, I can look in the mirror, I can hug my kids and my husband, I can get dinner on the table sometimes (even it it’s takeout) and I can seem like a normal functioning human most of the time.

I know the anger will pass. It’s going to take a little more time–it’s a lot of years’ worth of unexpressed anger I have to work through. But for now I have to sit with it for awhile, in this uncomfortable place of fury and indignation, because the only way out is through. I have to dig through the anger to get to the roots of grief and sadness.

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Don’t worry–I will eventually let go of this anger that is temporarily poisoning my spirit. I see it, I can name it, and I am aware enough to not let it impact my good, important relationships and to try and find healthy ways to express it, such as, I don’t know, writing a blog post full of swears and capital letters.

In the meantime…I’m going to stick with my righteous indignation. And probably eat a lot of cheeseburgers, because fuck it.