Ebbs and Flows

I have started this blog like four times…deleted, restarted, deleted again.

I have so much to say and I just don’t know how to start. It keeps feeling like everything I’m writing is like the blah blah blah drone of the Peanuts teacher.

So I feel like the easiest thing to say is, I am sort of living my life again. I have a life to be lived, and it’s high time I started living it somehow.

This pain, this healing process is a part of my life. And I suspect that it will forever be a key turning point for me.

But it’s put me in a state of suspended animation for the last 10 months. That’s almost a full year! It’s almost been a year. Holy shit.

This trauma and healing has disconnected me from people and activities and laughter and love and joy. This is what pain, trauma, deep depression does.

It took me on a turbulence-filled ride of ups and downs and sometimes the bumps are endurable and other times I am frantically looking for the barf bag and not necessarily finding it in time.

The only feelings I could feel were the ones related to the healing. In almost all other ways I became robotic, shell-like, almost inhuman, because there was just no room or energy for anything but pain, anger, sadness, grief.

It has changed over the last couple of months, though.

You know what? In that last sentence, I started to write “Luckily, it has changed over the last couple of months…” But then I deleted it, because it is not changing by luck or happenstance, it is changing through hard work and effort on my part.

It is changing through my (metaphorical) sweat and (real) tears and earnest intention to get to the other side of this ocean of grief from my old life and move forward to be me, living my life. Whatever “me” looks like beyond this grief.

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In therapy a couple of weeks ago, I expressed serious frustration at this ebb and flow effect. Like, WHY DOES THE DEPRESSION/PAIN/ANGER KEEP COMING BACK JUST WHEN I START TO FEEL OKAY? I could not understand why I wasn’t making progress…but my therapist assured me I was. Recognizing that there was an ebb and flow, in fact just experiencing an ebb and flow instead of all pain/anger/sadness/depression all the time, showed my progress.

So I started to think about this last near-year, and how it has all played out for me. I wanted to see it all laid out so I could chart my progress and not feel all my work was in vain, and it has helped. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Everything is fine! Nothing to see here! (early to mid May, memories resurface)
    • I am in a place of shock, with no grasp of HOW BIG THIS WAS.
    • My motto: Let’s just tuck this in with all the other dark things of which we never, ever speak and carry on. (Because carrying on with a smile is always the most important thing.)
    • The armor is cracked, but I am determined to keep wearing it.
    • Seriously, you guys, I can totally walk this thing off! Just give me a hot second.
  • Wait. Something feels…off. (mid to late May)
    • I start to feel a seeping sense of HOW BIG THIS WAS.
    • I have a vague idea that this might not just go down with a hard swallow like a cut-slightly-too-big piece of steak.
    • A bit of a panic creeps in–like maybe I have an entire steak stuck in my throat and I am completely unable to breathe. I think I might not be able to simply carry on.
    • OH MY GOD I MIGHT NOT BE ABLE TO CARRY ON! This is a worst case scenario for me, and the panic grows.
    • I become desperate to keep up appearances–it’s what I have spent my entire life doing and I am really, REALLY good at it–and fail.
    • HOLY SHIT I HAVE FAILED AT THIS THING THAT I AM SUPPOSED TO BE REALLY GOOD AT.
  • Implosion/All is Lost (Memorial Day-rest of summer)
  • Phew! Glad that’s over! (late August-September)
    • I decide that the advent of fall, a new season, is my motivation to move forward and leave this behind.
    • I enjoy some time off with my family, I start exercising again, I begin to feel like I am successfully working my way out of the hole.
    • Look at me go! I CAN overachieve at healing from my traumatic past.
  • NOPE, everything is still terrible. I fail again. (October-November)
    • Cue sound of universe laughing at my arrogance in thinking I was all set with this.
    • Cue ill-timed recurrence of toe problems, one of several catalysts sending me back into another version of the black hole.
    • Cue new hole that is not quite as black and all consuming as the original hole, but still…it’s more of like a shallow, gray hole from which I can see the rest of the world but, like, through a weird sheer curtain like the one Sirius Black falls through in Order of the Phoenix (moment of silence for Sirius Black).
    • Cue me returning to a blob-like state of inertia and deep sadness, certain I will never be able to overcome the trauma of my past.
  • EVERYONE MUST DIE. (late November, early to mid December)
    • So much rage. I hated everyone and everything, so I hope no one took it personally.
    • Anger is my best friend, a comforting companion that I indulge in many ways.
  • CHRISTMAS! NEW YEARS! SHINY OBJECTS! AND SADNESS… (December-Jan 1)
    • I refuse to deny my family a happy holiday because of my own misery.
    • We made a perfect plan to escape for the holidays, and we rented a beautiful cabin in the Smokies in North Carolina, just the four of us and our dog.
    • I poignantly realize that the reason we have to flee for the holidays is so that I won’t be faced with the reality that we have no family to spend the holidays with. Because of me and my terrible life choices.
    • I am obviously the worst at everything. Sadness and self-loathing return.
  • It is a new year and I commit to being awesome again! (first 2 weeks of January)
    • I meal plan! I cook! I make a schedule!
    • My family seems more like themselves because I am back into my old role of steering the ship.
    • YAY! I did it!
  • Shit. That didn’t last long. (late January-February)
    • Seasonal depression.
    • More toe problems (I just can’t even with this fucking toe) that leave me heavily reliant on painkillers and unable to walk like a normal person. For two weeks.
    • I am the worst kind of failure and will obviously never be successful at getting my life back together. If it was ever really “together” in the first place.

So….

If you stuck with me through all of that, you can see what I mean by ebb and flow.

Today, in March, on this day and in this moment, I am trying to realize the hard truth: this isn’t just going to “happen.” I have to decide. I have to make it happen. I have to consciously say, today I will move forward in any small way I can.

There won’t be a morning when I awake to hear the birds singing and say, “Today is the day I am normal again! All of the sad things are over!”

There won’t be a moment in the therapists’ office in which I shout, “Eureka! I am healed! Thank you, doctor!” and skip out into the sunlight, never to return.

There will only be more ebbing and flowing, and me, deciding every day to choose my life. To choose the people I love today over a past I can’t change. To choose to actively become the person I was meant to be, whoever that person is, despite the challenges I have faced. Despite the challenges I continue to face.

I have to do it. I have to keep doing it. Every day.

I have to keep looking in the mirror and telling myself I am good, kind, smart person who is worthy of love and respect.

I don’t get to take a break from the motion of life to heal. I have to keep choosing to heal and grow every day, keeping time as best I can with the rhythm of this life I love so dearly. This life I have created for myself and for which I am incredibly grateful. I have to keep living it as best I can amidst the ebb and flow of grief and healing.

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

Son of a bitch.

 

 

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.