the tragedy and ecstasy of hiding

i open my computer every morning and i see her face staring back at me. she looks me right in the eye with steady confidence and says to me, “You can do this. you’ve got this today, sallie. you’re strong and capable and i love you.” I say hey, Risa. Let’s do this,” and open a new page of my journal.

Sometimes i just look into her eyes and feel the pain of her not being on the other end of the phone line anymore, or at the end of that trip to Tennessee. It hurts like nothing I’ve ever felt before, but I let myself feel it. I let the tears come – well, mainly because when i don’t, the tears held inside my body turn into searing pain in my chest. Then i can’t breathe, then i feel a clamp around my neck, choking me… and then i cry anyway through the panic attack. So i’m practicing feeling whatever it is that i feel in the moment, not letting myself stuff it down. not letting myself run and hide. knowing that no matter how bad it hurts, i’ll still be alive when the feeling begins to subside. that is what i believe anyway. it hasn’t killed me yet.

i’ve been thinking a lot lately about hiding. It’s what us humans do when we need a break from pain. It’s the inborn ability we have to survive trauma and unthinkable things we encounter in this broken world. children are superior hiders. when they encounter something in this life that is too hard for their soft, little insides, they are excellent at hiding to protect themselves.

I started hiding when i was 5. I encountered things in the house across the street that were too big and too hard for my little self to process. So I learned how to escape it. I don’t remember much about that year, but I remember enough to know that it shaped how I saw the world, myself and how i saw God from there on out. I have spent my whole life trying to come out of that hiding place I found inside myself when i was 5. It’s been a hell of a journey and there has been more fall out and relationship casualties than i can really count, because hiding, while effective in survival, isn’t really that helpful toward living an open and free life.

As brilliant of a survival method as hiding is, if you stay hidden and don’t find your way out, it has some devastating drawbacks. We were not created to live in shadow, even though we are required to walk through it. When you are hidden away, you don’t feel pain… you don’t feel much of anything, which is the ecstasy part of it. But the problem comes when you wake up and realize the cost of not feeling. You don’t feel the pain, but you can’t feel love and acceptance either. You can’t feel joy and hope, you can’t sorrow with others in empathy, you can’t be in a place of deep feeling with others at all. When you can’t feel with others, you can’t be truly connected to them. We end up in our safe, little shadow world, separated from the pain of trauma, the pain of just living life, but the cost is aloneness. And that cost is simply too great.

We were created to be connected to one another. We were made to live with human and spirit connection. That doesn’t mean we have to be wide open to every human and spirit out there. We do get to choose who we have those connections with. I’ve spent my whole life seeking human connection, spiritual connection, any connection, which has led me into a whole world of hurt, but it’s also led me into joy and life and love.

There are still parts of me that are hiding; the most tender parts, the parts of me that tried to resurface and found that life was still too unsafe for her to come out and survive it. So I’ve waited. I’ve been waiting on safety. The funny thing about safety is that i thought it was something another person had to provide. I thought I had to wait until someone came along that was strong enough to protect me. But the longer I waited, the longer i’ve kept parts of me hidden away, the longer the disconnect has been in place and i grieve. I grieve the loss of connection, the same way I grieve my sister’s death. I realized I was on the road to grieving the rest of my life, pining away over something I thought someone else had to give. (but that’s a story for another day)

Then one day I woke up and realized I had spent my whole life under a stifling, hot blanket I had thought was protecting me, like when i was a terrified child hiding under the covers in the middle of the night. I would get so hot under there, I would sweat and shake from terror, but I wouldn’t kick the blanket off because I was convinced that it was keeping me safe from the demons lurking in the dark corners… somehow.

I woke up and saw a thread hanging in front of me, so I pulled it. As i pulled, the blanket started unraveling at a startling rate. It was so heavy and thick, but as I pulled, it unraveled as if it had never been woven together at all. The thread I pulled on represented what I really wanted in life. What kind of life do I want? Do I want a life hidden in shadow, or do I want a life unraveled and free, full of sunshine and warmth? Do I want to spend the rest of my life pining and waiting for something that may never come?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live in the shadow of the valley. I don’t want to grieve my life away over loss of connection that I can actually have in this life. I don’t want to wait to lose another person to death that I love before I choose to connect fully to those I have with me now. I choose life. I choose connection. Which means I choose pain and heartbreak, disappointment and loss… but I also choose life and love, warmth and hope, freedom and true ecstasy, not the hiding kind.

I don’t want a dumbed down, watered down, half life version. I want to life fully, wholeheartedly. I choose. So as I stare into my sisters eyes, frozen in time on my laptop screen, and I feel the overwhelming, shattering pain of loss, I won’t run away from it, I won’t hide. I feel loss because I love her, and I’m loved by her. My grief is proof of what we have, what we will always have that stretches into eternity. I have a sister. I have love. And here, walking with me now, I have love that I can choose to fully embrace or hide away from.

So here’s to no more hiding. Here’s to living a life unraveled. 

Photographic art by Heather Evans Smith

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7 thoughts on “the tragedy and ecstasy of hiding

  1. Thank you for sharing your honest heart here with the rest of us. I am sorry for your loss and I am thankful for your gain. Continue to be real and raw and cry and laugh. For when some of us do that, it helps others know that it’s more than okay to do the same. Lots of love!

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