Therapy is like an unwelcome friend that barges into your house at the most inconvenient times… and camps out on your couch. You love your friend, but really? Right now? Just when you wanted to settle in with book 5 of Harry Potter and get lost for a while.
I’ve had lots of counseling… loads. I’ve had more prayer ministry and cried more tears on the floor at the front of the church than I can count, and slowly but surely over the years my perspective has changed from hopelessness to something lighter, something with laughter in it, and after all the counseling I didn’t end up under the covers hiding from the world quite as much as I did before…but still, after all the work I had done, (a decade of heart work) there was still a set of steel doors on my heart that would clang shut at the most in opportune times. and then my sister died.
i have been closely acquainted with sorrow and grief all my life, it seems. i was a tender child who had no tools to deal with the cruelty of everyday life, and perpetually being the new kid in school didn’t help. i’ve spent a lot of time crying and trying to make sense of why people act the way they do and why it hurts so much. my sister was the one that helped make sense of all of it. from the time i was a very little girl she would come and sit with me on my bed, look me in the eye and tell me – they don’t count, don’t listen to what they say – and i tried to believe her, with all my might I tried to see the world the way she did. she had a very clean, no nonsense way of seeing things. If you double crossed her, you ceased to matter in her world, you didn’t get to have a say anymore, you don’t count. even now i look at those words and shake my head, unable to convince heart that this is possible. it has always mattered to me. way too much.
how do you not let it hurt? how does cruelty just not count?
and so after i lost my person that helped me make sense of the world, i had to find a way to process things or i knew i wouldn’t survive it, so i went to trauma therapy. I started a therapy called EMDR. and here it began. deep breath.
so that meant no more hiding. and how do you stop hiding? you start to tell the truth. i realized that I had gotten so used to not saying what I meant and shutting down how I felt to avoid conflict that I didn’t even know what I believed to be true anymore – about myself, about much of anything. I had expected my husband to tell me what he was thinking, what he wanted, how he felt, but I started realizing I wasn’t doing any of that myself. I didn’t even realize what I was doing. I wasn’t aware that I had been shutting down thoughts as I had them out of fear that if I said it out loud I would be rejected and abandoned. It wasn’t a conscious thought, it was a motivation buried under the trauma of pain that had not been healed.
Trauma triggers you. You get triggered and have a panic response and the nature of trauma is that you don’t even know what started it. I was walking through a life of mine fields. There were certain conversations I couldn’t have without having a fight or flight trauma response… and I thought it was something lacking in my relationships… so when I started with the closest relationship, my marriage, telling the truth… boy was it hard. i mean… hard. at the hint that elijah wanted to talk to me I would immediately start to feel the tightness in my chest, the shortness of breath, the panic start to rise, the clench in my shoulders, but I started telling myself – tell the truth, say it out loud. I had to tell myself the truth about how I was feeling, what I really wanted to say in the conversation, all of which had been so carefully stuffed down. I mean, come on, if you believe you will be utterly rejected – in your heart you really believe that you will be left alone, and if that is your worst fear, then what will you do? Well, if you’re like me, you run. You hide. You stop telling the truth.
But when grief was added to the mix of the depression hiding brought me, I was done in. Grief was the game-changer for me. Grief was the invitation to tell the truth. Grief unraveled by capacity to absorb pain and banish the parts of my heart that had to go into hiding to cope with that pain. When grief came crashing down on me nothing else mattered. Nothing. Other people’s opinions, wether they left or stayed, if I had everything or nothing, and life became very, very simple.
I only had the capacity to breathe in and out and be alive. Everything else, relationships, life goals, daily chores… it all had to step aside. And what I didn’t understand at the time is that this was a gift. Grief threatens to take you down, to utterly destroy you, but what it destroyed for me was my hiding places. And for that I am thankful.
There is more to say about the process of telling the truth and saying it out loud, about coming out of hiding… I think it must be hard for me to say – to say all this out loud. I don’t know why, but I suspect it might be important because I have avoided writing about it all these months. I think I have been waiting to understand it better… but for now this is where I am, this is how I understand it.
so until next time my friends, tell the truth, first to yourself and then say it out loud.
(p.s. thanks, heather for the nudge to keep moving forward in my process)