Below is part of my story out of hiding. It is an excerpt of my upcoming book from a combination of blog posts.
When we meet, and we both have our coffee warming our hands, you can tell me your story in return. I can’t wait to hear it.
photo courtesy Heather Evans Smith
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 15+ years my perspective has changed from hopelessness to something lighter, something with laughter in it. After all the counseling and prayer ministry, I didn’t end up under the covers, hiding from the world quite as often as I did before…but still, after all the work I had done, (over a decade of heart work) there were steel doors on my heart that would clang shut at the most inopportune 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. Thousands of tears have been shed 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 wronged her, you ceased to matter in her world, you didn’t get to have a say anymore, you simply didn’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.
So after I lost my person, I had to find a way to process things or I wasn’t going to survive, so I went to trauma therapy. I started a therapy called EMDR. It was the beginning of the end of a lifetime of struggle.
What I quickly came to see, is that if I truly wanted to be free of the world collapsing sorrow and pain, it meant no more hiding. And how do you stop hiding? You begin to tell the truth. I was so used to not saying what I meant, how I felt, what I thought, and shutting down to avoid conflict, that I didn’t even know what I believed to be true anymore – about myself, about others, about much of anything.
One day I was in the middle of telling Elijah how I expected him to tell me what he was thinking, what he wanted, how he felt. I was busted. I couldn’t ask something of him I wasn’t willing to do myself. Because I was absolutely not willing to tell him what was inside of me. I wasn’t even aware that I had been shutting down thoughts as I had them out of the fear if I said it out loud I would be rejected and abandoned. It wasn’t a conscious thought anymore, I had been doing it so long. It was silence motivated by fear, buried under the trauma of pain that had never 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 with my husband without flying into a fight or flight response. I just thought it was something lacking in my marriage that I had to live with. But everything started to change when I opened my mouth.
When I started telling the truth… boy was it hard. I mean… hard. At even the hint that Elijah wanted to talk to me my chest would tighten, then the shortness of breath, the panic would start to rise, the muscles between my shoulders drawing into a vice. But I started telling myself – tell the truth, Sallie… Say it out loud.
To even begin to tell anyone else what was going on in me, I had to tell myself the truth first. I had to acknowledge how I was feeling, what I really wanted to say in the conversation. I had to say out loud what I really thought, all of which had been so carefully stuffed down. I mean, come on, if you believe you will be utterly rejected – If 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. Soon you stop even knowing what the truth is anymore.
When grief was added to the depression that hiding brought me, I was done in. Grief was the game-changer for me. Grief was the invitation to tell the truth. Grief unraveled my capacity to absorb pain. My ability to banish the parts of my heart that had gone into hiding to cope with the pain was undone. When grief came crashing down on me nothing else mattered. Nothing – not other people’s opinions, wether they left or stayed, or if I had everything or nothing at all. Grief was the great clarifier, and life became very, very simple, and very clear.
Grief was the invitation to tell the truth.
After I lost my sister, 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 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.
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