I don’t know where all of this will lead, but I do know that I’m not going to try to stop it, nor interpret it down into something that makes sense to me. We just don’t get to know everything right now, and to demand to know is to stifle, well, stifle something (That should have been really profound). I just know that I have been treading water in a sea of feeling which, in the past, would land me either in the middle of a beer binge, or in my psychiatrist’s office begging him to double my meds. But I’m 46 years old now, and very much in need of something different, risky. So I’m letting my heart go where it may and just trying to keep up.
I’ve recently had the very rich, and ongoing pleasure of getting to know my cousin, Debbie. Yes, we are both in our forties and have never spoken to one another; weird, I know. Anyway, it’s been a true joy getting to know her. Her heart is so good, and especially good toward her family. One of the first things she said to me was “I wish we would’ve grown up together.” My heart responds very differently to that statement today than it did just one month ago when we started talking. I have to admit that the first place my heart went to was “Why? Why on earth would you want that?” I said her heart was good toward family; mine, obviously not so much. But it wouldn’t be long until I wanted that too, with every fiber of my being.
How did I get so distanced from my family? While getting to know my cousin I began seeing how she had loved her family so well, and how through the years I have just put more distance between me and those that love me (not to mention every other human). I started to feel an ache from a very deep place that I’d not noticed before. My cousin is awesome; we have so much in common and have talked every single day. I truly began to dislike every day that I didn’t know her. Why didn’t I know her? Why didn’t I know her kids, her husband, and her grandkids? Why didn’t I have anything but surface relationships with most of my family? That ache–it really began to grow.
“You can live your life in a thousand ways,
But it all comes back to that single day,
When you realize what you regret,
What you can’t reclaim, but you can’t forget” ~ Trans-Siberian Orchestra, After the Fall
Fast-forward now to last Wednesday. I applied to take a course in counseling and had a 30 minute phone interview with the institution as part of the application process. The interview got pretty personal when she asked me something like “how do you think your story can be used to help others?” So I went into my story. I’ve told it several times in various groups and it usually starts like this – “well, the last time I really remember feeling whole and happy was in kindergarten.” So many times I’ve told that story, but never did it feel quite like it did this time. As soon as I said the word “Kindergarten” I felt a deep heaviness. Usually when I share my story, people will say it is incredible, or sad, or they just tear up kind of like I felt the interviewer might be doing. But I think this was the first time I really felt the weight of the loss in my life.
“I cried when I was born and every day since shows why…” ~ George Herbert
When I was still a kindergartener (Pictured above with my sister, and my dog who I creatively named “Dog”) I remember well, feeling the adventure, love, and freedom of life. I loved climbing trees, swimming, wrestling other kids on the playground, and girls always made me smile. I felt invincible, brave, and happy. My parents divorced when I was two, and somewhere around this time of adventure and life, my mother married a man in the marines, and we began to move around the country a bit. By my best estimate between kindergarten and 7th grade I changed schools seven times. Now I’m not blaming my mom or dad or step-dad for any of this I have had much healing that required forgiveness all around, both for me and from me, but that’s another blog.
I am not sure where, but somewhere in all those moves, and going to my dads in the summer with new step-family there, I lost my sense of self. I lost the ability to care; I lost all social comfort, always being the outsider. I lost the closeness I had with my extended family. Confusion, fear, and deep depression set in, and by the time we settled down in the seventh grade I was a big mess. I didn’t know it then, but my way of dealing with the confusion and pain was to shut down my heart, and cut myself off from people. What you saw when you looked at me was just a pose, my trying to look cool on the outside while raging on the inside.
So long story short, I dropped out of school in the 10th grade and found alcohol and drugs did wonders for the anxiety, even gave me a personality, and a place in this small confusing story In which I found myself. What started as a party and something that gave me relief, turned into a nightmare over the next couple of decades. My depression thickened; I had several suicide attempts, became an IV drug user, and then tried to drink myself to death. I visited many psychiatric hospitals and drug treatment centers, and hurt and alienated my family more and more until I truly just couldn’t handle the darkness any more. The line between suicide and surrender can be extremely thin. I finally got sober in my mid 30’s and then began to experience real healing in 2012 at my first Wild at Heart boot camp.
So in a nutshell this is what I laid on the interviewer. The ache grew even more – I couldn’t shake it. It was starting to piss me off. I was so sad, and so irritated. Sad because of what I’d missed out on, and irritated that I hadn’t tried harder to love and connect with my family. I felt like Mitch in the movie The Long Kiss Goodnight, when he said “My whole life I never did one thing right; that takes skill.” God, where are you?
“…embedded in our stories, deep down in our heart, in a place so well guarded that they have rarely if ever been exposed to the light of day, are other grief-laden and often angry questions: “God, why did you allow this to happen to me? Why did you make me like this? What will you allow to happen next?” . . . . “Do you really care for me, God?” ~John Eldredge & Brent Curtis, The Sacred Romance
The very next day, Thursday, my cousin’s daughter was being admitted to my local hospital because she was pregnant and the baby was trying to come a bit too early. After being around her just a few minutes I saw that her heart was as good as her mother’s; she is precious. I could tell that she had been loved well. Most of the people I am around now, I think, see this as somewhat normal, but I still pick up on it, and it is so beautiful for me to see someone who loves well, and has been loved well. It was a wonderful experience for me that day, yet after leaving the hospital, the ache tugged even harder. Damn…
I kept praying and inviting God into the hurt – asking for healing. I prayed against warfare, against every spirit of depression, discouragement, accusation etc.., and nothing that usually helps worked. It was Friday now and my small group would meet tonight and that usually does me worlds of good. I’m driving in to work saying my daily prayer that usually takes about 15 minutes, but about halfway through, I just lose it. I start yelling at the top of my lungs like a lunatic as I’m driving. God!! Where are you? I can not take any more of this! I’m sad, I’m hurting, I just want to cry all the time and you’re not here! I’m also yelling at the enemy; so frustrated that I can’t fight this off. I feel weak, defeated, cut off, orphaned–alone.
Courage is as often the outcome of despair as of hope; in the one case we have nothing to lose, in the other everything to gain. ~Diane de Poitiers
Well, God, in His kindness, did start to show me something later that day. I only thought I’d tried everything I could to alleviate the ache. I had tried every single thing I could think of, but one – to feel it. Oh great–the only way out of this ache, would be to experience it, maybe for the first time. No more attempting to stifle it. My heart, over the years had grown cold. As a kid in all of the chaos, I didn’t realize what was happening. I didn’t know it was ok to feel loss, to be sad, and to cry, so I never had fully grieved what was lost; I just became numb. Then, as a teenager and into adulthood, I medicated with various addictions so I wouldn’t have to feel. Even into my sobriety, I may not have been drinking, but I hid myself in busyness, running from myself. It takes a lot of courage to quit running and face you–courage I rarely possess.
“Jesus wept” John 11:35
God waited for me to go through all of the ache and anger to get to a place of surrendering and grieving. He met me there, not to rebuke, encourage, motivate, or even comfort, but simply to be with me, and to weep with me; I don’t think I could have wept without him. I’m learning that there is no strength or freedom to be found in denying pain–they only come when I admit my wounds mattered, and that they affected me. Then I can grieve, and move into healing. I have to tell you that, now, I am extremely grateful for every tear I can shed because it means that my heart is coming back to life. Without a fully restored and alive heart I cannot love well, fight for others well, or walk with my Father. The heart is central to everything, so it needs to be taken care of, in fact, “Guarded above all else.”
Saturday morning I took off driving toward Petit Jean Mountain for some alone time with God in the wilderness. I cranked up the stereo the whole way there, old songs that I haven’t listened to in years – songs that I think on some level I had avoided listening to because of the memories they would conjure. But, I let the memories come, and I let the tears come, and I felt every feeling–holding nothing back. I got out on the trail, and found myself at a place I didn’t even mean to hike to. I knelt down and asked God to help me grieve all that was lost, stolen. and surrendered, and to bring healing to these very places. And then I just said “God, I spent years making a big mess of my life, but now I want to live from a full heart; please take my life and make something beautiful out of it.”
“I made sure to help everyone in my squad that I could. I was not going to be the disconnected selfish jerk I had been. This go round my heart was fully invested” ~ Jason Redman, Trident
So yes! I very much wish I could have grown up with my cousins! It has been so healing just getting to know Debbie. I missed so much. That boy pictured above, who never knew darkness–only adventure and love–is still in there; I need to listen to him. It is my job to let him play when he needs to play, cry when he needs to cry, and most of all, to love and be loved — to reunite him with his family. There is so much more he can teach me about life and my heart, and I fully intend to pay attention to him, and allow him the freedom of expression that God meant for him to have.