Saturday, November 15, 2014

She Ain't Heavy, She's My Brother

Photo attribution here

Two weeks ago I was sitting in sacrament meeting, sketching, minding my own business when God asked a favor of me. In a very polite, yet insistent way He said, "Will you please go out yourself as a divorcee by bearing your testimony in front of your entire ward?"

I have made a lot of progress in being open about my relationship history. All my close friends know and I discuss relevant details when they come up, but any time I'd considered sharing the facts in one of my Sunday School lessons, I had always gotten the feeling that I would be doing myself more harm than good. Then, pretty unexpectedly, there I was--sitting in the congregation of my BYU--Hawaii ward with my hands shaking so harshly that I had to stop sketching. That's how I know, by the way. That's how I know He wants me to get up and say something--jitters in my belly and my limbs. Makes for kind of a funny moment for me, but who am I to complain about the way God chooses to speak to me. I asked probably three times, "God, are you sure?" And He was.

So, I did it. I wasn't very happy about it, but I did do it. At the time I thought it must be for the sake of someone in the congregation. I thought it must be pretty important if God was going to go to all the trouble of outing me for it. Maybe there was someone out there who it helped, but now I am not sure.

I have one real guy friend here. He's a musician, a thinker, a talker and a tender lad of twenty-two. We are perfectly content to plant ourselves somewhere on campus and talk each other's ears off until security finds us and reminds us that it's well after midnight curfew and we need to be on our way. A couple nights ago we were engrossed in just such a conversation. I was explaining to him about my guts and how deep down inside them I feel like being transparent about the things I deal with (my divorce is just a drop in the bucket of a dysfunctional family) would be an unbearable burden and nuisance to anyone I opened my mouth to. "So you feel like you're inflicting yourself on the people around you?" he asked. And I had to admit--yeah, I really do. And it occurred to me in that moment that that mentality is at the heart of my deep seeded loneliness. I feel so alone often in my life. I feel misunderstood and undervalued and mostly I feel like all that I have gone through and am going through is just too much for any acquaintance to take in, so I don't show it. And this is what my friend, we'll call him Brown Pants, has to say about that.

"Well, that's a load of shit." Which was followed by, "Sharing experiences from your life with your friends makes the relationship better, not worse. I can't fix it and I can't completely understand the experience, but I can empathize with you. It's good to know--the things you go through. It helps me understand you."

I went on to tell him about how I had already burdened him enough with stories about my life (my divorce, depression, family problems etc.) and how everything I disclose is so heavy and I don't want people to think I am just drama, but also how it's not fair because this is just the hand I was dealt and I can't do anything about that and I try so hard to be healthy and happy, functional and progressing but no matter what I do I will always be divorced and that separates me from the rest of the crowd and makes me a heavy load to bear as a friend so I need to compensate for all the issues I have by being an especially excellent friend and... (Yeah, it all came out as a rapid fire run on sentence, just like that, but it ended with...) Don't you feel burdened by all that I tell you about my life? It's just so heavy.

To which he responded with a very simple but sincere, "Not really, no."

If the atrocity that was my marriage had continued the other night would have been my four year wedding anniversary. My aunt just got diagnosed with an especially aggressive form of cancer and my mom was recently served divorce papers, so I was a little emotional. I called Sassy McLadyBoots, and like the rockstar best friend she is, she snatched me up and fed me gelato 'till I felt better, but there was something in that exchange that was, like the Brown Pants moment, surprising to me. I've always considered myself a particularly socially savvy person. Not that I am super popular or do any kind of networking, but that I understand people. I am absurdly empathetic and have always been able to pick up on the moods of others. So the other night at Sassy McLadyBoots' I was perceiving that it was getting later and she wanted me to go home. I'd been venting at her, so I was sure that she had had enough of my emotionally heavy banter and said told her I would start heading home. She looked at me, totally confused and said, "Why? I thought we were having fun."

When you have been hurt by someone, I mean really, intentionally hurt by another human being, especially if it goes on for long, it alters the way you perceive yourself. I consider myself very healed at this point in my recovery. I have done the work, seen and paid my shrink, written my blog, talked it out, and moved on in my life. But here we see it clearly--my misinterpretations, the way my views of life have been skewed by destructive influences remain.

I think God wanted me to let other people see this horrifying thing that's been lurking in the depths of my belly, riding my shoulder, whispering in my ear, "Fake. Liar. Burden. Worthless. You have no right to ask for help." He wanted them to see it so that when I watched their faces for the shock, disgust, repulsion and pity I would see, it's not an ugly thing at all. It just is, like a red sweater or a tuna sandwich. It's one of the many building blocks that make up me. To most it's largely insignificant to their daily lives. To those who care it's a way to understand me, relate to me and hold a space of love and acceptance.

Realizing these things is a strange mixture of painful and alleviating. I am more broken than I thought, but I am also a lot more whole. I'm a lot more lovable, more acceptable and valuable than I had apparently thought. So goes the journey of divorce recovery. Two steps forward, one step back--but we keep walking.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Sneaker Waves

One time, I got hit by a car.

It was over a decade ago now, so it's nothing for you to worry about. It was really pretty minor actually, albeit somewhat traumatic for me. I had just stepped off the bus and was on my cell phone with a friend, walking home after class. It was evening and chilly and wet in the early Northwest springtime. I came to a four way stop and, since I had the right of way, proceeded to cross at the crosswalk. A Bronco came directly across from me and maybe tapped his breaks, but rolled right through. I put my hands out in front of me, instinctively. The phone flew out of my hand and a slid back on the pavement on my stomach. The grand total of my physical injuries amounted to a sprained ankle, but then there's the part you can't see.

I didn't have (or really need) a car at that time. I walked everywhere I went. I didn't mind the adventure of public transportation, but after that accident I had a problem. Every time I heard an engine rev the way that Bronco's engine revved just before he drove into me I panicked. I'd be walking roadside to get to work and big trucks would roar past and I would feel my hands shake for a minute or two. An SUV across the parking lot would be accelerating to the ridiculous pace of 2 miles per hour and I would run for my life to the nearest curb. The response was not a logical one and the humor in it was too much for my friends and family. They couldn't understand it. I couldn't really be mad, because I couldn't understand it either. All I knew is that's how I felt.

That last post I wrote was a total downer. If you're here, you are familiar with the days that make you feel that way. I've been meaning to write a follow up post to it for some time now so you know that I don't feel that way indefinitely every day. It's a combination of school, a school newspaper I started and the fact that I am really in a new phase of my life at this point that has made this post so slow in coming, but I just wanted to take a moment today to talk about the moments like the one that caused me to write that last post.

It's probably only about every three months now, but there will sometimes be a night where I somehow work myself into a spin about my marriage. Instead of the sleep I so desperately need I find self remembering, reinterpreting, reliving the moments that once made up my life. I told Sassy McLadyBoots about this one morning when she picked me up and I was in a total grief hangover. She didn't understand. That time seemed so long ago to her that the idea that I could still be reeling in it from time to time just could not compute. I called my sister in law who has been in these shoes and she explained. When we've been through trauma our brain has to sort out the things that don't make sense. It takes time. It will get better. In the mean time, don't let the sneaker waves get you down.

That last post found its genesis in a link on Facebook. A good friend of mine had posted an adorable link of Dorris Day singing it and that was it. I was instantly lying on that sterile hospital bed, paralyzed with fear while simultaneously overwhelmingly aware that I had to get out of there. That memory is a strong one and it took me a little by surprise. I spent that night writing a post about it to process how I felt, and then I let it go.

In our recovery process we will all have moments like that one. They are usually unexpected and can be triggered by the things that seem the most insignificant to those around us. Others may not understand. They may think we are being too self pitying or living in the past, but after I was hit by that car, when I heard an engine rev I jumped before I thought about jumping. We have emotional responses to the trauma we've lived through. We don't have to be victimized by them. We don't have to dwell in them longer than the time it takes to fully process them, but we will experience them from time to time, and that's ok.

Life on the island is so beautifully balanced. It's incredible to me the difference in my soul from almost exactly two years ago. I still feel sorrow, yes, but today I know what to do with it. I know that it's not a permanent part of my identity, and I know that it will pass. I know that feeling it is normal and that I am entitled to choose my own way through. I know that I am strong, that I will make it, and that with God I can do hard things. When the pain comes, just remember--even if no one else seems to understand the why, even if you feel like it will never stop being there, even if, in that moment, you feel like it can't possibly get better--it does get better. You've just got to keep your face turned to God and your feet on the path of faith.