A few years ago I started seeing a counselor again to work through some of the… residue from my past. I wasn’t specifically struggling with anything severe, but I realized that mental health, like physical health, takes intentional effort. I’m sure each of us has “crossed wires” here or there, as my friend Andrea explains it. These are things we don’t even realize are affecting the way we look at the world and live our lives.
One of the first things my counselor assigned me to do was to write an autobiography. This story of my life had to be thorough, beginning at my first memory and including the years up to the moment it was being written. Once completed, I began to read this aloud to my counselor, and boy was I unprepared for what that would be like.
There is a drastic difference between thinking through your life and talking through it with someone else. Every detail, every pain, every memory becomes more vivid and real. Memories that played out like flat movie scenes in your mind replay in three dimensions in front of you, bringing back the smells, the sights, the feelings you experienced so many years ago.
This forced me to realize what a profound effect many of these seemingly small things had on my psyche and to process through those effects on my current state of life.
I suppose the most shocking revelation came when I clearly saw the pattern of how I handled pain. As a little girl experiencing things I couldn’t understand or wrap my mind around, I searched for an outlet. I tried confiding in my older sisters, but they were dealing with their own burdens, pain and process of trying to heal. My parents were in the same state. Friends, quite honestly, were just too young to help me, and my first tastes of betrayal taught me quickly how to NOT trust. The few adults I sought out became sources of manipulation and abuse. It seemed the world just didn’t have space for my tears.
So I stopped crying.
I learned to hide my sorrow in the dark of the night where no one else could see it or use it against me. I learned to harden my heart so I wouldn’t be vulnerable to more hurt. I learned to keep people at a distance, lest they discover what truly was inside of me or add to the heap of pain I already couldn’t handle. I don’t know which I feared more…
And somewhere deep inside a little girl, a false truth was planted that grew and grew and grew into a tall tree of intimidation and fear that still stood tall in a young woman’s heart:
“There is no space for healing in this world.
Your pain is insignificant, so stop wasting your time mourning the loss of something that will never be retrieved.
Suck it up, and quit crying.”
When I stared down this mammoth lie at the center of my soul, I honestly couldn’t believe it was there. How did that grow without me noticing?? How had I been living with this lie for so long? The truth is that I might not have planted that seed, but I fed it. I watered it with my tears and fed it the little rays of hope that broke through the clouds occasionally. I bowed to it’s height and allowed it to keep me in the dark, because I had learned to find safety and protection in its limbs.
But now, as a mother and wife and woman, I saw how this lying weed was poisoning every relationship in my life. I couldn’t build healthy, intimate friendships, because I had to hide within this thicket of false protection. I had to take the pain and weakness in my life bury it in the dead soil, and, above all, I had to appear strong. There was no space for weakness.
It was time for that tree to come down.
So, with those closest to me, I began chopping away. It sometimes felt like I was cutting away parts of myself in the process. It was painful, and I sometimes felt naked to the world. I had emotional moments that I had taught myself to despise. I cried in public, which I swore never to do and still struggle being okay with. And I’m still chopping away today. Some days I wonder if that seed will always be part of me. Like a stubborn weed, refusing to go away, hiding beneath the ground until just the right time to appear once more. It waits for my weakest moments and then beckons me to find safety in it again.
But… each branch cut is a small victory for me. Since beginning this process, I’ve begun to feel those rays of warm hope on my face again, and like the sun on a rainy day, they remind me that all I see is not all there is.