Hmm. Some things just feel unspeakable because saying them will make them true and sometimes the truth is too painful to know, so I avoid it. But this time I went towards it. I didn’t run away from myself.
Early one morning before sunrise I walked over to the pond at Piedmont Park, a sweet spot in the middle of the city of Atlanta. I needed an escape from my thoughts, an opening in the wall of anxiety and dread closing in around me. I sat bundled on a bench and watched the day come alive. A Red-tailed hawk circled above, rows of ducks pecked at insects in the water. The trees were barren and the park was empty with the exception of a few joggers. I was alone enough to feel safe, and yet not too isolated to be afraid.
I sat there observing without much thought or internal commentary. I was just trying to be with it, and with myself. I had been numb for days. I was closed off by fear, fear of the pain I was avoiding. I did not want to feel what my body was telling me. I was afraid of allowing it to surface but I was determined to feel better.
I pulled my knees to my chest and placed my chin there to rest and had a conversation with myself as if I were talking to a cross between my best friend and a small child.
(Hey Sweetheart, what’s going with you?
I’m afraid of the grief.
Oh baby doll, I’m here with you. I will not leave you.
I miss the Texan and I miss my mom.
I miss the mom who brought me here to roller skate when I was five years old. I don’t remember my skates but I can see her rolling ahead of me. Her skates were white with clear-yellow wheels like the color of her hair. It was a bright day, she was laughing and smiling. The kind of day I never wanted to end. She was mine, and I was her sweet girl. She saw me, saw my tiny heart, and felt my thin hands, she knew my curiosity and my love of adventure.)
Oh how I miss not having more time with the mom of that memory. To allow myself to remember her that way is both painful and healing. Painful in the sense that I couldn’t get more, and healing in that she was more than just her disease.
I keep reminding myself that she did the very best she could at twenty-three and saddled with mental illness and addiction, and the responsibility of motherhood looming. She loved me but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t life-sustaining enough to feed my little-girl human spirit with security and a sense of wellbeing, with trust and safety, and a sturdy foundation that fostered my self-worth.
Her love vanished when she raged and drugged, or when she just couldn’t fight off her own negative thoughts. She would ignore me and would look right through me, past me and around me, anywhere but at me. She just stopped seeing me. And then she would return with no explanation. I was too young to know that it wasn’t me. Too young to know that it wasn’t because I was an unlovable child, and so I mourned and pined for her love, tried being good, tried being bad, did the chores and performed tricks,
“Hey Momma, Look at me!” And when that didn’t work I went to my room to give her space, and made myself invisible. I ignored her and took care of myself. I stopped asking things from her, and I stopped trusting that her love was real. So I went away.
I went away in spirit from her and from myself. I didn’t trust that my needs were real because they weren’t being met. I stopped believing that I was important and worthy of love, and affection; and at some point along the way I walked out on myself.
But now I am reclaiming myself. I have been working towards this for years now in a program of recovery. There are people in my life and probably in the world who just don’t understand why I can’t just, “Get over it.”
Fuck me. I wish it were that simple. I have tried avoiding it, pushing through it and going around it. Walling myself off doesn’t help. Sex doesn’t help. Food doesn’t help, and my looks couldn’t save me. Running from it doesn’t work and using relationships as a measure of my self-worth isn’t the answer.
You know what works? To go towards it. Or as a friend says, “Lean in to it.”
Acknowledging the pain and grief associated with not being loved and cared for by my mother—my primal source of love—in a way that nourished my soul is healing. It’s liberating in the sense that it allows me to know and feel that I am worthy of it. Ignoring that original injury just keeps the story alive. The one that tells me I am not important enough to feel the pain and deal with it, but when I face it it’s like saying to myself that I’m worth of my own time and attention.
And here’s the real deal, the shit right here: when I give myself the time, attention and love I deserve it allows me to know something I couldn’t grasp as a child. It protects me from blaming myself when others can’t give me their love. Showing up for myself prevents me from making other peoples choices about me. When others withhold their love (either because they’re incapable of giving it, or because they just don’t want to) honoring my feelings about it helps me know that their lack of love has NO bearing on me or my sense of self-worth whatsoever. And that’s worth repeating, at least for my benefit.
I can’t tell you how hard I have worked on getting this to sink in, and how quickly I forget. That’s because it only works in practice. It’s not enough to just say it, I have to live it and sometimes, all the time, that means running straight towards the pain. And that means going directly against what feels comfortable. And not to mention it goes against the way I was wired, I have to seek out self-worth, it doesn’t come naturally because of the way addiction erodes love and trust in relationships.
But I am getting it.
I have had plenty of training ground. So yeah, which brings me to the Texan.
To Be Continued.
With much love and humility,