The Girl and the Sea

Once there was a girl who had been holding on too tightly. This was a girl who had always been afraid of losing; losing what, she never quite knew. Her mind, her heart, her self, her future, her favorite doll.. There was just always this nagging feeling that the world was not safe and so she needed to hold on tightly to make it through.

What this girl did not understand is that not everything can be held so tight. Holding too tightly can  make what looks like love feel like suffication. Holding too tightly can leave you white knuckled and arthritic, a body cannot withstand the constant pressure to hold on so tight.

This went on for a long time and for all her efforts she still experienced devastating losses. She never loosened her grip on the things she cared about or needed to hold on to but it did not keep her safe from losing like she had hoped. Still the girl held on too tightly because she knew no other way.

One day the girl went to the ocean and was invited to step out into the crashing waves. With trepidation she followed the leader and felt overwhelmed by the power. She could not hold on out in the current, she had no control. She grasped at the sand on the ocean floor but it slipped from her fingers.  She reached out for her leader and together they were tossed by the incoming tide. She realized there was nothing else she could do so finally she let go.

For a moment she let go of everything she had been holding too tightly and watched as the ocean washed it away; in it’s place she opened her hand and found an acorn. The symbolism she did not understand at the time.

That day the girl learned that when she let go of the things she was holding too tightly her hands were then open to receive what she was truly meant to hold.

the girl and the sea

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Where..

alex-diamond

When I was searching for something to color this post with this piece by Alex Diamond stood out to me because it kind of represents how I am feeling in a way I have trouble expressing with words..

A few weeks ago someone I used to know went missing. For weeks there has been this feeling of fog.. Where did he go? and now that where has morphed into a different where, the where is now, Where can I talk about this?

I learned today that it has been confirmed that he has passed. He was missing for weeks before this news finally broke. I know everyone had hoped for a different outcome. My heart is heavy for his people. My heart is also especially heavy for him.

I am processing this here for two reasons: one, because I do not know how to talk to anyone in my life about it and two, because even if I did – I don’t want to.

This person was a friend of an ex. I knew him on a casual level for many years while I was with my ex. It has been close to a decade since I last saw him, it was just a few months before my ex and I called it quits for good.. I still remember that encounter with him.. I was at a new years eve party at his house, our friend was in town from the military and I was stopping by before going downtown with friends for new years. After hugging me he complimented me on my perfume, he knew exactly what I was wearing, he said it had always been a favorite of his. We caught up for a few minutes and then I proceeded to spend time with my friend in the military until I left. A month or so later my ex and I ended it for good and that was the last I saw of this person.

He was on the periphery of my life even when he was in it on a regular basis. We were not close but that does not change the fact that on some level I feel a loss in this. I think I mainly feel a heaviness, a sadness for him – there are so many thoughts and feelings about this I don’t want to share.. I also feel heavy for his people, the ones who loved him fiercely and are left behind. He has a child, that part really hurts my heart.

This is such a difficult thing to process because the truth is my heart is hurting with the news of his passing but how do you explain that to anyone? It is like when you find out someone you knew in high school and interacted with but were not too close with passed in a car accident (which has happened on more than one occasion).. You feel the weight of that loss but where do you go to process those feelings? Will anyone understand?

So here are a few things I would like to get out about this..

He was funny. I remember a million years ago when I very first met him I was sitting on our friend’s back porch with him.. He was a musician, and he was playing something but he kept messing up on this one part and every time he would mess up he would say Damn it Jim! The thing is, his name was not Jim. He did this two or three times and finally I asked him, are you saying Jim? He was so lost in his own musical world I don’t know that he had even acknowledged that someone else was sitting out there smoking a cigarette. He looked up and paused and then laughed as he explained that whenever he gets frustrated with himself that is something he does. I laughed too. I had caught him in this totally honest, quirky, authentic moment.. I am glad I have that memory of him.

I remember his most in the context of him being the boyfriend of his ex-girlfriend. I was a girlfriend in that group as well and spent more time with the other girlfriends than the actual guys my then boyfriend was friends with. His girlfriend was special. There was something kind of mysterious about her, something very real. I admired her very much and even before I knew him too well I remember thinking he must be pretty special too because you would have to be to be with this girl. As I got to know him better I understood on a very small removed level why they worked. I remember feeling sad when I learned that they had not worked out because I had liked them both separately and together.

I do not know any specifics about his departure from this world and I absolutely do not want to. That is so personal, I think that is for his people to hold. It is sacred. Through the information that was being shared when he was missing it did mention suicide risk though which is also part of the heaviness sitting on my heart.

I hope his soul is able to rest and feel peace. I hope his people, especially his child, are able to find comfort. It still does not feel real and I am sure the closer you get to his inner circle the truer that statement becomes.

I am sending each one of you love and light, especially you JW. I don’t think a person ever truly knows the ripple effect their life can have on so many others. You were a sweet soul and I have gratitude that your path crossed mine however briefly.

loss

The Crying Tree Lady

my trees.jpg

I do not remember the name of a single math teacher I had from middle school all the way through college, save one. I will call her Mrs. W.

Mrs. W was my liberal arts math teacher junior year of high school. I would not remember her either, I certainly remember very little from the actual class, except for one day in particular. She was sitting on a stool at the front of the room writing math problems onto a transparency which was then projected onto a screen (I am sure this kind of technology is considered prehistoric now). Mid way through a problem that I was paying no attention to (I was happily doodling in my notebook) she did something that grabbed everyone’s attention. She started crying.

We were all stunned. It came from no where. She was doing a math problem and then she just started to cry. After a moment she put down the marker and through her arms in the air and started wailing about this beautiful oak tree that had lived outside of her bedroom window her entire life and how that morning the tree men had come to cut it down because it was infected and dying. She was devastated and so was I. Everyone else was either quiet, completely at a loss, or snickering. No one seemed to understand her pain but I did.

I grew up on a dirt road with few neighbors surrounded by open fields of wild flowers and massive laurel and live oak trees. I spent everyday of summer and everyday after school outside climbing trees and picking flowers. I was bare foot at all times. I felt the bark of these trees in my hands and under feet and I climbed. I came home at night covered in dirt and tree sap. The knees of my jeans were always green and ripped from grass stains and rubbing too hard against tree trunks. I understood her pain.

I thought of her last week. I hope I haven’t already told this story, I apologize if I have. At any given time I can be writing between 2-8 stories in my head for this blog, sometimes I forget which ones I have actually physically written.

Anyway, I was driving to a grocery in the next neighborhood over from ours. Our grocery is little, it does not always have everything I need. I decided to take the scenic route that goes by our old rental in College Park. As I turned a bend by the lake I saw something that made me lose my breath. One part of the neighborhood runs parallel to the big interstate that cuts through College Park and for some time there had been markings on a few of the old live oaks indicating that they were to be cut down to allow for the road expansion that it currently taking place. I was heart broken when I first realized this and deliberately drove this way everyday so I could see these trees.  I wanted to bear witness to them because one day they would be gone and I wanted to make sure that I remember them and honor them for as long as they were still standing.

A few weeks after Todd and I first saw the markings we ran into our neighbor who used to be an elected official. She knows people who are higher up in local government and according to her the trees in question were not going to be cut down because enough important people made a fuss about it. I was overjoyed at this news! I stopped driving by the trees everyday. I still drove this way a few times a month but not as regularly.

As I turned the bend by the lake I saw nothing but open air where my beloved trees used to stand tall. All that remained were stumps where there beautiful bodies had been. I started to ball. I cried all the way to the grocery and considered turning around and going home rather than going in. I could not pull myself together. I was feeling everything. I was angry, I was shocked, I felt guilty, but most of all a deep deep sorrow.

I thought they were safe. Had I known I would have visited them more often. I tried so hard to remember each one of them, the ways their branches curved and dipped and each individual root system. But I couldn’t. My memory failed me and it further intensified the feeling of my failing them. I was not there to bear witness. What if no one else took any effort to remember them? It will be as though they never existed. These trees, Live Oaks, live for centuries. They have more right to be here than we do. How could we so callously cut them down? And hearing, trees are being planted to replace the ones removed does not make me feel any better. Great, plant those trees but it does not replace a life lost!

I have not been able to drive that way since. I know that many who read this will not understand. Like my classmates you will either sit in silence unsure what to make of the crying tree lady or maybe you will snicker/pass judgement. It is of no consequence to me. I know there are other souls out there who understand this pain, Mrs. W is testament to that.

Part of my sacred truth is that I am connected to all living things, trees, insects, plants, the earth. Some maybe more so than others, like trees. Among the trees is a I have always felt safe. They share their shade and shelter, you are free of judgement and come as you are, they are deeply rooted and have branches that touch the sky which is a balance I think we all strive for in life. My truth is they deserve to be honored.

Let’s unpack that box

This is what my grief counselor would say when we would come up against something deep-rooted that I clearly struggle with. During my dark time I saw him weekly for two months. I have said before that the right counselor can change your whole life. Together we did a lot of unpacking. I stopped seeing him when we had come to a good place and everything surrounding my acute depression had been worked through. The plan of action at that point was to unpack some of my bigger, older boxes. The ones in the back of your mind that you have tucked away and do not open. I wasn’t ready. Maybe one day.

I had an epiphany about one of these boxes recently after reading an article that relates to it. I had/have abandonment issues. Honestly I don’t know where I stand with it now. I know my fear of being left and being devastated has surfaced in my current relationship because I used to have repetitive dreams about it. I would dream that I did something awful and Todd left me and I could not fix it (similar to my most recent break up before him except in that relationship I did the leaving). I would dream that Todd became ill or was in a terrible accident and left my life that way. There were multiple themes that all lead up to the same thing, me waking up in a panic in his arms saying “you left me again”.

There is a song by City and Colour, a band I relate to so well because the singer struggles with anxiety, called Fragile Bird. This song, like many of his songs, is one I easily relate to. Or I did at least. My nightmares stopped when we became engaged. It’s like my subconscious finally relented.

When discussing my issues with abandonment my counselor and I determined with a degree of certainty they do not come from my childhood or family. I have no sad story to tell about an absent parent etc, I am fortunate to come from a close-knit family that has always been a shining example of love. We didn’t delve much deeper into it as other things would come up.

It all kind of hit me not long ago. My abandonment issues surface exclusively in my relationships with men, boyfriends to be more specific.

My first exposure to a strong emotional bond with a boy came at age 14, just a few months before my car accident. After the accident I clung to that relationship with ferocity. I looked damaged for a while due to all the stitches in my face and the laser surgery treatments that followed. When I returned to school some people were cruel or just curious, either way I felt singled out for the wrong reasons at times. My boyfriend made me feel better about all of it. My emotional state was stable because of him, I was completely dependent. That first dose of “love” is strong anyway, especially when you are younger and maturity hasn’t caught up with you, add a life altering event and forget about it.

He is the only boy who has ever left me. I was devastated. We had been together for 3 years, that is a huge chunk of life at that age. When he left it was to be with one of my best friends, even more devastating. Although a lot was said at the end the words that were burned into my brain were him saying, “the only reason I stayed as long as I did is because if I had broken up with you right after the accident like I wanted to everyone at school would have thought I was an asshole.” Well he was probably right. So he stuck it out and faked it with me for 3 years, a much better alternative. Then there were my friend’s kind words, “it’s not my fault he likes me better than you.” I am sure she was right, she too was just a blameless victim.

The thing is, that was a very long time ago and I did not date for a while after that. When I sat down and really thought this all through after reading this article I just could not believe that something that happened when I was 14-17 could impact every relationship after in the way that it did. I am seeing this to be true though.

In every other relationship I have had I have always been the one leaving rather than the one being left. I never once thought about how hurtful my actions on the way out the door may have been to the other person. My problem (on top of this hang up that I was unaware I had) is that I avoid conflict and I am a feeler. If I am being forced to deal with the conflict of a break up along with my extreme fear of being left alone and then you throw the negative feeling of a broken heart on top of that, I am consumed. The emotions that come along with such changes, as moving on from a relationship, are so intense for me that rational thought escapes me. I am become a tornado of emotions.

Looking back I wish I had understood this side of myself sooner. The relationships that ended needed to end and I was always better on the other side. I did better with my most recent break up before I started dating Todd. I was in counseling at the time and my then boyfriend and I were such good friends that we navigated it slightly better than I have in the past. I am glad I ended up where I am at. I am glad I left everything else I just wish I had done it sooner in most cases and with more grace. If you know there is a personality conflict that cannot be changed and will not work, why stay? If you know you are being lied to on the daily, why stay? If you know you do not love the person and see a future with them, why stay?

The funny thing is, I do single really well. Some of the best times I had in my teens and twenties was just me, no guy. I liked the freedom, a lot. What was I so afraid of? With Todd my fear has never truly been that we wouldn’t work out. We have never had issues that would give me such a fear. I think it’s just that once you find something that really works and that you can love with your whole heart there is a piece of you that is afraid that it will be taken away.

I do feel that this fear is finally dying. It won’t be mourned and certainly will not be missed.

 

“Behind these emotions there is a sensible heart”

This lyric by City and Colour has always symbolized how I feel about my experiences with anxiety and depression. I want to share part of my personal story about struggling with depression and anxiety as a testament that it does get better. I have a friend who I know is struggling with a series of misfortunes in life right now and one thing that the friend says helps in all of it is not feeling like they are in it alone. So here is to suffering together. After all, it is better than suffering alone.

I was 27 when one of the most important men in my life died. One minute he was in the hospital for what seemed like a heart episode of some sort that was not serious and the next he was in and out of a medically induced coma. I carried a lot of regret after his death about how I spent his days with him. The day he went to the hospital I called out of work and went to see him. Everything seemed normal, no need to be alarmed was what I was hearing. My last words with him were about the jello he was eating and how work was going for me. I only spent about 20 minutes at the hospital that day even though I had the rest of the day off. Had I known that would be the last time I would hear his voice I would have done everything I could have to soak it in. He died a little over a week later, it may have been close to two actually. One day while I was there he was in and out of sleep, he close his eyes for a matter of minutes and does off just to wake moments later with the most terrible look of panick on his face. I knew by that look that he was afraid to fall asleep because he was afraid of not waking up again. I think he knew how bad things were and was just fighting as best he could to hold on. I wasn’t there the night he passed, I opted not to make the drive that night and planned to come the next morning. Well for him the next morning never came. I drove out as soon as I heard and even though I know that he was in a coma and would not have been aware of my presence anyway, I had regret.

Things had already begun to unravel in other areas of my life, his death was the accelerant on the fire that was my deepening depression. At one of my lowest points I went into my closet and ripped every pair of jeans I own off the shelf throwing them across my room while crying hysterically. I was so sensitive and out of control of my emotions that the slightest thing would cause me to become unhinged and I would scream and cry and curl up in a ball in my walk in behind my hanging clothes. I did not sleep, I did not go out, I avoided friends and phone calls. Rock bottom was Christmas that year. It is the one thing after all of this that I still have not been able to forgive myself for, even though I have been forgiven. Without elaborating on the details, I left my then boyfriend in an empty plaza parking lot on Christmas after a nasty fight we had on our way to my parents house. Even though everyone involved (including -miraculously- my then boyfriend) has completely forgiven me and said it was not my fault I still feel sick when I think about my actions. I know now and I even knew then I was out of control. I was hurting so much and nothing/no one could help me, or so I thought.

An amazing counselor and an Rx for Lexapro saved me from myself. The support I received from my family and loved ones played a huge role as well. None of this would be true though if I did not choose to do something about it. That is what I did not see during the worst of it, I had a choice to make. Get help, admit I am having trouble and need help or struggle through, ruining everything good left in my life along the way. It was the hardest thing I have ever lived through but getting through to the other side was worth every awful moment of it. Things did not end up working out with the person I was dating at the time but everything ended well and we still keep in touch. We had many long talks after our break up and once I was feeling better. I am so thankful for his kindness and patience through it all. He was so willing to forgive me for everything, his biggest concern was that I was OK. I am so lucky that I was with such a good person during such a difficult time.

I have been able to forgive myself for most of what happened during this period of my life, with the exception of my behavior on Christmas, I am still working on that. Most importantly I learned so much about myself and my anxiety triggers because of this experience. I am a better girlfriend, friend, daughter, sister and person because of all of this which makes it impossible for me to feel total regret about what happened. I am thankful for what I learned and how far this new self awareness has allowed me to come, I do wish I could have managed this without hurting anyone along the way though.

The hardest part during all of it was that for the first time in my life a piece of me thought, “it’s not going to get better”. I have never questioned that before. Whenever anything major has gone wrong in life that is what has always gotten me through, knowing without a shred of doubt that things will get better again, this is only temporary. The losing hope and the feeling of being utterly alone in it all is what broke me. I would never wish that on anyone but I know that even as I type these words someone out there, multiple someones for that matter, are feeling that way. To you I say, things will get better again. Life is not easy, that is what makes it so worth while. The struggle is just part of the journey and when you look back at it later you will be grateful for it if for no other reason than to be able to say, “I survived this”.