Returning home after Waycross was rough. Doors have closed here and it’s not where I want to be anymore, but I don’t know the next steps to take. I feel like God is telling me to wait, and things will become clear. But I hate waiting; I get restless and impatient and anxious. I self-sabotage. I fight the false belief that if I were just smarter, if I thought or prayed or journaled more, I could figure it out. Instead, I’m trying to trust that my life is unfolding the way it needs to, and I’m starting to catch glimpses of what might become a beautiful story.
I won’t lie, though: the first half of this week was brutal. I considered blogging about it and decided I was in too dark a place to share my feelings. Honesty and authenticity are very important to me, but is there a line beyond which your thoughts are too raw, too unfiltered, too awful, too unforgivable to see the light of day? Because if that line exists, I took a nose-dive over it and landed on my face in the dirt.
Wednesday I had an appointment with my counselor. I sat on her sofa and hugged my knees to my chest and spent an hour crying so hard I could barely speak. I wanted to share some of the realizations I’d had over the weekend, but saying the words was like talking through water. (It’s probably not coincidental that I dreamed this week about drowning and awoke gasping for air.) After I left her, I hit the gym and then sat in my car in the park, sobbing through a rainstorm. Every breath felt like pushing against knives. I was so exhausted from hurting, but I didn’t know how to make it stop.
Last spring I lost most of my music files — more than a thousand songs — when I tried to sync my computer and phone to my old iPod. This was such a massive blow that I felt like vomiting whenever I thought about it. Given everything else going on at the time, I couldn’t even begin to start reconstructing my music library. But later I realized this was a necessary loss. Back in high school, music was the only way I felt connected to other living people (as opposed to long-dead writers; telling people John Donne is your soulmate tends to raise eyebrows), and later it became a conduit for building friendships with people who saw the world similarly to the way I did. But at some point, even though I didn’t realize it, music became a crutch, a defense mechanism, a barrier I hid behind.
I see now that it was a very important part of my healing journey to have old coping strategies and dodges stripped away. An inability to concentrate meant I could no longer hide in books. Losing those music files forced me to express my own feelings rather than coopting other people’s words and melodies.
Now I’m rediscovering songs I lost. A few weeks ago I suddenly remembered one I hadn’t listened to in ages. It’s from a black/death/doom metal compilation, and it was one of only about three songs that I actually found listen-to-able (not that I would ever have admitted that back when my mission in life was to be more extreme and bad-ass than all the boys I knew). It’s called “Conspiracy of Silence” by Godgory, and the music expresses anguish as eloquently as anything I’ve ever heard. The vocals alternate between a whisper and a growl, and that, paired with the singer’s Scandinavian accent, means I’d never caught most of the words. So last week I looked them up, and they, too, are perfect:
Inside my secret place in the dark
I hide from you
In my dreams I pay you back with pain…
No more lies. Light a candle in the darkest cave
Misery: tears flow when the silence breaks
Waves of grief, sharp nails in unhealed wounds
So I sat in my car, head resting on the steering wheel, rain hammering the windshield, wind tossing the tree branches, thunder punctuating the storm, and played this song over and over as I sobbed. And I sobbed until I had nothing left.
In Waycross I had filled pages and pages in my journal. I went into that hotel room resolved to be very honest with myself, expecting and prepared for emotional upheaval. As I wrote, I followed the most disturbing and disquieting thoughts that surfaced, forced myself to push, to explore, to probe. I did not duck or shirk, postpone or avoid. But emotionally it seemed almost too easy. Once I buried my face in Rufus’ fur and wept, but mostly I felt detached, numb, hollow.
I drove back here feeling better but also unsettled, because the knot in my chest had eased up but was still present; the emotional tempest had never hit. I didn’t realize it had just been delayed for a few days. I certainly didn’t anticipate it flattening me as soon as I walked inside my front door, but that’s exactly what happened. For three days it pummeled me relentlessly and without mercy.
As I’ve written, lately I’ve been feeling very alone. Although I have some amazingly strong, resilient, kind people in my life, I don’t know anyone who has climbed this particular mountain. I don’t know how far I am from the summit. In the worst times, I don’t know if there is a summit, or if it exists but I’ll never find it because I left the path miles back and I’ve been wandering in circles in the woods and at some point I’ll fall off a cliff I didn’t even notice or crash through a snowbank into thin air. (My brother used to work mountain search-and-rescue, so I could keep this metaphor going far too long.)
But this is what else happened this week: I came home from Waycross to find that my friend Lisa in Denver* had sent a care package. It was a perfect mix of thoughtful items chosen by someone who knows me well and put time and effort into the selection. And later in the week I had healing conversations with a couple of friends who have climbed their own mountains and assured me that yes, there is another side, and if I keep going I will get there, and it will be worth the effort; life will indeed look different. And that the excruciating, all-but-intolerable pain is part of the healing process, that I’m excavating very old wounds and tearing off old scars and that brings up a lot of old hurt. Which I need to experience in order to emerge from it.
I wondered, after the second of those conversations, how much of my isolation has been inadvertently self-imposed. How much I’ve cut myself off from people who love me, because I feel guilty and ashamed of being that friend, the sad one who’s always a heartbeat away from tears, who can’t get out of her own head long enough to crack jokes or have fun or just chill out. Maybe I’m projecting my own feelings of shame and inadequacy onto people who love me and want to help.
I also joined an online support group through Option B, a resilience-building organization that I discovered after the book found its way into my life. A few days ago there was a post by someone who is climbing a mountain very similar to mine and felt totally alone. So I was able to connect with people on this specific journey, and we offered each other encouragement and solidarity and hope.
After class on Thursday, I stopped at the craft store and bought letters and art markers. I came home and wrote some of my favorite Bible verses on the letters, and now they hang on the wall, where they constantly remind me that just because I’m not where I want to be right now — with God, in my writing, in my career, as a friend, with love, with family, with my healing — that doesn’t mean I never will be. It just means I’m not there yet.
And as I walked my Sunday labyrinth this afternoon, I realized I’d been feeling like a failure for my meltdown earlier in the week. For letting my fears and anxiety overwhelm me, for thinking thoughts so horrible I half expected to be struck down by lightning. I grew up in a milieu in which God — and the men who were his self-appointed arbiters on earth — were not to be questioned; everyone agreed there was one unforgivable sin but had different ideas on what it was, so you needed to hedge your bets by essentially being perfect; God chose who to save and who to damn, and you not only had no say in the matter, but you could never really know which camp you were in; my depression and despair were treated as moral failings that stemmed from a lack of faith and self-control. So now I get this heady sense that I’m dancing on the edge of annihilation when I get devastatingly, brutally, darkly angry with God. Like I’m daring God to put me out of my misery, perhaps. There is a deep ugliness within me that I loathe, that I can’t forgive myself for, that I can’t imagine God loving me enough to overcome.
But God does love me — enough to overcome anything I can throw at God. That’s the point.
What came to me in the labyrinth is that I don’t fail by feeling pain or despair or rage or grief, by thinking horrible things, even by giving voice to them. Failure isn’t experiencing that place, but failure would be staying in it. Sitting down instead of placing one foot in front of the other. Choosing to hate and hurt others rather than to fight toward hope and healing.
As long as I keep getting up after I fall, I haven’t failed.
I’m not as healed or whole or joyful or loved or loving as I want to be. But I’m closer than I was a week ago. I’m closer than I was four days ago. I am taking steps toward “yet.”
*Lisa is one of the people I initially connected with through music, specifically a mutual acquaintance from a music-based scene.