ENCOURAGEMENT, grief, MOTIVATIONAL, RECOVERY

When You’re In Pain, The Pain Is All There Is

 

Photo by Külli Kittus on Unsplash

This is how to save a life.

Pain. It’s completely mind-consuming.

At least that’s the case with excruciating pain, like childbirth, earaches, and toothaches. Those are just the examples that come to my head immediately, and there’s a reason for that. I have an earache, and it’s been so bad I haven’t been able to think about anything else.

A hurricane could be going on outside, but my ear hurts and if the house blows away, I will somehow get another one. Maybe a hurricane is an extreme example, but you know what I mean.

But pain isn’t always physical. Emotional pain has the tendency to do the exact same thing, yet we don’t give enough credit to its power until a devastating consequence, like suicide, forces us to look at it for a minute or two. Any longer than that and we’d be caught in the trap ourselves, and I’ve seen it happen.

In the town next to me lived a young man, we’ll call him Johnathon. I didn’t know him.

Johnathon was twenty years old. Hardly old enough to make life and death decisions, but he was a police officer and a volunteer fire fighter. It seemed as if he had it together.

I don’t know why he killed himself. My guess is that the pain inside of him became overwhelming and he made a sudden decision he couldn’t take back. I theorize a lot of suicides are like that.

In one moment, it was just too much, but you make a spontaneous decision to act in the one moment.

The next moment for might not have been as bad for Johnathon, but he didn’t get to it.

It’s sad when anyone takes their own life, but this story gets even worse.

Eight months later Johnathon’s mother laid across his grave and took her own life.

Now there’s a pain I can understand.

I cried all day for her when I heard the news. I didn’t know this mother. I didn’t know her son. But I knew her pain and I knew why she’d make the choice she did. I thought about it many times myself.

In the very beginning, when I lost my 16 year old, I made my wishes known. “I don’t want to be here anymore.” I was already dead in my mind. No beauty was left on the earth. I couldn’t find anything worth waking up for in the morning.

My baby was gone. Nothing I could do would ever bring him back. Life had lost all joy and I knew the rest of it would be filled with unbearable pain.

But when I said the words aloud, I wasn’t alone in the room, even though it felt that way to me. My other son, Nic, was in the room with me. So was my daughter Tiffany, and my best friend, Martha.

They didn’t try to talk me into staying. No one pointed out how beautiful life can be. No one said the heartbreak will one day pass. That would have been a lie anyway, and everyone knew it.

What happened is that Nic said, “You go, I go.” And Tiff said, “You go, I go.” Then Martha said, “You go, I go.”

They all meant it. All three of them tied their lives to mine forcing me to make the only choice I could. I had to stay.

To say I was angry is an understatement. I was furious, but I knew it for what it was. It was love.

The only thing in the world able to break through the pain of loss is love.

My daughter told me a few minutes ago that my grandbaby, who is five years old, has a hole in her ear which is going to require surgery to correct. She’s gone through a lot of ear infections and had tubes placed in her ears. The hole, I believe, came from one of those tubes coming out when it shouldn’t have. Or something like that.

Anyway, I’m sitting here with a double ear infection and my heart hurts for little Cori, because I remember all the times she grabbed her ears when things were too loud, and asked us not to shout. We tend to be a boisterous family and the decibels increase with the laughter. We did try to tone it down for her, but because I have these aching ears, my heart hurts even more for my sweet little grand girl. Because I get it, even though I never did before.

Understanding the pain of others is important if you care at all about helping them. Empathy is often gained through experience. It’s one thing to be sympathetic to someone’s hurt, but to actually share in their hurt you must first know what it is, what it feels like.

We can walk through this world blind to the brokenness of others, refusing to see what it would take to help them, because we don’t want any of their pain to jump on us. A lot of people choose to get by this  way, never really connecting on a deeper level with anyone.

It’s no kind of life.

I’ve said before it’s a tremendous risk to love others, but the alternative is you don’t live a life worth living.

If you stay in the shallows forever, chances are you won’t drown, but you also won’t be able to keep anyone else from it.

You are called on by your humanity and by love itself to enter the empty and cold spaces with other people, to trudge through the darkness with them, to give them a hand to hold on the way out.

Showing love in the hard moments can bring someone back from the brink of death and cause them to make the decision to try life once more.

I have no regrets over making the choice to live.

I have the most blessed and wonderful life, but everything could’ve ended for me the same way it has ended for countless others—choosing death instead of pain.

Part of me wishes I would’ve known the mom who killed herself over her grief. I think maybe I could’ve said something to help her. Or just been around for her when she needed a friend—let her cry out her pain with me.

The more selfish part of me sits here in relief because I didn’t know her. I cried for her all day when I found out what she’d done. Imagine how hard it would’ve been if I’d have known her and she still chose to die?

That’s what it’s like to acknowledge your humanity. Knowing you aren’t enough, knowing you don’t want to, but doing it anyway because who knows if you’ve been born for such a time as this (that comes from the book of Esther).

Life is a dilemma, and pain has a way of taking over.

People sometimes get to the point where it seems the only way out of the pain is just to end it all.

Choosing to get involved is a risk born of love. It doesn’t always end well, but it’s worth it to take the chance. Helping other people is a way to find the value and beauty in your own life—a way to focus on something besides the pain.

You never know when it will be your turn to say, “You go, I go.”

I challenge you to love someone else enough to be there for that.

This is how to save a life.

Maybe even your own.

 

Here are some resources to help if you or a loved one are considering suicide:

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/

 

RECOVERY

A Non-Political Look at Life

And how precious it is.

family enjoying sunset at the beach

                                                                Photo by Jung Ho Park on Unsplash

The thing about life (and this isn’t a political argument) is that it’s precious—all of it.

Understanding that every single person is not precious to someone, and that’s one of the greatest tragedies of our existence, I still stand by my statement. All life IS precious, and it’s because of love, and it’s a deep, shameful mark on our society when we don’t have enough of the emotion to REALIZE how extraordinarily special life is.

I’ve often wondered, and surely I’m not alone in this, why some people live to be in their nineties and beyond and others die before any promise of life here on earth can be fulfilled. I wonder also why some people seemingly beat death just to find it lurking around a different corner. Nothing seems fair on this earth, because nothing really is.

Maybe, that’s why it’s so easy for some humans to refuse to recognize the absolute joy and beauty of just being alive, and the privilege of being able to share that life with someone else. Somehow something hard and cold slipped into our hearts and did more apparent destruction to those who cannot seem to bring themselves to give in to love than those who can.

What I have learned–and it’s no secret, we all get there sooner or later–is that it’s a risk to love others.

Heartbreak and pain are the price you pay for love; death is the price you pay for life. Some people have just drawn the conclusion that it isn’t worth it to strive for either—love or life.

But those people are wrong.

Love and life are all we have that’s worth anything.

I think about the mothers and fathers who’ve waited for what seems like a lifetime of bad choices and endless sorrow for a chance at normalcy, a chance to bring an infant into the world—a little person to love unconditionally and who will love them back the same way, at least until they reach puberty and learn mom and dad are actually the cause of all the evil in the world.

Especially those who seem hard on the outside because life in its unfairness has knocked them off their feet over and over! Those are the ones who make my heart hurt the most. I know them like I know myself. After all, we share an agenda and a façade.

Anyway, I think about them, and what it’s like to finally allow yourself to hope and believe a dream could come true just to have it destroyed when she miscarries.

Life was precious, and now it’s gone.

Sorrow this deep can’t be explained and there’s no way to make it better. Plans were made that can’t be fulfilled. Clothes were bought which won’t be worn. The child will not learn to play catch or fish or ever go to school, because that life is no more.

Love means there is a huge and devastating price to pay, and payment will be taken out in grief and sorrow.

Losing an infant is hard. Losing a parent is also unbearable, yet most of us eventually do it.

We can’t cheat death and we can’t beat it. It’s easy to shake our fists at God and rail against the unfairness of it all, but even as we do that, we know our time is coming. We all die. It’s the price we pay to live.

And people say stupid things to you too, when you experience a loss. Things that don’t help at all.

“God did not need another angel, and by the way, He didn’t get one either.”

That’s what I wanted to tell people when Mikey died.

The last thing my sixteen-year-old could be accused of is being an angel. On the other hand, that’s exactly the last thing he WAS accused of, and it was as far from the truth as anything I believe I’ve ever heard.

But  his story is a story for a different day. He’d be the first one to roll his eyes and prove them wrong anyway, like he did a thousand times on earth.

No, God didn’t need Mikey. Death isn’t something that happens when God “needs” a person to be with Him. God doesn’t need any of us. Death is a flaw in the great plan. It was an unintended consequence of the beautiful design.

I could go into all the reasons, including free will and how perfect love doesn’t exist without it, but I don’t have a million days to convince anyone of the magnitude of God’s love, nor do I understand it all anyway. Here’s what I do know, and see if you can get what I mean to say. I know it in my heart, but I’m not sure I can convey it, even though I really want everyone to understand this.

When I walk outside on a rainy day, I usually don’t like it.

Rain is depressing, cold, and gray.

I like the sunshine, blue skies, green trees, and blooming flowers. I know the rain is necessary for those flowers to grow, and for everything to be boldly green and blue and beautiful.

But a funny thing happens when it rains—it helps me remember why I love the sunshine and appreciate its goodness and warmth.

If it weren’t for the rain, I wouldn’t appreciate the sunshine.

It’s a simple analogy—maybe a little too simple—but I will go a step further.

My first baby died inside of me. Just stopped moving, and there were a million reasons for it, but to me there was only one thing. Hope was gone and I didn’t know how to bring it back. Truth be told, I couldn’t. I don’t dictate life and death and have no control over them. Later, and I mean a LONG TIME later, that helped me with acceptance.

When I got pregnant again, not one movement was ever unnoticed or discounted. When Nic kicked, my heart lifted in joy and relief. And when he was born, even though he was very sick at the time, I found my hope again. It wasn’t hope in Nic. It was hope that there was still goodness in the world, that God was in control, and that love and life were still precious.

Because of my first baby, I made sure to watch every breath my other kids breathed. I sat down with them and played when there were dishes in the sink. We laughed together, learned together, played together, and cried together.

I tried to teach them the things I know about life and how to love people, because they were precious to me. Because of my loss, my life with them was so much bigger than it could’ve been.

If it weren’t for death, I wouldn’t know how precious life is.

I realize everyone is different, and we don’t all see things the same way. But I believe every life is precious, and valuable. Every person has just as much worth as the next person, whether they are rich or homeless, drunk or sober, young or old, sick or healthy.

I said in the beginning this wasn’t political, and it isn’t. I’m not talking about race or political lean, but I will say that one of the hardest things for me to comprehend is how people call out the color of a person’s skin as a determining factor in their value. No matter which part of the color wheel you land on, this isn’t the way God intended it to be. If He valued one over another, He would’ve made us different inside too.

Whatever your heartbreak is, I wish life could be different, but it just isn’t. We’re all going to have to go through hell to get to Heaven. We will all have to know sorrow to experience joy. And we have to hate death to really love life.

Don’t let your sorrow cheat you out of giving all you have to give and loving other people with everything in you.

The only thing that makes this life worth living is the love we give to others and it’s a gift that will remain long after we have breathed our final breath on this earth.

RECOVERY

Worry ‘Bout What You Gon’ Worry ‘Bout

But don’t worry ‘bout me.

Photo by Amber Kipp @ Unsplash .com

A little thing like a major hurricane ain’t enough to keep us down. Not forever, anyway.

Y’all keep on having your petty little wars about whoever is superior to whoever else.

I get it.

We all do.

And while y’all are fighting, maybe take a minute to remember the entire nursing home full of PEOPLE who were left behind during the worst storm they’ve ever seen.

Or didn’t see. They were old, eyes and ears fading, left to sit in their own waste, unable to rise from their beds and chairs.

But y’all go on fighting.

Y’all go on worrying about which ONE MAN is gonna be THE one man, while MASSES OF MEN take each other out on dark and filthy streets in the name of justice, when actual justice is so perverted that y’all couldn’t call it if you saw it. And you never do see it, because the war being waged on the outside is nothing like the one hidden beneath the deepest layers of corruption this nation has ever seen.

But y’all keep on.

Take all our monuments and institutions and drag them down the dirty streets while you scream for an equality you already had but pissed away. Y’all keep on fighting.

I can’t say this stuff. I’ll be stoned with the same rocks I’m throwing, because don’t I believe in your cause too? Of course I do.

But y’all keep on twisting it up, making it ugly. Continue to make this a place so unrecognizable we’re all afraid to peek out of our houses in the mornings.

Afraid of what our brothers and sisters will come to give us, afraid of what they’ll come to take away.

Photo by a. divine

We don’t have a whole lot of time left to get this right. The panic button’s been pushed.

We’re all looking around, jerking our heads this way and that, trying to find cover when there clearly isn’t any.

I’ve been part of discussions about burying a steel building or a school bus, piping air in, stocking up on ammo and food—trying to survive the onslaught we all know is coming.

While y’all are wasting time and people fighting and ignoring the storm that already came, the storm that’s coming is still coming. And y’all ain’t gon’ get away from it.

None of us are.

Not if something doesn’t change real soon. Something, like EVERYTHING.

But hey, y’all worry ‘bout what you gon’ worry ‘bout.

Just don’t worry ‘bout me.

I’ll be fine.

We all will.

RECOVERY

The Cold Hard Truth About Loving God

What it really looks like

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Loving God sounds easy, but don’t read this if you aren’t brave enough to face yourself.

I always considered loving God from a selfish point of view. I love Him because of all He gives me, for blessing me with life, for sending Jesus to die for my sins.

But to love Him just for being GOD is a lot more terrifying because it causes you to be morally just, but  not at all socially acceptable.

You have to be extraordinarily fierce to love God like you should. And you have to know who He really is.

Ephesians 3:14 calls God the Father from whom every family in Heaven and earth is named, and Matthew 23:9 says we have one Father, and He’s in Heaven.

In John 20:17 Jesus told Peter if he loved Him, “Feed My sheep.”

Sheep are prone to wander away, and to feed them, you must first recognize them, know them, seek them, and find them.  

Feeding His sheep means searching out the lost and the broken, patching them up with the word, and giving them hope in Jesus Christ. It also means feeding them if they need food. Giving to people who need it.

To love God as my Father, I also need to spend time with Him, and love His children.

Wait, what?

Love His children.

To do that, I must recognize that every human being on earth was uniquely designed by God. Even the ones who aren’t like me—the stinky ones, the toothless ones, the addicted ones, the different ones, the sick ones—all people have value and are loved equally by God.

This has never been more relevant than it is right now.

It’s impossible to ignore what’s going on in the world, and why would you want to? If you ignore one catastrophe, another will knock you off your feet.

Look at the opioid crisis. It may have gotten a little better, but we have a long way to go before we beat Big Pharma and heal our land of this sinister presence. Here’s a link to an article I wrote about why I will never be free of it.

If that particular drug addiction isn’t disturbing enough for you, do a little research on meth addiction. It’s also mentioned in the above article, and you can read a story here about a young mother who suffered from both mental illness and drug addiction. I wonder what it would’ve been like if her mother would’ve answered the call?

And I wonder if she’s alive today.

I work with a recovery group every week. It’s as healing as it is draining. If you think the addicted are limited to the homeless and mentally ill, you might be surprised to learn that Debbie who works at the insurance company down the road will trade her body for a hit of meth tonight and show up for work tomorrow morning.

You don’t know what you don’t know.

The human side of addiction is different than you think.

They aren’t all monsters. They’re your family.

It’s not in their control. It’s bigger than they are. They see the damage they’re causing and feel shame and humiliation. Still can’t stop.

They feel betrayed by everyone they love because they’re often left to deal with it on their own, mostly because of their own destructive choices. Doesn’t keep them from hurting.

They desperately seek small doses of approval and love and will give anything to anyone because they know what it’s like to do without. They’ll also steal anything from anyone because they know what it’s like to do without.

They still love their children.

It’s easy to love people who we think have their lives together, but once you find out they have real PROBLEMS, it gets a whole lot harder. The reason? Because then it might involve YOU. And you don’t want to get involved. We all like things easy, no confrontation, no conflict. Smooth sailing until we slide into home at the feet of Jesus.

Well that’s not how life works, Karen.

Real life isn’t always pretty. It’s hard, scary, unfair, and sometimes it’s downright gruesome. It can scar you up pretty bad and leave you with PTSD or something equally hard to talk about. Maybe you don’t know why that teenager has lines up and down her arms, but I do. I also know why she stays locked up in her room all the time. You can read my story about social anxiety here.

What the world needs is to know the truth in all its ugliness, but what we want is a prettied-up version of it, with only the parts we happen to agree with and make sure you leave out the rest.

No one wants to face it ALL, and I have to wonder if we’d be emotionally able to process it if we did take a cold hard look.

Nevertheless, I’m going to continue to get as close as I’m able and maybe get banned from ever writing anything anywhere ever again.

What happens when love turns to hate in the Christian heart?

It does, you know. You can deny it all you want to, until you go into the convenience store that’s owned by a person of the Islamic faith and while they’re ringing up your purchase you’re thinking that not only do they probably not use toilet paper, they also hate all Americans and wish you were dead.

But they won’t ever tell the preacher you bought that vodka and those blunts, so you’re going to keep going.

We all want justice to be done, but who even knows what that is?

We have a media that lies to us on a daily basis, and I guess the side you’re on is determined by which set of lies you choose to believe.

Somebody knows how that virus got out, and whether it was manufactured or came from a bat that a human was crazy enough to eat, and if they haven’t been murdered already, you can bet it’s on the agenda.

Maybe it IS caused by something other than what we’ve been socially influenced to believe, and we’re all about to be led like sheep to the slaughter, but somebody better decide on a conspiracy theory and stick to it so we can fight. Otherwise we’re all going to die. Or maybe not. Who knows?

We want to believe the police are there to serve and protect, but how can it always be true if what we’ve seen with our own eyes tells us a different story?

No one who has the internet missed the knee on the neck. No one will ever forget that. And it was big.

Big enough that we can’t run from the truth anymore.

If you were raised in the South, there’s a ten out of ten chance you were raised in a home with at least one racist.

Maybe a non-violent, “just joking around, I have friends of every color” kind of racist, but still a racist.

If you’re as old as I am, you can probably remember a whole lot more than you tell about the separation of blacks and whites and how it really looked back then. You might even want to say we’ve come a long way since then, because up until recently, you probably believed it was true.

It’s time to step out of your bubble of denial.

And I’m not just talking to white people. I’ve been a recipient of the other end of racism. It also exists. The words “cultural appropriation” come to mind. If anyone ever read my articles, I’d get slammed for that one. Lucky for me, I pretty much go unread. It’s still true though.

Pretty much nothing has changed since the sixties if you’re talking about attitudes. Maybe some laws have changed influencing equality in the workplace and schools. But PEOPLE haven’t changed. And that’s what’s wrong.

It’s a HEART problem. It can’t be solved by changing a few laws.

I was in my late teens when I realized I’d been lied to all my life. That’s when I knew for certain skin color was not a determining factor in the value of a human being. I never embraced a racist point of view, but the culture I grew up in dictated my life.

I had black friends growing up and I honestly never understood why they lived on the other side of the tracks and couldn’t come over to play at my house. But I heard the disparaging comments about the color of their skin. I heard the “n” word.

I don’t blame my family. My father was a good man. He had black friends. After he died, several came to see me. They told me of ways Daddy had helped them, been there for them, fed them, clothed them.

It was those conversations that started the change in me.

Nothing made sense to me until I understood that it was culturally unacceptable for Daddy to acknowledge what his heart knew. We were all the same.

I mentioned that the truth isn’t pretty. It’s hard, and it’s ugly, and no one wants to face it. That doesn’t make it less TRUE. That’s how I grew up.  

We did that. We were that. To some extent, we still are that.

And white privilege. I’ve balked at that so many times. I’ve been one of the ones to say it doesn’t exist, because I’ve worked hard for every single thing I’ve ever gotten and my life sure hasn’t been easy.

But it’s not the same.

When you’re white, you have a certain expectation that things will go a certain way, and they usually do.

If you get stopped by a police officer, you can be reasonably certain you won’t get dragged out of the vehicle and thrown down into the street unless you’re running your mouth or threatening in some way.

It probably won’t happen because of the color of your skin.

When you’re black, you can’t have that same expectation.

You can also expect to be looked at first if there’s a crime committed, and you happen to be in the area. Your color is associated with poverty, violence, low education levels, reliance on the government, and with mouthy bad attitudes.

Did I get this information off a statistical study?

No. I didn’t have to. I’m white. I know the associations. I hate that it’s true, but it is.

And the truth is very ugly.

I would like to see our nation band together to change the truth. To fix the heart problem. To learn to love God by loving His children, the way that our parents (while saying the n word at home) taught us to sing that old song—“red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight….”

But no. I recently read that this old song is racist too.

Apparently the “red” and “yellow” are racist terms. To be fair, I don’t think they were back when I sang the song.

Back to where this started, we must love the unlovable, pick up the fallen, go for the weary, feed the hungry, nurse the sick, protect the helpless, nourish and teach the children. Like the other old song says, “Rescue the Perishing.”

The Bible says in Psalms 97:10 that to love God means to hate evil. All forms of racism is evil, even the hidden ones, including the thoughts going around in your head when you encounter someone different from you.

I know I can’t love God without serving Him by serving others, and without fighting for the rights of others who are weary of fighting for themselves. This battle for equality can’t be won unless we all stand together against the enemies of hate and prejudice.

Violence and hate isn’t the answer and never could be. The only answer is love.

I could quote a hundred things from Martin Luther King, Jr but two stand out. The first is:

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

We might not know where this will end if we join forces as humans for a change, instead of fighting as blacks and whites. I have a pretty good idea of where it will end if we don’t, and it’s not good.

King also said:

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

And it is.

I can only love God by loving His children the way He does, or as close as a human can get to that. I can remember the stories of little girls who were forced to sit in the back of the classroom because they weren’t white, and couldn’t come over to my birthday party because they lived on the other side of the tracks.

I still know what it felt like for an old black man to press twenty five dollars in my hand with tears in his eyes and say, “Your Daddy bought me tires for my truck,” and everything that was out of balance in my head righted itself.

The outside isn’t the inside. The skin of a man doesn’t determine who he is.

Skin color, addiction, illness, education, level of crazy—none of these should be a factor in how I love and treat someone else. What matters is we are all God’s children, designed by Him, for a reason. We are all loved by Him.

To really love God just for being God, honor His greatest commandments, in Matthew 22:37-39. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Love my neighbor—His children.

All of them.

Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash

RECOVERY

The Child Revisited

A poem about life after childhood trauma.

young brother and sister looking out glass door
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Today I got a glimpse of me.

The me that I swore could not return.

I saw the part of myself that I said was dead and buried,

Killed off by the destruction that was my life.

And when I saw me, I knew who I was.

I recognized the part of me that has always been my strength.

Like a fool, I closed my life to that part of myself for many wasted years.

I said to let that person exist was to be weak

Because that part of me hurts and is angry.

For so long, I have fought against any reminders of that me.

But somehow, today, when I wasn’t looking, I found me.

I looked in my eyes and saw the hurt.

I looked in my heart and felt the pain.

I looked in my head and regained the memories.

Suddenly, I was back to a place I had never really left.

And in that glimpse of me, I knew I was going to be okay.

So, I said so long to the child I never really was, and never will be.

I touched the face of my strength when I let the hurt wash over me.

And I said hello to the child who will always be a part of me, who always was.

Fairy tale dreams don’t come true.

They can’t. With real life comes real hurt.

We build walls and we tear them down.

We deny everything, we doubt everything, we are no longer innocent—

But SOMEWHERE inside of us still LIVES THE CHILD.

RECOVERY

Slipping Off the Deep End

Social Isolationism can make you crazy.

man with ears and nose mask
Photo by michael schaffler on Unsplash

The world we live in is imperfect at best, and a cataclysmic train ride to hell at worst. Just when you think things are starting to go your way, something happens to bring your life crashing down around your feet in broken bits of whatever’s left when your expectation doesn’t match your outcome.

And if you want a fast track to crazy, just go into social isolation for a few months.

I’m not a social butterfly. I never have been, thank God. I love my own company and can go without other people for long periods of time. But not forever.

Humans aren’t designed to live their lives alone. We need connections.

When the normal is snatched away from you, the “new normal” takes its place. NOT the one everyone is predicting, but the real one. The crazy one.

At first everyone was content with taking care of things that needed to be taken care of. I did a little of that. Cleaned up some stuff, threw away some stuff, boxed up some stuff, gave away some stuff. I did home repairs. Cleaned out a shed. I burned a lot of things when we were able to (there was a burn ban in our state for a while).

I burned some things that didn’t need to be burned just because I like destroying things sometimes.

After a while, I ran out of things to do.

I ran out of things to write about to, or I couldn’t think of much. My mind seemed a bit blank.

A blank mind is a dangerous thing.

Granted, it could be said there’s a little insanity in each one of us. Some more than others. But when you take a person away from everything that is “normal” and into forced isolation, the potential for crazy dramatically increases.

Thoughts creep in. Suspicious, paranoid thoughts.

You have nothing else to do anyway, so may as well entertain those thoughts for a while. Maybe check into them, see if you can validate them in some way. Maybe by using social media, the devil’s playground.

Sleep is an odd thing as well. If you aren’t parented by your job on when to sleep and when to get up, there’s no reason for a regular schedule. You can even do your cyber stalking in the middle of the night if you want to.

You’d be surprised how fast the crazy sets in.

Psychology Today calls solitary confinement torture. It leads to all kinds of symptoms, including anxiety and paranoia. It may seem extreme to compare our bout of social isolationism to solitary confinement, but I don’t think it is. It would be especially daunting to someone who already has issues with trauma, loss, and anxiety.

You know, people like me.

Being socially isolated causes loneliness and depression also. We’re able to get out more now, and that’s a huge relief, but there are some people who are never able to get out much.

A large percentage of our population are shut ins. We have the elderly, and the mentally and physically disabled. People in hospitals, hospice, and nursing homes.

Maybe your mother, father, or grandparents.

People who are too poor to afford to go anywhere.

Going a little crazy for a bit has helped me see things from more than one perspective, and I’m grateful for it.

I see that I need to reach out to people more and stop doing without people for long periods of time, even when I’m not forced to.

I also reached out to my ex-husband and asked for his forgiveness. Not because I crashed and burned our relationship. That was him. It was more because I could see the other side of the fence, and how he had to live with me choosing to give my attention to all kinds of things, and not realizing he needed more from me.

I kind of see why his thoughts went all haywire. When you feel isolated, you’ll do stuff you wouldn’t ordinarily do.  

Good comes from everything if you know where to look.

Even slipping off the deep end.  

RECOVERY

Flies and Fishhooks

Focus Matters

Photo by Stefan Cosma on Unsplash

For some reason, the flies are unbearable this year, and I think it’s because the pipe running into the sewer has a leak, and human waste is trickling onto the ground in the backyard. I feel like a little kid from a third world country, swatting at flies that are too lazy or full to even be intimidated enough to fly away.

An overwhelming dampness hangs in the air and settles on my skin. Typical for the South. When they go on about the South rising again, they don’t bring up the stench of human sweat and the clinging humidity-drenched clothes weighing us down, keeping our energy levels too low for us to do more than talk the talk.

We can’t rise up. We can just sit here and pound the letters of our keyboards into oblivion as we set the world straight with a few well-chosen words.

Another day in the pre-summer self-isolationism that’s been forced upon us, against our wills and for our own good.

It’s a strange newness, with approximately half of everyone you run across wearing a mask while the other half looks on with disdain, and vice versa.

We’re such judgmental folks. Of course, each of us has an opinion on what’s best, and the likelihood that all of us are wrong is very high.

When things are tragic, terrifying, or ugly, we can’t stop looking at them. It’s just human nature.

I knew this kid when I was in elementary school.

Billy was fishing with his brother—he couldn’t have been very old—maybe six or seven and maybe even younger. Somehow one of their fishhooks got embedded in Billy’s eye. It didn’t end up pretty. The eye, I mean.

Photo by Mael BALLAND on Unsplash

Growing up, any time I saw Billy, my gaze was immediately drawn to that bad eye. I didn’t mean to look. I just couldn’t help it. I could barely take in what he was saying for staring at his eye.

I missed being a real friend to him because my focus was on the wrong thing.

I got lost in how he looked and not who he was.

I’ll never know how amazing things might’ve turned out if I’d have looked past the surface.

It’s odd how you remember things like that.

I’m thinking the world we’re existing in right now has a lot in common with that story. Terrible things have happened. It’s hard to draw our gaze away.

We can’t help but stare at all the bad because it’s right here in our faces. It’s human nature to dwell on the tragedy, rather than search for the triumph.

Not only that, but it’s easy to get lost in looking for someone to blame for things being the way they are. And someone does need to be held accountable. Justice needs to prevail in a lot of situations. No argument with that truth.

I’m just saying that it’s real easy to get overwhelmed if you keep staring at all the things that are wrong. If you do that, you won’t ever have what you really need in life, especially when it comes to relationships. The things that are on the outside can look really bad, and if we focus on them, we’re going to miss the opportunity to have the kind of world we need to live in.

If we’d take our focus off the way things look, and put it instead on who God is, we might find out how amazing things can really be.

RECOVERY

Wearing the Mask of Sanity

Life explained through the lense of madness

Photo by Callie Gibson on Unsplash

The silence I live in since I found my child dead isn’t silent at all but is made up of voices from my childhood, talking incessantly and laughing as they clink their wine glasses together and scrape their forks across china plates. Noise I can’t explain is now accompanied by the shrill voice of tinnitus.

I stare blankly and wait for the moment to pass. It always has. I pray it always does, but let’s face it. The odds aren’t good.

My life is no different than countless others who hide behind a façade of normalcy.

We are what we’ve become, or maybe were destined to be or always were. I’ve lost sight of my reasoning on this. It doesn’t matter anymore. Too much has happened. I can’t contain it in a neat little box that I can present to the world with a bow and say, “See! This is who I am!” It’s not so cut and dry.

But I play the game with reasonable success, although I can’t say I have everyone fooled.

I don’t ever pass a metal, rusty swing without my mind immediately throwing me back to the familiar creaking of the up and down motion accompanied by haunted laughter from the children I birthed and buried before they were ever old enough to swing.

This is my world, and I accepted it a long time ago.

I live in a state of semi-madness, but it’s a concealable offense, and no one knows but me. It’s safer that way.

How can you explain to a world seeking to avoid ugly of any kind that you have flashbacks of your son’s dead face, taking turns in rapid-fire succession with a bloody pig head hanging from a limb? You can’t. How do you explain the visions of a hammer coming down hard to stop just short of its goal and the buttons of your dress hitting the wall like bullets as it was ripped from your body? You don’t.

Memory could be the death of all that’s sane in me if not for the foundation I’m rooted in.

Still, at times I feel a shift and reach out helplessly, blindly grasping at anything that might pull me to a safe place. And there is no safe place. Not on this earth, although I’ve been assured time and again that this is temporary, and eternity will hold none of the evil that haunts me now.

We shall see. I may have traded eternity in a desperate bargain with God to save Heaven for my child instead of me. He never said if He took the deal.

Even in my crazy, messed-up world, life continues to go on as it will do. Relationships fail, cheaters cheat, betrayers betray, and sometimes they don’t. The world I’m unfamiliar with is the one with truth and honesty. I’m too acquainted with the other to be fair to the one-percenters.

So I watch the words form on your lips and hear them trickle past the noise in my head and in my sanity I pretend to believe you, while my mind screams out, “Motherfucker, I’ve always been old! I SAW what you did!”

But I know you would neither understand nor receive my words, and besides, I don’t curse. Not aloud anyway. So, I remain quiet, and live inside your lie with you, because it’s what I’ve learned to do.

It’s how I exist on earth, and how I allow you to exist as well.

Could the foundation hold if I revealed the truth? Could YOU survive if you were confronted with not only the evil of the world but the evil of your own soul?

Every day we die. We live in a state of perpetual decay, yet we think that by not acknowledging it we’re more alive.

We have the audacity to mock the ones who show the crazy.

We laugh at the souls brave enough to acknowledge the voices, and then try to drown them out as if we don’t all hear the same thing. The line between sanity and insanity is as thin as a hair and so easily broken that I don’t dare breathe in its direction, for fear it will snap and the hell inside will become the hell outside.

And oh, how we pretend! Our entire world is make-believe. We’ve created money systems, and cars, houses, and hosts of other things and imagine they actually MEAN something. We’ve manufactured societies with rules and laws, and jobs to go to—and it’s all nonsense. Constructs that we’ve created to get through a world we don’t understand. An evil world where free will has led to the absolute destruction of mankind, except for the foundation.

On some level, you must know it, but you play the game anyway, because hell, everyone else is playing and that’s all there is to do anyway. To go against the construct is to be—insane. No one wants to get caught in that trap.

It’s all meaningless.

Photo by fotografierende on Unsplash

In fact, to learn what has actual value in this world, to learn what LIFE really is, you must experience the end of it. Death. Loss. Love.

You must find yourself loving another person with every single fiber of your being, love them so much that you’d rip your own heart out of your chest and give it to them, pour your lifeblood into their veins, breathe your last breath into their nostrils—and you must be helpless to do any of these things.

Instead, you must lose them before you understand that although breathing surely is a symptom of life, life is nothing more than a symptom of death.

Sanity is just a mask we wear to keep from facing both.

RECOVERY

Divorce Stole My Ability to Write

And left a list of things I no longer have.

brick wall with the words "the end"
Photo by Crawford Jolly on Unsplash

The stress of divorce and not knowing how I’ll pay my bills has taken away my voice. Or in this case, my words. My mind draws a blank when usually I can’t get to the laptop fast enough to get it all down before my thoughts are replaced by new ones.

All I can think about now is what I don’t have.

  1. The first thing I don’t have is security.  

Honestly, security is just an illusion we buy into anyway.  We’re never as safe as we think we are. I was married to the one man on earth who I thought would never cheat on me. I felt completely safe in that knowledge. Then I found irrefutable proof he was seeing someone else.  

He works away so I’m sure there have been countless others. He’s obviously very good at hiding things. The proof was gone a couple of seconds after I discovered it.

Unfortunately for him, I’m pretty quick with my screenshot abilities, so his denial of the truth meant nothing to me.

The security I thought I had was a joke. My castle was built of sand and could’ve crumbled at any time. I just didn’t know it.

2. The next thing I don’t have is money.

Not enough, anyway. When I booted him, I booted the one who has made most of the money in our household. I have a good job, but my earning potential is about a quarter of his. I have benefits he doesn’t have, like good insurance, retirement, holiday pay, and weekends off. I just don’t have a paycheck that meets the needs of the household.

3. I don’t have the luxury of knowing what to call my husband.

We’re at the awkward stage between married and not married.  What is that? I don’t know. So, when I talk about him (and I do, a lot), I have to say his name when I’d rather not. He’s not a real person to me anymore. He’s the guy who betrayed my trust and broke my heart. Since I won’t call him the things he deserves to be called, and I can’t call him my ex, I find myself stumbling over any mention of…him.

4. I don’t have protection.

Apparently, it doesn’t matter how old you are. When you become single, you become prey. My social media has blown up with friend requests from men who immediately jump in my inbox trying to “get to know me.” Please. Dude. I’m not even divorced yet, and, oh yeah. I don’t care. Go away.

5. I don’t have basic respect.

He’s dating her in our small town in front of everyone and it’s like a huge slap in my face. I have the choice of pretending not to be aware of it or to not care that he’s flaunting it.  I’m not sure I do care for caring’s sake. It’s embarrassing for me the way his narcissism drives him to do something that lowdown and dirty. He obviously wants me and everyone else to know he traded me for her. And he traded way down, God forgive me for saying so.

The least he could have done is picked someone BETTER than me.

6. I don’t have my family—not all of it.

My step kids aren’t going to keep coming to see me, and I love them like my own. It’s going to be awkward for them, and I hate that. It’s not fair that they should bear the brunt of their father’s bad decisions.

I do wish I could be a fly on the wall when they find out who he’s with now. That’s not going to go well.  As a matter of fact, it’s going to go extremely badly.

Out of all the things I don’t have now, I’ll miss my stepchildren the most.

Divorce is cruel. I never would’ve chosen to go this route if I could’ve done anything else. Cheating is a deal breaker. I didn’t sign up for that.

I’m sure a lot more things will occur to me as I get my thoughts back. A break-up leaves you stunned and disbelieving, grappling for a way to build a new life out of the fragments of the old one.

The betrayal hurt, but I’ve survived much worse. Now it’s time to regroup and get on my feet again. My life isn’t going to be what I thought it was. My plan is to make it better, despite what he did. His moral failure didn’t destroy me. I’ll pray it doesn’t destroy him either.

Even though divorce is taking some things from me, it is also proving to be a blessing in some ways.

woman stepping off a small cliff in freedom
Photo by Drew Colins on Unsplash
  • I have the chance to start over.

All those dreams he kept trying to crush can be pursued even more now! I don’t have to be anything but who I am. I can reach as high as I want to and not worry about threatening someone else’s identity in any way.

  • I have freedom.  

If I want to stay up all night writing, I can do it without making any explanations to another person. I can go wherever I want to go for however long I want to be there and not be worried someone is going to question my every movement (irony, given the fact he was the one cheating). I answer to myself, which is great because I’m fully capable and have always been a responsible person. I didn’t get married to have a parent or be under anyone’s control.

  • I have self-respect.

Not staying in a relationship where I was not being respected and where he was being unfaithful was the best decision I could’ve made for my life. I can look at myself in the mirror and know I’ve done the right thing. I can be an example to other people who may be watching to see how I’ll react.

Knowing I didn’t choose the pseudo-security a more financially beneficial position afforded me makes me hold my head a little higher even while I hunt for change in the bottom of my purse. It is way better to be broke and have self-respect than to be financially well off without it.

  • I have “me” back.

Out of all the things this break-up has given me, this one is the best. He didn’t break me. The parts of me that were hidden for a long time came bursting forth in a single moment of clarity, when I realized I didn’t need another person to validate me.

God has always taken care of me. I struggled for years thinking I had to take care of myself or grasp the security I found in a bad relationship.

All I really had to do was surrender the outcome.

I can’t control the universe. I didn’t make him cheat and couldn’t have prevented it. It was his fault, not mine. It’s true I don’t have some things because of it, and I’m struggling for words right now. They’ll come back. They always do.

In the meantime, I’m going to kick back and rest, thinking of all the things I’ve gained.

grief, MOTIVATIONAL, RECOVERY

Live Your Life or Plan Your Death

About depression and a pet cricket named Elvis

Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash

When I was a kid, I had a pet cricket named Elvis.

Mama said you can’t really have a cricket for a pet. The truth is, I never saw him once, but Elvis sang to me every night, so I reckon he decided to keep me instead of the other way around.

On a normal summer, a cricket chirping in your bedroom would be downright annoying and might even make you want to jump off a bridge if you couldn’t figure out where he was, so you could step on his head. I’m sorry to say I’ve stomped on quite a few crickets in my life, plus a whole lot of other bugs I won’t name here, for fear of offending some bug-loving, revenge-taking, article-reading slight acquaintance of mine.

I tend to hang with a different kind of crowd, but I know you need to watch what you say and do sometimes.

The deep end is a whole lot closer for some people than it is for others, if you know what I mean.

The summer Elvis sang to me was a different kind of summer than most. Mama’d run that old ceiling fan, swearing the whole time that she hated it. It was how we kept cool though. Never bothered me. I liked the noise of it.

When the fan was on, the curtains in my room would billow inward and create a little tent on my bed. I liked to sit in it, and it was from there that I ran a library for the neighborhood kids. I had plenty of books, and I figured it might do some of them at least a little bit of good if they’d read one or two of them. It sure couldn’t do them any harm.

If I didn’t have my little library, I doubt I’d have talked to another kid all summer long. I rarely stepped out of my room.

Most of my waking moments were consumed with writing poems about killing myself and trying to build a new nose out of orthodontic wax. I hated my nose.

I was never sure where the jokes started, but they started in my own family.  My nose got made fun of a lot. Mama said I had “Daddy’s nose,” and the boys would all snicker because I guess Daddy’s nose was supposed to be obnoxiously big or something. It looked like a regular nose to me, but I fell in with the jokes because I knew I was supposed to. I compared my nose to one of my brother’s and we always argued about whose was the biggest.

It’s all I could see when I looked in the mirror.

A nose without a face, just sort of floating there. The one time I experimented with acid, I looked in the mirror and my green bulbous nose was pulsating and growing. I never touched the stuff again.

My nose isn’t the reason I was preoccupied with planning my own death though. I’m not sure why I was sad. I just was. I think I was born that way. It’s taken me a lifetime and unimaginable grief to find joy. Nothing in this world makes any sense. I don’t expect it’s supposed to.

After Samuel died, I was caught up in fantasies about dying again.

Samuel was my baby boy. He died when an intrauterine blood transfusion failed due to doctor error. The grief was unbearable. I stopped writing poetry after that. Occasionally, one comes to me, but not often. Some spaces can’t be filled with words.

I remember sitting on the tractor with Johnny while he baled hay and wondering what it would be like to fall under its wheels. Other times I’d be driving down the road and press the accelerator hard, ready to ram the car into something, but then I’d ease off and live instead.

Later, after I found Mikey dead, there didn’t seem to be a reason to stay on this earth. I was just done. He was only 16 years old. A mother should never have to bury her baby. Mikey made three for me. It was too much grief for my heart to process.

For months, hiding in a coat pocket in my closet was a bottle of pills, ready for me to take myself out of this world.

Mama knew the state of mind I was in, so she went tearing through my house, emptying bottles. She didn’t realize she got rid of my depression medicine. She never found the ones in the closet.

My other kids made it impossible for me to leave, but I carried those pills around with me for a long time before I got enough courage to pour them out.

When I finally got around to cutting myself, I don’t think I had intentions to die.

I think I just needed to hurt myself. I needed to be punished for not being perfect, for failing, for everything. It’s a twisted way of thinking, but everything I was doing at the time was a direct attack against my own life. Too much drink and too many bad choices led to a meltdown.

Recovery for me started on my knees.

I have a lot of things I wish I could say to the young girl back in that room letting Elvis sing to her–things about her nose and how precious life is. I’d tell her to enjoy every single moment and to dance and sing every day like it’s her last one on earth.

You never know when death will come around.

But I know she’s figured it all out for herself. I also know she’s alive and well, and finally made her way out of the darkness.

I don’t know exactly when it was that I started planning my life instead of my death. My nose is the same as it’s always been—just a nose, not too bad. It’s certainly not noteworthy.  I’m proud I have Daddy’s nose, but I hardly ever notice it. If a cricket were to come sing to me in my bedroom now, I’d smile as I remembered my little friend, Elvis, from days gone by. For a minute, I’m sure I’d enjoy the song. Then I’d search him out and stomp his little head, because you can’t really have a cricket for a pet.

They’re annoying and might make you want to jump off a bridge or something, and I’ve got a life to live.