I remember when I was 17, what seems like another person’s lifetime ago, walking in wet boots through the snow of Alaska’s wilderness. To the left, we followed a frozen river, more often than not hidden by the snow. To the right and beyond, the unknown.
At several points, the snow concealed holes, drops in the elevation, and other changes to the ground, making all look like a glistening, leveled blanket of white. And at several of these points, I misstepped and sank up to my shoulders in snow. My walking companion was frustrated with me as he stopped, backtracked and helped me out of the holes.
I recall looking down at his boot prints, noticeably larger than my own. I walked in them instead of forging my own path, as at least I knew his was safe and stable thus far. Always the over analytical, self examining type, this bothered me. For you see, it was much more than just stepping in another’s steps. To me, it was analogous of so many greater things in my life.
The truth is, neither of us were stable at the time. He made the impression that he was, with his double speak and meditative look. But I was just as lost. I held on to a life from which I had been swiftly removed. I cried each night for that life gone from me in a city 4,000 miles away. Yet, when the day came for me to abruptly say goodbye to Alaska and face a new place with more lost people, I found myself in the middle of an Anchorage mall, sobbing hysterically, not wanting to leave. Fearful to go ahead.
Ironically, this new place forbade the speaking of our pasts. Any reference to it was labeled as a “war story,” no matter how G rated the topic, and warranted immediate punishment. Punishment there meant losing the privilege of talking or being talked to, as well as solitary confinement
Thankfully, I was only there for a few months before finding a new home on the other side of the country. The first semester I found myself depressed and confused as to who I was, who I wanted to be and where. But I had fallen in love with someone from Alaska. He was not the same boy who resented me on our walk that day. He seemed to like me too. And shortly before I turned 18, we decided to marry. I could get through the next semester. I now had a goal and a plan. I had someone I wanted to be. A wife. A mother. Maybe more, but of those two I was certain.
But that was another forward step, and moving forward has never been easy. How can it be when I’ve never felt proper closure as life took me from one season to the next? Perhaps that’s why the coming of fall and winter has always been sad to me…
But there is no return to the bygone days. Some accept this as common sense. A “grow up, get on with it,” mentality. I neither know how to accept nor want to accept. Rather, I’ve made the mistake countless times that I can somehow “fix” the past. It has always resulted in a painful outcome and reminder that one cannot fix the past. Only learn from it and keep moving.
I’m faced yet again with time ticking forward and my fingers fumbling for something to hold onto. A part of my life now taken away and a new chapter forcibly opened.
How do we move forward? For certain, we always are. Or we are dead. But whether we hide under the covers in denial, the dates fly from the calendar just the same. And regardless of how we had hoped for a different tomorrow, so often we are left accepting the tomorrow we are given. And then we must find a way to be grateful for it. And grateful for the yesterday it leaves behind…
Tonight I lay in bed, snuggling my three year old to sleep while listening to the peaceful, rhythmic breaths of my infant daughter. Tomorrow is my birthday. The thought of it triggers an unwanted memory of my birthday 9 years ago.
I had only two children back then, yet they were far from me. Instead, I was surrounded by people I barely knew, in a terrifying world of addiction, abuse and pain. My new friends called me to one of their apartments for my present. It was almost midnight, almost my birthday. There, on a silver plated platter, they presented me with a thick, Tony Montana line of cocaine. And then they asked me: What did I enjoy most about doing coke? I shrugged because that was better than speaking the depressing truth: I didn’t like it. In fact, I hated it. It made its way into my body to serve one purpose. Not for a high, for pleasure or recreation. No, it served to mask the moment and numb the pain of the past. It also made me believe I was the “piece of shit” people now knew me to be. And embracing that was easier than being a victim.
The next day was chilly and rainy. I spent my 26th birthday standing in the Wal-Mart Auto Center parking lot with a jerk I called my boyfriend, looking at my car. It was an absolute wreck. It had been smashed, hub caps gone, a side view mirror gone, scratched, dented, the clocks and gauges on the dash no longer worked. I could not help but stand there and see the rainy day and my car as a mirror of my life at that moment: an absolute wreck.
How ironic was it that exactly one year prior, on my 25th birthday, I celebrated with friends and family. I had a secret. I was leaving that life in hopes of making a better one for myself and my boys. I had been hurt by false expectations of my husband and damaged our relationship chasing my own selfish desires. It was time to move forward, as I couldn’t repair the mess I’d made with him…
It was a chilly day in early January when I awoke in the hospital. I was confused and in more pain than I ever thought imaginable. Through my tears, I found every monitor and ripped it from my body. I was vaguely aware of the family and priest surrounding me – the family who I loved but had let down so many times we’d finally distanced ourselves. I fumbled for the phone and dialed his number. His words resonate in my ears as clearly and painfully now as they did almost nine years ago: “You f*****g f**k!” And then a dial tone. I demanded to be released. I was polite to my family, crying uncontrollably before them. Their first born, covered in charcoal to absorb the pills I’d taken. But to the staff hospital, I was bitter and angry. I don’t know why. I couldn’t sort any thought or emotion. Only pain. The next words shocked me as I signed myself out against the doctor’s advice: “suicide attempt.” Had I really? No no no. They had it wrong. The lethal amount I took was never to end my life, just put a stop to this pain. I missed my children. I missed what was familiar. This person crumpled helplessly in the hospital bed was not me. And if it was, how
could I go back and fix things?
I left the hospital with a faithful friend whom I hadn’t seen in some time. I was naked beneath the oversized winter coat she put around me. It was a blur. I was alive, but never did I feel more dead and hopeless. In my selfish pain, I couldn’t even be grateful someone had bothered to call 911 and save me.
I can remember times in my life wishing I could die, but knowing I never could do such a thing. The pain had been real then. The pain many didn’t notice as they abused me in a different ways.
At four years old, before I knew what death was, I felt it that cold night I stood in front of the knife drawer watching him. The teenager who had forever hurt me and used me.
But this was different… This chilly day I’d actually tried. Or at least tried to go to sleep for awhile. Maybe that’s why I dread the winter. The reminder. Yet, like Christmas follows the darkest day of the year, life can get better. Joy can follow great sorrow.
The masses rejoice and praise those who proclaim self love. “Look within yourself for all your strength,” they say. And people nod and clap. Yes, the self is all one needs to be happy and to be redeemed. What a lie. A tragic, terrible lie.
If we count on only ourselves and nothing Higher, what happens when our self inevitably fails us? I’ve been there. Among the self serving. Among the aimless chasing a lie. I’ve counted myself among the addicts and realized I’m powerless. I’ve counted myself among the mentally ill and seen my own illness. Perhaps it is because I’ve known pain since I was little and have so many times wondered what was wrong with ME. Yes, what a terrible lie. To only look within for strength. Whether you want to believe there is a God, or hate the very idea, you must believe in something greater than yourself. It’s the only way I move forward. Even when I think I can’t.
I’ve always worn my feelings outside as much as inside. I can feel the pain of others just as much as if it were my own. I’ve been warned by many to be careful and not get too close to those hurting because I make their pain my own. But this is my gift as much as my burden. I can truly empathize with everyone regardless of how evil they look to others. I can see the why. I can see their mask. I’ve worn so many myself…
I still do. I put on a mask everyday I face the world. I put on a smile when I don’t want to. I take an anxiety pill to be around even familiar company. I take an antidepressant to deal with the extreme ups and downs.
But I accept these things instead of hating myself for needing them. I use what has been given to me. And I see each day is a gift, each life as blessing with a purpose. And I keep moving forward.
And as I finish writing this, half a dozen smiling faces burst into my room. “Happy birthday, Mommy!” And my heart is heavy with gratitude.
Yes, forward is the direction I will always go. Even when I don’t want to. Even more so when I think I can’t…