Beginnings, Part 2
I wrote that “For Celeste” poem in 2012 when I was in the middle of a health crisis that had set me on a path of desperately seeking a new way of living, a new way of understanding and treating myself, and deeper healing of the trauma and deprivation of my childhood.
I had been cracking the whip as my own inner task master for so long and with such mercilessness that I had driven myself into a state of exhaustion, stress overload, and overwhelming anxiety. In a two month period, I had lost 20 lbs — not because I was trying to, but because my stomach was tied in such a knot that I couldn’t eat. I ended up in the hospital briefly, and then had a long, slow convalescence.
During that time, I noticed that deep feelings from my childhood, buried for decades, seemed close to the surface, and I began to see a therapist. While I worked with her on resolving traumatic memories, I began to use various creative media to process my own healing. I began to draw simple line drawings of Jesus being to me the father that I never had. I wrote a soothing lullaby for a scared little toddler in a crib. And I wrote this poem for my teen self. No one directed me to do these things, but I believe I was led to do them, just the same.
To give a little more background to the poem, my mother was mentally ill her whole adult life (my therapist husband and I speculate that she had schizoaffective disorder). She was not able to function as a normal adult, and, when I was 13, I (along with one of my brothers) was basically put in charge of taking care of her as her condition deteriorated into wild swings between loud and angry rants against people who were not there and almost catatonic depressions. When I was 16, her third suicide attempt was successful. It feels weird to say it that way. After all, it was her defeat, not her success, right? In her long and painful struggle against her demons for survival, she lost, and I still feel sad for her, though I believe that she is nevertheless now in the arms of a loving God.
But I digress.
I look back on that poem now and see how far I’ve come in embracing that scared, lonely girl. When I wrote it, it felt strange to give myself any praise or credit whatsoever. Under the tutelage of my stern grandmother, who was my primary parent from the ages of 6 to 12, I had internalized messages of high expectations for performance and low sense of self-worth. I was trained to be a sober, responsible child, a quiet, well-behaved “good little girl.” The tension in my shoulders and neck was so chronic that I didn’t know how to unclench. I couldn’t put my feet up and relax without feeling guilty … unless I was so wiped out that I just couldn’t push myself any farther. And I certainly didn’t know how to be silly or have fun.
My purpose is to connect with people who have suffered difficult childhoods, who push themselves too hard and have had too little joy in their lives. Those who are hurting.
But mostly, I was just disconnected from myself. I had steeled myself so totally against any form of “self pity” that I literally could not feel the pain of what I had been through. I was afraid to feel it. Afraid that the same force that had sucked my mother under would do the same to me.
My journey of real healing hasn’t been easy or instantaneous, but oh, how satisfying it is now to feel affection and compassion for that shy little girl, that awkward teenager. To see and embrace aspects of myself that I never dreamed were there, and to discover that I can understand my more troublesome “selves” and gently calm them down when they want to take over.
Most importantly, I’ve been able to keep my promise to my younger self: “You will not slide into the abyss / Because I will hold you tight.”
My purpose in starting this website and blog is to make it easier to find and connect with people who may identify with some aspect of my experience: those who have suffered difficult childhoods, who push themselves too hard and have had too little joy in their lives. Those who are hurting. If I can help you find some of the healing that God has so graciously poured out on me, or if I can introduce you to some of the exciting aspects of this second half of life journey that I have found and see that spark in your eye — even if you catch or share a little of my enthusiasm over butterflies or collaging or photography — then I will feel myself abundantly rewarded.
Next post: The Soul Jewel