"I meant to tell you, I came across your blog the other day..." And my heart sank. I was embarrassed. Childhood fears took up residence. "Uh, yeah... It's just boring English teacher stuff," I covered. It's not. I'm sure what she read was not. "Please don't read my blog."
Yes, I realize I'm putting my words out there in a public forum. But writing is still personal. It's still your heart pumping and exposed and vulnerable there on display. It's still a page from your diary, albeit a somewhat more censored one. And I guess I hadn't considered the fact that someone might be reading it, unbeknownst to me. I'm working through some things. And stable isn't exactly the word I'd use to describe this present season of my life. Critical, but not stable. Not pretty.
I grew up with the clear lesson that we don't air our dirty laundry. We didn't talk about our problems. We swept a lot under the rug. Appearances, after all. What would the neighbors think? Write about it, but don't let anyone see. Better yet, bury it and pray. Give it to God. Well, I buried it, but it always took root and grew, a Herculean weed I couldn't stave off. Hack it though I tried, it grew back thicker, more determined. And I learned to live with it. I planted rose bushes and wildflowers around it, trying to disguise it, but you know those weeds have unparalleled strength. They manage to stifle and choke the beauty that sprouts nearby. So, more often than not, the dark bits, the dirty laundry, wasn't all that disguised. The unfortunate thing, of course, is that my family (who loved me) was far more concerned with what the neighbors or our family might think than they were about the insidious roots tangling and stifling the beauty within me. And try though I might, God never answered. He was probably busy. Maybe his secretary didn't get him the message. Maybe it got lost among the other desperate pleas to return calls. Maybe I wasn't a priority and the day just got away. Nothing could be so important that a teenager might need God to return her call immediately. And so He didn't.
I value truth more than just about anything. Because truth is an act of love. I grew up, not so much in a house of lies (though there were plenty of those, too), but in lying by omission. Don't talk about it and it's not real. But I've put words out into the void and someone who wasn't supposed to ever know about the dirty laundry (although she did, parts of it, because I've always been a terrible gatekeeper) read my words and saw, I'm sure, that I'm kind of a disaster right now. And it was something in her tone that summoned up that fear -- she'd probably tell her mom. I envisioned women clustered in corners, whispering, eyes darting, gossiping. First, the tsk, tsk, then the quiet muttering, "Well you know she's always kind of been a mess." Followed by the disgust: "Why would she put that out there?" But the burying and the praying (I've come around on the praying) and the sweeping and the facade is too much for me to muster. I can't live my life that way. No matter how I carry the load, it will break me. I refuse.
People might read this. It might hurt. They might gossip and judge. But I've been carrying it alone for a long time. And I'm ready to tell the truth. To heal.
My mother has been an alcoholic for as long as I can remember. I often didn't feel loved, though I knew I was. That was part of the difficulty. Knowing and feeling. I always fell short of expectations. I was too willful. Too sensitive. Too hard. My tongue was too sharp. I wasn't pretty enough (she would deny that she ever made me feel this way). When we weren't close, it was my shortcoming, something I'd robbed her of. She still isn't ready to face the fact that the years she spent drinking (she told me once she drank to help dull my edge) left gaping holes. She can't (and probably never will) bring herself to confront her own darkness, her own weeds. When I have tried to explain the voids within me, she spits out, "Well I'm sorry I was such a terrible mother," and she turns to the bottle again. I never said she was a terrible mother. Only that I often didn't feel loved in the ways I needed to be. As a result, I'm still grappling at 33 to acknowledge that I am deserving of love. And I do love her. I appreciate her sacrifices. I just wish she'd tell the truth.
And my dad was there, hard-edged and angry, mostly. A powerful force. I only ever wanted to make him proud. He rarely told me he was, though I've heard he told others all the time. He subscribed to the pull-your-shit-together way of life. We don't mope. We don't cry. We don't wallow. I can't tell you how many times I was unraveling and was met with his firm: "Je-sus Christ! Pull your goddamn shit together. We're not doing this. You don't like something? Do something! Fix it!" And it isn't that he didn't love me. I know he did, too. But he wasn't soft.
My aunt's boyfriend molested me at every family gathering for as long as he was around. I can't remember how long that was. The first time was right in front of my family. My mother was drunk. I know she saw. She didn't do anything. She didn't rescue me. It took me years before I told anyone. This, by far, has been the most damaging experience of my life. Sometimes I start to hack away at it. But it's too exhausting, so I usually just beat back a few of the tallest offshoots and it stays manageable for awhile. I'm realizing now it's probably time to buckle down and do the work to dig the fucker out. It grows so fast. He didn't pick me because I was attractive or desirable or a prize (I was 11, by the way). He picked me because I was awkward and worthless. Convenient. Something to be thrown away. At the same time, a guy who'd been one of my best friends (in secret, because I wasn't a popular kid) also took advantage. I was 12. Afterward, he told me not to tell anyone. I've internalized that. Don't talk about it. Good enough for some dark secret thing, but not for the light of day. That's a heavy load. There were a series of others that followed. And my story isn't unique or special or unusual. But damn, it's a bitch.
Marriage is hard. It's work. Everyone who's in one knows that. And you can't expect that your cycles and waves are always going to sync with your partner's. And then you have kids. And a career. And ambitions. It's easy to lose each other. It takes work to come back together. And sometimes, especially with my experiences, my partner doesn't love me in the ways I need to be loved. (I'm fully aware, by the way, that this is very much rooted in the fact that I don't love myself all that much. It makes it hard for someone else to love me in a way that can fill that void.) Then I met someone and we became fast friends. I felt like he saw me and understood me. I felt like he looked at me in a way that other people don't. I thought maybe he was going to love me, fill me up in the ways I needed. But then he didn't. He didn't choose me. The not choosing unearthed what I'd buried. And the deep dark feelings of worthlessness and unattractiveness and that I am a throwaway thing came swelling in a way I never thought they would again. The things I say to myself: "Why would you be such an idiot to think he'd ever want you?" And some of the darkest thoughts, the ones about cutting (I have outgrown that, thank God) and the ending, are lurking. And I won't. But it just shows what these weeds can do, how they can hurt us so many years later.
My husband is good and solid and true. He does love me, often in the ways I need him to. And he's trying harder to love me in the ways I need. And I love him, deeply. He is my anchor and buoy, no one else. He knows the whole ugly story and he chooses me still. And my friends who have had more than their fair share of darkness are there. They too bolster and affirm and love. And it's not this poor other guy's fault in any way. If he read this, I'm sure he'd feel guilty. He shouldn't. I think the universe offers us people at times in our lives when we need them most. Without him, I may not have ever actually confronted the dark parts. I would have continued to hack and wait and when the overgrowth happened I'd whittle back the branches again, never actually addressing the issues. And for that, pain included, I'm grateful for him and what he has offered me.
I wish I would have had the courage to snuff this out years ago. The years of burial and denial and prayer alone, the years of fear of what others will think when they see the dirty laundry -- when we don't tidy and straighten and disguise our messes -- need to be over for me. I know reading this would hurt and disappoint my family, but I'm raising a family of my own. And I don't ever want my boys to feel the need to disguise the truth. Because, as I said, the truth is an act of love. And it's time I started loving myself.
I'm disappointed to discover that 30 wasn't the magical number when all the pieces came together, when I became solid and grounded and confident and happy. But maybe that's another one of those lies we float upon -- the false belief that we ever fully come together. I will be happy again -- I often am happy now, too. The dark cloud just has a way of taking hold and blocking out light from time to time. But rather than waiting for it to pass, I'm ready to confront. Finally. There are some things we can't do on our own, some battles we'll never have the strength to fight alone. I'm still accepting that it's not a sign of weakness to ask for help and I would never think of it as such for anyone else. I know I've said it to plenty of others and have believed it. A friend yesterday asked why it is that we can extend such grace and understanding and love to others, but not to ourselves. I'm ready to begin. I'm ready to try. I'm ready (hesitantly, perhaps, but ready nonetheless) to believe that I am deserving of love, especially from myself. I'll get there. It starts with truth. I've finally told it.