Tough Love

I took a taxi barefoot, in a nightgown.

I paid $17 to go home.

“You can’t come get me?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “I’m sorry it’s come to this.”

I get it. I’m sure they’d say, “It’s tough love.”

But tough love doesn’t work for all of us. And tough love doesn’t work for all situations.

Because, while I sat outside the ER, bra-less, so sick I couldn’t see straight or stand, all I felt was even more split between this world and the next.

I feel like part of me is already dead. Even if only the part of me that exists in the hearts and minds of others.

Jesus would’ve picked me up.

Reality

Sometimes it’s hard for me to know what’s real.

I don’t mean to say that I am out of touch with reality, (although that too, sometimes ;-)). I have no problem being able to say, “This happened today,” and know that’s true, but the trouble comes in when I, without realizing it, start assigning meaning to the events of the day.

I look at the facts and start answering for myself “why did that happen?” and “what does that mean?” Like an architect examines a structure for stability, I pace back and forth over the events of my life, examining them second by second, inch by inch, asking the questions: “Is this thing solid? Am I secure? Am I safe?”

I don’t feel very safe today.

And that’s why I say I don’t know what’s real. Because nothing bad happened, it’s my own analysis of events, my own answers to the “why’s” and “what’s” that has me feeling like the ground I am standing on is shaky.

And is it? Am I safe? Is it shaky? I DON’T KNOW. I don’t know what’s real and I’m scared because I need to know I’m safe.

Which brings me to another one of those fork-in-the-road moments though, doesn’t it? I can either choose to act out of my fear, or I can choose something better for myself.

I can choose to view my day through the lens of fear and trauma, or I can choose to view it through the lens of: “Where was God?” That doesn’t make it any easier for me to know whether or not I’m safe, but it does help me get back to the basics of what ACTUALLY happened today.

Remove the emotion, get down to the facts: Where was God?

He was in my slow-start morning.
The willingness of Laura to bring by my medication.
Having people to call when I need to be emotional and messy.
The warm day.
Watching Arlow play at the dog park.
Finding a ball at the dog park, after realizing I forgot to bring one of ours.
The woman I met, who I talked with about her divorce and daughters and dogs.
Not hitting traffic on the drive back home.
A good sermon.
Flickers of hope.
The invitation to have dinner and s’mores at a friends’ house tonight.

*

I heard a sermon today about the men who lowered their friend through the roof of a house to get him to Jesus. They would’ve done anything to get their friend to Jesus. They weren’t concerned about being impolite or interrupting or making a hole in someone’s roof. They just wanted Jesus.

And I heard that, and I thought about my theory about love. How loving someone means doing the least selfish thing.

But what those men did? That was pretty selfish. And it might not have even been motivated by love, but by need. And yet, Jesus still responded to it.

People can’t handle desperation. People can’t handle it when you come to them with a “cut a hole into someone’s roof” category of need. But God can.

With Him, I’m safe.

But He’s not here.

He’s in my day, but He’s not here.

And I wonder if it’s more important for me to love Him well in the midst of this life that is too hard for me, or if it’s okay to come to Him desperate and ruled more by need than by love.

Where Hope And Exhaustion Meet

Every day feels like a series of hard and/or scary things that I have to do alone.

And what do I get at the end of the day as a reward? Just the satisfaction of having to do it all over again tomorrow.

And I pray, constantly, to see God in my day.

And I do. I see Him when I reflexively reach out and place my hand on my client’s unwashed head after she bumps it getting into my car. “Are you okay?!” I ask. And I know that simple love and concern for her is less me than it is Jesus.

I see Him in the sheer awe I feel at the way the mountain looks as the sun is coming up in the morning.

I see Him in how I can’t help but cry during worship, watching my church family, arms raised towards heaven, proclaiming over their pain that our God is GOOD.

And I feel Him, like electricity, running through my veins. It’s like being hugged from the inside.

And yet, somehow it’s still not enough.

I told my new therapist all of that this week.

Yes, I have a new therapist. Because the last one fired me. Which seems like the opposite of therapeutic when my primary source of pain is that everyone gives up on me and walks out of my life.

I had poured my heart out to my former therapist, and yes, in her defense, I’ll admit I’m a mess, but isn’t that sort of to be expected when someone comes into therapy because they can’t make themselves want to be alive?

And this former therapist of mine looked me in the eyes, bi-weekly, and made me feel secure and safe with her…

Only to decide that actually, she was going to contribute to that theme of abandonment in my life.

This new therapist of mine met me for the first time last week. I sat down on her couch, pointed at myself, and said after a brief introduction, “So, good luck with this one.”

We talked and she look at me, expressionless. Then she said she isn’t sure what to do with me. She said she feels like I’m doing everything right.

I’m practicing coping skills and reaching out and guarding my thoughts and trying to pave a future for myself that feels like hope. I can list twenty reasons I’m grateful, and at least half as many times today that I felt joy.

And I can still say, I’d rather be dead.

I can look forward to things, I can laugh, and I am still, every single second, having to battle the constant thought, and resulting emotion sitting heavy on my chest, that this life isn’t worth it.

“Why can’t I make myself want to be alive?!” I asked her. “What am I doing wrong?” And then: “I’m so, so tired.” And then I wept.

She said she doesn’t think I’m doing anything wrong, and that it’s a mystery to her why I can’t feel any desire to live.

“I think,” she said, “this has more to do with how your brain has tried to cope with all the trauma. I don’t think this has anything to do with you not trying hard enough, or being ‘weak’, or ‘not having enough faith’. I think this is about your brain.”

I don’t know if that feels like hope to me or not, but it does help me feel compassionate with myself.

I told Camilla, who asked me that same question, that I wasn’t sure I felt more hope, but that I felt more compelled to give everyone the middle finger every time they look at me with judgment or harbor the belief that, if there wasn’t something wrong with me, something I could control, then I wouldn’t feel this way.

“The human desire to survive is very, very strong,” my new therapist said. “And if you truly can’t feel that, then something is wrong. And I don’t think it’s your fault.”

I’ve been trying to think of a metaphor for what it’s like to live this way, and all I can come up with is that it’s kind of like when you have a cough- not a deep cough that earns sympathy and maybe time off of work and a doctor’s prescription, but a constant tickle in your throat.

And you know everyone around you is annoyed because you can’t stop coughing, and you’re annoyed with yourself too. So you try to tell yourself you don’t need to cough. And all day long, you are fighting against what your body naturally wants to do. All day long, you’re trying not to cough, and the pressure in your head just keeps building from the never-abating tickle, which endlessly reminds you that something isn’t right.

All day long, I am fighting against what my body naturally wants to do- die. All day long, I am battling a part of myself that I have no real control over.

I wonder how much of this is spiritual.

“Look for reasons to laugh!” I tell myself.
“Look for Jesus!”
“Smile at strangers!”
“Don’t let yourself, even for a minute, think hopeless thoughts!”
And so I do.

Last week, on two separate days, I almost left work without telling anyone. I almost just drove away from the building, picked Arlow up, and went home.

And what would I do when I got home? I wasn’t sure. Would I kill myself? Run away? Did it matter?

It scares me to see myself so close to doing something that would so completely derail my life.

I drive across the bridge my client jumped off and I have to tell my brain to STOP. I have to force myself not to think.

I hear in a training about the most deadly combination of pills and alcohol. I hear how alcohol thins your blood and makes you bleed out faster. And I have to yell at my brain to STOP.

I hug the ones I love and look into their eyes and tell myself, “They need you.”

I text Camilla every single night something true. Like, “God has a good plan for my life. This fight is worth it. I have so much to be grateful for.”

I mentally make a list of goals, (getting my LICSW, finding a place to live in Gig Harbor…), and things to look forward to, (Madison coming over, spending Thanksgiving with the Sarnos…).

I count down the days until I can see my therapist again, not because I think she’ll be able to help me, as we’ve both confessed not knowing what to do with me, but because it gives me an hour in which I can stop fighting my brain. An hour of rest. I can lay all my cards out before her and weep over the confusion I feel- all the loss; the so, so much good in my present; the desire to die.

I laugh. I reach out to people and tell them I love them. I force myself to stay present with my clients, letting them know I see them, I hear them, I care.

And I beg God to show up. To supernaturally get me from 6:30 a.m. until I finally pull into my driveway at the end of the day.

And at the end of the day, I arrive home. I take a long shower. I cuddle Arlow. And I crawl into bed.

“This moment is good,” I think.

“I like my job,” I think.

And yet why, if both of those things are true, do I feel so compelled to give up on living?

And so I lay in bed, and breathe deeply, and think of things that are good, even when my emotions don’t recognize them as such. I try to talk myself into looking forward to tomorrow. But it doesn’t work. I just feel panic.

So instead, I soothe myself with all the good in this moment: my snoring dog, his head underneath my chin; being warm in my bed; the gentle hum of the heater.

And I try not to think about the fact that tomorrow is coming.