Family

“For a lot of people, family is everything…” she says. And I gulp. Because it’s true. Family is everything, and where does that leave me?

*

“Black and white thinking…” she says.

“People expect you to trust in unconditional love, but you’ve never experienced that…” she says.

“You have an intense fear of abandonment…” she says. And then: “Boundaries are not synonymous with abandonment.”

*

I am in so much pain. Gulping, gasping pain.

Acceptance really is the antidote to suffering, though. It doesn’t eliminate the pain, but it lessens the suffering.

I can’t force myself to be anyone’s family.

I have to accept that.

*

“Do you think you romanticize family?” she asked.

No. I know families fight and feel misunderstood by each other and that they don’t always love each other well.

But in my moments being part of a family, the belonging somewhere, the being wanted, it’s like a hug. Even if things are uncomfortable otherwise.

Knowing you belong to someone, that your life isn’t just important to them in a detached, removed, peripheral sort of way, but that your life is intricately intertwined with theirs? It’s got a protective quality.

I am doing my life alone. Not unloved, but alone.

My life isn’t intertwined with any others.

I wake up in the morning alone and I go to bed at night alone.

Family is everything, and I don’t have that.

I want to scream that I can’t live this life, that it’s too hard. I want to beg for someone to love me like family. I want to scream about how it’s not fair and I’m not strong enough. I want to hurt myself for being unlovable and difficult to be in relationship with. I want to hurt myself for not being the kind of person people want.

But if I give in to those emotions, where does that leave me? Caught in this panicked spiral, unable to breathe, and dangerous to myself.

I have to accept it.

*

This life is too hard. It didn’t used to be. I used to love life. Back when I had a family. Back when I belonged somewhere. Back when there was someone to say goodnight to.

My family was dysfunctional and I don’t miss them in hindsight, but before I realized how unhealthy they were, I was so much happier. And now I’m alone.

They said they’d be my family.

But I’m alone.

And I have to accept it. Or else this will kill me.

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Words and Unrelated Quotes

“We are all such wrecks down here. Strangers in a strange land, falling time and time again. Trying to find a way to live right and love each other without losing our minds. Pretending and doing the best we can. Spinning our wheels and holding on. But there’s something truly beautiful about wrecked people standing together and singing about grace and ways to make it through. Hoping still, even as the light fades and good dreams die, even when the way seems lost, even as kingdoms fall, even through the long, dark night of quiet skies. Here we are on this blue speck floating through the endless night, spiraling across a measureless cosmos of chaos and majesty, searching, reaching, longing for something higher than ourselves. Here we together, separate, united, alone. Our worst so rotten and our best so good. Struggling, trying, falling, failing. Rising from the dust and returning again. Believing for something better–something more. Here we are, God, the wrecked of your hands, fashioned from dirt and breath, blood and water, spirit and flesh, beauty and chaos. Strangers unaware, hoping for something beyond the endless night. The hope that an infinite Creator rose up through this same dust and walked our planet as a man, tempted and tried, falling and rising again–the hope that someday we will rise up and never fall again–that’s what holds us all together. Searching for the weight, the counterbalance, the antidote to this one strange tiny life. Searching for ways to hold on and keep hope alive. As long as there is hope.”

*

“Do you feel like your relationship with God has been negatively impacted?” she asked me. And all I could say was, “I don’t know. I don’t know. I mean…, I don’t know.” Which, obviously, means yes.

It means I’ve shut off the part of my heart that cares about making God first. It means I can’t sit through sermons anymore that exhort us to live godly lives because I’m not doing that right now.

Eventually, after muttering and mumbling nonsensically, I paused. “If I do feel like He’s distant, it’s just because of where my heart’s at, right? Not because He’s left me?”

“Yes,” she said softly. “He won’t ever leave you.”

*

I walked through the woods today, hot anger flooding my body. I was inexplicably cranky. And cranky about being cranky.

I came to the end of the trail and looped back around again. I walked and walked because I didn’t know what else to do with myself.

I wondered about my night, about what I’d do. A puzzle? Bake? Draw? Write? Watch a movie? I didn’t want to do any of that. And that, too, made me angry. I felt trapped in a life with long stretches of time to fill, and a complete lack of desire to do anything. What was I going to do? How was I going to get through it? Did I even want to?

And then, a whisper: “This is what it looks like to take care of yourself.”

Sometimes taking care of yourself is choosing to feel what you feel and not letting it become bigger than what it is. Don’t attach words like ‘forever’ and ‘always’ and ‘never’ to emotions. Don’t let what you feel determine your truth. Just breathe. Just breathe and let it be. Emotions always pass. None of them last forever.

On my way home, my phone rang and my friend asked if she could stay the night tonight.

Instantly, my bad mood lifted. Because I wouldn’t be alone. Someone wanted to spend time with me. I had plans for the evening, and I realized in that moment that there are still things I want to do.

*

I’ve been focusing on all the ways God’s still taking care of me, even while I choose to walk down a path I know grieves His heart.

My friend asking to come over on a day when I really needed her? That sure felt like God taking care of me.

The other day I had to get all new tires on my car. I found out the same morning I learned my checking account was -$54. But I had a credit card for my car repairs. And my brakes waited to go out until I’d gotten back from my road trip. And my friend met me for dinner while I waited for my car to get fixed. And he paid for my food. That sure felt like God too.

Kittens and “I love you’s” and waking up rested.
God-given little brothers and big sisters and moms.
Book recommendations and people who pray for you and therapists who believe they can help you.
Strangers who smile at you and friends who see good in you and when the pen you’re using happens to match your fingernail polish.
When your dog is home alone for eight hours and he doesn’t chew anything up.
When your cat licks your face.
Freshly laundered bedding and back massages and the way the sun looks coming through the trees.
Twitchy, dreaming dog paws.
A dwindling to-do list and the energy to plug away at it, one thing at a time.
Hope.

God is still taking care of me. I don’t deserve it, but He hasn’t left.

*

“Shakespeare described love as an ‘ever-fixed mark.’ In a healthy family, you know how love is defined: It’s clear, has boundaries, and is attainable. Unfortunately, in a shame-bound family, love is a moving target; on day it’s this and one day it’s that, and just when you’re sure you’ve got it figured out, you discover you don’t.” -Brennan Manning

Love, Attachment, and ER Visits

​”Attachment theory teaches us that our assumption that we can and should control our emotional needs and soothe ourselves in the face of stress is simply wrong. Research findings support the exact opposite.

*

My arm was stretched across his abdomen. There were no words, just the gentle inhale and exhale and the sense of being safe.

She told me she loved me. She told me I don’t repel people. She told me not to give too much power to one person’s negative opinion of me, that not everyone sees me that way, that she doesn’t see me that way.

We laughed and drove to the coast. Comfort and freedom. Silliness and honest conversation. Singing ‘Carry On My Wayward Son’ over chips and salsa.

He said my smile is unreal. He said he can’t get enough. He said he likes my eyes and my freckles. He took me in and found something special there.

She said I’m brave.

She thanked me for my honesty. She said I could tell her anything.

We watched our dogs play. We laughed and talked and there was no judgment, just being present with one another.

She asked me what my plans are for Labor Day weekend. She wants to see me. She wants to spend time with me.

He offered to come over and spend time with me. My heart hurt and he offered to come over so that I wasn’t alone.

She text messaged me a quote. Encouragement in words. A reminder that I have support in this process I’m going through.

Her kids draw me pictures. She calls me when she’s sad. I call her too. We are family.

But I sat outside the ER alone, barefoot and barely clothed, so sick I couldn’t even tell the taxi driver how to get to my house.

I don’t think that’s okay. I will never, ever think that’s okay.

Love walks through fire.

Love is a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.

Love shows up.

*

“As adults we don’t play with toys anymore, but we do have to go out into the world and deal with novel situations and difficult challenges. We want to be highly functional at work, at ease and inspired in our hobbies, and compassionate enough to care for our children and partners. If we feel secure, the world is at our feet. We can take risks, be creative, and pursue our dreams. And if we lack that sense of security? If we are unsure whether the person closest to us truly believes in us and supports us and will be there for us in times of need, we’ll find it much harder to maintain focus and engage in life. When our important attachments are thoroughly dependable and make us feel safe, and especially if they know how to reassure us during the hard times, we can turn our attention to all the other aspects of life that make our existence meaningful.

Attachment

I’m not sure what it is about nighttime that makes me feel like a four-year-old.

I just want to be held.

And it’s that part of me, (amongst others), that I am trying to extinguish by driving across the country. Driving, driving, driving, driving- trying to learn to be okay being on my own, trying to unlearn this overwhelming desire to be a part of a family. Trying to accept that I may have ruined my life in some really significant ways. Trying to surrender to what is when it’s not something I can control. Trying not to go home until I am ready to do my life and stay safe.

I feel stronger during the day. My heart is far from light, but I smile. I smile, I am better at staying in the present moment, and I cry without letting my sadness and grief become bigger than me.

But at night, I’m four years old and I want a mom.

*

I read (er, listened on tape while I drove) Your Brain On Love, which is a book about the neuroscience behind attachment and relationships.

It has helped me have compassion for the four-year-old part of me.

– As human beings, we are wired for contact. We need to feel tethered to another person.

– We all, even as adults, need that primary attachment figure, (usu. a parent or spouse).

– For a secure attachment to form, we need to feel that we have access to our primary attachment figure, that there is somebody that is available to us 24/7.

– A primary attachment figure is also a “secure base.” A secure base is essentially the ground underneath of you. People who are afraid that their secure base might be crumbling begin to act very strange.

– It’s not true that we can’t love others until we love ourselves. Nor is it true that we have to learn to love ourselves by ourselves.

– It is not uncommon for people wired like myself to struggle with nighttime. Nighttime–going home alone, going to sleep–can feel to these people like the ultimate separation, which can cause a surge of anxiety. Often times people wired this way will try to soothe their anxiety by reaffirming that their relationships are secure, that they’ll still exist in the morning.

– There is no such thing as people who are “bottomless pits.” If someone seems needy, it’s because there’s something happening in that relationship that is serving to maintain their fear that they’re not secure. For instance, the more distant someone becomes (for whatever reason), the more needy and clingy a person is liable to become. Not because they can’t get enough love, but because they don’t feel secure.

*

How much about me needs to be healed, and how much needs to be embraced?

How much is a wound, and how much is normal?

How much is me expecting too much from life and relationships, and how much is what I need as a human being in order to function?

A Little More Wonder

I read recently: “God must be a pretty big fan of today, because you keep waking up to it.”

God’s perspective on today–the day as a whole, and the day that I am individually going to live–is positive.

My perspective is not. Even when I engage in mental gymnastics, trying to will my insides to cooperate, there’s something inside of me that is dead to life. Life doesn’t resonate with me anymore.

*

I was kayaking with my friend today. Good company. Nothing heavy on my heart. Sunny sky. Cool water. All was well. And yet, I looked around me, I took in the lily pads and the cottonwood floating through the air to land on the water around me, and I looked into the face of my friend, and I still could not understand how anyone chooses to live. How is anyone doing it?

And I paddled my kayak and silently willed the dead part of me to come back to life. I reminded myself that GOD HIMSELF CREATED THIS LIFE; there is goodness all around me. There are reasons to live all around me.

The bad doesn’t negate the good. The good is still here. And my inability to commit to living this gift? It isn’t because life isn’t worth it, it’s because something inside of me can no longer register the miracle of simply existing.

I can make a list of bad things and good things about life, but you know what? Neither of those lists carry much weight with me right now. My problem isn’t that life has too much bad or not enough good, my problem is that I can’t feel any desire to be here. I am disconnected from it all.

I need the Lord to teach me how to live. To take me back through a childhood and adolescence and young adulthood. To teach me about wonder and curiosity and awe, about what family and love and security should look like, to create in me a desire to use my life for something that will outlast me.

*

I was watching a medical show tonight, and I found myself wondering if it was fair for the medical team to treat a person’s body if they suspected brain damage. Is it fair to fight for a person’s body to live if their brain is dead? I don’t know. I don’t have the answer for that. But I know what I’d want for myself, or for someone I loved.

Something inside of me is dead. And still, I am daily choosing life.

I am daily facing my giants of depression and dysthymia and panic and screaming aloneness and fear and grief and the desire to sleep forever. Every day I am choosing.

Every day, I show up for the battle, even though I don’t want to anymore. Neither I nor the giants have any desire to be looking each other in the eyes, and yet there I am, back for round two or twenty or two thousand.

But how do I fight for life when something inside of me isn’t even alive anymore?

I don’t know. You just choose, I guess. You choose and just hope you’re able to keep choosing well.

And today I chose to meet my friend to go kayaking. I chose to preach goodness to my soul by engaging in some of the best that life has to offer, even though I can’t feel it right now.

I laughed with my friend and I breathed deeply. I floated on the lake, dragging my hand through the water, and listening to the rustle of nearby trees.

And I prayed, “Lord, teach me how to live.”

All The Living Things

There’s a man sleeping on the sidewalk outside my office window.

Yesterday I watched a woman eat a sandwich, mayonnaise and saliva oozing down her chin.

Five days a week, I look into hollow eyes and watch people take pills and I wonder about life. I wonder about the significance of any of it. I wonder why some people sleep outside and numb their pain with needles and I wonder how they do it, how they keep doing life when it’s cold outside and they have no bed and all their friends are unshowered and swearing. And I wonder why them and why not me. And I wonder what if it was me? What if that became me?

*

Yesterday, under the fading sun, I played lacrosse with him. We laughed and ran through the grass barefoot and I thought, “THIS is why people live. For moments like this.”

I watched my friend play guitar, his pain and heart and perspective on life becoming art. And I marveled at that, at how some people can take this life, the bigness of it, and not be consumed by it, but rather use their voice to encourage and comfort and inspire others, putting truth on display in a way that isn’t scary but that reminds us we’re all in this together.

She looked into my eyes and kissed my head and hugged me and I thought, “I’d choose this moment over any moment with my biological family.” Moments like those? That, too, is why people choose to do life. The people in my life right now, they are the family of my heart. I lost my biological family, sure, but I didn’t really lose anything because, in exchange, God gave me so much more- people who see me and know me and look at me with love and promise they won’t leave.

*

I wonder if they’re catching on to me at work.

The RN was talking about a client the other day, and he said the client is taking more than the recommend amount of Advil. Then he told the team that he advised the client not to do that because “that will kill you.”

Reflexively, I said, “It will?”

A couple days later he was talking about a client with diabetes and how if his blood sugars get down to 40, he could go into a diabetic coma.

“Can anyone have such low blood sugar, or just diabetics?” I asked.

Even though I’m in a better place, my mind automatically goes there.

*

“You’re adorable,” she said to me, this stranger. And I wondered what people see when they see me.

Would I give up on this person I am? I am the only one who will ever have this voice and this heart and this smile. Would I give up on this person that God created with so much love and detail? Would I lay to rest forever these hands that have cuddled babies and lovingly stroked Arlow’s face and typed out words that resonated with others? Would I chose to put a “the end” in the middle of the story God is still scripting?

What if they left me? What if no one loved me or thought I was “adorable”. Would I give up then?

*

“I’m sad,” I told her. “I’m sad because I’m scared and I’m sad because I hurt and I’m sad because life is hard.”

In response, she said the only thing there is to say: “I don’t want you to be sad. I love you.”

And I thought about that. There are worse things to be than sad, I suppose. Like mean. I’d rather be tender-hearted and sad than cold-hearted and mean. Maybe there’s a blessing in the sadness.

*

“I feel like Cinderella,” I told her. “I feel like my carriage is going to turn back into a pumpkin.”

I’m scared.

But maybe the fear is a lesson. Maybe God is teaching me how to let love be what it is, to trust in it even when it feels uncomfortable.

I can’t grab on to people like I hold tight to my blanket. Life doesn’t work like that. Which means, until I learn to be a person apart from other people, and until I learn to trust people when they say they love me, I’m going to spend a lot of time feeling uncomfortable.

Uncomfortable is a gift, though. At least if we use it well. Uncomfortable is always the first step to growth.

You can’t define love. You can’t label it and pin it down and put it in a box or a chart or a graph or something tangible that keeps it permanent and immobilized and for sure. Love is a living thing, not a thing to be controlled. A thing to surrender to, to be swept up in, to let breathe. You can’t control it; you just have to let it be.

 

The Battle Continues. And So Does The Laughter.

“Your eyes aren’t smiling today,” my coworker said. Which surprised me because that means my eyes are smiley most days.

*

I keep having to remind myself that life is a gift. Life was God’s idea- the same God I desperately want to be held by. This life is a reflection of Him. It IS Him holding us. We are here, breathing in the stuff of miracles, surrounded by the work of His hands. His fingerprints are everywhere.

The suffering of life wasn’t part of His plan, of course, but the good? The good can reveal to us the heart of our Father, if only we have eyes to see.

*

The dysthymia precedes the panic, every time. Suddenly the world goes dark- black. I try desperately, fiercely to keep my head above water, but I can’t. The current is pulling me down to a place where there is no oxygen or light.

How many nights have ended with me squeezing my eyes closed in bed, my throat tight, my heart racing, repeating: “What I’m feeling right now is a lie. I am alive. I am alive. This life is a gift. I am alive.”

There are moments when suddenly I see and feel about life the way I used to. And those moments are like desperately needed oxygen, loosening the tightness in my chest, lessening the weight on my shoulders, showing me how, even in my best moments, I am weighed down by this fight. And but suddenly these moments of clarity hit me and there’s lightness and relief and something like joy, and I think, “Ah, yes, there you are, Life! I knew it wasn’t supposed to be so hard! I knew you were worth it! I knew you were, at your core, good!”

But the moments are fleeting. Like a blink. And suddenly I’m back in this life where every single decision I make throughout the day is a response to the question: “How can I keep from having a panic attack?”

It’s the panic I can’t do anymore. It is hell. And always, in every moment, I am running as hard as I can away from that, that place that feels like hell, that place that makes me feel certain this is a fight I won’t win.

*

There are moments that make me want to weep with relief because I forget I’m fighting. I’m surrounded by the best kind of chaos, and belonging, and love. And I forget that the sun is setting and that nighttime is hard for me.

God is holding me. He is the breath in my lungs. My throat is tight, but He is my breath. And so I close my eyes and remember I am alive and this life was His idea.

*

And it won’t end. The best parts of this life will continue in heaven.

So when I can’t feel any pleasure in the good of this life, when everything feels empty and meaningless and my heart starts to beat with the wildness I’ve become accustomed to before a panic attack, I can tell myself, without a doubt, that my brain is lying to me. Because even if not all of life is good, some of it is good. And that good has His fingerprints all over it. Life was His idea. And death is an illusion. Those of us to love Him will live forever.

Life is a gift.

*

Here are some things I know:
1. Not everyone feels this way. My brain is sick. Life isn’t this hard for everyone. Which means there’s hope for me. There’s hope that my brain will get healthier. There is hope that the life I knew for 20-something years will return to me.
2. God doesn’t blame me. He knows how I’m fighting. He knows my thoughts and my heart. And there is no condemnation in His eyes. Only love.
3. I am human. I am flawed and weak and sinful, and I vacillate constantly between thoughts and emotions, lies and truths, fears and desires. And that’s okay. It’s okay to be human because God’s grace is bigger than the width and depth of my need and depravity.
4. I am never alone.

*

I don’t know if it’s going to be okay this side of heaven. When I ask myself that question, my response is always, “It HAS to be.” It has to get better or I don’t know if I’ll survive. My desire to fight? It’s huge. But the panic is bigger.

And so I surrender. I embrace not knowing. I accept that this is my fight right now. I breathe. And I say, “I don’t know. I don’t know how or when or why or what’s next. But thank You.”

And I do. I thank God for air, for breath and belonging and moments where life feels real to me and worth it. I thank Him for love and family, laughter and sun, Arlow and the moments before sleep when all feels okay.

I thank Him that He holds me.

And I thank Him that whether my head is above water or below, He is there.