Permission to Heal

There came a time, when I was around 12 years old, when the woman I would grow to be begun to peer out from behind my big brown eyes. Unlike a child, she begun to see the world not as she was taught to, but through the lens of her own judgement. She begun to find her voice, and recognize bullshit. This is a dangerous thing to witness, for an abuser. This means that the old methods of control and intimidation may begin to fail, and new forms of manipulation need to be discovered. It was during this shift that my mother begun throwing her past around, not as an explanation during an apology, but as an excuse I must accept. She turned her past into a reason for me to feel guilt when she behaved badly. How dare I stand up for myself, or be angry with her, when she had suffered the same abuse as myself? I, of all people, should understand how damaging this could be. 

A master-manipulator she was not. All this new tactic served to accomplish was teaching me to feel contempt for people who blamed their lack of self control on a troubled past. It also instilled in me an absolute inability to offer myself any gentleness with my own wounds. Somewhere in the still green growth of my own beliefs, a seed took hold that said I must always heal and rise above my past - and must never allow it to negatively impact anyone I cared about, or dare to ask them to help me carry it. At thirty years old I am just now realizing this may not be a realistic, or healthy, expectation.

With the sudden surfacing of old wounds and triggers I have been forced to shed light on the dark corners of my own psyche, and finally begin to ask myself how they were created. 'I have abandonment and trust issues. I know they're not based in reality, and I'm trying to work through them.' That's as far as I usually let myself go. I took a few deep breaths, focused on pulling in my cords - instead of cutting them, and sat. I asked myself 'when did you first feel abandoned' and allowed memories to come without judgement. 

The first was a familiar memory. When I think of reasons I might be damaged it's always in the top three. I saw my tiny hands clutching a stuffed tiger as I peered over her striped shoulders at my mother. She was crying/yelling while she writhed on the floor next to my bed. My grandmother yelled from the other side of the door, asking what was happening, while my mother threw up and screamed at me to grab paper towels. I scurried un-noticed past my grandmother and back into the room. I recoiled and glared as I was ordered to clean the vomit. The cats might eat it and die, because it was full of pills. The rest is a blur of cleaning, screaming voices, being hit because a cat snuck into the room, and eventually a police officer picking me up and bringing me into the living-room, where I watched as my mother was taken away. I don't remember how long she was gone. I don't remember her coming home. It was never talked about. Years later I asked for the truth, and was told that she 'just didn't want to be here any more.' I swore at her and asked if she had thought of me at all and she said 'No. I just didn't want to be here. Now stop being dramatic, the movie is starting.'

The next face to come to my mind was my father's. I felt myself stiffen and begin to push the memory away. No. He was a good father. He loved me unconditionally, and tried his best. No. I would not blame him for a wound. But again and again memories flooded. I saw myself throwing cigarettes in the toilet, and refilling the pack with rolled up notes that said "I love you" and asked him to stop - for me. I saw myself digging through cabinets to find hidden bottles and cans, and dumping them down the drain. I heard myself asking him, constantly, to stop. To do it for me. To do it to be with me. With great sadness I remembered his voice and his face as he told me he couldn't. He told me he wouldn't. He said he would rather be happy in the time he had here, than miserable. Aren't you happy with me? I asked if I was worth it to him and was met with stony silence. I remembered the months on end when he would disappear to Florida, leaving me unable to reach him. I remembered the feeling of growing up loving a father I knew I would lose early. I saw myself crying on a boat, a few days before he died, 'You're never going to even walk me down the aisle. Don't you want to see Selene grow up? Don't you want to be with me?!' That day we got into a fight as I caught him sneaking off to buy alcohol, and we fought in the car. A few days later, for the first time in my life, I got angry enough to hang up on him. I thought I would call him the next morning. I thought that, maybe, seeing me angry would help. The next morning I woke up and he was gone. There would be no reconciliation. My last conversation with the person I loved most dearly in this world had been a fight, and I would never get to say goodbye. I frantically called his phone, praying for a chance at goodbye that never came. I wasn't enough to save him.

Two years ago my mother assaulted my grandmother, knocked out her own front teeth, and tried to kill herself again all in a single weekend. As I packed a bagged to be brought to her at the mental health facility I felt nothing but disgust. Any desire I may have had to be someone's reason to stay was long gone. I had accepted that it was not my job to save anyone, but I had also let it settle deep into my bones that I could never be enough, anyway. 

I remembered years of pouring my heart into friendships that ended in abandonment. I saw myself in cuffs for claiming something that was not my own, so a friend would not be arrested. That same friend, just a year later, disappearing because her boyfriend did not like that I encouraged her to seek treatment for PTSD. I saw myself open and honest, trusting and giving. As other friendships and lonely years flitted by - along with a fist fight in a parking lot, gossip, betrayal, and lies - I saw that version of myself fade and retreat. Each wound creating walls that my friends now are showing me I can finally let down, even if I chose to do it ever-so-slowly.

I saw a long series of romantic relationships shrouded in lies and cheating. I saw myself recognizing red flags, and talking myself down, only to find out I was right. I saw dreams that repeatedly pointed me to the truth, and hating myself for ignoring them. I saw emotional abuse so severe I was afraid to leave the house, and withered away to less than 120 pounds. I saw assault and years of stalking by a man so rich I feared speaking out against him. I saw myself committing to staying single, because the only love I seemed to deserve and attract was unhealthy and dangerous. I also saw myself finding my husband in that time of self imposed solitude, and finally finding a safe and loving home.

I was then brought back to a childhood of obsession with my appearance. Walking a runway at age five. Joining an agency where I learned to walk, act, eat, and move the right ways. Having it repeatedly drilled into me that everything from friendships and love, to jobs and speeding tickets, were 100% dependent upon my looks. 'The world will hate you if you're ugly.' I remembered all of the times family members fat shamed in front of me, and fearing what would happen to my own body as it developed. I remembered recovering from a severe illness that had left me emaciated, and being told (at 115 pounds, and 5'6") that I needed to be careful. I was getting a belly. I heard family members crooning about the self control others had, and how strong they were for not eating. I spent much of my life with people actively encouraging me to have eating disorders. As I matured every new curve was examined and commented on. I was given harsh medications that debilitated me, and forced into obsessive regimens because my teenage skin was breaking out. When a family member I loved dearly commented that my 4 year old daughter 'has a double chin like you,' I finally begun to see it for the unhealthy environment it was. 

I saw my grandparents now, who were my safe haven as a child, pulled completely out of my life, and ignoring my children. I saw my maternal grandmother through these eyes for the first time, and realized (too late) that she was always there for me. She was the only one, without fail, who never ever made me feel less-than. The only one who ever showed me unconditional support and love. I sent all of my love and gratitude to her, hoping she would receive it. 

And so these memories came, and I saw myself with compassion for the first time. My past is not great. It is not the worst out there. I know so many who have endured so much more than I have, and have handled it with grace and strength. I do not see anything insurmountable here. I do not see anything that needs to leave me shattered. I do, however, see that I am allowed to have walls to climb. I see now that, for better and worse, these things helped to create me. 

As I talked to my husband about all of this last night he was nearly in tears and tried to hug me. I stiffened. "I'm fine. I'm just talking."
He smiled that I-know-you smile and said "I know you're fine. You're also allowed to deserve a hug after all of that."

Oh. Well...yes. I guess I am. And without even knowing it, he gave me the last piece I needed to begin trying to heal. He gave me permission to be fine, and still need a hug. With those simple words he showed me that I was not weak and shattered just because I acknowledged that wounds exist and that I am still working through some of them. We decided that I would (try to) stop apologizing to my friends and loved ones whenever something creeps up, and instead thank them for being there with me. I am incredibly stubborn and notoriously hard on myself, but I think this one small, yet profound shift in perspective, will be what I need. 

As I spoke to my partner today she commented on how beautiful it has been to see my thrown into my insecurities, and sharing them. I laughed, unsure what could possibly be beautiful about this. She told me it was that she had known about my wounds only as abstract ideas up until this point. It was only now that she was finally getting to truly see them. She was finally seeing my well manicured walls breaking down and shattering to show what was underneath. For the first time, I saw that beauty too. 

I hate this space. I hate uncertainty and vulnerability. I hate feeling like my future is so very far out of my control that I cannot even begin to view it. And yet, here I am. Vulnerable, tentative, and embracing this period of growth. There is beauty in this mess, and strength in facing these weaknesses even when (especially when) I want to retreat. What I would normally find terrifying, and run from, I am leaning into. I'm actually feeling excited to see this growth and transmutation of fears. As always, I am being taught to trust.

With love,
Amber

 

Core

**TRIGGER WARNING: Pregnancy loss & abortion. If these subjects are upsetting to you in any way I ask that you discontinue reading. This will not be hurtful to me in any way, but negativity being added to this situation will.**

At tent on Sunday I was vague in my share. I justified being closed off with the thought that I did not want to trigger anyone - and I didn't - but the other truth is that I did not want to be judged. I feel immense sadness and guilt, and did not want it reflected back to me in my safe space. When I needed to crack open and lean into this loving circle the most I retreated.

This has been weighing heavy on me. I believe in writing hard about what hurts. I believe in sharing your pain and your story, so those who have not found their voice yet can find an ally. Hiding felt fake and dishonest. I'm not ready, and may never be, to share publicly but I am ready to trust my tribe.

At the tent before last Carolyn led a beautiful meditation where we were supposed to envision the seeds we wanted to plant for our future. I went to my generic image of my husband, children, and myself in the yard, outside of a small but happy home. As I watched my husband walk into the house I stood to follow, and leaned down and kissed the head of a baby I hadn't realized I was holding. She had crazy black hair, and deep brown eyes. The image of her startled me back to reality. The next morning I took a pregnancy test and the lines instantly turned blue.

I showed my husband, who was supportive of any decision I would make. I texted my best friend who reminded me to breathe. I spoke to midwives who gave me a reality check.
"You're not even 6 months postpartum."
"You hemorrhaged badly." 
"...Dangerous to you and baby."
I remembered.
I remembered...Months of being incapacitated with each of my pregnancies. Loosing anywhere from 10-20 pounds with each baby. Thinking that I would be leaving my own children behind to give someone else their daughter when I delivered Julia. The room covered in blood. The large painting crashing to the floor. The panic in the midwife's eyes. The color draining from my husband's face. Hands frantically digging into my abdomen as needles jabbed into my legs. My vision going black. Being too weak to walk.

I remembered thinking I was going to die.

Just a month prior to this test I was lying on my living room floor, pale as a ghost, because my body was not handling the bleeding from my cycle well. My midwife then reminded me to take it easy, that I was still recovering, and that I had a longer road than normal to healing. I was reminded now of how far I still had to go.  

How could this happen? I teach classes on this. I have NEVER had a mistake. I also know that it is nearly impossible to be 100% accurate when postpartum and breastfeeding. I remembered thinking, the night of a mistake, that it felt like I was cycling twice that month. I remember thinking I was being paranoid. 

I kept my shit together and said I was fine. I acknowledged the truth of what several professionals told me - it isn't safe or wise. I shut down. I got the herbs, tinctures, and seeds and I called The Equality Health Center. I was told I was 6 weeks pregnant. I took deep, cleansing breaths, and I was furious with myself. 

While I waited for a special ordered tincture to come in I debated what, if anything, to say to my boyfriend. I ended up telling him in the parking lot behind his house, in case he wanted to leave after I let him know. I was shaking. How could I let this happen? I told him there was a positive test, and that there couldn't be. When his silence forced me to look up, there was a smile on his lips that instantly broke my heart. "You're pregnant?"
"I can't be..."
"But, baby, you are." He reached out and took my hand. Even with tears blurring my vision I could see him smiling.
"I am. I can't be. Why...What...You're smiling..."
"This is amazing. I'm here for you. Whatever you need to do, I'm here for you."

I explained Julia's birth. I explained my health, since. He understood, hugged me, and we went home. That night I started the herbs, and he rubbed my belly as we fell asleep. As I drove home alone the next day, I finally wept. From there on out my husband and boyfriend were both silent on the matter, except to ask how I was feeling every few days.

The next day a friend posted to Facebook asking for volunteers to escort women into the Equality Health Center the following week, as there would be protests. Tears of rage and guilt streamed down my face. As if this wasn't hard enough. As if anyone wanted to fucking be there. Now there would be protestors for the hardest day of my life. I put my hand through a door, then sat to schedule a new appointment at Planned Parenthood, instead. I knew my friends would be there to support me if I asked, but I didn't want to see anyone I knew. I couldn't take being fiercely loved in that moment.

Despite intense cramping nearly constantly, my body would not let go. As the day approached I reached out to a friend, who walked me through what to expect and offered to go with me. I begun to feel nauseated throughout the day, which meant either the pregnancy was progressing, or I was slowly poisoning myself. Either way, I had to discontinue the herbs. I sat in the shower, with my hands on my belly, and sang a quiet lullaby. When I finished I spoke to her. I told her I loved her, that I was sorry, and that I released her. I told her she was wanted, but it wasn't possible. I told her it may never be possible, and that she could find another family if she needed to come through in this time line. I wept until the water ran cold. This was really happening.

Arturo asked to go with me. I told him "You really don't have to. I have a friend who can come."
"You have me and John. Why would you ever do anything alone?"
"Because we haven't even been together two months. This is...a lot."
"I told you, we're Benjamin Buttoning this relationship. I'm going with you."
John's eyes welled up as I told him about this conversation.

John begun to pace anxiously the day before I went in. The reality seemed to be settling in, and he was angry he couldn't be with me. I was grateful for this show of concern, but still refusing to acknowledge any feelings I was having. This had to be done. I was a spectator, watching myself from the outside. 

As I sat and pulled at my hair in the waiting room I remembered kissing another head of beautiful black hair and nearly lost my nerve. It was too late. The herbs could cause serious damage. There was no 'choice' here and there never was. 

After hours of waiting I was called back. They did an ultrasound, and asked if I wanted to know if there was more than one. I hadn't even thought of that, but said yes. She asked if I wanted to see. I hesitated, but said yes. There was nothing much to look at. A tiny circle. Just one. A blueberry in a dark cave. She told me it was too early to see any form, and I was immensely grateful.

They offered me medication to help with the pain and anxiety. I denied everything except for the minimal dosages of the lightest medications they had. I said it was because I didn't want to feel loopy. I told myself that I should be present for this. I told myself it would help me to process and heal. The truth is that I didn't think I deserved to escape. 

The experience I had kept myself detached from suddenly came crashing down, as I was slammed back into my body by pain. The only other times I had experienced my cervix opening had been to welcome life into the world. Feeling it being forced open by cold steel and piercing needles overwhelmed me with a sense of sacrilege. My womb was being desecrated, and life was being pulled from me. Knowing it needs to happen, and going through with it are vastly different experiences. There are few more primal urges than the will to protect the life within you. I bit my lip to keep from  screaming for it to stop, and then it was over. Something settled deep within me as I became mother to a child I would never meet.

The little bit of medication I accepted did its job. I slept a lot and felt okay that day. I even came up with a theme for tent in 3 days, to honor Ostara - Persephone, and the story of the underworld. 

I finally collapsed when I was alone the next day. Carolyn was an immense help at this point. She guided me through ways to honor the baby, and did the most important thing anyone could possibly have done for me at that point - she acknowledged that this was a loss. She told me I was allowed to feel pain, not just guilt. As I was researching spring Goddesses to choose a name for my baby I looked out my window, through bloodshot eyes, at the falling snow and I remembered the warmth of the sun on my face, just a day earlier as I carried my baby for the last time. I thought of Demeter's grief, and how it froze the world.  I understood how a mother's grief could do just that. At that moment Carolyn messaged me about how Persephone had come to me the night before. Persephone; of course. Everyone loved the name, and so it was chosen.

I remembered her story, and how she was allowed to come back to her mother. A shuddering sob wracked me, as I realized it would be a terribly long lifetime until I held my daughter again.

Carolyn asked if I wanted to change the theme of tent. I didn't. She offered to introduce the topic, which I typically do. I was so grateful for her thoughtful care, as always, but said I would like to try. I might not ever be ready to talk about her, or share her story, but at least this way I could say her name in my sacred space. And so, instead of sharing my own truth, my voice shook as I told the story of Persephone and her mother's grief.