There are rivers that flow
Each generation steps into the waters of their family
Waters of the generations flow over and around each person
For some the waters flow sparkling past
Filled with love and contentment
For some the water flows inky black
Filled with pain and sorrow
Passed from one generation to another
Ripping through them till the waters run dark from them as well
But I will stand strong
Casting stones to either side
Building a dam to hold back the dark water
Standing firm in the center as the blackness assails me
Filtering as best I can the water as it passes
So my children and grandchildren step into cleaner water
Water filled with love and laughter
I will stand as a bulwark
And I will not yield
©2013 Leslie Whitcomb
A few weeks ago I was faced with a serious health issue. One that required me to go to the hospital and receive emergency assistance. But before I made the decision to go to the hospital I had to make a choice.
For the last several months I have been weighted down with deep exhaustion. It was not just my body that was tired but my mind and my soul. I had decided that I would never take my own life. However I had also decided that I would not fight nature if my body became seriously ill. That time had come. I spent a week in this condition.My body was seriously struggling to do what it needed to do. My resting heart rate was 184 and I was becoming more tired each day.
It was at this time that I decided that I needed to fight and stay alive. For my family and my young children. So I went to the hospital and spent several days in ICU while they brought my heart back to a more stable pace. It is not healed and I have a struggle still ahead of me to get better. I chose to live.
There is a difference however between being alive and living. I am alive when I breathe and my heart beats. But what does it mean to live to be truly living? To want to be here and to experience all that I can. To do that I have to change things. I have to work toward living. Taking care of myself physically, spiritually, and psychologically. Not just getting through each day but finding and enjoying something about each day. Not just stuffing all the hard things into a closet so that it bulges while I ignore that those things exist. But working out ways to make peace with the hard things.
Each day is still filled with pain. But this pain reminds me to fight and to live. It reminds me that to be alive is just not enough anymore. I need to find joy in being alive and also bring living back into my world.
For the last few months I have been struggling. Struggling to write this blog. Struggling to find a peaceful place in my mind. Just struggling with everything.
Then something began to change in my house. My daughter, who has been struggling with depression for a while started to do something different. She started to exercise. And to do things that she wasn’t doing before. It all started with a small yoga practice. Then moved on to jumping rope and running. She started small. Doing them for a short time and then increasing a little then staying at that level.
She has begun to feel stronger inside herself and less depressed. There is a very strong glow about her now. She has begun to inspire me.
I look at myself and I say there is no way I can do that. I can’t do those yoga positions. I can’t walk very far. I can’t… See a pattern? But then I started to really watch her. She is not doing more than her body can do, only challenging it to do more. She has made it past the wall of inertia that keeps me back.
Yesterday I started to do my very small yoga practice. It felt really hard to start. It was really hard to get my body to move at first. There was so much stiffness in all of my muscles. Each movement was loosening muscles that I had let become almost rock like. With each movement my mind was starting to loosen up as well. All this was followed by meditation. I have built up to fifteen minutes now. Which is pretty good for someone who gets distracted by dust particles floating past.
My daughter is rapidly becoming my hero without her knowing it. And my inspiration to change. The struggles are all there still. The challenges have not decreased. My mind and my body however are starting to grow a little bit stronger each day. As I watch my daughter overcoming her own challenges I am inspired to try to move past my own.
Breathing in and breathing out. Opening myself to each day. There are times that I come to a point of complete exhaustion. When I become so tired and feel ready to be done. Days where I would welcome an end to the pain. Because to be honest there really are no pain free days. There are no days when the scars on my body do not hurt me deeply. I spent twelve years being systematically tortured, sexually, and physically abused and the remainder of my childhood dodging psychological and physical abuse. Those years have left many scars on my body.
For years I could go through the day without letting on to the pain I experienced. During the years of the abuse I learned that you kept going and swallowed down the pain that you experienced walking, sitting, or just moving. After repetitive times of having the soles of my feet beaten I struggle to walk with the support of shoes. Too much nerve and tendon damage. I dream of a day that I wake up in the morning and am not in pain. Those days of being able to hide the pain have left me.
Why am I writing about all of this? I would guess it is because I so very seldom talk about what happened. I do tell people the quick abbreviated version in which I say that I had a very traumatic childhood. How I walked out the other end in as good of shape as I have is sometimes a mystery to me. What I do know is that my childhood taught me how to fight back. I did more fighting back in those early years than I want to remember. Nor do I want to remeber the consequences that the fight brought me.
I have reached a time now when I am so tired. When I have given so very much to be alive and functioning. At one time in my life I had a great passion. I was filled with immense light that was generated from the bonfire that passion ignited. Now that fire has dwindled to a mere pile of ash.
I know that at the bottom of that pile of ash is a spark. Perhaps so small that it is barely there. But it is there. I can feel it. Somewhere in that pile it is waiting for me to find it. And though I feel so tired, almost to the point of exhaustion I know I need to find it. When I find that small spark I will blow on it and give it the nurturing that it needs to create a bonfire in my heart that none of the exhaustion of just breathing will be able to exist in its presence.
Even though I am moving through a very hard place I am still moving. Sometimes it feels like trying to walk through a wind that wants to rip and tear at you. The only thing to do is pull the hood tighter and keep my head down and move forward against the wind. Because if I stop that wind will blow me backwards. I do not want to go backwards. Even though it is hard to move through the wind there is the added bonus that perhaps that wind is blowing away the ash that covers my spark. And with a little kindling that wind could blow my tiny spark into a roaring inferno.
Lately I have been overwhelmed by stress and changes in the things around me. By the end of the day I am filled with extreme sensory overload. It sometimes reaches a point that the only thing that I can do is go to bed and hide under my covers for half an hour.
After one particularly hard day at my internship site I called home and told my family I would be home a few hours later than usual. I needed to decompress from everything that had happened that day. I went to a restaurant that my husband and I go to regularly. I sat at the table where we usually sit. I ordered something that I have had many times in the past. And I pulled out my kindle and started to read a book that I have read before. There was no new input. Everything was familiar. After about an hour I felt calm and a lot more peaceful. I was able to process the stimulus of the day.
I had gone to a place that was constant. There was nothing new to interfere with the processing of the day. Later I thought about how I was feeling and how I had decompressed in such a short time. And how it had been such a thoroughly relaxing thing. The thought that came to me was that I was processing in a place where there was continuity. A place where nothing new existed and nothing was competing for my attention. There was no new input.
It felt like a moment where a light bulb is turned on and you realize that the switch for the light had been there the whole time. And I was just noticing it. Having a space that is continuously the same and never changing or at least only subtly changing can be extremely healing for an over stimulated mind. I had heard of people having a meditation space where they would always go and thought that it was a very cool. I never felt that it was something that would benefit me.
Creating and having a space of continuity has now become very important in my self-care plan. It is part of the “what pleasant activity did you do?” section of my plan. Doing this helps me to work with my difficulty in dealing with change in general. I am finding a place in the storm of my life that is always calm. A place that is not overstimulating and whispers to me to come in and find peace.
I hope everyone can find that place and visit it often when things in life become overwhelming.
When I was younger I desperately wanted a family. At the time I was not particularly close to any member of my birth family. Because of this I would try to meld with others into their family, I felt like the proverbial cuckoo’s egg. I was trying to plant myself in to a family. Doing this is basically how I survived a large portion of my childhood. I would find a friend that would let me be a part of their family in a small way. Even if it was only in my imagination, I created family.
When I was twenty-one I moved from San Antonio to Massachusetts to be near other parts of my birth family. By that time the need for family had become so great inside of me. I just wanted to have family and here were actual blood relatives. At the time the need that I projected was so great that I am surprised that they did not just turn and run away. My need to feel nurtured or to nurture was so huge that I did not even recognize it. As time past I felt as though I was isolating myself from them in many ways. I felt that I was intruding into their lives. Or I would feel as though I was taking advantage of their generosity. As I saw the need in me I tried to be casual. I also felt their withdrawal from me as I withdrew. In some ways I was the unknown interloper trying to impose myself on them and their family. I did not grow up around them and I did not really know them. I had grown up thinking about them. And was jealous of their closeness to each other. And here I was an outsider trying to get into their inner circle.
As I gained more knowledge of myself and who I wanted to become I found that I did not quite fit in with some of the family that had welcomed me. Or this was my belief. Whether or not this was true it was what I believed.
I moved on and away from family at some point. I stopped trying to become one with them and stopped trying to find what I was missing. In time I found the man that would become my husband. Together we created our own family. A large, loud, and beautiful family. That I have been very honored to be with as they grow into adulthood. They have given me an immeasurable sense of being a part of something truly amazing.
I often look back with regret on the family that I seemingly scarred off. I don’t think it was all me. I don’t think that it was anyone’s fault or anything like that. I just regret that the only contact I have with most of my family is on facebook. I am just glad that the deep need that I had,from the time I was very little to be a part of a loving family, has finally been realized.
I have often wondered if others who have come from abusive homes have similar experiences of looking for family. I have a very big family now. I am close to my sister that I grew up with and I have created an extensive family of friends who function as family. My choice family rather than a birth family. There are many members of my birth family or extended family in my choice family. For which I am very grateful. I guess where I am going with this is that family is what you have. Even if what you have is family that you brought together and not one you were born into. If home is where your heart is than so is family.
One should never underestimate the importance of self care. Those words make a very important statement. It is something that I have been failing to do for some months now. I have not taken time to do things that are healing or nurturing for myself in a very long time. As result I have slowly stopped being there for people.
In my internship I show up and I am actually the most present with people that I am anywhere. But home life and personal life have been in a fog. I have dreaded getting up in the morning. And I have struggled to try to find some joy in the world. Things have been bleak. The funny thing is that I have also been thinking that it was not very obvious to others. My family however have been very much aware of how I have been unavailable.
Letting my self get into this state has also opened up old trauma wounds and anxiety. The anxiety attacks seem to get stronger and more frequent the less self-care I do.
Things are doing better. I have started to remind myself to stop and enjoy small things. Starting the process of self care with small things is important. Otherwise the act of caring for yourself becomes almost a herculean task. Little steps do the most. Recently I was told that I needed to take small things that give me joy and do them until they are large parts of my life.
I have been taking more time to spend with my children. I have been giving and receiving longer and more meaningful hugs. I have been petting and talking to my dog ( who has also felt my distance from others). Listening to music that makes me dance. I have been coloring in an amazingly detailed coloring book. And eating with more meaning and not just trying to fill some unattainable need. I have also begun to realize that I have a deep need to keep doing this. I am feeling the stirrings of peacefulness again.
So, today’s goal is to enjoy the day, the people I am with, and the time I can spend with my family.