There Are Things I Haven't Told You.
This post is incredibly personal, rugged, and in it, I talk about abortion, cutting, and other potentially-triggering things.
Talking about how fantastic life is is awesome - I love celebrating. And yet leaving out the back story creates a false sense of perfection.
I was in college.
I was in love.
I was pregnant.
I told him over the phone. He was just out of college, doing trail work in Maine. Our love, the first of my life, was fresh.
He was so quiet. Are you still there?
He wanted an abortion, I didn't. I wanted an abortion, he didn't.
I told two more people: one congratulated me, one told me I should certainly have an abortion, because what will people say?
We drove to Vermont.
He waited for me while I collected the pills I needed to conduct our abortion at home.
I couldn't conceive of doing it here, now, the noise.
We went to lunch. I took the first round of pills. I don't recall eating.
We drove to my apartment and we waited. I remember very little about the waiting, and then I remember everything about sitting on a towel in my shower, blood beneath me, life of all kinds being expelled with messy, sad, confounding force.
He sat on the toilet and read to me.
We carefully packaged up the towel and hid it discreetly in the freezer. Months later we'd take it up to Maine - to the house where my father is now buried, to the house where we eventually married, to the house our children now refer to as The Special House - and we'd burn it, crying, and scatter the ashes under the tree out back with the perfect pink blooms.
But before the ceremonious moments came the desperate ones.
I was grieving for the first time without knowing it. I'd sit on the floor at the public library, hidden in the stacks, and page through books on pregnancy. I'd count the weeks on my fingers and flip ahead, looking at pictures that showed what stage of development our baby would be in had I not been so weak. I would weep there on the thin carpet, covering my mouth with my hands.
He did a million little things I will never remember to try and bring me back.
But I was gone. Without knowing how, I'd gone.
I started scratching the back of my left hand with my right thumb nail. The relief was shocking and immediate; stinging pain was a better feeling than nothing. Drawing blood and causing a scab to form was ideal - the visual reminder provided its own relief.
I'd brought my pain from the inside to the outside. Those small, white lines are still there.
I graduated with Honors. We moved in together and started again, started for real. We ate vegan pizza and burned the wood stove too hot and made love on a mattress on the floor of our cottage in the woods.
We were young.
We were happy.
And then, two years later, my dad's truck hit a tree and he was the one who had to tell me that he hadn't made it and I was gone, gone again.
I screamed and shook and took sleeping pills to get moments of fitful rest.
When I'd wake, I'd forget for a moment, eyes open to a brand-new day. When the crushing weight of reality would quickly settle back onto my chest, I thought for sure I'd die.
I started drinking in a new way.
He was lost, unsure of how to keep me from myself.
I became insane, a vagabond in my own mind.
The night before the grief broke its spell over me, I watched from above as a person I didn't recognize etched an almost-perfect circle into the top of her left wrist. I watched how she held the tiny gold sewing scissors. I watched her precision. I watched her breathe deeply, relief finally flooding her body, flooding almost every single cell. And I watched her, after she was done, after the blood was clearly drawn, pull her sleeve down and close the door behind her.
There's a curious, winding road map that got me from there and then to here and now.
There's been marriage. Babies. There's been real, tangible joy.
But there was also more reckless drinking. There was knowing the cutting needed to stop, but deciding that pressing a car key deep into the meat of my thigh was an acceptable, temporary fix as long as it didn't break the skin because I'm a mother now. There must be uncrossable lines.
I begged God to make me a believer - I begged for A Way, for rules to follow and words to worship. I instead became ashamed of my lack of stringency. Why can't I just do what she's doing? She seems happy. She makes it look easy.
I wanted a miracle, a store-brand quick fix.
I just want to feel better.
I went back to the therapist who'd seen me through both the abortion and my father dying. I talked about how terrified I was to be a mother. Please don't let me ruin these perfect little people. Are they already ruined, because they're mine? Help me.
She asked me questions. I gave her rambling answers.
We named my fears. We got curious about their roots. We dug a little deeper, week after week. The first time I sat down, after a few months of weekly visits, and reported that I'd navigated a particularly challenging parenting moment without anxiety, she said, "You've healed something," and I heaved.
Because I didn't know I could really heal things. I thought life was all bandages, temporary fixes until the wound opened again and needed to be re-dressed.
I didn't know I could survive emotional discomfort. I didn't know that unpleasant feelings don't need to last thirty years. I didn't know there was power in unclenching my fist.
I felt better. I felt lighter. And then I wondered: what if I let go of a little bit more?
When I landed back in my therapist's chair full-time last year, I had no idea how to get to who I was. I knew I'd married the right man, but didn't know how to keep myself from picking fights with him. I knew I was a good mother, but didn't know how to stop obsessing about every single decision I made in that role. I knew I felt better when I didn't gossip and judge, but didn't know how to stop; my overpowering need to be liked, partnered with my incredible fear of not being enough, was socially crippling. I knew that wanting to cut myself was a problem, but didn't know what was underneath that desire.
One thing I felt clear about was this: I was done placing blame. I'd spent much of my early twenties picking my parents apart, searching for ways in which others had failed me. All I got out of that was a deeper, more infectious feeling of personal absenteeism; where am I in all of this?
Instead, this was to be an investigative mission, one rooted in finding answers to my questions; I'd finally outgrown the idea that my problems needed to be pinned on someone else. The emotional messiness of my childhood, the resulting tensions that, in some cases, moved with me into adulthood - I was simply curious about the role these things played in making me who was, not in pointing a shaking finger in the faces of those around me.
I braced myself to finally tell her everything: the truth about my drinking, how I'd occasionally taken pain pills from a family member in an effort to numb out, how I sometimes felt real, terrifying rage in the middle of difficult moments with my children, how other times I wondered if my husband could give me everything I needed. How I felt freakishly terrified of my children hating me when they grew up, how I wasn't sure I had a right to have opinions about things because who the hell am I?
How one of my greatest fears was being so scared of myself and what I wanted, that I'd die having accomplished nothing more than writing lists of things I'd maybe like to do someday.
My heart would race and I'd finally tell the all-the-way truth and then: nothing would happen. I would still be sitting there. My therapist hadn't thrown me out of her office. In fact, she hadn't even blinked. I can tell the truth - about who I am, what I've done, what I want, how I feel - and not be shamed? What the fuck is this?
The more honest I got the more free I felt.
That's when I started noticing how my body felt in response to the emotions I was feeling. That's when I really started looking at my responses to life's stimuli - why is your three-year-old able to completely undo you? What's underneath that? Why are you assuming your husband thinks you're a slacker just because he's doing the dishes? Is this really about him or about you?
The deeper-down I went, the more all-encompassing the investigation became, and the more compassion became my go-to. Oh, Love. You wanted that baby. You didn't know grief yet. You were so lonely, sitting there on that library floor. You weren't being weak because you felt so much, you know.
There is a before and there is an after.
The line is imaginary, but I know it's there.
You can go from one side of the line to the other.
But the only way over, is through.