Disorganized Memories

Yesterday, I tried writing about a time in our lives when our finances were a huge mess. We lost our house, moved to a tiny apartment and started over. Yet, I struggled to summon memories from this time in my life.

That’s when it occurred to me that I have some unprocessed pain. My brain is clearly trying to protect me from the pain of remembering, but what if I don’t want to be protected anymore? What if I want to explore this and learn from it, process it? How do I break through to the memories?

I think part of the process is just recognizing that the block is there, keeping me from something. It’s frustrating though, because I want to wade through this in an organized manner. I want to get to the other side of it and see the lessons learned, the final outcome.

Life’s troubles aren’t processed that way though.

They come in patches and glimpses, minutiae and pieces. Our job is to sit with each little thing and work through it until the next thing comes.

Man, that sucks.

Candidly,

Ash

The Shape of Emptiness

When was the first time you felt empty? When did you notice a void in your life? I think these attributes – emptiness, meaninglessness, void – they can be feelings too. I remember the first time I felt meaningless. I had gotten in trouble for something and was sent to my room. I felt so badly that I took a belt down in my closet and tried to hit myself with it. I want to say that this memory was about the age of eight, but I fear it may have been even younger.

Emptiness came later. I was in at least eighth grade. I sat desperately reading  my Bible, devotional journals. I was looking to God to fill a hole in my heart. I wish my faith, my devotion had filled that hole, but there was a problem with that pursuit.

The hole wasn’t God-shaped.

There is a saying I’ve heard at some point in my life (not sure when or where). It goes, “Everyone has a God-shaped hole inside of them.” Perhaps that is why I devoted so much time and energy to pursuing him early on.

I thought God would fix me.

Now, in my head, I hear an angelic chorus singing, “God didn’t fix you, because you didn’t need fixing.” Okay, not an actual chorus, but it is what I imagine a good Christian would say or think while reading this story. I really wish that they would be right – that I don’t need fixing. I really do.

Some Things Remain Broken

If there is anything that I have learned from adulthood, then it is that some things can’t be repaired. I have seen it with our son’s autism, my mental health and our finances. I imagine a lot of people would simply say that I’ve lost hope. I don’t think that is true, because, believe me, I really dream of waking up to my son’s words and songs. I dream of a year in which depression does not affect me 330 days out of 365. I dream of a world in which we have a home to live in with a mortgage we are able to pay.

Oh yes, I hope.

Yet, I would be stupid not to prepare for a future in which my son needs full-time care. Facts are facts. If he hasn’t spoken by the age of nine, then things aren’t looking good for independent living. My depression? They say that the first time you have a season of depression that you should remain on medication for at least a year. The second bout of depression should be met with 3-5 years of medication. The third time? You should remain on medication for life. They also classify your depression as MAJOR and a legit DISORDER. I qualify for lifetime medication. I.E. This is thing is MAJOR and DISORDERED.

Some things remain broken. My friend has a dead plant in the landscaping at her new house. Initially, she thought to pull the ugly sucker out and replace it with something pretty. Then, she texted me a picture of it and said, “I’m keeping it”. You see, for her (and me) the dead plant reminds us that ugly and beautiful coexist, pain and joy coexist. Perhaps broken and whole can coexist too.

Sitting with Emptiness

In my life, I’m learning to sit with emptiness. You see, I’ve realized that I’ve been trying to fill it for years and years. I’ve tried relationships, careers and jobs, schooling, children, religion, success, popularity, leadership, etc. The truth is that I’ve been trying to fill the empty space with a square puzzle piece.

I’m guessing my emptiness is upwards of a dodecahedron. That’s the largest 3D shape I can recall.

**Excuse me, I just looked up the spelling for dodecahedron and discovered it is actually a polyhedron. Are polyhedrons different than 3D shapes? What is a polyhedron? More than one face, my search tells me. Well, I’ve concluded that most, if not all, 3D shapes are polyhedrons. Geometry has never been my strong suit. Is this geometry? God, I hope so. End digression.**

You can’t fill your emptiness until you understand it, know its dimensions. In order to know those things, you can’t be trying to solve for ‘X’ or running back and forth with objects to randomly fill the space. You have to stop. Be present.

Experience emptiness.

And all I have to say about experiencing emptiness is this….

Damn it! Pain is coming, confusion is coming. This is going to hurt like hell!

Panic aside…

Pain is a teacher. Confusion isn’t a crucifix. And Hell was made for rebels.

Candidly,

Ash

P.S. I wrote this post while listening to “Hold On” by Sarah McLachlan.

 

You Break It, You Buy It

I think its a somewhat universal experience to have walked through fancy stores as a child and been told to keep your hands to yourself. No one wants broken glass all over the place or the pricey tag at the register. This is one of the ways that my parents taught me to be responsible. The same thing went for messes in our house. You spill it; You clean it.

The confusing piece was that we lived in a community and everyone had chores. Chores that they did regardless of whether they were responsible for the mess making. Taking out EVERYONE’s trash or cleaning the communal toilet? Not fun, but necessary. The great thing about dividing responsibility like this was that things can got done more frequently and more quickly.

But the two principles can be a little counter-intuitive. I mean, if someone is going to sweep every evening, then why clean up my spilled dry cereal in the morning? Because you are responsible for the mess you make. Okay, so why I am cleaning up other’s feces from the toilet?

We have this problem in a larger life sense too. My friend has a blended family and she’s taken on the role of both mother and stepmother. Mom checked out awhile ago, leaving two very confused, horribly neglected kiddos in her wake. Did my friend make a mess of these kiddos lives? No. Are they part of her community and her shared responsibility? Absolutely!

But how can we find the balance between caring for ourselves (our own mess and broken things) and sharing in the joint responsibility of communal living?

To be truthful, my friend could spend a lifetime scrubbing up this mess left for her. She would never be finished. Literally, in fifteen years the toilet might still be gushing sewage. So how does she balance all of this?

I honestly don’t know, because I’m not living it.

Yet, if I had to guess or offer advice, I would say what I said not long ago about parenting.

Me first, then you.

Take care of your own mess or rather your own responsibilities first. You are a step-mom first. Do that job first. Don’t get overwhelmed by filling the bottomless void of an abandoning mother. You’ll never, ever be able to fill that whole completely.

I have quite a few other friends who love, love, love their step-parents. They often remark at how their step-parent went above and beyond what was necessary in their role. THAT is what you want to be. You do NOT want to be the step-parent who tried to be their real parent and failed.

You cannot be someone that you are not.

You are who you are. It is enough for the role that you are meant to play.

 

When You Feel Uncomfortable…

I remember going to a pool party with mother. It was one that her co-worker was holding for their department. It was a gloriously sunny and warm day in July. We drove an hour to get there and on the way, she explained to me that some people have different sexual orientations. Her co-worker and partner were lesbian and very kind, generous, accepting and loving. She wanted me to be prepared for this experience so that I would not say something offensive (I was about 10 years-old) and would feel comfortable. We had a great time and I really loved their dogs. One even jumped in the pool!

Homosexual, gay, lesbian were never weird to me. These things were part of life and love and learning about ourselves. “Sin” was a word they used at church and one that made me feel more uncomfortable than anything related to sexual orientation. At times, I would say things to my LGB friends that I think probably showed that I didn’t always think of things from their perspective and I wanted, still want, to be better about this.

Now, as an adult, there is a new acronym LGBTQ. Transgender was not something that I encountered early in life and is something that I’m more aware of now that I have kids. Kids and friend’s kids are deciding their gender regardless of anatomy parts. I am fumblingly awkward and I know it. I want to be better and I’m reminded of my conversation with my mother and how it shaped a loving perspective. I want to pass these things, this love, to my children.

But what about my fumbling awkwardness?

To be truthful, I get butterflies in my stomach and I feel a general sense of confusion when people share. I don’t understand, but I want to understand. The other day, a fellow mom with a  transgender child shared a video interview of 3 different families and their experiences. I was amazed at the strength of these families and the various different reactions each person had. But mostly, I was struck with the way I identified with each person’s story.

I think we can all say that at times we’ve felt out of our element, confused about our identity and lacking in the feelings of belonging. I related to the children and teens who were transgender. I also related to the parents who were concerned for their children’s futures. One of my favorite author’s, Brene Brown, recently shared that “If we look for the ways that we do not belong, then we will find them. If we look for the ways we do belong, then we can also find those.” How significant this is!

We can look for all of the ways that we are different from individuals who are LGBTQ or we can look for the ways we are similar. In our similarities, we find acceptance and belonging. In our differences, we find fear. This is the choice we have – belonging or fear. Which will you choose?