Choosing the Middle Ground: Learning Balance in Life and Recovery

lightfromashes

Like a Phoenix, my body has risen from the ashes. My spirit is home.

Content Warning: Descriptions of eating disordered behavior

For those of you who may not know, I recently became an ambassador with Plexus Worldwide. (Check out my website: Shop My Plexus- Sarah Henderson)! Before this, I had been using their products, and I really believe that they can be life-changingly beneficial to people’s health and wellness. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have signed up to help other people access them!

Even though my personal Plexus journey is about reducing the inflammation in my body, healing my gut, and treating my chronic pain and fatigue, a lot of people use Plexus to lose weight, and a number of their products are made with that intention. When I joined, there was a recommendation that I take measurements of my body, my weight, and pictures of my body so I can have “before” numbers and photos for when I ostensibly reach “after.”

This presented a dilemma for me. As a lot of you know, I’m in recovery from an over twenty-year struggle with anorexia and bulimia. Numbers used to be one of my triggers, so I haven’t owned a scale in ten years. In fact, the last one I owned, the one that had seen the worst of my anorexia, I threw off the balcony of my apartment down onto the parking lot pavement, and watched it smash into pieces, which was pretty satisfying. However, ten years is a long time, and a lot of healing and recovery has taken place since then. I wondered if I should do this, for my business. Everyone wants those “before” and “after” photos, right? And I want to see my progress in that area too, if it happens. Weight isn’t the focus of my journey, but my body may change, and I’d like to see that.

At the same time, part of me didn’t want to participate in that diet culture that had contributed to my eating disorder and has contributed to so many others. Part of me didn’t want to post numbers and photos that could trigger others trying to recover, and wanted to not do it at all, not on my own behalf, but as a direct protest against that kind of focus purely on weight instead of health.

So in order to get some guidance, I posted my dilemma in several places on Facebook; my personal page, and two Plexus pages. And I got at least fifty comments, most of which were in agreement that I should do what’s best for me and my health, including my mental health. As it turns out, Plexus doesn’t really care about diet culture as I’d feared. As a company, they really do care what’s best for each individual and their personal health journey, NOT on selling weight loss products at any cost. This is one of the reasons I’m so proud to be working for them. The support I received from my team was incredible, and both they and my friends from my personal page really felt that if it would put my recovery in jeopardy, it just wasn’t worth it.

Here’s the thing, though: I didn’t know that it would put my recovery in jeopardy. It’s been a very long time since I’ve even really been exposed to my body’s measurements, so I didn’t know what my reaction would be. I did figure out something interesting from one comment, though. A friend that I was in eating disorder treatment with said: “Absolutely not something you should do. I would stay away from the scale and measuring. It’s not worth the risk of relapse.” And when she said this I thought: I absolutely do not feel at risk of relapse. Ever. Certainly, not at the sight of some stupid numbers.

Over the years I may have used behaviors every now and then when I am especially stressed. I may have eaten only “safe” foods for awhile, or restricted some, or binged and purged a few times. But those are bumps in the road, little rocky times that happen and I get back on the path within a few days. I do not descend into the destructive thinking process that is the eating disorder itself, and I do not continue in that behavior pattern. Which makes those bumps in the road part of recovery instead of precursors to relapse. I don’t ever feel in danger of going to the extremes I’ve gone to before, of treating my body like a disposable object that I can starve, abuse, and kill. I don’t ever feel that I will descend into the obsession that makes a person live on a packet of oatmeal a day, taking two hours to finish it, eating it one oat at a time. (I actually did this.) I will never again spend six hours at a time in the gym, needing the machines to tell me that I have burned every calorie that I ate that day. I will never again eat so much my stomach stretched to make me look nine months pregnant, and then force myself to vomit until I saw blood; and then do this three more times in one night, every day. I will never again be so emaciated that I am in liver failure, and have a heart attack at 17 years old.

I will never again allow myself to treat my body as anything less the the sacred being it is.

In order to be able to do the above things to yourself, your spirit cannot be attached to your body. You cannot see life as sacred or worth living. At the very least, you can not believe that you deserve to live, to exist, to take up space in this world. You cannot believe that you are worthy of the basic necessities of life: love, security, food, sex/touch, a comfortable home, a healthy body. These basic rights are not meant to be yours, for whatever reason. (Usually because you were somehow told or shown that they weren’t.) Your brain and spirit are dissociated from the vehicle meant to carry them and, crazy as it sounds, when you’re doing the above things, it truly doesn’t hurt. In fact, it feels really good. Powerful. You’re in control. It comes at a cost, but you really don’t care. Bodies are disposable.

I know that I’ve entered into true recovery, the kind that’s invulnerable to full relapse, because I’ve crossed that threshold into knowing that life is sacred. My spirit lives in my body now, and I fully understand that to harm my body in those ways is to harm my heart and mind and soul as well. When I fall into those behaviors, it’s short-lived because now it actually hurts when I do them. I feel what used to be numb and I have that life impulse, that inherent instinct that whispers this feels wrong. I know that I am fundamentally worthy to be alive, to exist, to take up space. I am worthy of health, love, food, sex/touch a comfortable home, and safety and security. I have a right to those basic things as a human and a child of God. And nothing that happened to me could ever take that away. Knowing that means that I cannot ever become as self-destructive as I once was, because you can’t destroy what you love and believe is sacred.

Powerful stuff, reality.

So as to my dilemma, I decided on taking a middle way. Today I did take measurements of my hips, waist, and bust, I stood on a scale and took my weight, and I took photos of my whole body from the front and the side. Except, I wasn’t the one who did it. During my therapy appointment today, I had my therapist do it! She asked me all throughout if I was having any feelings come up, any anxiety. I had none. Because I trust her, because I wasn’t alone, and because I had this done in an environment where I feel safe, I think my non-reaction was predictable– but still awesome. I love that seeing those numbers had no effect on me.

I won’t be publishing those numbers or photos; they’re purely for me to keep to see my own progress. I’ll weigh and measure myself again in six months, or maybe three depending on how I feel. I’ll always do it at my therapist’s office. (She’s an eating disorder specialist and works with a dietitican which is why she has those things.) I feel this is the healthiest way for me to track those numbers.

I will be daily tracking other factors, such as sleep, energy level, and pain levels, because those are the things I’m really focused on changing with Plexus. If I lose weight or my body changes, ok. But know this: I’ll never again make that the one, undivided focus of my life. Because sure, being petite again would be nice– but I’m not willing to die for it.

 

Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.

Samuel 16:7

I appeal to you therefore, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1-2

 

 

Sophie’s Story

Sophie and I  found each other when I was 18 years old, and she was 8 months old.

My sister Cristina’s mom Beth found Sophie wandering in her apartment complex parking lot. She was thinking about keeping her, but the second I met her, I knew we were a perfect match. She was all ears and fluffy tail, and she made this little trilling noise when I petted her. I was smitten. Beth said I could have her, and I was ecstatic.

I had just moved into my first apartment; a crummy, 400 square foot box with zero security. But it was mine. All I had was a fish to keep me company, and that wasn’t going well. I needed Sophie, and she needed me. (Sophie’s full name is Persephone, but Sophie has been her nickname since she was a kitten.)

Sophie quite literally saved my life. There were times when the only reason I woke up, the only reason I didn’t kill myself, was because I needed to take care of her. I cared about her and loved her way more than I loved myself. That kept me here. She knew how to comfort me when I was anxious or having a flashback. Sometimes the presence of her little body in my lap was the only thing that kept me grounded, kept me from completely losing touch with reality.

We moved apartments and then eventually moved back with my mom. I had to go to treatment, and I hated being away from her. I have to say, I wouldn’t have gotten through my twenties without her.

The last eight years that I’ve been in this house with my mom and sister, and Sophie has been living exclusively with me in my room (her choice; she refuses to interact with the other cats) have been wonderful. It’s really Sophie’s world. I just sleep here.

Sophie is not just a cat to me. She has literally saved my life at times. She has comforted me through painful autoimmune flares, PTSD flashbacks, depressive episodes, and manic freakouts. She has never cared whether I’m severely anorexic or if I’m overweight. She’s never cared if I look great or I look like shit. She doesn’t care if I’m crying or I’m laughing or I’m panicking. She’s there. She loves me. In the most simple, unconditional, beautiful way. She just loves me.

So no, she is not just a cat. She’s a best friend. The closest thing I’ve ever had to a child. She’s a reminder to me of God’s unconditional love. She’s a furry therapist.

That’s my Sophie.

So here’s the thing. Lately, she has not been doing well. She was diagnosed with early kidney failure a few months ago. She’s been having some kind of allergic reaction, probably to fleas, which we cannot seem to keep up with. She’s had several serious UTIs as well as cystitis. The vet said today he wants to rule out bladder or kidney cancer. When they start asking “quality of life” questions, that a bad sign. And this isn’t even her regular doctor. No, her regular doctor had to go and have a baby, and is on maternity leave until July. My friend Deede pretty much summed about my feelings about this when I told her that even my veterinarian was pregnant and she replied, “Fuck that bitch.” Only semi-sarcastically. (It just seems that I can’t turn my head without seeing another pregnancy.) And honestly, I don’t know what to do anymore. I feel overwhelmed, frustrated, less-than-hopeful, and like I’m just chasing symptoms, not really getting to the root of the problem. Sophie has been my cat for nearly half my life; I know her. I know her energy. And I feel it waning. I feel like she probably won’t make it through the year. I could be wrong, but that is my strong feeling, knowing her as I do. She does not seem herself; she seems tired. And I want to make sure that I do the right things for her.

So here’s what happens when you’re me, or you’re someone else who has C-PTSD: These possibilities turn into what the experts call “anticipatory grief.”

This means that I automatically think the worst. That means the other day, when I found her sleeping in her litter box, which is a sign of distress in cats, I began bawling uncontrollably, and not for the first time.

I spoke to her about her funeral. I promised her I would hold one, a little memorial service. I told her that I would inter her ashes in the garden at St. Mary’s, because that’s home, and no matter where I move in the future I can always come back and visit. I told her that I loved her like I’d never loved any other cat, and that she was my little soul mate.

Here’s the thing guys: she’s not dying. Not imminently anyway, not that I’m aware of. But this is anticipatory grief. It’s a defense mechanism. If I imagine the worst, and I grieve before the worst happens, then my brain thinks it won’t be so painful when it actually does happen.

I have no idea if that’s true. My feeling is that nothing will cushion the blow of losing Sophie when the time comes. It will be extremely painful, as all losses are. I have always called her my “baby” and I’ve always “mothered” her, but I’ve felt particularly maternal towards her since I found out I can’t have my own children. I know there are people who think that people who treat their cats or dogs like children are morons. Look, I understand the difference between a cat and a baby. I’d never compare myself to a parent of a human, or compare my loss of my cat to the loss of a human child. But for all intents and purposes, Sophie has been a child to me, and I have been her mother. And that may be all the mothering I get to do, so losing Sophie will have a particular sting to it.

I hate to admit this, but there are some times I think, am I just dragging out the inevitable? Should I go ahead and let her cross the rainbow bridge now while she’s in decent shape and not in pain? Does that mean I’m giving up on her? Am I being selfish, trying to end my pain now so it isn’t prolonged?

I hate these thoughts. I don’t want to be having them. I think they come from a fearful, grief-filled mind. I want to be doing everything I can to keep Sophie healthy and alive for as long and she seems happy. To make the right decisions for her, to do right by her as her guardian and mother. But I am scared, tired, and overwhelmed, and I have no idea what I’m doing.

Please keep up both in your prayers as we navigate these next few months together.

 

The righteous care for the needs of their animals,
    but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.

Proverbs 12:10

The Exhausting Everyday: How PTSD Makes Everything Hard

Content Warning: Sexual Assault

I went to a sporting event Friday night.

As you may guess, this is not something I normally do. I have social anxiety and PTSD. I hate crowds and loud noises. A stadium with thousands of people and a cannon that goes off when a home run is scored is a bad place for me. However, it was “Episcopal Night” at the ballpark, and a bunch of people from my church were going. My sister really wanted me to go. And it was my two-year-old godson’s first baseball game; how could I miss that?

The things we do for the people we love.

Everyone met at an Episcopal church a few blocks away from the stadium a couple of hours before the game for hot dogs (ew) and socialization. On the 45 minute drive from our suburb to downtown, I had to take a milligram of Klonopin, that’s how anxious I was. Once we saw some people we knew, it was better. And once my best friend and godson were there, that’s when I actually started having fun. I loved seeing how excited he was. That child is the light of my life, no matter where we are.

We walked the few blocks to the stadium, and as we filed through the metal detectors one of the security guards told me to smile. I suppose I must’ve had a more grim look on my face than I realized. Also, to the men, seriously: STOP TELLING WOMEN TO SMILE. IT IS OBNOXIOUS.

When we were finally sitting down, I was focused on my godson and so I was ok for a while. We pointed out colors and shared some apple slices. Loud announcements were a bit unnerving. I only sort of paid attention to the game. I was having more fun taking photos of my godson. He was adorable. He only lasted for a couple of hours, though, which was understandable. When they left, it was harder. I became more tense.

I found myself sitting there, looking at all the tiny kids around me. Wishing I had a tiny to take to a first ball game. That hurt. Fucking grief, again. I found myself with my arms wrapped around my body protectively, my shoulders practically in my ears, feeling dissociated from what was happening around me. Towards the end of the game, the husband of a church member, who was sitting next to me, patted my knee to reassure me that our team would pick up a few runs and pull out a win. The first thing that ran through my head was, “GET YOUR FUCKING HAND OFF MY LEG.” The second thing was, “That was unreasonable.”

Here’s the thing about PTSD: Your brain literally believes and lives as if you are constantly in danger from everywhere. So there’s this low-level anxiety that hums in the background all the time, and it sends you signals of total overreaction to completely innocuous events, people, and actions. It makes things that are simple and ordinary for most people difficult, exhausting, and sometimes impossible for people with PTSD.

We left before they set off fireworks, thank you Jesus. I would not have been able to deal.

And the next day, I was completely exhausted. I slept the majority of the day, because I had to recover from trying to maintain seeming “normal” while inside parts of me were screaming. Let me tell you, that takes a tremendous amount of energy. It drains energy from your body, from your mind, from your spirit.

Ordinary things. The most ordinary things can be a nightmare. I got home the other day, and my mom had put shampoo in the soap dispenser because we ran out of hand soap. Creamy, white shampoo. And as I went to wash my hands, this creamy, white substance forcefully spurted out of the dispenser onto my hand and a bit onto my arm. I froze, because in my mind, this was not soap. And I was not clean right now.

I felt suddenly sick. I washed the stuff off my hand and arm, sat down on the edge of the tub, and freaked out. I was shaking and crying. I was an abused child in that moment, a rape victim. I was not a confident adult with a voice, a woman who can heal and protect herself. When trauma kicks in, it kicks hard. I recovered after a little while, and went on with my evening. But I was angry. Because that type of rude interruption is so unfair, and so frustrating.

It’s not always this bad. I can have months where things like this don’t happen at all. For me, PTSD get worse when my general stress level gets worse. So right now, with all the commitments I have and worrying about school and money and processing grief as well, trauma becomes a part of my life again. Which stresses me out. Which makes me more prone to experience the trauma. It’s an ugly cycle that I truly hate, because all I want is to be a person.

I just want to be a person. Not a victim, not a survivor. Not a person who can’t go to a ball game without taking medication. Not a person who sees semen in shampoo. Just a person, whose life isn’t interrupted by trauma.

Will I ever get to see that?

 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4: 6-7

We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 5: 3-5

Understanding Grief: Love With Nowhere to Go

grief-is-just-love-with-no-place-to-go

I can’t seem to find a reliable source for the author of this quote. But it’s the best explanation I’ve found for the type of grief that I’ve been experiencing around the loss of my ability to have a child.

I was sitting in therapy the other day and I was frustrated. I was saying how I didn’t understand why this “grief process” was taking so long. How I didn’t understand, didn’t anticipate, that my grief over not being able to become pregnant and have a child would be so intense. And why it had only seemed to be since that last ultrasound the previous March that I have felt this way.

It’s not like I didn’t have some understanding that infertility was a possibility for me. I’m not an idiot. I’ve been on psychiatric medication since I was 14. I was diagnosed with my first autoimmune disorder seven years ago, and PCOS six years ago. I was told about the scarring from repeated sexual trauma when I was 25. I knew all of those things could affect my chances to get pregnant and have a healthy baby at some point in my life, but I wasn’t putting it all together. I thought I still had options. I thought there was still some chance.

The truth is, I know why it’s only been since March 11, 2016 that I’ve felt this way. It’s because that’s when I put it all together. That’s when all my options were taken away. That’s when I was told that there was, essentially, no chance, unless I wanted to risk both my life and the life of any fetus I tried to carry. That’s when whatever little hope I had was crushed.

And so the grief really began. The loss that had been, up to that point, only theoretical, became an actual, tangible loss. A death. One I was not prepared to mourn.

The strength of this grief and the length of time is has gone on has confused me, frustrated me, angered me, and generally been a stumbling block in my healing. I understood that there would be grief but why was there so much? For a long time I felt like I didn’t have the right, didn’t deserve to mourn so much about a loss that, for the first few months, I still had to convince myself was a real thing. I told myself that I was mourning “imaginary children” and that was “stupid.” Disparaging and minimizing the truth was a defense against the pain I was feeling, just a another stop on the way to acceptance. I had to have multiple people tell me that this was real. That I had the right to feel what I felt. That it made sense.

Six months after that ob-gyn appointment, two dear friends of mine lost their three-year-old child to a drowning accident. And suddenly, my grief seemed like the stupidest thing on earth, because this mother had lost a real child. Her living, breathing child whom she had carried and birthed and held and known and played with and taught and fed and rocked and loved beyond measure, had died. I mourned for her child, mourned for her. I stopped mourning for myself because I felt unimaginably dumb doing so.

I’ve never said this to her before, but I know she’ll understand if she reads this.

I had to get past the idea that there was some comparison to be made. I had to understand that we are two separate people with two separate stories, and we each have the right to grieve our own losses. I had to get past the idea that there’s like, some scarcity of grief out there, and that if I grieved while she did I’d be taking up too much of the supply.

There’s plenty to go around.

I finally really understood this two months ago when I went to a Lenten discussion on grief with a few people from church. Why they chose to do this in a loud,  hamburgers-and-beer place was beyond me but I found myself leaving the discussion to sit outside at a picnic table and cry. A woman I know, who had also lost a child, came and sat down next to me. This woman had lost her fourteen-year-old daughter to a rare disease just three years ago. Without a word, she sat down next to me and opened her arms. I fell onto her shoulder and sobbed. She told me something I hadn’t known: that since she had been very young, she thought that she couldn’t have children, so she understood my pain. When she got pregnant with her daughter, it was a total shock.

Something about the fact that this woma who had lost her real, living child, was willing to sit down and be in my pain with me over not being able to have any was extraordinary. It was one of the most generous acts of grace I’ve ever seen. She validated my grief with hers. She validated it by being a mother who had arguably been though much worse and still was willing to comfort me. I can’t thank her enough for that.

I remember continuing to cry after they left, in my car, for an hour. I drove around, eventually ending up at the St. Mary’s church grounds. I walked the prayer path, stumbling in the dark, not seeing the irony of the metaphor at the time. I went home, because I had to. And I felt something shift.

The very next day, because this is how God works, I saw the image at the top of this piece on Facebook. It hit me like a ton of bricks: The reason my grief is so intense is because I am feeling all the mother’s love I ever wanted to give to all the children I ever wanted to have, all at once– except there are no children to receive it. So this love has nowhere to go but straight back into me, where it sits like stagnant water, a swamp full of care-taking and nurturing and hand-holding and playing and teaching and mothering. 

I’m a mother, but I will never be a mother.

That’s why it hurts so much, and is taking so long.

 

And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

Job 1:21

How I See You: A Poem About a Shift In Perspective

Joan of Arc for you. Elizabeth I for me. 😉

 

I wrote this poem today, after talking to someone who knows me probably better than anyone else on the planet. I was telling her how I felt so down right now, how after all that’s happened in the past year my spirit felt crushed with grief. And well, she had some words for me about that. 

Thank you for loving, supporting, and guiding me, and sometimes giving me a total shift in perspective! You are a light in my life and I’m so grateful for you. So grateful. Love you.

5/17/17

 

How I See You

 

I sit here, nursing my spirit

As I feel it, bruised by so many blows

I sense that it’s crushed, but a wise woman tells me:

You’re not crushed,

You’re a fucking hero

I see you burning so brightly

I see you strong and fighting

Yes, you’ve been beaten, but no, dear, not crushed

Your spirit is nothing if not shining

You’ve run a gauntlet of pain

You’ve been honest and vulnerable

You’ve faced grief and trauma

And forgiven the unforgiveable

Only heroes do that

Only heroes come back

Only heroes keep fighting

Only heroes know how

To use the gifts of darkness to move forward

To find those gifts in the first place

I see you stronger than ever

On the cusp of something great

Remember that you’ve done more than you ever thought possible

And you’ve got a whole new life to create

 

For Krista

 

© Sarah Ann Henderson 2017

 

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.

Psalm 34: 18-19

Let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread…for the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory.

Deuteronomy 20: 3-4

Tears from Fears

Having PTSD is weird.

Having Complex PTSD is weirder. You know, I have needed to cry for a while now. After a year of grief, death, loss, stress, excitement, pain, hard truths, and very little time to process, I have needed to cry. Really cry. The kind of crying that leaves you a red-faced, snotty, puffy-eyed mess. The kind of crying that comes from your gut. Loud, ugly, soul-cleansing crying.

Thanks to PTSD, I have not been able to do this. In order to cry like that, you need to relax. When your body stays in stressed-out survival mode the way mine does, your sympathetic nervous system does not allow your brain the luxury of feeling safe enough to feel emotions deeply. So they get shoved away, stuck on a psychological shelf somewhere. They wait. The weirdest triggers can bring about the crying, though, and it happened last night.

It was nearly two in the morning. I was about to try to settle down to sleep when I got a message from a dear friend: her cat, who is like her baby and her best friend, had unexpectedly died that day.

Suddenly, it happened. I was crying, and I couldn’t stop. The crying got loud. I didn’t want to have any attention or talk about anything with anyone in my house, so I crept downstairs, grabbed my keys, and went and sat in my car in the driveway. I just sat in the silence of my sealed car, like my own soundproof booth, and wailed.

And wailed.

I’m really not sure how long I stayed out there. I was messaging with my friend for part of that time, when I was able to stop and gather myself for a few seconds.

Here’s the thing about this type of crying: while it’s uncomfortable, I find it to be an incredible relief, almost like a prayer of supplication through my body: God, please take these things which have been weighing on me. As I express them through my tears, please take them from me and by your compassion replace them with your grace. Amen.

You want to know something weird? I almost enjoy crying. I’ve done a lot of it since September. That’s when I figured out how to cry.

See, when I was a child, I literally never cried. Ever. Not when I was being abused. Not when I broke my arm. Not when I smashed my finger in a heavy wooden door and my fingernail came off. I just. Didn’t. Cry. And I thought that was like, just an “abused child” thing. Like I was just super tough, because I had to be. But it wasn’t.

Through counseling I figured out that when I was being abused, it was my father’s specific goal to make me cry, to make me react in pain. He wanted to see me hurting and terrified; he got off on that. I must’ve intuited that, and as a way to defend myself, to hold some control, I stopped crying. I stopped reacting at all. I refused to give him what he wanted. Which meant that he became more and more violent to try to elicit the reaction he wanted from me. Which meant I withdrew deeper and deeper into myself to survive, until I didn’t know how to feel anything.

When I realized this, it was huge. I was able to see my inability to cry not as a fault but as an act of heroism on the part of the child that I was, who refused to feed the evil energy attacking her. And therefore, I was able to redeem my tears as something safe, something holy. Withholding them once protected me. Now, every time I’m able to cry it’s like spitting on my father, and saying: you won’t take this from me. Every tear is like a tiny baptism, a birth by water into the newness of life beyond that trauma.

So you can see how, even though crying is painful, for me, it’s an experience I’ve only really been fully having for a few months, and so in many ways I almost relish it. It’s a release most people take for granted that I never really had. I’m grateful because, even thought crying is usually seen as something negative, to me it has made me more whole, more human. How could I be anything but glad about that?

So yeah, PTSD is weird, and you never know what will set you off crying. I’m just grateful that at this point, that’s something I can do.

 

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21:4-5

 

 

Day After Mother’s Day: Moving On

Today is easier.

Today I did normal things. Took the cat to the vet. Wrote emails. Went to the pharmacy. Drank a Frappuccino. Today I was a person again, not just an empty womb walking around, which is what I felt like yesterday.

After the five pm service, Deacon Russ came over to me and hugged me. He said, “You just look so sad today. You don’t have to tell me what’s going on, I just wanted to give you a hug and tell you that I see your sadness.”

He doesn’t check social media much.

I got a hug from Beth+ too, and when she pulled back she said to me, “You made it.” I said something along the lines of, “Sort of.”

Once at home, I cooked dinner and made dessert for my own mom. She works the 3 to 11 pm shift as a nurse, so she didn’t get to enjoy it until midnight, but that was ok. It was good to see her smile, give her a gift in an act of service and make her feel loved. She gave me a hug and said, “Thanks for letting me be your mom.” I said, “Genetically, I don’t think I had much choice in the matter.” Because that’s how we are. And she laughed.

Did I choose her, though? Was my soul bound to hers before I was born? Do I have a child somewhere out there whose soul is bound to mine, and I just don’t know it? Or does that only happen to mothers who carry their children inside them?

I will wonder about these things for a long time to come. In the meantime, I will focus on finishing school, on discerning if I am called to the priesthood. I will write emails, drink Frappuccinos, take cats to the vet. I will live a regular life, and maybe someday, when God thinks I’m ready, a child will come into my life.

Or maybe not.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:12-14

 

Mother’s Day Missing: Continued

Today was a sort of nightmare.

Being on social media today, especially Facebook, is like being assaulted from every angle. All I want to do is forget and grieve in solitude and peace but today the world has chosen to say to every women who can get pregnant, every woman who can do what I can’t do: congratulations on being everything Sarah wants to be but can’t be! Congratulations on being a mother!

God, help me.

This is all very selfish and self-pitying and irrational. Trust me, I am aware. It’s not a conspiracy theory to make me feel like shit, although that’s how it seems to me right now. I am, as my friend Deede says, “all up in my feelings.” It’s hard not to be.

I decided I needed to go to as much church as possible today. For me, that’s the best place to be when I’m all up in my feelings. I need Jesus and my friends to sort me out. So I went to Adult Christian Formation, where we talked about Why Bad Things Happen To Good People. A timely subject. I could have shared for hours about all the fucked up shit that has happened in my life, but I mostly kept my mouth shut. I only opened it to say that the idea of “bad things happening to good people” is a fallacy in itself. Because to believe in that, you have to believe in the notion of “good people” who deserve good things vs “bad people” who deserve bad things. And as Christians, that is fundamentally against our core belief that God loves everyone equally.  

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matthew 5: 44-45 

So during the 10:30 service, I was called away to help with Children’s Chapel. Of course. Actually, it was sweet. A little girl who I had in my Vacation Bible School class last year, who has since been quite attached to me, was there and wanted to hold my hand the whole time. We did prayers and songs and what the kids prayed for was adorable. Everything from a dead dog to “hungry people” to “grandma’s hurt back.”

When we came back from Children’s Chapel it was time for blessings. Rev. Beth called up every woman in the nave to the altar rail to receive a mother’s day blessing, because she said, “If you are a woman, then you are a mother in Christ and you help to raise the children of this church.” When I got up there, I was surrounded by friends, people who know about my grief over my infertility. I began to cry, but tried to hold it back. Then Beth+ gave me a meaningful look, and put her hand over her heart. My friend Mary grabbed my hand. So I lost it, and just cried.

I continued to cry through the Eucharist. Someone behind me handed me kleenex. I felt honored, recognized, and deeply empty at the same time. It was incredibly sweet and incredibly bitter.

I don’t know how to do this.

I will never forget the day that I was told in definite terms that pregnancy and children would not happen for me. It was March 11, 2016. I will never forget lying on a table having a pelvic ultrasound, looking at this giant flat screen on the wall where most women see the progress of their growing fetuses, and seeing black. Seeing my big, empty uterus in HD, with a cyst on my fallopian  tube and another on my ovary, seeing the huge, black, empty space that would stay empty forever. I watched as my ob-gyn moved the wand around to check for more cysts, just staring at the black emptiness. That, as Rev. Beth said, is when the death happened for me.

The death of all my hopes and dreams. The death of my identity as a hopeful future mother. The death of my ability to give life through my body. Part of me truly died when my ob-gyn told me my chances of ever being able to carry a pregnancy without me or the baby dying were less than 1%. It’s not just about the cysts (PCOS), thought that’s a big part of it. It’s my bipolar medications, my autoimmune diseases, and scarring from years of rape and sexual abuse. The combination of those factors makes it nearly impossible.

I am not meant to be a mother by natural means.

Maybe I am meant to be an adoptive or foster mother. Maybe God has a child out there that isn’t even born yet, and I am destined to be his or her parent. Maybe I am meant to rescue a child from a situation like the one I grew up in, and because I went through that, I will be specially equipped to help that child. I don’t know.

All I know is that right now, the loss still hurts. It’s been one year and three months, and it still, still, hurts. I sometimes feel silly or stupid for continuing to grieve for so long. A part of me is like, you should be over this by now. C’mon, stop it already. Another part of me says that this will take as long as it takes, and I have to just follow where the grief goes.

I hate that.

That’s the way grief works though. The more you try to suppress it, the more it comes rushing up to make you pay attention. You can ignore it, but it won’t go anywhere. Grief will wait. It will sit there, kick back and relax until you deal with it. So you might as well deal with it.

I am trying.

 

“Sing, barren woman,
    you who never bore a child;
burst into song, shout for joy,
    you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
    than of her who has a husband,”
says the LordDo not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.
    Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth
    and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
For your Maker is your husband—
    the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
    He is called the God of all the earth...
“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
    but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
In a surge of anger
    I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
    I will have compassion on you,”
    says the Lord your Redeemer.

Isaiah 54: 1, 4-5, 7-8

Holy Spirit, Come: A Poem and Prayer

I wrote this poem/prayer as a way to call on the might power of the Holy Spirit. As a way to bring that power into my life to help me heal and let go and move on. Feel free to use this yourself if you think it would be helpful to you.

5/12/17

Holy Spirit, Come

 

Holy Spirit, come to me

Light on me like a dove, stay on my shoulder and guide me

Holy Spirit, come to me

Like the flames of holy passion

Burn down every remnant of trauma, of shame, guilt, pain, grief, rage, hatred, sin, and death

Burn away anything that keeps me from fully surrendering to God

Holy Spirit, come to me

Like the waters of baptism

Wash me clean in your deluge

Flood me with your wisdom and peace, your energy and courage

Come, Holy Spirit

In your light, let me be light

Fill me with your light of healing and hope

Until I’m nothing but love

And have nothing but the wish to serve

 

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

John 14:26

 

 

Stand Firm: An Open Letter

To the person who recently hurt me:

I will not identify you by name or reveal the nature of our relationship because you do not deserve that attention. And you don’t know the depth of loyalty of my friends and family. I have an army that will come after you. But because I don’t want that kind of drama, and just want to move on from you, I will keep this quiet. Just be very clear on the fact that this is for my benefit, not yours.

Here are some other things you should be very clear on:

That voice in my head that you created, the one that says I should hurt myself to get back at you, can go fuck itself. It and you can go to hell, because I am a child of God. Nothing and no one is worth that.

You will not take my power.

I will not give you anymore real estate in my head, and I am evicting you from the space you once owned.

I will not let you take away from me the things that I used to associate with you, because they are too important to me. I will un-associate them with you. I will take them back, because they belong to me.

I will not allow you to break me like the promises you once gave.

I will not feel this way for long, because you don’t deserve that much of my time.

I will not allow you to tear yourself out at the place where you were attached and leave me bleeding, because I know how and have healed much bigger and worse wounds than that.

You just go on thinking that I was the one with the problem, when you were the one who couldn’t make up their mind about where this ended. When you were the one who kept this cycle of pain and victimization perpetuating and claimed not to know how much damage you were doing.

Go ahead and claim victimhood. Go ahead and make me the villain here, because we both know that you were the one hurting me.

Go ahead and say, “I’ll be cool whenever I see you, I won’t judge you or make it awkward,” as if you have any fucking stance from which to judge me.

Go ahead and say you “have nothing left to offer me.” Wonderful, because I have nothing to offer you either. In the end, I don’t know if the net effect of this relationship was healing or destruction.

Either way, it’s over.

Either way, I’m free from you.

 

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Galatians 5:1