Wonderfully Made

Ten years ago, On the evening of my first suicide attempt, I drove home from work to the house that I shared with three other roommates, rehearsing an apology. I had no intention of ending my life at this point; I just felt the need to apologize to one of my roommates for living it poorly. I felt that I had mistreated her, been unkind, and unfairly judged her. I wanted to make it right. Assuming that I was in the wrong, I planned to approach her and beg for her forgiveness. Surely, if I grovelled enough, she would relieve me of my guilt and accept me, the offender, back into relationship.

My schema that informed all of my interactions was this: I am in very nature wrong. I was not meant to exist. I am a mistake and have to pay for my life. I cannot earn my right to exist. The only thing that I can hope to achieve is some form of damage control.  

I have learned that this is the deepest, earliest, most core damaging belief from attachment abuse. It permeates into the heart of a person’s existence. It precedes the lie that I am unlovable (usually established age zero to one), and the lie that the world is not to be trusted (age three). This lie is what programmed me for self-destruction. 

Generally, the vast majority of the population may feel compassion or at least pity on the poor, beaten, grovelling dog. They would at least dismiss the pathetic creature while trying to avoid doing further damage. Others, for whatever reason, find some sort of fulfillment in beating the weak creature. My roommate fit the profile of the less compassionate portion of the population. 

I sat down with my roommate that evening,  three hours before trying to end my life, and she cut me off before I could even fully ask for her forgiveness. The venom that spewed from her mouth I can see now to be her own self-hate. That evening, I saw her accusations and hateful names as proof that I was unredeemable, a blight on the earth that needed obliteration. I retreated to my room, and decided that I needed to extinguish a fire that was doing irreparable damage to the planet. It seemed like the only choice. It seemed noble. It felt like my responsibility to right the wrong that I had started 24 years prior when I shoved my way inappropriately into the universe. 

At that time, I didn’t have words for this process. I couldn’t entirely conceptualize the belief that drove my actions or identify the source of my fatally flawed thinking.  I only felt that it was my duty to die. I was wrong, of course, but I was convinced that my place on this planet was one that really didn’t belong to me and that I had to give it up before I did more damage. The funny, infuriating, and utterly tragic thing about suicide attempts is that they are labeled selfish. I have no idea how many times I was told how selfish I was being. I was dumbfounded by this statement. In my deepest heart, I believed that I was loving everyone the best way that I could–by removing myself. I was only trying to help.

It took 34 years to come to the place where I could say that my life has value. God did not say “oops” when He made me. He never looked at me and said, “this one is evil.” My parents said that, not my God.  To believe that I am wrong to exist is entirely inconsistent with my theology. This is not a new cognitive realization for me. What is new is the experience of being valuable. 

For me, it took looking into the eyes of my children, bearing my DNA, flawless, beautiful, beloved, so unbelievably beloved. I carried them inside my body for almost ten months each. That body that I thought was too evil to dwell among humans was the body that housed the cherubic cherished humans, so obviously knit together by the hand of the Divine, loving Father God. I can’t be all wrong if they came out of me.

This is truly just the beginning of my re-orientation. I would love to see myself the way God sees me, or at least the way my husband, children, and friends see me. I still wade through self-hate daily. I still wrestle with my grovelling beaten dog syndrome, but even in my worst moments, I cannot be convinced that I am a mistake.  My heart is just softened enough, through scripture, prayer, healing relationships, and motherhood, to the voice of a loving God who whispers that He made me well and cherishes me more that I can even imagine loving my own babies. 

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; You formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God–you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration–what a creation!”

Psalm 139:13-14, The Message

God the Father

God often perplexes me. One way that God perplexes me is that He says that He is my father. As if a father were a good thing. I don’t think so. Somewhere deep down inside of me, maybe in my toes, I may house a faint desire for a father. I have yet to navigate that far into myself, however. I may attempt to find a mother, but I never feel an ounce of interest in creating a father-daughter type relationship with anyone. When I think of father, at best, I draw a blank space in my head. At worst, I recoil and quite literally gag. Now obviously, based on the nature of my blog, we know that there is plenty of trauma crap to serve as a basis for this revulsion toward parental units, but I would like to figure out how to help myself enter deeper into relationship with God the Father.

When I chat with God, we reach an impasse every single time He starts to talk about His parental love for me. I just flat out don’t comprehend it. I would have thought that being a parent would soften my heart for God’s parental role in my life, but it doesn’t seem to translate. I am an adult. I have two beautiful, wonderful, cherished babies, whom I mother whole-heartedly and with great delight. But I can’t seem to place myself in their shoes, as the one delighted in. I believe that I must have spent so much of my childhood reprimanding myself for my silly dreams of being loved and parented that I trained the need to be loved right out of myself. Certainly, I understand that we were created for this relationship. It is primary and at our core, but I just can’t find my own need.

As I read Anne Lamott’s Small Victories, she writes of the need to be welcomed in life and her sense of lack welcome while growing up. I share her experience. No one was around to welcome me into a room, to delight in my presence or long for me when I was absent. I certainly don’t expect to be welcomed. I expect to be a burden or a drain. I live life apologetic of my existence. I caught myself singing to a song with my husband and children the other night and flinched at the awareness of my own voice. Whenever I am made aware of my own voice, whether in conversation or song, I want to cry. I cannot understand how anyone would welcome me anywhere.

God, forgive me for shutting you down when you call yourself my loving Father. Show me what this means, and help me to excavate that anciently-buried need for a father. I believe that the need is there, and I believe that you can revive it. I understand that with its revival will come grief and pain, but I trust that further healing can take place too. I want to experience as much of You as possible in this life, and if that means that you become a parent to me, please redeem parenthood.

Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

Nearly three weeks have passed since I cut off contact with you, since I sent you what must have been an unbelievable nightmare of an email, ripping me and your grandchildren out of your life. Years ago, we built a physical barrier, moving across country, but that was not sufficient. I had hoped, oh I had really hoped that less contact would solve our problems. Every time you came for a visit or called, I crumbled, imploding into a heap of self-hate and shame. I tried desperately to make it work. You have to believe that I did. I was the last one to ever want to draw the line in the sand and say that you and dad couldn’t cross it. I have been relentlessly allegiant to you, never in a million years wanting to villanize you in any way. I have lived my life to protect you, my parent, from myself, from the rest of the world, and from yourself. I was willing to go to my grave defending you and caring for you. You had me trapped. I was paralyzed, just as I had always been, unable to break free.

But, mom, something shifted. I fell in love. I entered into healthy relationship. I had my own children. I entered into a season in my life where I had to choose between taking care of helpless, precious, babies, whom I love more than anything in the world, or taking care of you, a grown woman, who has tied me to yourself with cords of shame, bitterness, and hatred. I had to take a step back and evaluate our relationship in light of the vow that I have made to my own family, the people who depend on me for their survival.

In the aftermath of this estrangement, one experience, or lack thereof, seems to speak loudly: I have no grief. I feel no sense of loss. None whatsoever. I have never loved you. I have been terrified of you, manipulated by you, shamed by you, but I have never felt love for you, my own mother. I thought that this reflected something terrible in me, some horrible deficiency, or presence of extreme evil. I think, however, that it really reflects more realistically the sick nature of our relationship. I am extremely capable of love and compassion. I see it every day. With my husband and my children, I feel more love than I ever imagined a heart could harbor. Thus, I am not a sociopath. Although, you may be. I feel no loss, but I feel sad that I feel no loss. How does a person lose her mother and feel no sadness? This in itself is tragic. I do, however, feel like a boulder of guilt is resting squarely between my shoulders. I try so valiantly not to enter into your mind and not to imagine what you are thinking and feeling about my decision, but it catches me when I let my guard down.

Your birthday came and went, and I did not call you. I am so so sorry. I wish that I could have. I truly wish that it were different. I desperately wish that I had “false memories,” and someone would prove me wrong. I wish that I could find out that you were safe for my family, and that I could honor you by allowing you contact. I want to honor you. I want to take care of you. I want to love you. Strangely, however, I am certain that this wall is the best way for me to love you and for me to love my husband and my children. You had too much power over me, over us. I was too scared of you.

I breathe deeply now as a free woman: A woman, strong, and whole. You are no longer successful in your attempts to break me down into fragments, making me weak and ineffective in order to make yourself seem stronger. My lungs stretch to hold a little more air with each new breath. The sun seems a little more radiant with each day out from under the shadow of your darkness. I come more fully alive as I wriggle out of your shackles of death. I defy the odds and break free, and my children and grandchildren and great grandchildren will live in peace.

I am truly sorry that it has to be this way, and I pray for restoration.

Loved

You are loved. Cliché?  Sometimes.  Other times, it is just what we need to hear.

“Do you dream of a home you never had,

of innocence that you cannot get back?

The pain was real, you can’t erase it.

Sooner or later, you’ve got to lay it down.

You are loved.

Do you keep the thoughts inside your head?

Do you regret the things you never said.

You have a voice, you have to use it.

You’ve got a choice, don’t let them shut you down.

You are loved.

Do you feel the ache inside your soul,

You know you’ll never make it on your own.

Sorrow is too great for you to hold it.

You’re gonna break,

Why don’t you lay it down?

You are loved.

Freedom comes in letting go.

Open up the window to your heart.

Freedom comes in letting go.

Open up your heart.

You are loved.

You are loved.

You are loved.

You are loved.”

JJ Heller

What does it mean to be loved?  To really be loved?  How does life change when we know that we are loved, when we accept that we are loved? What freedoms flood in with the realization that we are thoroughly, deeply loved?  I believe that love might be the platform on which we can stand to finally share our stories.  I don’t believe that I can let everything out and let it go until I know that I am loved, no matter what I say or do.  My past can’t change the love. My story can’t negate the love.  I guess that this is also attachment psychology.  Attachment theory can also be called love theory.  Healthy development does not occur outside of secure attachment.

I spent my life looking for something concrete, a set of steps, or a method that would bring healing.  I failed to find it.  I thought that if I just tried hard enough, or willed myself to think, believe, and behave differently, I would be fixed.   I am a driven person.  If I set out to complete a challenge, I usually achieve it.  If I set a running goal, I hit it.  Recovery is not like running a sub-twenty minute 5-k.  I have never been able to white-knuckle my way into sustainable recovery.

I struggle with abstract concepts.  I am not even sure that I could intellectually define love, not in a way that would honor love in its truest sense.  Love is life-changing.  But how many people who struggle with addictions and disorders are terrified of love?  It is vulnerable and dangerous.

I hesitate to bring scripture into the equation, but it seems apt.  “We love because He first loved us.”  My ability to love grew out of a sense of God’s love for me.  In 2008, it became apparent to me that God had been communicating His love to me in every way possible.  It was this year specifically that he began communicating two statements to my heart.  I would ask for Him to say something, anything to me.  It never failed that He would say, “I love you.”  I was horribly annoyed with Him for repeating such a simple, silly phrase.  Really? This is not what I wanted to hear.  I wanted something lofty and extremely spiritual.  This phrase was followed in later years with the statement, “I am in love with you.”  When I asked Him angrily why He kept repeating these elementary statements about His love, He said consistently, “It is because you don’t get it yet.”  He loves me.

Without accepting love, I could not recover.  I didn’t get it.  I also think that this love needs to come from others too.  We need others to love us, as seen with children and caregivers.  Here I go, bringing in scripture again, but “perfect love drives out fear.”  I believe that perfect love also drove out my anorexia.  The perfect love was there long before my anorexia fled, however.  I had to grasp it.  I guess that I am saying that healing happens within relationships.  God said that He loved me and that He was in love with me.  He also showed me that He loved me in very real ways, and through others.  So I slowly, cautiously began to trust His love.  It certainly has never been an over-night kind of miraculous zap to my heart. I trusted Him more and more.

He showed me the people who had been in my life who had loved me all along, and as I let their love, past and present, envelop me, I began to heal further.  Then He showed me people in my life that wanted to love me, and I tentatively opened up to relationship with them.  Slowly, the love from God and others allowed for a safe space for me to step out away from the eating disorder.  The love became larger, crowding out my life. I was learning to love in return.  The circulation of this love proved to take up much more space in my life than existed when my diseases were present, and they slowly ebbed out.

Love is the foundation for healing.  I am in the process of growing to grasp this love.  My acceptance of this love ebbs and flows, and my healing is directly related to my willingness to receive it.