Freedom Within Borders

Freedom Within Borders

As a child,  I was ultra-submissive.  I never rocked the boat.  I was terrified of breaking the rules.  I was rigid and well-behaved, trembling at the thought of doing anything rebellious.  As an adolescent and teenager,  I was the same meek, timid, rule-following legalist.  I craved structure, rules, and boundaries.  I even made my own arbitrary world of boundaries and structure because the set rules were not rigid enough.  They diagnosed my world of rules as “anorexia.”  I lived and breathed rules.  They defined me.  Without my system of  restriction,  I had no sense of self.  How sad is it when your identity is shaped by what you refuse to do?  I built this prison for myself, and I got way too comfortable in it.

Somewhere along the line, however, I broke.  After a lifetime of worshipping the rules,  I could no longer walk the tightrope that I had strung for myself.   I didn’t turn wild-child or anything, but I did let loose a bit.  I ate desserts.  I had real, legitimate conversations with God and asked Him what seemed like “off-limits” questions.  I allowed myself to get angry and express my anger.  I allowed myself to voice the truth of my suffering.  I risked relationships: real, meaningful relationships.  I watched tough movies.  I said words like “crap” without flinching.  I stopped trying to be absolutely perfect in every way.  And I embraced a new kind of freedom.  I also uncovered this inner rebel whom I had never before encountered.  I stepped out of my box.

Many people around me encouraged this new slightly rebellious side.  In anorexia recovery, it is difficult to really make strides toward freedom without stepping outside of one’s own rigidly structured habits.  I became more spontaneous, which allowed me to experience a new side of my own humanity and made space for joy and excitement.  As restrictive living lessened, my world expanded, and as my world expanded, I realized that I had been hiding from a bunch of phantoms that I had dreamed up.  Many of my fears were nothing but smoke and mirrors.

This rebel was helpful in recovery from an eating disorder, and I am extremely thankful to have tasted the fresh life of freedom.

In an unfortunate turn of events, however,  I find myself trying to navigate a new world of restrictions.  These restrictions are  imposed by doctors and my treatment team as we try to manage my chronic illnesses.  The Megan of my youth would have clung to restrictions and been the most compliant patient on the planet.  She would follow doctors orders at all times and never imagine pushing the envelope.  Unfortunately, this Megan is quite different from the Megan of my youth.

I have this need to push the limits.  Some providers on my treatment team call this going “rogue.”  With the unpredictability of POTS and MCAD, I am supposed to be in a wheelchair when I leave the house.  With the temperature in the 90’s most afternoons,  I need to stay inside because my body cannot regulate its own thermostat.  With my complex set of allergies and motility issues, I am on a strict diet, involving no processed food, refined sugar, artificial colors, animal protein, dairy, gluten, and fiber. Basically, I can eat about five to ten percent of food options out there.

I find myself bucking up against these medical boundaries that have been compassionately placed upon me.  The rebel in me says,  “No one can tell me what I can’t do,” so I sneak in a handful of teddy grahams.  I take the kids out in the backyard on a hot afternoon.  I “forget” to remind my husband to put my wheelchair in back of the car.  I scoff at the rigidity of the rules and try to do my own thing.  The rules seem oppressive.  It seems like people are trying to rob me of life and freedom and fun.  And since my rebellious years are a bit delayed, I act a bit like a typical rebellious teenager, turning on her heels away from those who love her as they summon her to a life that they know is more life-giving. She is convinced, however, that they are trying to rob her of “real life.”

So as I do my own thing, I reap the consequences.  I eat what I feel like eating, and I suffer tremendous pain and sometimes near-anaphalaxis as a result.  I take my children outside to play, and I collapse in the grass when my legs give out due to heat exhaustion.  I “conveniently” forget my wheelchair and end up in bed for a couple days after a simple doctor’s appointment.  I wail that it is not fair, and I all but beat my chest with my fists at the injustice of my life.  I pout, and if I had the energy, I would stomp my stubborn feet all the way to my bed.

I didn’t ask for these restrictions, and I resent them.  But I am reminded that they are there so that I can actually have a chance at life.  These restrictions are not like my self-imposed prison that I created so many years ago.  They are life-giving boundaries, placed around me so that I can move safely and freely in this life that is mine to live.

I have to avoid many foods so that I can be pain-free and empowered to pursue important goals in my life.  I cannot be the mother, friend, and wife that I was created to be if I am in the midst of allergic reaction after allergic reaction.  I have a wheelchair so that I can go out and enjoy the events and activities that other people get to enjoy.  What if I could see my wheelchair as a vehicle that could transport me further into abundance and hope?  I cannot go outside often, but I can be inside in a stable environment, reading stories to my little ones, singing songs, playing my keyboard, and writing so that my life can bring meaning and life to others.

These boundaries that surround my life look different than what I had expected my borders to look like.  That does not mean, however, that they are meant to be disregarded and cast aside.  In my rebellion,  I will suffer.  The rules are not created to chastise me or smother me.  They are created to free me to live more fully.

I still feel like a rebel, and I kind of like the rebel part of me.  I still want to eat chocolate cake, french fries, and maybe a really delicious salad.  But I want to live a meaningful, abundant life, and for me, that means learning to settle into a particular set of boundaries.

In the perfect world, where there is no suffering, pain, or sickness, this lifestyle would be unnecessary.  One day, when I know as I am fully known, I will be unfettered by a failing body.  But that is not today, and this is not the perfect world.  The Kingdom is not fully here on earth, so I will submit and trust that I can still taste the glories of the Kingdom as I navigate life within these new borders.

I am slowly learning to find freedom within these boundaries, and it is beautiful.

 

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.

Family Estrangement

My fingers linger above the keyboard, waiting for direction. I hesitate, sigh, and hover in silence- that heavy, loaded silence that screams louder than words. People ask me how I’m doing, and my lips turn to lead. I want the words purged, but I don’t want to have to utter them. I want an easier way, any way, but this is the only way.
Estrangement. I am the estranged daughter. An orphan of my own choosing. It is a strong statement to say that being cut off from your parents is healthier than being in relationship with them. Admitting that the relationship is more damaging than it is helpful and stepping out of it. And all I can do is feel sorry for them. I have taken away their grandchildren. Placing over a thousand miles between us was not sufficient. The guilt is all-engulfing. I try not to think about it, not to enter into their thoughts. They are magnets, however, and my brain is drawn to them.
Before the total cut off, I was Pinocchio, a real boy, but still connected to the strings. It was time to cut the strings. There was no question. It didn’t feel like a choice. I had to do it, for safety and sanity. I’ve cut the strings, however, and they are still in my head. They are still tugging and pulling, and I am still responding, giving them what they want. Or are they now phantom-strings, like phantom limbs? I feel guilty even calling them strings, saying that my parents did something wrong. I owe them so much. They helped me so much. Well, financially.
I also feel like I should be grieving, but I am not. I have not shed a single tear. I feel no loss or sadness. Maybe I feel sadness out of empathy for them. I never felt affection for them. Only fear and a deep, desperate desire to please. My greatest goal in life was to please them, and in time, that goal became directly conflictual with my role as a wife and mother. I had to choose, and I chose my children and husband. The strong, healthy choice. But why am I not grieving? Why, in place of tears, do I heave the most massive sigh of relief that I have ever breathed? I would like to believe that it is because I made the wisest choice.
It was a choice birthed out of deeper pursuit of God and clearing out space for His voice, so I am trying to trust the process without guilt and shame. It is just a terribly painful, guilt-ridden process.