Nine Months, One Lifetime, Part 1

Ever consider the domino effect where every choice we make represents a domino? Sometimes I imagine my entire life as a series of dominoes falling and colliding and intersecting with a forward push successively creating momentum or lethargy depending on extraneous factors with each topple. Every single day is a series of choices. All of life is a cycle of choices. There are spiritual choices, personal preference choices, obvious choices, random choices, informed choices, uninformed choices, impulsive choices, compromising choices, sacrificial choices, long-term choices, emotional choices, moral choices, physical choices, financial choices, health choices, food choices, charitable choices, educational choices, career choices, transportation choices, relationship choices,  etc. Many choices are seamless, not even recognizing them as choices; they become reflexive behaviors. It is possible that one choice could fit into several of these categories. Every category contains good or bad options, pros and cons, accordingly. At the end of the day, a week, a month, a year, a lifetime, I believe it is the uninformed, ignorant choices (whatever category) which lead us into the darkest pits and deepest valleys – the choice you revisit in your mind and so wish you could take back; the choice you make in pure inexperience and unfamiliarity; the choice you make innocently fully believing it to be the right choice; the choice you make trusting God for good outcomes – the dominoes that fall on detonation sensors. I believe it is these choices that God uses to bring Him glory; to discipline us; to mold us like clay in His hands; to endure a long and painful process to purge out the dross and impurities like refined precious metals under heat; to lead and direct us to new places and understanding for our good; to discipline us to His highest value rendering wisdom, knowledge, and understanding; and ultimately to help others along their journey. Trust me, until eternity when “I shall know fully, even as I am fully known,” on this earth I may never fully know God’s purposes and reasons for allowing things to occur, but I now trust Him more.

I would like to share a personal experience, which actually began February 10, 2005 – one ignorant quiet choice to reach out for help, one unsuspecting private phone call to establish a new patient appointment that set off a drastic flash lightning chain reaction of events that haunts me to this day! I actually sometimes ask God, “Why did we have to do it this way?” I pray He will use it for His greater purposes. My first post will be preliminary accounts of happenings prior to this date, which will help give you an understanding of the events preceding my choice. I pray sharing this true story helps someone; gives someone wisdom and insight; and perhaps disrupts potential choices that need clear discernment – maybe that someone is just me! I will share this in parts.

I was in my fifteenth year of marriage still trying to navigate a complex web of marital dynamics stemming from two incredibly shattered people becoming one with all bets against our survival. We were only aware of one atomic bomb of my husbands that spewed debris, soot, and smoke all over us while dating. We spent over a decade of married life weaving in, over, around, and through the wreckage, consequences of choices he had made prior to marriage and on occasion, we still encounter a tiny burning ember that we more skillfully extinguish. After we were married, the rubble and plume of smoke from his explosion engulfed our existence, at times choking the life out of me. During our tumultuous, peculiar dating life, he was in the throngs of a ferocious battle I could not comprehend or understand. I had little clue about the size of the crater this explosion had created, but I did know I was teetering on the edge of a level of crazy I barely survived. I was aware of the framework, but I had no idea of the actual ugly images in the picture. Once I became conscious of a few images, I began piecing more and more together and throughout the ordeal became codependent, making every attempt to rescue him from the clutches of this monster and keep everything a secret. His plume of smoke was so wide, high, and thick that it blinded me to myself. I thought all our problems were because of him. I was normal; I had no problems; I was fine! There was nothing wrong with me. Truly, it is a heavy story of God’s redemption in his life; it is a heavy story of how I lost pieces of myself in the midst of his story. I was well equipped for the mission after years and years of my own buried and repressed life, yet I did not count the cost of my own personal damage until much later. I was an expert at suffering, survival, and denial!

Another atomic bomb that unknowingly flattened me on a level I denied was infertility. At no time while we were dating had we talked about having children. I loved little babies and little kids, but growing up I was not ‘in’ to babysitting, except for a select two. My mother consistently lined up babysitting jobs for me with people I did not know, for weekends, for summers, for evenings. I was ill equipped; I did not know what to do with these children; I had never learned to play, though I had no cognition of that for years and years. At a pre-marital exam, my physician (a great Christian physician whom I respected and loved) brought up contraceptives. He explained everything to me. I was not keen on the idea of taking a pill, but I also knew I/we were not prepared in any way, shape, or form to raise a child in the debris field, soot, and smoke we were currently living within. And always placing myself as the one responsible, I began birth control three months prior to our marriage without a blip on my radar that my husband could have taken measures. We gave no thought to not having children; we were just living life. However, our mothers were not shy in making their desires known. My mother boldly asked deliberately and consistently. His mother would never ask, but instead on multiple visits be crocheting baby booties, baby blankets, and baby jackets with a faint smile on her face as if I were giving birth the next day. We did take note of these things, but again were in agreement, in the wake of everything, it was not time. Around a year and nine months, I no longer wanted to take birth control, we were not totally prepared for children, but heard from friends ‘you are never fully ready.’ We decided I would stop taking the birth control and let nature take its course. Three months later, at another physical, my same doctor brought up having children and pregnancy. I explained to him that I discontinued birth control three months prior. He looks at me quizzically and suggests I get some preliminary infertility testing. It was a world I knew nothing of, but because I am a rule follower, I am present and accounted for at all procedures. Everything is normal. The physician then suggests my husband get checked. Against his every desire, he too follows through with his testing. It is a late summer afternoon. I hear the phone ringing as I am putting the key in to unlock the door. My husband is not home yet. I rush to the phone, “Hello.” It is our physician (kind of a fatherly figure to me) with a solemn tone. He says, “Hello Dee, this is doctor…, are you sitting down.” It all took me back for a minute, as I was not accustomed to him actually calling me; I thought something must have happened to my husband. I sat down and said, “Yes.” He tells me he got my husband’s fertility test results and that we only have a 2% chance of pregnancy. Nonchalantly I say, “OK” as if I had lost a dollar, no big deal. He inquired if I was OK. I said, “Sure, I’m fine.” He hung on the line as if waiting for some reaction of which I had none; I was blank; I was fine. When my husband arrived home, I shared the news with him like telling him the mail had just arrived. It was as if neither of us felt anything, no disappointment, no sadness, nothing. That was it, case closed. This was a loud bomb that I never heard go off, leaving destruction that I never saw for years.

My mother passed away January 20, 1994 from metastasized lung cancer. I never shed a tear – her first cancer diagnosis in December 1987, July 1992 when she phoned to tell me the cancer had returned, first chemo treatment, when she called me at work crying because her hair was falling out, every time she called me on the phone crying, multiple trips rushing 300 miles home; two sleepless weeks at the hospital as she lay dying; at the funeral; or thereafter. This too was an explosion of magnitude proportions leaving debris, smoke, and soot all over my life. I went through the motions managing her treatments, pain, and death as if it were spilled milk. The only residue I carried home was guilt, guilt, and more guilt; consistently wondering if she was OK; hoarding all her belongings for her return; nightmares; and weariness that dredged me like an anchor. But, after being gone for two weeks, I immediately began running forward at a pace that dwarfed the roadrunner. Inwardly, the emptiness and melancholy were escalating, but I was still able to outrun the emotions without recognizing or identifying that was what I was doing. It was my normal; I was fine! I did not know anything about grieving. It was my normal; I was fine! Yet outwardly, I began putting on pound after pound of weight, swelling to an all-time high of 460 pounds. I had no idea food was a coping mechanism that I used my entire life to fill the emptiness within and comfort my painful emotions. You see, psychology, mental illness, depression, anxiety, panic, insomnia, trauma, abuse, PTSD, neglect, abandonment, attachment disorder, etc. were not part of my vocabulary or knowledge. I was not educated in this field. These were my every day normal; nothing was wrong with me! I was independent, successful, and needed no one. I lived under THE mantra, “I’m fine.” Other than the embarrassing morbid obesity, amazingly, I presented an outward level of surpassing normalcy, I had everything together, all was well, I was fine. Inwardly, I had more secrets than a ‘secret keeper’ and I figured out any way possible to keep the secrets a secret from even myself. It is pretty tricky how the mind splinters, divides, and compartmentalizes information removing it from your awareness.

September 5, 1998 my maternal grandmother passed away quietly alone in her home. Another story for another day. We rushed there for the funeral, spent a day helping go through some of her possessions, rushed home with a few mementos in tow, and back to the grind without emotion. It was my normal; I was fine!

Sometime in 2004, another detonation of crushing decibels was released. My family has been riddled with friction, disagreements, narcissism, anger and rage, prolonged silences, passive-aggressive silent punishments, unsettled disputes swept under the rug, cruel actions, gossip and judgments passed down, hurts, wounds, and shredded relationships. I am not pointing the finger at anyone except myself, nor is this the storyline to delve into that world, and nor am I here to break this down for analysis. We are a dysfunctional, fractured people in constant need of forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration – that continual atonement! At this particular time, I once again found myself cast out into that world of dark silence with zero contact. I do not know the exact root that caused the seven years of separation, but this time I made a choice that I would no longer go crawling back with my tail between my legs, offering apologies for unknown actions, groveling to regain a standing in their good graces. I stepped away not knowing I was looking down the barrel of seven plus years of silence and separation. It was tragic. It was years of isolated aftershocks. I felt like an orphan. It was like scraping the skin off your knuckle having a constant sting. It was crushing and yet it was an all too familiar place; I was fine. I am just going to leave this here. For me, sharing the story of my family is like having a Viking reach in and rip your heart out with their bare hands.

I was a severe workaholic at work and home, which I learned as a coping mechanism to outrun and deny any ounce of emotion. Though I changed jobs four times of my own choice, I excelled at surpassing standards, cranking out work beyond imagination, and working overtime – often going in a 6 am and working until 6 pm, working a double plus shift at the end of each month from 6 am until 2 am the next morning, or going to work at 7 am on a Friday and not leaving until 3 am Saturday only to go back in after church on Sunday, then back to the regular work week on Monday. At home, I managed ALL affairs, and I do mean ALL. In silence, we fell into these roles. For years I just did anything and everything; if I saw it needed to be done, I did it. I was hyper-vigilant, hyper-responsible, hyper-organized, hyper-meticulous, hyper-clean, hyper-whatever. I lived at a pace unsurpassed by Hermes. That was my normal; there was nothing wrong with me; I was fine! As time progressed, I began to see that I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders and my husband was whistling off to work happy as a lark without a care in the world. He was fulfilled. Now I gave the appearance of unbelievable stability, dependability, super employee, church pianist, served in various roles in the church, and happy, yet on the inside, I was empty. My entire life I carried a measure of melancholy that steadily increased like a growing stock market price. We began to have a few tussles, but I had crippling fear that his past would resurface at the scent of conflict or disagreement. I chose to remain silent.

My body was letting me know it was under extreme duress!  May 1985, April 1992, and December 1998 I was in the ER for heart palpitations and chest tightness – all three visits diagnosed as benign. March 2003 I visited my doctor for heart palpitations and chest tightness. He administered a stress test – diagnosed benign. Not one person spoke anything about anxiety. I now find that bizarre. September 1993 through May 1994 my thyroid levels began functioning at 170%. Specialists could do nothing to slow it down except radioactive iodine treatment. There was never a root diagnosis – no goiter, no virus, no cancer – nothing! August 1996 another ER visit for a 104-degree fever with delirium. They thought it to be a kidney infection, but nothing was ever confirmed. May 2000 and July 2004 broke my right foot, twice in different bones. Except for the ER visits, I went through all follow-up appointments, testing and procedures alone, including fertility. No emotions; I did not need anybody; that was my normal; I was fine!

I praise God for His enduring love, grace, mercy, and presence in my life.

To be continued…
Love you, mean it!

There is More Than One Kind of Prison

There is More Than One Kind of Prison

I have never been arrested or confined in a literal prison, bordered by multiple barbed wire fencings, limited by brick walls, enclosed in cells, surrounded by criminals, and observed and inspected 24/7 by guards. The objective of imprisonment is to deter those who would otherwise commit crimes, to ‘pay’ the consequences for committed crimes, to safeguard society, and to be a “house of corrections” for hopeful rehabilitation and education for the prevention of future crimes up on release.

Yet, incarceration takes an altered dimension when it progressively materializes in the mind! My mental captivity, for all intents and purposes, was never intentional. From birth on, I began erecting a wall brick by unseen brick, a wall so tall and so thick that neither I nor anyone else could see over it or breach the stronghold.  In fact, I was ignorant that I had constructed a wall, let alone know when the construction of the wall was completed. Truly, it is an ingenious work of art. It is strong, stable, and resistant. It has weathered the storms quite well. However, here is the real truth and recent revelation – my wall takes an incredible amount of energy to maintain; my wall comes with a titanic price tag. On several occasions, I just wanted to give up — the wall has nearly cost my very life.

The greater question is, “What’s behind my wall?” This wall actually serves to protect me from what is on the other side; this wall serves as pseudo safety and security; this wall serves as a barrier and coping defense. All that is behind my wall is all that holds me hostage.  What is behind my wall? Years and years and years of denied unspoken pain; my trust is behind that wall; my emotions are behind that wall; unforgiveness is behind that wall; emptiness; all the tears I’ve literally never shed; grief, sorrow, and heartache beyond measure; unexpressed fear and sadness; loneliness and isolation; bleeding wounds of abuse, trauma, suffering, neglect, abandonment, silence, cruelty, intrusion of boundaries, indifference, gloomy days after days, conflicting gender identity issues, suffering, disappointments, timidity, and humiliation; loss of childhood; powerlessness; the darkness and melancholy; PTSD; sleepless and restless nights, anxiety and panic; depression; social anxiety; a host of physical ailments; every pound of excess weight and food addiction; feelings of being a disappointment, unacceptable, an embarrassment, inferior, a misfit, left out, being bullied, and overwhelmed; all the pieces of my broken yearning empty heart; all the shattered and devastating losses of hopes and dreams; denial and defeat; regrets; the attempts to reach out for professional help only to have it cause more destruction; anger, resentment, and at times hatred and bitterness toward each person who contributed to my wall and all the debris and trash that lies behind. I have lost myself and my identity in the rubble.

You see, there is more than one kind of prison! My wall and all the ruins that are piled up on the other side limit me. I am paying severe consequences. The wall is my attempt to deter more bricks and wreckage, yet the irony is that the wall is actually creating more. Only by finally receiving quality professional help am I willing to identify and acknowledge the brevity of all of my pieces and brokenness that I have tossed and stored behind my wall. Frankly, the wall has little breaches and it is time for the wall to come down brick by brick; it is time! The light must shine in and expose all that is hidden in the darkness. It is complex and deep. Though I am externally freakishly meticulous, clean, organized, and orderly, behind my wall I am an emotional hoarder. It is time to sift through each component and determine what to keep, what to give back, what to trash, and what to let go. It is time to set the captive free. To be quite honest, I am tired; I have sheer exhaustion and chronic fatigue and no longer have the emotional capability to preserve my wall! It is scary to me, but I am committed to healing.

And, here is what I know to be truth: 

[The Lord says,] “Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am He, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.
Isaiah 46:4

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:18

Love you, mean it!

Home Before Five

My mother’s due date is to be the makings for a New Year’s Day celebration or there about, but even at birth, I take the road less traveled; in desperation, I draw my first breath one month late. I am purple from head to toe, having difficulty breathing, and my skin is pealing from being in the womb too long. My mother tells me in that day, they did not induce labor; they allowed life to happen naturally. Her labor did not progress; it was prolonged with exceptional pain. Laughing, she tells me she screamed quite loud throughout the entire ordeal, annoying the staff, the doctor, and probably the entire labor and delivery wing. Ultimately, she rips the curtains off the hospital window. She says the doctor strongly urges them never to have any more children. Because I am struggling to survive (the story of my life,) my mother does not hold me. The medical staff work on me as she says she prays, “God, please let her live. If you let her live, I’ll give her to you.” My mother tells me that my father took one look at me and says, “She’s an ugly little shit!” So, near dying, one wants to give me away to God and the other thinks I am ugly! Let’s get this late New Year’s party started!

My brother is a little over two and half upon my arrival. He has been an only child, grandchild, and nephew his entire short life thus far. Naturally, all dote upon him. I am told he is full of life, always on the go, in to everything, very active, all boy, and always hungry. In the pictures I have, he is one cute little boy with brown naturally curly ringlets of hair! When I begin talking, I call him “Bubby” and he calls me “Sissy.”

One Easter, for some insane reason, my aunt brings us each live little yellow baby ducks. Now, we do not live on a farm; we are city folk. What pray tell are we going to do with ducks in the city in a small yard? My brother wants to see if they can swim. He goes out to the garage; I follow him. He gets out a five-gallon bucket. He fills the five-gallon bucket with water from the garden hose. He goes back indoors and gets the baby ducks. He places the baby ducks into the five-gallon bucket of water. We are standing over the five-gallon bucket watching these baby ducks trying to swim for their very lives. The baby ducks do not know how to swim; they gurgle to the bottom of the five-gallon bucket and drown.

My brother loves playing with matches and fire. Where and how that began is a mystery to me. Again, my aunt for some insane reason, buys my brother a white Styrofoam life-size surf board and lifesaver ring. We do not live near water. We do not own a pool, other than a little plastic yard pool in which these items do not even fit. They are useless to my brother other than futile folly. I am unclear how my brother has a book of matches, but outside at the corner of the house, he begins breaking off little bits of the surfboard and ring, setting a match under the pieces, and watching them melt. I vividly recall standing aside watching the melting with great intrigue. He runs out of matches in his matchbook and asks me to go inside and get more matches out of the drawer. I do. He continues melting Styrofoam as a black soot mark begins accumulating on the corner of the house. My mother comes home, rounds the corner, and I literally think my brother’s death date has arrived. Her wrath swoops down upon him like a typhoon. Now, I strongly believe in proper discipline, rules, boundaries, consequences, punishment fitting the crime, etc., but corporal punishment  and ear- splitting vocals cause grave life-long trauma to a child.

Frequently, I hear my mother and father say, “We have to break his spirit!” Before I am five, who knows what that cognitively means, but visually and audibly that meant watching my mother turn into a category five hurricane with rantings and screaming at decibels beyond the Krakatoa Eruption of 1883 chasing after a little boy. Now my brother says he probably deserved everything he ever got, but harsh physical spankings and cruel punishment equate to abuse and I refuse to define it by any other term! How about they take responsibility for safeguarding access to matches and such, playing with him rather than leaving him up to his own mischievous wiles, and seeking out participation in constructive activities, which they had no interest in doing throughout our entire childhood. They wanted him contained and controlled by punishment and sought measures to “break his spirit” not considering they were breaking much more than his spirit – his self-esteem, his belief and joy in who he was as a little boy, changing his internal chemistry into someone he was not created to be, and emotionally creating defiance, anger,  and rebelliousness. They did not break his spirit, they altered and wounded his spirit.

My father is rarely home. He works three jobs. One I know, he scrubs, buffs, and polishes floors at night in an office building. A couple times, he brings the buffer home to do our floors. We get to sit on the buffer for a ride as he swirls the machine all around the room. His main employment is working for the grounds department at the state university. He enjoys that job and does it for his entire career, working countless hours in the winter plowing snow around the clock. A co-worker of his plays Santa at Christmas and travels about the town visiting little children at their homes. My father arranges for him to drop in for a visit to see my brother and me during a few Christmas seasons. Santa boisterously emerges through the front door shouting, “HoHoHo!” I run for the bedroom, but my brave brother goes right up to Santa, sits on his lap, and tells him everything he wants for Christmas. I keep my distance, peeking around the corner to see. I am still given a little netted stocking filled with candy. One Christmas we get bicycles. Mine, of course, has training wheels. We do not stay long, but in the snow, my father takes us to the school playground to ride our new bikes. Before I am five, I gravitate toward my father. He really does not have much of a clue about me as my mother keeps a solid grip on my life. In his absence, he thinks my mother takes care of everything for the kids. However, he certainly gives his two cents about doctors and dentists. My mother is not to take us to the dentist while we have baby teeth. He thinks that is a waste of money. We do not see the dentist. I am given a toothbrush, shown where the toothpaste is, and how to put the toothpaste on the brush, but I am not taught how to brush my teeth.

My mother tells me I was a sickly child. My nose dripped constantly. I struggled with severe constipation to the point she says she was frequently checking and administering some type of medication from the doctor. I have chronic earaches. Apparently, my mother hears of an old wives’ tale that suggests if she heats dry salt up in a pan on the stovetop, puts it in a baby sock, and places it on the child’s ear, it will draw out the pain. I beg for salt socks regularly. Did it draw out the pain? Who can say, but it is comforting and soothing quietly lying down on the couch with my hot salt socks pressed into my ears. I have migraine headaches, primarily on Sunday afternoons, that pierce my skull, throbbing and pulsating with a rhythm of a bass drum. She speaks to the doctor and gets another type of medication. I yearn for the isolation of a quiet dark room to lie down and let the pulsating subside. My mother tells me I was an angel sent from heaven. She tells me I never cry. She says I sleep all the time. She says she flicks the bottom of my feet to wake me up to eat. She tells me mostly she props a bottle up for me to drink in the crib and walks away, only to find the partially drank bottle somewhere on the floor. She tells me my brother wants me to come outside and play with him, but I am just a baby, so he decides to bring in a bucket of dirt and proceeds to pour it in my face. She says I nearly suffocated, turns me upside down to get me breathing, and has a terrible time getting all the dirt out of my eyes, ears, nose, and throat. She tells me I do not like to be held except for my paternal grandmother. She tells me that I do not talk. She says it is because my brother speaks for me. She decides to send my brother to my grandparents for a week and somehow forces me to speak. My speech is abnormal; I talk like Elmer Fudd for a couple years. I remember my mom and aunt mimicking my speech and words. It feels like they are making fun of me and laughing at me.

My mother tells me when I am able to sit up by myself without tipping over, many days she sits me in the middle of the dining room floor surrounded by toys and goes off to take a one to two hour nap. She says that I never move or cry; I sit there until she returns. I actually have a foggy memory of a few of those times.

At age three and four, I begin to have some of my own clear memories. My mother loved to watch, I Love Lucy in the mornings. Many mornings she sits me down beside her with a basket of laundry and teaches me how to fold washcloths and dishtowels – perfectly, while watching I Love Lucy. If it is not perfect, we start all over again as she watches The Price Is Right and The Young and the Restless. I eventually learn how to fold all the laundry – perfectly. In the afternoons, she takes a nap and begins giving me a choice. I can either take a nap or stand on a chair at the kitchen sink washing the dishes. I no longer want to take naps and always choose to wash dishes. By age four, I am a master class laundry folder and dishwasher – with perfection.

Now I am unclear of my naughty behaviors, but I am very clear on spankings. My mother spanks me; I do not cry. My mother spanks me again; I do not cry. My mother becomes infuriated and spanks me again; I do not cry. My brother tells me it became laughable to her. I remember this escapade a couple times. She is out to break me as well.  

I have no recollection of being played with, other than by my brother. Before I was born, I believe an uncle built my brother a super large roofed sandbox that stray cats used as their litter box, and a swing set was erected in the side yard. I want to say I was three. My brother and I are playing on the swing set. He pushes the swing sideways at me, gashing my forehead open. My mother rushes me to the ER where I am stitched up, not crying, all the while asking for my dad. I have no memories of sitting in laps, being read to, being told ‘I love you’, or any of those warm safe and secure feelings.

The doctor decides to remove my tonsils and adenoids. My mother decides that my brother will have the same procedures done at the same time. It is summer. We are confined to house arrest in the mornings and limited activities in the side yard for a short bit in the afternoons. We each wear ice cuffs around our necks for a few days; we each drink pink medicine. My earaches cease and my speech clears up. I am five.

Love you, mean it!