Thursday, March 14, 2013

Among the Many Who Are Unbroken

***This was also a paper/experimental essay I turned in today for my creative nonfiction class. With that said, it's almost nothing but musings, but considering that's sorta what I do here, I figured it wouldn't be that hard. I edited a few things out, but only maybe a couple of sentences.***

When you hear someone say, “You’re not alone.” It’s a mantra—a reminder. Whatever you are going through, even if it’s specific to you, you are not the only one dealing with some form of pain or frustration. But how we deal with the issues and how they affect us are unique to each person, and the sooner we’re sympathetic to that, the better we can be there for others to help them heal. I remember hearing the song two years ago—it was her first single after leaving rehab for a myriad of problems left unresolved until that time. She came out on the other end a stronger person, and I admired her for it. What I didn’t understand was why the song resonated with me so. I didn’t go to rehab. I wasn’t sick. Why were the lyrics affecting me?

After the song released, I listened to it a few times and the metaphor was not lost on me—at least, I knew what metaphor she was taking from the song when she performed it. There was no one specific reason that she found herself in a dark place; she was stuck in a place where the toxicity in her life was eating away at her. And after she fell, she picked herself back up and worked towards cleansing herself of it, once and for all. “You can take everything I have / You can take everything I am / Like I’m made of glass”—I cried when I heard those lines for the first time. Back then, I couldn’t have told you why. It was much stronger than I was. “I will be rising from the ground / Like a skyscraper.” Much stronger than I.

One year later, she got back up on her feet and started her journey to a better future. She wasn’t another Lohan—she was searching for the happiness she knew she deserved in a positive and healthy way. That’s when I started my own journey—because I wasn’t happy, and I deserved to be. (She taught me that.) She represented joy and what it meant to love life for what it is. She seemed to be genuinely happy at concerts and on TV. It was a side of her I had yet seen. But what resonated with many people who followed her was her willingness to be so open and honest about her issues, even when it hurt. Past tense doesn’t give her any justice, though. She still is a joy to see—and honest.

I found a new way to cope with my stress and pain, rather than let it build up and pretend it wasn’t there, because of her. Until that time, I had become an emotional monster—one who could violently fly off the handle at a moment’s notice. It’s strange how long you can allow yourself to carry guilt and shame and let it eat away at you before you notice it’s there. Luckily, it wasn’t too late for me—if it ever really is “too” late to do something. As long as you’re breathing you have room to grow, I think.

I never dealt with my mother passing when I was younger. And hearing everyone try to console me on something I swore I was “over” made me only fall back further into my shell. “It’s a tumor on her brain stem,” the doctor said. Even still, the idea of cancer or tumors—benign or not—are such a scary thing. They are so foreign and so violent. Not many can describe truly what cancer is, just what it does. That uncertainty is what unraveled me at 14-years-old when they said my mother could have it. The tumor was benign, but for where it was, it might as well have been cancerous—a silent killer. Very little can be done once the central nervous system has been tampered with, and you could see her growing weaker every day. But I only live with the image of it in my mind; she lived with it for two years. My mother was yet another woman who proved to be much stronger than me.

I never dealt with the bad marriage my father had after her. A woman who loved our family so, but wasn’t ready for the family she was given. We had too much baggage. For the first year after my mother’s death, you saw it on everyone’s faces. If they knew, they only looked to us in pity. It was their own form of love, I suppose, but for someone as shy as me, I didn’t want any more reason for someone to look to me at all. I just wanted to disappear. When this stepmom came into my life, everything seemed perfect. She would never fill that hole left by the one woman in my life who would love me more than anybody else could, but she fit. Until she didn’t.

I never dealt with the new relationship my father has now that ended the old one. He was crying and hurting because he hurt someone else. What can you do when you know how gentle his soul truly is? He made a mistake. And I love my father. I truly do—even if I don’t always love his choices. The worst part was admitting to myself that I would probably never see that stepmom again, and that I actually did love this new woman in his life. When did my life get so convoluted?

We lost our home, we moved somewhere else. I was being uprooted. Even at 22-years-old, it doesn’t get any easier. Once you’re used to something, you want it to stay that way. At the very least, I wanted one stable place to come back to when life here wasn’t as stable—because this town and education is just a phase in my life, I always said. Even all of that was taken away from me. Each break, I would come back home to a much taller, younger brother, a father with a new job and new issues with his wife or a new wife. And then I was packing up all of my belongings and moving to a new home, in a new town, in a new county. Extended family was closer now, but given my history with them, I never was sure how much of a blessing that could be.

Much worse could have happened to me—and now I am more grateful that that is the worst of my problems. But psychologically, I never knew how to deal with it. I grew up a scared, shy person. Scared of everything and everyone—untrusting and unwilling to face my fears because I never believed I was strong enough to do it alone. Change frightened me because it rarely wrought good things. I’m terrified by the nightmare of possible change to any decision I make, so I stop doing for myself. I stop living life and reaching for my dreams and achieving everything I have ever wanted. I stand still, because it’s easier. I stand my ground, because I’ve proven I can take the punches a lot easier than I can stop myself from tripping and falling when I go forward.

And when life seemed to be going my way, I came home and it would fall apart again. “Only silence, as it's ending, like we never had a chance / Do you have to, make me feel like there is nothing left of me?” Here come the tears again, I would think every time I heard her voice build up to the chorus. Where was all this coming from?

That’s when I had to get help, because I had lost my nerve—the little bit of nerve that years of faking confidence had gotten me. I fell apart, and the worst was admitting I could not pick myself back up again. I had grown up with a father who taught me that you have agency in your life, and I grew up seeing proof of that every day. Admitting that I had allowed myself to fall this far and now I could not just take that control back alone hurt my ego. Because I needed that control.

A day later I was in an unfamiliar office trying to hold it together before I could see someone. When did my life come to this? I thought. Therapy is a stigma no one ever wishes on themselves, but they are stronger when they admit they might need it. That doesn’t mean you have to be heavily medicated every day or believe you are crazy. For many, it’s just a way of maintaining your sanity, because life isn’t always as easily manageable as we make it seem. This stranger made me spill out everything for which I was still harboring hatred—even hatred towards a mother who was no longer here to even justify or defend herself. And it wasn’t fair to her, and I knew that; which is why I never said anything. It was a release I needed. I felt like someone had given my wounds a chance to breathe. “I will be rising from the ground, like a skyscraper.” I finally got it—got what it must feel like to move forward and start to move past everything that had held me back. To not just stand your ground, but build a foundation there and rise above those problems and those changes that influenced you.

Four months later, I spent most of that time reflecting and teaching myself how to stay strong—I still believe in agency. Occasionally, I go back to that strange office, because it helps having someone new to help me sort out whatever I am thinking. That song came back to me one night and I started crying again, because I needed to hear it. Her recovery suddenly became just as important to me as it was to her, because it proved to me that—even though logically I knew it was possible, psychologically I still needed to hear—I can be happier than I am now.

Then I heard her sing her song live for the first time—for my first time. She sat down at the piano and started to speak—we knew what was coming next. Everyone in that audience has been following her, too. “This song is always a little emotional for me to perform,” she began. I felt those tears well up as she spoke about how thrilled she was that life was moving forward for her. She has done so much for herself and others in the past two years; it’s almost like that hollow girl we used to know is but a distant memory. I’m sure, for her, she’s still a close friend, but one she is nurturing. “I want to be able to help at least one person. This is why recovery is so important to me…”

“Because you deserve to be happy.”

That was it. That was the moment I felt all my emotions boil over again. This time, it wasn’t because I wasn’t dealing with it, but because I was, and until I’m 100-percent again, those wounds won’t completely scar-over. But it is okay, I thought. I have healthier ways to release those feelings now—I’m a mess built from a convoluted mess of interwoven problems that tangled somewhere in the middle. And if I’ve learned anything from literature, we’re all a little messy in our own ways, but a resolution is possible. (Unless you’re reading something more Postmodern.)

We, the audience, all had tears in our eyes that night when she sang to us, and so did she. It was a moment where people actually connected through music. There is a power in music, and when we were belting the lyrics back to her—me through teary eyes and a lump in my throat—I realized just how powerful that connection can be. And for once, I felt happy. Because I was better than I was a couple of years ago when the song first released, and this time I was with her—I was singing it with her, and it felt more real than anything I had received in that strange office, yet. But like that strange office, I had received a form of therapy I really needed—a way to let go: “You can take everything I have / You can break everything I am / Like I'm made of glass / Like I'm made of paper / Go on and try to tear me down / I will be rising from the ground / Like a skyscraper.”

I wasn’t singing to her like in a moment of worship. She’s a person, like all of us. If anything, we were reminding each other that the support is there. But when I sang, I was letting it all out and reminding myself how strong I can be. I was reminding myself that there is no need in life for negativity. That happiness is well-deserved for all. That I can love myself and love life even in the darkest of times. I still get stressed and lose sleep—I am a college student, working, after all. But I’m handling it rather than just covering it up. One day I hope she knows how much her story helped mine.

I’m no longer broken. I’m happy.