I’ve written my whole life about how my childhood in the evangelical church, my father and his attitudes about women and the institution of men, all worked together to make me feel like I was drowning…like I was afraid and bleeding to death.
I’ve written about my mother, how I always felt like I wanted her, how I always needed her and how she wasn’t able to be there. She was spread thin against too little time and money, and too many children.
Plus, I was an overly sensitive child who needed too much.
My early circumstances were a source of terrible pain for me and I felt very much alone. So, I went away.
I’ve only just begun to look at this aspect of myself, this wonderful imagination I’ve always possessed, to examine it in another light.
It let me get away.
I talked to myself constantly, as a child. I loved to shut the door of the bathroom, because no one would bother me there and just pretend. I was another person. I had friends and everyone loved me. I thought of funny things to say and everyone laughed. My fantasies kept me company at night. I imagined that I lay in a bed in a very grown up, very successful person’s life. I whispered to the wall, imagining that a boy, (he was very lonely too) lay on the other side, in another world, and that he whispered to me, too.
He was there because he needed me, too.
When I became a teenager, I left, physically; I tried to never be at home. If I was home, I tried to always be high. I kept half empty bottles of scotch under my bed. Belonging to where I came from was unbearable. The slightest touch, a word from my mother or father would pierce me hotly and I lost control.
I cried, for hours, crumpled onto the floor of my bedroom. I sought the company of boys, horribly, viciously, so that they could see right through me, that they could have me any way they wanted. I was there to be used; I was there to be anything other than where I’d come from.
I was there to be torn to pieces and scattered across the bathroom floor. Anything, other than where I’d come from.
I ate poison and drank it. I injected poison into my veins. The way I felt when I wasn’t wasted was anxious. Panicked. I always blamed withdrawal, but it was in me, all the time. I went to beautifully suicidal lengths to stay under the influence.
I was an overly sensitive child. I blamed withdrawal. It was in me.
So, let’s fast forward to a sunny, warm day in April of 2007—the first warm day of the year. I had been up all night, in surgery and recovery. I was wheeled into a room where my lover sat in the muted, early morning light, holding a soft little baby in his arms. She was wrapped up in white blankets, her little pink face barely visible.
“She’s hungry,” a nurse said and placed my daughter into my arms. It was the first time I held one of my children and how I felt was unbelievably anxious. Panicked.
Only, this time, I didn’t want to go. Rather, I wanted to stay.
Everything inside of me was screaming at me to detach, allow my eyes to close, to unhook myself from these tubes and machines that beeped and walk away, down the highway. I wanted to go, but I wanted to stay, even more. It was the first time in my life that I wanted to stay, even more.
And so, since that moment, I have been a person who struggles with anxiety. That’s the way I tell it.
“I never had anxiety until my first baby was born,” I say. I had my first panic attack the night we brought her home from the hospital. Since then, I haven’t learned how to shut my thoughts off, how to turn them down, put them into a soft, velvet box and step away from them, slowly; backing away with my hands tenuously in front of me until the thoughts are mild and quiet enough to leave them.
That’s the point right? To get rid of them? To somehow push them away? To keep them from touching me. Because the thoughts are the problem. hey never stop, so they must be the problem.
The truth is that my life has been a long, anxious and panicked effort to stop my thoughts. My entire life has been this way: I have always gone away.
Slowly, with practice, it’s becoming clear to me that my thoughts aren’t the problem.
The problem is that I learned to run away, at a very early age. I learned that it was more comfortable and easier not to stay. And now, I’m a mommy and I love my girls like the moon loves the shimmering surface of the ocean.
Now, I’m woken up too early and there are diapers and soggy cereal bowls and knives to wash.
Now, there are arguments over toys and tears and tears and tears and Shh, darling. You are doing your best to be kind and I know it’s hard, you will do better the next time. I believe in you.
There is so much to run from. Let’s tell the truth, moms, women, people of the world…things are very often uncomfortable. Life is most often an effort, punctuated by rare, soft moments that are free and wild and full of bliss.
I believe that the answer to my anxiety doesn’t lie in 30 minutes of cardio and a half pill of Xanax in the evening.
I believe the answer to my anxiety lies in the thing I started running from. It lies in learning to stay with myself, with everything that comes up inside of me, even when it is scary or sad or painful.
The answer lies in learning not to meet everything with resistance, to not try to grab my troubles by the throat and shove them under my feet as I run. The answer probably lies in forgiveness and acceptance.
I have always heard the lesson of forgiving, not for the person who hurt you, but for yourself—that forgiveness will set you free.
I have always said that I don’t need to practice forgiveness, because those things don’t bother me, anymore.
I never cry about them; my voice doesn’t shake when I tell those stories, when I tell about how I was a girl who came home for the first time to a trailer outside of a coal mining town. About the snakes and mud of my youth, about rice sprinkled with sugar, spankings until I blistered and the lord, we praised the lord for all of it.
My father didn’t love me and my mother didn’t see me.
Those things don’t bother me, because I ran away from them. I’ve been running away from them my whole life. Only by resisting them, by resisting the truth of my life, I’ve been carrying it with me, letting it add weight to my me, and it shape me in ways I wasn’t even aware of.
I don’t know how to find the heart of my life, anymore. Having children helped me to touch it. Loving them helped me to understand how much I felt unloved, and how that must have hurt me, but I can’t feel the hurt. It is too old and buried too far. I’ve done too much running.
I need to find the hurt and invite it to become real. I need to find it and hold it in my arms like a baby and say, shh, darling. I believe in you.
I need to forgive my mother and father for what they did in the name of the lord. I don’t know how, yet, but I need to forgive them and lay them down to sleep sweetly. I need to see them as something other than the people who hurt me. I need to say to them, Shh, now. You didn’t mean to break anything. You did your best, because who doesn’t do the best they can? Who fails on purpose? Who causes harm because they want to? You did your best, and I know that, love.
I need to find them, somehow, at the other end of all this distance and forgive them.
I don’t know how to do that, but I’ve started by forgiving strangers who yell at me in traffic. When someone steals my parking space, I don’t throw up my hands and curse at them. When teenagers drive by as I’m riding my bike and they scream, “Don’t wreck!” scaring me and laughing as I wobble into the gravel, I think, “I forgive you.” I say it when someone says an unkind thing, I say softly, in my heart, “I forgive you.”
I don’t know how to get to the heart of my hurt and forgive the big things, yet, but I am starting here, with forgiving what I can, whatever hooks me in the moment and I haven’t pushed away and run from, yet.
Amanda King is a Pittsburgh mommy of two beautiful Super Girls. She is married to the world’s sexiest accountant and they’re all sure to live happily ever after. While not frantically writing stories and searching for the perfect literary agent, she can be found over-sharing on her blog at Last Mom On Earth. Follow her on Twitter.
Like elephant journal on Facebook.
Ed: Bryonie Wise