Cracked and Beautiful
Yesterday something in me cracked open and the raw was spread everywhere. I totally wasn’t expecting it and it completely caught me off guard, but as I reflect on it I can see that it’s really a beginning of sorts, when I thought I was already at the end.
I’ve been feeling bone tired in the last week or so. More tired than I remember feeling in a long time. I was sick a couple weeks ago and it wore me out, so it might be residual effects from that. But I think it was more. I think that was maybe the spring board for helping me to see some things that we’re still buried deep under the surface.
As Chris and I were talking about some health related things and the fact that I’ve never felt so bad, what needed to be done (rest, vitamins, eating better, exercise – the usual thing that I’m no good at right now) other things started coming out. We were specifically talking about stress and how it affects our bodies, even when a considerable amount of time goes by and you think you’re fine.
To give a little background, but without too many details because we’re trying to move on and they just aren’t necessary to hash up, the years between 2008 and 2012 were rough. That’s a very mild and not sufficient way to describe them. I had a miscarriage in the fall of 2008, and that started the roller coaster. We started to have big issues in the community where we live and work that very literally threatened our personal safety and that of our staff. It resulted in ongoing legal issues, ill feelings in the area, and a whole lot of other things. It was horrible. And it felt like it would never end. We were in the process of an adoption and had to come face to face with the corruption in the system here, and it was ugly. You can’t unknow these things. We had new staff join out team and we quickly saw that things weren’t going the way we anticipated they would. That led to wider organizational issues, which eventually led to a split within our organization. It’s so hard to work so hard towards something and then watch it barely hang on by a thread. There was an earthquake. I got pregnant, and thank God, carried and delivered Alex without any health issues. I feel like that was it’s own miracle under the circumstances.
Eventually things started to calm down, but those were incredibly hard years. When we went home on our sabbatical following Olivia’s adoption being finished we did one thing that I know saved us – we got counselling. I remember sitting in the car before we went in to the first meeting and talking about our exit strategy because we honestly felt like no one was ever going to be able to understand all the things we’d gone through. We were prepping ourselves for pat answers. I still remember us both exhaling and relaxing as we listened to our counsellor share her story of growing up internationally after she had said, “I know you’re probably feeling like there’s no way on earth anyone could ever understand…” She was our people. She got us. And I know, again, that it was a miracle given to us because the scars were so deep and we were only halfway through what would become our journey.
Here’s the thing. Counselling gave us a place to process and heal, and tools to use going forward. It’s been a life save. What I, and we, are still learning, is how deep those wounds can be and how much ongoing stress can affect our physical selves.
When we have a stressful event happen our bodies go into protection mode and they do what they can to help us navigate as best we can. When you have ongoing stress events, or event on top of event, it wears on your body. For us, it was literally months of sleepless nights. Lying awake and feeling so heavy kinds of sleepless nights. It was fear. Fear in our own home and on our property. Fear of being hurt again. Fear of losing something dear to us. It was abandonment. So many feelings of abandonment. It was trying to push through when you were running on empty and knowing there were still people relying on you for things that day, that week, that month… We didn’t have the option of checking out of life for a while. We had an organization, board of directors, donors, employees and families all over Haiti counting on Clean Water for Haiti, and we were at the helm. We had one, then two kids to be present for. We needed to be strong for each other.
And you know what? Under the circumstances it’s a miracle that we came out of everything as well as we did. Only the grace of God could do this.
In the past few years as life has gotten more manageable again we’ve noticed that our coping mechanisms for stress have gotten better too. We don’t often feel crisis moments and we often talk about how much better we are at stepping back, processing, doing what we can, and then moving on.
What’s also happened is that my body isn’t working the way it should. I’ve gained over 50 lbs since 2008, when before that I was overweight, but my weight stayed consistent. I never used to get sick, and if I did, my body fought it off fast and hard and I was back up and running in a day or so. I was never the one in bed for days or just not recovering well. This last cold/flu that I’ve had had me sick for a week and I think I’m still feeling it. I’ve been sick more in the past couple of years than in my entire life. One thing after another. My body doesn’t seem to be strong enough to keep these things at bay. I’m tired all the time.
Stress can beat our bodies up, and yet it’s often not the things we carry outside of ourselves so it’s easy to attribute them to other things, but I’m coming to learn that not taking care of myself has done some damage. It’s affected me, and my relationships. It’s affected who I am as a wife and mother. It’s affected my approach to my work.
As Chris and I were talking through things yesterday I couldn’t stop the tears from falling. Anyone who knows me knows I wear my heart on my sleeve in this realm and I’m a cryer, so this isn’t an abnormal occurrence. But yesterday I couldn’t stop them. It was like my body was finally letting some things out that it had been holding on to for a long time. And rather than feeling all worked up emotionally, I was strangely quiet and things started bubbling to the surface. We were talking about the effects of stress over the years on both of us, and I admitted, for the first time out loud, that I was still carrying so much anger and resentment.
Anger and resentment that we’d gone through so many things. Anger and resentment towards the people responsible for the pain. Anger and resentment toward the very organization that we love and serve daily. Not because I’d become bitter, but because so much of what we went through was for the sake of the organization, and we suffered a lot of loss in our lives because of it. Sleepless nights, the ability to care for our family the way we wanted to, and to care for each other. Please know, I deeply love what we do and pray and hope we’ll be doing it for many years. I love this organization we serve and have led for many years. It’s part of us. But being in this role
sometimes often requires us to make a decision between one thing or another, and during those really hard days the organization had to be number one. It had to be. There was no choice. It’s only logical that would lead to pain in some degree, and this is mine. It was hard, it hurt, it took things from us, and yet I’m still here and loving it like my child. And I have no plans to go anywhere. I just needed to come to the place of realizing the hurt because I hadn’t yet. In all these years I still hadn’t put into words what hurt. Or how bad. Now that it’s out there, it can heal.
I admitted that I even carried resentment toward my husband because he had to prioritize while we were going through things, and there were days and moments where he very literally HAD to choose the thing in front of him because it was falling apart. At the same time that he was battling his own stuff, and I was battling mine. It was my role to be his support, to cheer him on, to listen when he needed to process. It was my job to be the buffer between all of life and our kids. He tried to support me too. Many conversations happened late at night when we should have been sleeping. But, we were both so broken it wasn’t physically or emotionally possible for us to be the person we each needed in the other. I have always had a hard time asking for help, so pair that with knowing that the one you want or need help from is completely tapped out themselves and I’m sure you can see where that leads.
Yesterday as we talked about stuff we both acknowledged that all of the stress changed us. It changed us to the core. It changed how we approach situations. How we deal with them. Even how we process them. I think we go into “do” mode much faster now, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. We have a really strong marriage and we work hard at communication. That’s always been a priority for us and has been a life saver through all of this stuff. But, when you’re feeling tapped out and empty yourself it’s hard to care for and nurture someone else, no matter how much you love them, in the way they might need you to or you even want to. For me, that translated into feeling resentful every time one more thing was asked of me. I think I’ve been working in a state of feeling like there just hasn’t been enough of me to go around for a long time, and it isn’t pretty.
Slowly, I’ve been working at saying no and asking for help more. Even with little things, like the kids cleaning up their toys. Part of it is wanting to teach them responsibility for their stuff and home, and part of it is teaching them that we’re a family and we all do our part to care for each other. We have a good balance between Chris and I for what gets done around our home, and we have Yonese who we would be lost without. I’m no longer ashamed to say that. We need her to make all this happen, and she’s become a dearly loved member of our family.
I guess the easiest way to summarize all of this is that eventually, when we go through hard things, we’re going to get to a point where a) we come face to face with the hardness of it all and the damage that it has done, and b) something has to give, and we have to take steps to move forward.
Acknowledging and voicing some deeply held things has actually left me feeling more peaceful. It brought Chris and I closer together and I feel stronger, because it’s out there and now we can work to fix it, or at least walk with it so it can heal into some new form of itself.
Realizing that maybe things like my weight gain haven’t all been due to what we often look at as surface issues – eating, exercise, etc – and know that I don’t have to carry all that blame. My body is having a harder time doing what it’s supposed to do. It’s been overtaxed and needs care and love to get better. I need to force myself to rest more than I do. I need to listen to my body and give myself permission to do what it needs. I need to have some boundaries. I need to fuel it with good things and do what’s good for it. I’m horrible at taking vitamins, and yet right now that’s one of the things that will make a big difference, so I’m working on it. I need to be okay with taking a nap. I just have to. I need to make myself get exercise, and I need to do the work of eating well, not just eating what might be the most comforting thing at the time.
So why am I sharing all of this? Because this is who I am. And, I’ve gotten away from that. When I first started blogging it was a place to share myself and my life here. Over the years, especially as stuff was happening with our organization, I felt I had to be so guarded with what I said because it wasn’t appropriate to share here. I still think that’s the case. But, the result was that I became more guarded and less engaged. I aimed for surface stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE posting about the construction updates because it’s an exciting process right now. But the bottom line is that I love to write, and it’s something that feeds my soul. Funny. I named the blog Soul Food… I need to be writing more from the heart in order to fully be who I am.
I feel like there might be some blog tweaks coming, but we’ll see how that pans out over time. Things are busy right now, as always, and I have to prioritize so I’m not sure how often I’ll be writing. But, I know I will be writing. Yes, there will be posts that are picture heavy and all the fun things to go with them, but my heart is for the writing. I’m the person that can punch out 3000 words in half an hour if I have uninterrupted time and something to say. I remember the days when my Freshman Grammar & Comp 3000 word essay seemed daunting. Who would have thought…
I love this space and I crave it. I just can’t feel like it needs to be all pretty and fancy like other bloggers. It needs to be what I need it to be, which is a place to be real and share my heart and life. That’s who I am and I need to get back to that girl because she’s pretty great.
Thanks for following along with me. I love this journey of life as we figure out who God has made us to be, and I love that we can share it with each other.