Guest Writer Wednesday: I once was blind….But now I see
An anonymous guest writer shares her story of resilience throughout a lifetime. From the author: “I chose to write this anonymously for various reasons. I’m still very much in the healing phases of some incredibly traumatic events, and have not divulged my vulnerabilities to many. Thank you for reading my blog, and sharing a few moments with me.” (Cover photo: learn more about resilience here)
I’m not a particularly superstitious person. I don’t believe in unlucky 7 or unlucky 13, black cats crossing your path symbolizing bad luck, or that walking under ladders indicating harm will befall you soon. None of it. But Friday the 13th, now that day does hold some meaning and, maybe not superstition, but definite noteworthiness in my memory bank. It would seem appropriate, given that my entire world shattered, and I learned what resilience and self-love mean, in their truest definitions.
For decades, I have lived in a fight-or-flight situation. I grew up in a home where there was much abuse, all of it cutting right through my self-worth and self-awareness. My home life was a complete façade; it was all about what we looked like on the outside. “Keep it in the family,” my parents always said. On the inside, I suffered such verbal, psychological, emotional, and sometimes physical abuse, being told I was fat and ugly; that I needed to be “perfect” at all times, not a hair out of place; that I would never be successful as an individual and would always need to “rely on a man” to get by; that I needed to wear makeup because I was too ugly without it. My father is an abusive alcoholic, my mother codependent and passive, allowing dysfunction to continue despite me and my siblings begging for a better life. When, in high school, I tried to disclose what was happening inside my family to several people I trusted, I was met with accusations of being a pathological liar and mentally ill. My father tried to send me away because I had told others about what was happening, tried to have me committed to an inpatient psychiatric facility. In order to stay at home, I had to admit I’d lied about the abuse. So I lied; I lied that I’d lied about the abuse. How confusing to a young person! To say that I felt invalidated, unheard, stuck, would be an understatement. I found out many years later that the individuals I’d confessed to had been in conspiracy with my father, and I was never protected anywhere I turned.
Scrambled or poached?
I grew into early adulthood feeling very chameleon-esque. If you’ve ever seen The Runaway Bride, recall the scene in that movie when Richard Gere forces Julia Roberts to sit down in front of plates full of eggs to determine what kind of eggs she liked? Not what she thought she liked because of whatever man she was with and the eggs he liked. But truly, what eggs SHE liked. I saw that part of the movie and just sobbed. It hit me like a truck – I was Julia Roberts, the chameleon, morphing into whatever anyone else wanted from me. Want a blonde? I’ll dye my hair! Want me sexy? I’ll buy mini skirts and skin-tight shirts and wear tons of makeup! Want me modest? I’ll wear turtlenecks and long skirts with knee-high boots. Whatever you want, that’s what you’ll get! It’s no surprise that with such wonderfully high self-esteem, I was the target of two sexual assaults, even more physical and psychological abuse in my relationships with men, and my life was overshadowed by feelings of complete worthlessness into middle adulthood.
Then I met my husband. A man whom I thought was genuinely nice, honest, and sincere in every way. Not at all my type. Simple, I thought. He’s a simple man. Simple equals goodness. Safety. Security. My future is bright! This will be good.
We got married, moved away from home, started life together, careers together, and a family together. This will be good. This will be good.
Friday the 13th
I was married for 9 years when I had my stroke.
December 13, 2013 started out like any typical day. I went to work…and that’s about the extent of what I can recall. The remainder of what I know is what I’ve pieced together from my friends who were with me during, and all the days following, my stroke. It was small medically-speaking. But my universe shifted, and I immediately, absolutely immediately, knew that my life would never be the same. Small stroke, massive life change.
My stroke affected my occipital lobe and cerebellum, so as a result I couldn’t walk in a straight line, felt wobbly on my feet, and lost all central vision. I could barely see peripherally. Thought processing was haywire; when people were talking to me, I thought I was hearing the old schoolteacher from Charlie Brown (“Mwah wah wah waaahhh”) – no real words were getting through to me. It took approximately 8 hours for my vision to slowly return, for my balance to improve. My cognitive slowdown lasted weeks (and still somewhat remains today if I get super fatigued or overwhelmed).
So, as I said, I was married for 9 years when I had my stroke. And my husband never came to the hospital.
My friends never left my side. They fed me, lay next to me, watched mindless TV with me, showered me, hugged me, cried with me, comforted me, and loved me. I begged them to bring my babies to me, to let me hug them so I could feel them, just have them and their love surrounding me. They were so young; they wouldn’t have understood and would have been too frightened to see mommy attached to so many strange things. So I didn’t see them until I got home. And a week later, my husband moved out.
It was soon after this medical trauma and my arrival home that I realized what my marriage was, and why he never came to the hospital; I immediately forced him out of our house. Our relationship had been a sham. The man I thought I knew was not that man at all. I discovered lies, double lives, infidelity, disease and illness that had been kept secret…so many secrets. The range of emotions I dealt with over the next several weeks to months cannot even begin to be summed up in this writing. It is very difficult to even relive it all by writing this entry and in therapy, and I still sometimes find myself emotionally distraught by the betrayal and deception all over again.
I wish I could say that I stayed strong in my convictions and self-worth and never let that man back into my life and home. But it took me 4 more years to be brave enough, strong enough, and confident enough to initiate the divorce. In that time, I found an amazing therapist, found my own footing and my own voice, and found out what kind of eggs I like to eat. I am so proud of myself that I initiated the divorce; I never, ever would have done such a thing 5 years ago! I pursued certifications in my field that would further my career and help me be more financially independent; I found a network of friends whom I could rely on at the drop of a hat for anything and everything; and I found out what it meant to be a mother, a woman, a friend…a person. Me.
Will it matter in 5 minutes, 5 weeks, 5 months, 5 years…?
My motto for a very long time, just to survive events, has been, “Will it matter in 5 minutes, 5 weeks, 5 months, 5 years?” This has kept me grounded during some of my most challenging times. It has given me perspective on what to focus my energy on. I will never forget my Neurologist’s words when he sat down beside my hospital bed one day post-stroke, looked me in the eyes and said, “You are one lucky lady. I should not be sitting in front of you right now. Go live your lucky life.”
My therapist consistently uses the word “resilient” to describe me. I traditionally have scoffed at this. I don’t need some adjective summing me up, defining me. Pffft! Resilient. Sure, whatever. Plus, it’s really hard sometimes to accept compliments and positive feedback. But, post-divorce, I’ve understood why she uses that word to describe me. I’ve lived through 41 years of trauma and abuse, nightmares and physiological changes to my body due to living for decades with my sympathetic nervous system on overload. How did I get to be this person? I’m independent, successful, motivated, honest, reliable, resilient. Wow, those are hard things to type about myself! I won’t lie and say that I never relied on alcohol to get through a rough patch, or extreme dieting and exercise just to be able to control something in my world. But that never became my norm. I had to find other, healthier ways, for me, for my kids. I needed to be the role model that I’d needed – and never had – as a child. I am their everything and they will never have to wonder who they can rely on or turn to. I’m their Mom. Capital M on purpose! And our relationship is based on radical honesty, inclusion, positivity, trust. They feel in their sweet little hearts that they can tell me anything.And they do! It’s a beautiful thing to see your child sleeping soundly in bed, even when you crawl in beside them to kiss them goodnight, wooden planks on the bunkbed squeaking, and my babies never stir awake. That’s trust. That’s calm. That’s pure love. I never slept like that as a child, and I cry sometimes out of sheer joy that my babies can and do.
Resilience, no matter what
Though I continue to struggle with anxiety, intermittent depression, and (becoming more rare) panic attacks, I have found a sense of calm and peace that I honestly never thought I’d discover. I have few long-term deficits from the stroke, thank my lucky stars. I am terrible at night driving now; I become very overstimulated by noise and bright lights; and when really tired, I suffer word-finding difficulty and cognitive slowdown. I have to maintain a regimen of self-care that involves meditation, healthy types of exercise and/or yoga for anxiety, solitude when overwhelmed, good nutrition, healthy sleep habits, animals and pets in my life, and people around me who can provide a pick-me-up when I’m particularly out of sorts and need to feel safe. I’ve walked away from toxic relationships, both romantic and friendship, when I’ve noticed red flags or have realized they’re unhealthy. I’ve promoted my career to a comfortable place where I am financially stable on my own. I have two beautiful kids who remind me on a literal daily basis what life and love are truly about, and what it means to be carefree and let go sometimes and just be.
And I’m dating. Woah, that’s a scary concept! After much introspection and emotional intelligence work, I am dating an absolutely wonderful man who wears his heart on his sleeve, is a tremendous father to his kids, and helps anyone at anytime even to his own detriment because he is that kind-hearted. And he loves me…and the kinds of eggs I like. He sees me, all the parts of me, the good and the bad and the ugly. He helps me when I’m down, and celebrates with me when I’m up. And he still loves me. I’m learning to accept it, not push it away, and let some love in. And trust it for the first time in my life.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that I get to choose who gets to be in my life. I choose my mindset. Honestly, it doesn’t always work, but it doesn’t keep me from trying. I am alive, and I know that tomorrow really isn’t a guarantee. That old cliché rings oh-so-true for me. I’m learning to live my lucky life, feeling resilient and fortunate every single day. All the bad and good days, at least I’m alive. I’ve found that my stroke took away my sight, even if briefly, and when I was able to see again, literally and figuratively I saw a whole new world in front of me.
“Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
T'was blind but now I see”
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