Maya Spier Stiles NorthColumnist, Copy Editor
- December 20, 2017 in Columnists
Healing from the devil you know
“Even when I am not strong, I am never weak.”
Recently, my glorious middle daughter made me a healing pouch. She made a gorgeous, batik bag with a crocheted top and into it, she lovingly tucked stones, runes, herbs, affirmations, tiny figures and everything she could to help heal my heart. I have added a few items of my own that feel like they belong in there. It seldom leaves my side.
I was recently officially diagnosed with chronic, combat-level PTSD. I had thought it was at the lower end of the spectrum, but the therapist who diagnosed that and my ADD/ADHD told me that, nope, it was the full bore version.
I guess I’m not surprised, given I have suffered neglect, abandonment (if unintentional), abuse (from 45-minute hand prints on my face to explosive raged-fueled chases through the house with my father hot on my trail, intent on harm), to intense bullying that started when I was four and has continued to this day.
That’s 62 years and some months of never-ending cruelty, bullying, rage and abuse. That’s 62 years of being informed by people I should have been able to trust as well as those I knew I shouldn’t – by word or deed – that I was not worthy of being treated as if I had even the most basic human value.
How I have managed to survive this all kind of staggers me. How did a tiny child navigate being left in an adoption nursery for her first three weeks to fade away, as babies do when nobody loves them? (The agency had forgotten to call my adoptive parents to tell them I was available.) How did that same child, already damaged and grieving, manage to survive adoptive parents who surely had also been ravaged, since they passed their damage on nearly intact? How did I manage when, after second grade, in addition to bullying in my neighborhood, I began being targeted by bullies in the school with no support from adults either there or at home?
How did I survive being molested and raped? How did I survive being a street kid and being in a juvenile institution? Even people with the love and support of tender, caring family can often barely get through it. I did have friends – I am finding out just now in some cases – but by then, my unshakeable belief in my intrinsic worthlessness was cemented thoroughly. For the most part, I was incapable of seeing people who were in my court and I often didn’t trust love and kindness because in my experience, it would be taken for incomprehensible reasons or I would bollix it up myself because I was such a clod.
The damage from all this is obvious – to me and to anyone who looks. I do very well in print and I can be animated and charming, but generally in small doses. I’m as awkward as hell over the long run, given to saying too much or just stupid things. I tell people I’m a damned cool 40-year-old, and I am. Problem is, I’m not 40. I am, in fact, kind of backward. I should be a lot farther for age 62 than I actually am.
That’s no surprise, either, given how much I’ve had to slog through even to get this far, but it’s frustrating and embarrassing and isolating, all at once.
I know I need to heal. I know I need to let go of at least the elements of the past that stand in my way. I also know that I cling to it with all 20 claws, in the face of all logic that tells me it’s literally doing me no good.
Problem is — it’s the devil I know.
I cling to the past and its ills because not only do I know these ills, I know what to do about them. Letting go means releasing the life raft and swimming with a whole new set of sharks.
What if I find out, after I have allowed myself to heal, that what’s left that is truly me is still awful? What do I do if self-examination reveals that I was as ghastly as I had always been told I was?
And what do I do with myself, what do I talk about, WHO AM I, without all of that cluttering up my internal attic?
I have genuinely suffered so freaking much that I don’t know who I am if I am not suffering something.
And how do I attain real and lasting happiness — the bulletproof kind, the kind that lives within and is not dependent on external factors — once I have allowed healing, when I have had too few opportunities (aside from my kids and grandkids — bio, legal, heart) to learn what that is?
Happiness is, after all, both a decision and a skill.
I don’t know yet. I just know that, if I have only 20 more good years left – which takes me to 82 – do I really want to waste it on this constant grieving and flailing?
More than a few years ago, I had one of those pants-around-the-ankles bathroom epiphanies. I think they visit me there because I’m stuck and can’t escape. Was it a vision? An inspiration? Some merciful divine being who decided I needed a loving smack upside the head?
So I’m sitting there, potty-bound, and I see this ancient woman – at least 100 years old. She’s wire-thin, with knife-edge cheekbones and smile lines everywhere and a dandelion poof of white hair shot through with a few strands of jet black. Around her feet are teenagers, all as close to her as they can get. She snaps her head around to pin me with her fathomless black eyes and says, “You’ve got to put it in perspective. They took your youth – ruined it – and you can’t get that back. So how much more of your life are you going to give them?”
And then she was gone and I was left, sitting there in that cold, cold bathroom, stunned by the knowledge of perfect truth revealed.
How much more of my life am I going to give them?
I have already given them too much.
I don’t owe them the rest of it. I owe that time to me and those I love and who love me back.
Because we all deserve better than to let the past eat the rest of our lives.
- December 20, 2017 at 10:45 am
Maya Spier Stiles North
- December 20, 2017 at 11:38 am