Staying Afloat

I’m not sure if they are a big deal anymore, especially with the whole pandemic thing, but when Escape Rooms were all the rage a couple of years ago, it blew my mind. I simply could not, and still cannot, imagine paying money for someone to lock me into a space with others from which, and from whom, I could not easily escape. The whole “find clues and logic your way out” aspect of these “fun” escape rooms didn’t make it seem any more reasonable because the minute the door clicked shut, all ability I have to be logical would fly out the window as my panic set in. Instead of helping to solve the clues, I would gulp all the air, sizzle all the nerves and, I’m certain, vanquish all possibility of exiting that room with my self-respect intact. Trust me on this. I’m not done figuring myself out yet by any stretch of the imagination but the things I know about myself, I know well and I know with certainty.

All my life, I’ve been running from my memories, my thoughts, my hurt and my shame. I would bury them in cement in the back of my mind over and over, piling more cement on them each time they tunneled their way out. And each time I’ve reburied the old memories or buried new ones, I’ve become heavier and less buoyant. And the less buoyant I became, the harder time I had moving through the waves in life when they came, the more difficult it became to find peace without numbing, and the more difficult it became to understand why life was worth living. I continued to bury and numb the pain; adding layer upon layers of cemented hurt and shame. By the time I walked into my therapist’s office in 2018, my life had become a concrete escape room with no clues, no door and a daily delivery of new cement in which to become buried.

Recently I had a chat with my sister by text. I had always assumed my sister, the “good” one, had survived our upbringing with a minimal amount of damage. Her story isn’t mine to tell, so I won’t give any details here, but our conversations since Mom died four years ago have increasingly shown me that my sister isn’t unscathed by the madness that was our childhood. She also carries around, in her daily life, the kind of uncertainty about herself that I carry – the same fundamentally but completely different in the way they’ve manifested in our lives, our actions and our decisions.

Having spent the majority of my life seeing my sister as my rock (and even a maternal figure), it’s been hard, and at times even shocking, to see her as anything less than perfect. She was everything I wanted to be but could never seem to become. She was the lighthouse in my storm and for many years I depended on her to help me when I couldn’t help myself. My progress through my integration therapy has definitely had it’s highs and lows but I’m so grateful for the clarity I’m gaining and for the chance my healing gives me to see beyond my own pain and troubles. Because, while she is still my favorite touchstone, my sister has been revealed to me to be less than perfect and damaged in her own way. And through my own experiences in healing, I’ve finally been able to give to her what she’s been giving me all my life – a safe place to be broken.

In our texts, I told my sister “It is hard to open that portal [of hurt] though…in my experience, it feels like it will consume you whole if you even let it start to escape.” She agreed, saying “Once you open the door and acknowledge all the pain, it’s really hard to climb back out of the hole you fall into when doing so.” I think a lot of people feel this way…all their hurt stopped up inside of them and fearing, with certainty, that if they pull the plug to release the pressure, they’ll drown in them or implode without a chance of recovery.

I’ve been thinking about this conversation a lot the past few of days since she and I chatted. I’ve always known that my ability to accept and deal with something comes only when I can understand it. Analogies are what I’ve use to explain life and existence to myself when my experience confused and scared me. Analogies are, to me, translation dictionaries for life experiences and the tool I use to make life manageable by making it understandable. And sometimes, like following my chat with my sister, I discover an analogy needs to be updated in order to remain aligned with my life experiences as I move through my own recovery and see things in different lights. Following my chat with my sister, I realized the “portal” analogy no longer feels accurate when I think about the process of working through the hurt. And, as usual, my mind has been relentlessly searching for a new understanding of this process – a new analogy that will help me understand what I’ve been doing the past two years in opening up my emotional wounds to look, and poke around, inside of them.

I’ve spend these days contemplating this question while I’ve people-watched the vacationers enjoying the pool facilities just beyond my balcony. From my seat by the sliding glass door, I can watch them swimming in the water and this has helped me form, what I think, is a new way of looking at the process of “uncorking the portal” of the past and it’s experiences in order to heal from them. As I continued to think about it this morning, I suddenly realized what I’ve been doing all these months…I haven’t been drowning, I’ve been learning to swim.

So my new analogy isn’t one of opening a portal of pain and drowning in it. Instead it’s about learning how to float with the life jacket of therapy, jackhammering the cement prison of pain I’ve spent a lifetime building and swimming toward shore. I’m letting my vault of pain flood and letting the pain, shame and stories of my past pour into the space around me. I’m trusting, and seeing, that I’m not in a space from which I can’t escape, but that instead I’m at the bottom of a cement hole of my own making and, by releasing the past from its tomb, I’m creating the flood that will raise my therapy-bouyed mind up and out and into a life where the hurt of the past can be nothing more than the waves upon the shore of a peaceful existence. I’m no longer panicked, I’m excited. I’m no longer trapped, I’m on my way. It’s still going to be a while before I land in my peaceful healed place…no doubt, I have a long way to go.

But until I get there, I’ll just keep swimming.

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