If you don’t know Rachel’s blog, I recommend it. She had a post on there a while ago, a mini homage/virtual party plan for her sister, at the end of which she posed – what for me was/is – a conundrum. She writes, “My sister….is asking for recommendations to shape her year of being 21…what sorts of things would make for an extraordinary year at this season of her life?”.
Wow. It knocked me for six (serves me right for checking blogs whilst I’m waiting for bread to rise; the bread making was supposed to be my ‘relaxing’ thing to do before bed!).
My first reaction? God, I’m nearly twice as old as her sister. That’s scary. Quite depressing. Actually a lot depressing. For someone who’s lost a whole decade to a marriage that ended in failure, in a country that’s not her own, living compromises for the sake of a man who would eventually try to annihilate me, any which way, over the course of that decade*, time matters to me now. I realise the precious nature of time and its value. I feel, with panic, the passing of time and the need to make up for lost time whilst trying to live in the moment and appreciate the time I have: the time with my children when they’re little, this time of my life when I’m relatively young and in good health.
I feel a keen sense of needing to do more, live more, experience more, open myself up more, but – and here Rachel stumped me again with her post on ‘What is fun?‘ – I feel the fun, the life, has been drained out of me. She asks, in that post, a seemingly simple question, “What is fun? What do you like to do for the sheer pleasure of it?”. I read her post. Stumped. Left cold. I thought about it some more, went back to her post and posted my comment, “This has totally stumped me. I haven’t had fun for so long, I’ve forgotten what it is. Even things I previously considered ‘fun’ (running, reading, baking, writing, scrapbooking) have been dulled, had the shine taken off of them. I’m definitely going to be pondering this one at a deep level. [Thank you]”.
Why you ask? I lived with an abusive man, for many years. It got to the point where it was easier to deny myself pleasures than to have him constantly criticising the things I did (“Why are you taking so many photos?”, “Don’t you have better things to do?”, “Who’s going to look at your scrapbooks anyway. They’ll just be thrown away”). When you’ve been submitted to that sort of process which gradually wears down your you, its really difficult to accept pleasure back in to your life. Because you’ve trained yourself not to enjoy things so you’ve kind of forgotten what enjoy things actually means, actually feels like. It also still creates a slight bit of anxiety when you do dabble in previously enjoyable things again and, as everything is so tender, every feeling is so fragile (because you’ve trained yourself, for so long, to deny your feelings), its kind of easier to not do them, still, than create more anxiety for yourself by doing them.
So, whilst I have high ideals of resuming the things I previously enjoyed, I know, for me, it is and is going to continue to be a slow process. A re-accustoming to being open to feel pleasure, to enjoy things. I’ve been free of him (i.e., not in the same physical space) for just over 6 months now. When I was first liberated (I realise I’m using passive, victim-like terminology, but I’m not a victim, it’s just easier for me, at the moment, to think like this), I found it difficult to sleep, to eat, to talk even. Then, slowly, eating became pleasurable again. I venture to say that I now enjoy cooking again. [I’ve always enjoyed cooking but was distressed to find that my cooking – for the children – had become no more than a routine, something to be done rather than something to be savoured]. I now enjoy reading again. I do take delight in reading in to the wee hours, just me and the book, lost in each other. I’ve slowly started enjoying other things too. I recently picked my camera up again (it was my prop, through the abuse, my way of telling myself ‘You are actually living; seeing the photos made me feel I was alive, despite feeling dead inside most of the time). It felt really good. But then I stopped, for some reason I haven’t fathomed yet. It was like if I denied myself the opportunity to take pleasure from something, I wouldn’t get upset if I still wasn’t able to take pleasure from something. [Photography was, is, one of my biggest loves, my biggest creative outlets].
So, I gradually came back to life. I say came but it’s really more like I’m coming alive still. One example of the measure of the depth and extent of my hurt? I was reading my daughter Eric Carle’s The Hungry Caterpillar yesterday afternoon and, as we reached the end, my daughter asked me, “Mama, why do you have tears running down your face?”. I didn’t even know I was crying. But the sight of that butterfly, at that moment, its never looked so marvellous to me. I feel like a caterpillar. I’m storing up strength, building reserves for my cocoon stage and then, I know, I’ll be just as beautiful, just as magnificent as that butterfly was to me in that moment.
“What is fun? What do you like to do for the sheer pleasure of it?”. It’s daring for me to even think of answering the questions. Daring because it opens so many boxes. Pandora’s boxes of pain. But, just like the caterpillar, if I don’t accept all the mess that comes in the cocoon stage, I’m never going to be able to fly again.
I’ve thought and thought and I just need to keep pushing my boundaries a little further. Keep doing those things that used to give me pleasure. Repetitively. Go through the motions and the pleasure will come. Like a child in a Montessori classroom, tracing letter shapes in sand, triggering motor memories, I’m going through the motions of the things I enjoyed, slowly remembering that I did used to enjoy them, slowly opening myself up again to enjoyment, to pleasure.
I seek calm. I seek self-knowledge. I seek a new, more stable, foundation. I seek reaching a stage where I’m not in internal panic mode, watching time pass, feeling, as I wrote recently, like I’ve been buried alive in a coffin and have no way out. I seek peace. Peace from the reliving of traumas past. Peace in myself to live a life of peace, to forgive and to find solace, myself, from that forgiveness. I seek – I find – solace in mindfulness, in living every moment because, as Buddha says, “We only have the moment. The past is gone. The future is not here yet”.
My biggest trials may just be the beginning of my biggest triumphs.
[Special shout-out to Chelsea who has been gently encouraging my forays back in to photography. She can see in to me and knows it will encourage me in the ways I need encouraging. I thank Chelsea and the internet and BlogLand, that we can meet such special people via their blogs and find solace in – from – them].
[I wrote this post based on this week’s Tuesdays at Ten word – seek – from Finding the Grace Within].
[*If you read this and are thinking, “But why did she stay? Why did she stay with an abusive man?”…it’s complicated (to say the least!). I’m preparing a series of posts on it. I’m a highly intelligent woman, and am a domestic abuse victim (I won’t say ‘survivor’ as I’m not out of the woods yet). I’m a Living Oxymoron. But I’m finding power in my bravery to write about this stage of my life. Read me, if you so desire, with an open mind. Please don’t ever judge me].