“Not everything in life needs to be hard. You do not need to struggle in order to consider yourself worthwhile. You are worthy of the life, love and relationships you desire, just the way you are, exactly where you are, at this very moment in time.” – Unknown
While I am not a huge football fan, I do enjoy Super Bowl Sunday. I love hanging out with family and friends and always find myself an instant fan of one of the teams. I revel in the silly traditions like football pools, overeating stuff that would otherwise never pass my lips and dancing around at halftime. Last year, however, I was traveling on Super Bowl Sunday and it was a very bad day for me. Not because I was away from home and forced to watch the game alone. Not because it felt like I was alone on Christmas day. It was a bad day – a terrible day – because I was beginning to unravel. The day and the events are almost insignificant. The outcome is the only part that is noteworthy. In fact, I probably would not even remember what day it was if it were not set to the backdrop of the big game. I have images burnished in my brain of sitting in my hotel, seeing the game out of the corner of my eyes as I sat on the blue sofa in my room, sobbing. Losing it as I became unhinged, allowing the demons in my head to take center stage.
Nothing was right that day. I was away from home in a familiar place that felt oddly foreign. I felt alone and abandoned but no one had abandoned me and I spent a great deal of time talking to my family that day. Unfortunately, I was operating from an old paradigm – deeply rooted in my old framework. Every hurt, every wound, every scar, no matter how convinced I was that they were healed, were raw and on display. Early in the day I sat on a plane for three hours and struggled. A war was being waged in my mind and I was losing control. As I was sharply turning to the right, my demons took over the wheel and were forcing me to the left. In the early morning hours as I soared through the sky at 30,000 feet, I could feel the dust had kicked up and saw that the wind was blowing strong. The gusts were forcing me to unravel like a tattered sweater.
I was imploding. I was crushed under the weight of my thoughts. I was swallowed up in my pain. It was real. I could feel it like knives slicing through my skin. And yet it was completely manufactured.
As a victim of abuse, I rarely processed what was happening around me while it was happening. My job was to gather up all the information I needed and use it to protect or defend myself. It was critical for me to pay attention to cues that would indicate that a storm was rolling in. I needed to know when to take shelter and I had a finely tuned radar that went off the moment the first cloud appeared even miles away. My legs could carry me away so quickly to ensure that I had time to secure my armor to shield me from the onslaught. I was a well-oiled machine. So, I never stopped to think about what was going on nor did I analyze the information. All I could do was react because there was never time to do anything else. That was a luxury not afforded to me.
And, as a victim of abuse, I had to be suspicious of everyone. Even those closest to me could become my enemy so, getting too comfortable exposed me to the possibly of being slaughtered in a sneak attack. My defenses were always out front. Act first, think later. It was always a possibility that someone who looked like an ally could turn and it was imperative that I pay attention to every signal, every shift, every indication that something was amiss.
Yes, as a victim of abuse, I was a machine. Locked and loaded and ready for battle.
One year ago, however, I was not being abused. Nevertheless, I was still hardwired to assume that I was. Despite all the work I had done to move forward, there was still a deep residue, piles of ash that had not blown away, that left me vulnerable and suspicious. And uncertain. And insecure. And scared. Frightened. Terrified. I could not bear to be hurt again. I could not have my trust broken one more time.
On that day, this was not happening. But, I was broken. I was damaged. I was trapped in my history. I was still relying upon an old set of facts to inform me and, as a result, I mistook a critical ally for an enemy and it broke my heart for no good reason. I had not yet learned that ambiguity doesn’t always have to be bad. I had not yet found the words to articulate what hurt. I didn’t have the courage to stand up to my fear.
So, feeling the weight beginning to bear down on me, I prepared myself to fight. I pulled out my weapons, ready to strike and, as I raised them, the tears came because I was confused. This one did not look like an enemy. This one looked like love and I could not understand why I was so confused. My heart ripped open and I bled, desperate to understand why I was fighting love. Struggling to make sense of something senseless.
This is one of my life stories that has a happy ending. I marched across the field, ready to fight and my opponent looked at me with confusion, not understanding why we were in battle. But, instead of drawing weapons in protection, my opponent raised the white flag and walked towards me with an open embrace, waiting to envelop me in love and comfort. My opponent was startled and confused but, more importantly, felt love and compassion.
My Super Bowl Sunday last year was difficult and painful and it was the beginning of the unraveling. It was the first stop on a nearly year-long journey to shed my skin, drop my cloak, store my weapons and hang a new picture on the wall. A picture of a life that is filled with lots of ambiguity that is met with a willingness to explore, to trust, to have faith, to indulge, to experiment, to believe. My picture is not of someone who is a victim of abuse but of someone who has overcome.
And, to my opponent — Thank You.