A home that is lived in is always messier than one that is not. I know, this is no surprise and yet it warrants mention. As I plant myself onto our kitchen sofa with my espresso and laptop, I can’t help but notice the dust bunnies underneath and the vagrant fingernails scattered below. I thought about examining the clippings to identify the guilty party, but I’ve decided that might be a little over the top. I’ll just inspect fingers later to see whose nails were cut. I’m smart like that.
These things used to stress me out — messes and disorder — making it almost impossible for me to be in my house without my entire body aching from anxiety. My chest tight and my shoulders wrenched up to my ears. Not too long ago a dust bunny sighting would catapult me into a rant and the day would be ruined before it even started. I lived in fear that I’d literally drown in a messy house. Under a pile of laundry and dog hair. But I’ve grown in these past few years, and messes no longer feel like avalanches. They feel like full-on living, and I’m happy about that.
A messy house had always been a trigger for me; bringing up anxiety turned into self-loathing laced with the fear that I would be unable to manage my world. I’d be paralyzed by fear and piles would mount, adding more fear to my discomfort in an exhausting downward spiral. I get where the trigger comes from — growing up in a house of abuse; in a world so terribly unmanageable I felt frozen by it. But now, instead of feeling afraid, I have compassion towards myself when old feelings burble up. Naming the monsters has been so liberating. Dust bunnies are not my nemesis. They are just life.
The feelings and memories I live with aren’t something to sweep away or hide from. They are my tools — like yeast added to flour and water with a dash of sugar. Without the yeast, the dough never rises and we’re left with a hard tasteless lump. But with it, the mixture becomes alive. It percolates and breathes. The dough becomes stretchy and we can shape it and knead it and make something fabulous. I’m not afraid of being afraid anymore. I’m living with an open heart and an honest mind and life feels full and rich and delicious. I don’t feel stuck or trapped — I feel stretchy and malleable and free. When discomfort arises I am choosing to use it to help me grow instead of feeling imprisoned by it.
We’ve spent our holiday break at home. Together in our pajamas playing games, reading, cooking, listening to music, lighting fires in the fireplace, watching movies — with only a few structured days. Hence the dust. This was what we voted on before the break began. “Would you rather go away or stay home and have a pajama Christmas?” Rob and I asked. “Stay home!” Was the unanimous vote from the three voices that mattered the most. We are mindful that they have 13-hour days with school, swim team and other activities. They were exhausted as we wound our way towards school vacation. So home it was! Slowing down and being together.
Rob and I have kept up our training during the break. We’re getting better at letting go of parental guilt and appreciating that this is an important piece of our self-care. We are better parents and partners for it. We both worked a little. I whittled down my appointments and the kids picked two days to go to swim team practice instead of six, but otherwise, we’ve been home making messes as families do. Playing board games until midnight with kids sleeping until 10:00 o’clock in the morning. I’ll miss it when it’s over. I always do. I love my grownup home.
Thursday I had an acupuncture appointment and I surprised myself as I lay face down on the table overcome with tears I hadn’t anticipated. I’ve moved on from rage and anger and I’m holding a space for grief. Acknowledging it, observing it, experiencing it and working through it. I refuse to feel stuck and I will no longer be beholden by the child abuse. I’ve worked relentlessly on my trauma recovery — in March it will be three years since I embarked on my journey. To tell you that I think I’m brave is a vast understatement. That I can write that sentence astounds me.
Years ago while in graduate school a professor discussed an experience she had many years prior with a Native American community bearing witness to a child in their circle having been raped. Every member, young and old, formed a healing ring around the child. Each placing their hands upon her and in doing so they acknowledged her experience and promised to love and protect her. They looked into her eyes clearly without shame or judgment and they grieved with her. No one denied her experience. No one minimized the trauma or made excuses for it. Instead, they cried and mourned together. In doing so, the community embraced the child, honoring her trauma collectively. She was never alone in her pain and grief and because of this, she moved on from the trauma. It became part of her story but did not define her life or her relationship with herself.
Our authentic voice often starts as a whisper and builds to a roar. Sometimes it waxes and wanes but if we quiet our minds and listen to our hearts the flicker of our wise inner voice and our capacity for self-love is there. Always. What gets lost in the trauma is the fact that we are survivors. Not victims. And we get to choose to identify as such. Thinking of ourselves as wounded or broken diminishes our own power and adds strength to the trauma. We are not our trauma. Bad things happen to good people but we always have a choice about how we navigate life thereafter.
I’ve been flushing out my trauma physically in my training, mentally and emotionally in my writing and by reaching out for others to bear witness — to embrace me and support me beyond something that is incomprehensible. I cannot make sense of what happened to me as a child, but I will not fuel it by allowing it to dictate my relationship with myself and others. When we are robbed of our power we forget that we still have the power to choose our response to that experience. Owning our power is our primary responsibility to ourselves. This is self-care. This is self-love. Not recognizing this leaves us stuck in our traumatic experience. That’s letting the trauma win. Instead, authentic living is about moving through the trauma. Not denying it but honoring it by saying, “You can be here with me. You are real and I see you. But you do not define me. You are not the boss of me. I am my own grownup and I will choose to take exquisitely good care of myself even when it’s hard and scary. I am worth that much to myself.”
We add the yeast to the mix. We cover the dough with a damp, warm towel and place the bowl in a toasty spot so it can grow. We tend to it. We observe it. We watch and wait for it to rise. Then we knead it and we begin to create something magical. We acknowledge the dust bunnies and live with them. Some days we even laugh about them. We live with the messes and embrace life in its fullness. Not cutting ourselves off from ourselves. Our whole selves. Tomorrow is the start of a new year filled with choice and opportunity. We always get to start with ourselves as we step out into each new day. Let’s keep being brave in our living. Thank you for being here. Happy New Year!