(Almost 17 – Stephanie Pauline)
God is always working things for good. Even though it doesn’t always feel that way.
I try to pretend that I am okay, that I am moving on with life, that this doesn’t really bother me. I paint on a smile in hopes of it hiding the gaping holes in my heart and cover the tears that have so recently fallen and will yet fall again.
On Thursday, one of my friends emailed me something that really spoke to me.
I have tended to be more of a Stand in the Rain kind of girl (Superchic[k]). When hard things came my way I hid away the pain in a box and put the box in its little cubby in my head and tried not to let that box spill over. Tried not to let that box by seen. But sometimes I can’t stand up when it’s all crashing down, and if I stand in the rain, I will drown. Some days my anthem has to be “No, we’re not gonna die tonight, we’re gonna stand and fight forever.” (Not gonna die – Skillet). Standing and fighting in that sense isn’t standing in the rain; it’s continuing to eat sleep drink breathe. “I won’t give up I refuse.”
One email. It wasn’t a long email – one line intended to show caring but not to change my life or anything…but it made an impact. A big impact. My friend gave me permission to be upset. I’ve been trying to hold it together for so long. It was freeing. I might not be comfortable just crying openly at work or church or really anywhere, but her words let me know it is okay to hurt. It is okay to grieve. It is okay to not *really* be okay. If where I am is crying almost every day, it isn’t a failure. It just is. That felt really good. It was validating and comforting to know it was okay and that I wasn’t inconveniencing everyone when I couldn’t (can’t) contain the pain and tears. Letting go is hard, and that’s okay.
It is such a different message than I’ve gotten in other places. In the abusive counseling relationship, the one time I slipped and cried in session I earned myself extra hurtful words and actions. I got the message loud and clear that crying was unacceptable and bad and something I should definitely avoid. I learned that it was wrong to hurt and no one would want me if I showed any signs of pain. Even elsewhere in life, society has shown me that crying should stop, preferably before being seen. I mean, how else can you interpret being asked to go on break (alone) that first day back when I started crying…or that day on rotation being asked to take a few hours off to calm down before being given alternate activities that kept me away from the students…okay yeah, partly the goal was probably intended to be caring, but the point is, what this friend said was so other to the message I had been living and believing for so long. I had struggled to hide my pain. Felt like even more of a failure when it overflowed, but I don’t have to do that. She doesn’t need me to throw a smile on to hide the storm inside…and neither does God. She wasn’t condemning me when the tears overflowed and the pain stole away my voice. She didn’t see me as the failure I wrote myself off as.
It’s okay. I don’t have to wear the Christian ‘I am so blessed’ mask. It is exhausting to keep that mask on. Does that mean that I will suddenly feel totally comfortable walking around town crying…umm, I doubt it…but maybe sometimes with one or two friends I can stop painting on a smile when I’d rather bleed. My really close friends kinda saw through some of it anyway – it was never a very well-maintained act even when I wasn’t crying. And I don’t have to keep putting on that play. I can stop trying to hide away from all the pain that [I] feel…maybe making me bleed will be the answer that could wash the slate clean (When She Cries – Britt Nicole). Maybe slowly letting people in and talking about the pain will not make it more real than either of us could bear but instead be an avenue of healing. Maybe facing it with a friend by my side will make the pain more manageable. I am so glad for permission to hurt. I have been frustrated with myself for the breaks in character where people saw the pain underneath, but these simple words gave me permission to live in the pain and really feel it without worrying about it being not what others want.
That is such a huge relief for this girl who has been running a marathon with a backpack of concealer on her back, berating herself for being too slow and for sweating off the makeup and letting her true feelings show through. It is such a burden to be able to let go of for this people-pleasing girl who just wants to make everyone genuinely smile and know how appreciated they are for putting on a bubbly smile to not be an essential part of the role anymore. It is “living life with a different set of rules” (Rebel – LeCrae), and these rules make the game so much less overwhelming, and more fun.
Also, another friend who doesn’t know much of my story yet told me a few weeks ago that she was praying for bravery for me…I don’t really know where that came from, but it reminded me that bravery isn’t being unafraid. Courage isn’t not being scared, it’s doing it, scared…which reminded me of the Mary Kate and Ashley song, bravery…which I drew out the last line from today…because when you live alone and don’t spend 85% of your waking hours at school anymore, and no longer have homework to fill your time, you start realizing that the majority of the inside things you can do are either getting old (trying to find something to entertain me on the internet) or are a lot more fun with another person (playing games)…and sometimes the effort of putting on sunscreen and stuff just feels like too much so outside isn’t an option.
But today I did find a video with which I connected.
Imagine if this video were real life…but instead of the lies and hurtful words happening on the internet it is happening via email and verbally between people when you aren’t around. It is a big, but not very well-kept secret. I might not have been around to hear it, and obviously I didn’t tend to be included on the emails, but I knew it was happening. I guess it is kinda like during the times at the beginning when the girl in the video was without her laptop but we both knew there was stuff going on about us that wasn’t positive. Other people knew and heard it, but I didn’t. I just knew it was there. Anyway, this in a lot of ways was a really good image of what life was like after I broke free of the counseling relationship with my abuser. A lot of broken relationships with people who didn’t want to be my friend anymore – or only wanted to be my friend when no one would see them. A lot of relationships strained nearly to the breaking point when I was hurt so badly that I couldn’t be a good friend anymore. I didn’t attempt suicide, but I did hurt deeply. I am thankful though, for the people who saw through my pain (both the I’m fine façade and the pain-induced responses) to the girl underneath who just needed someone to acknowledge that she had value. Abuse is really painful. Stalking isn’t a victimless crime. I am totally serious when I say that there were times I kept the alarm at the place I volunteered right next to me because I was terrified of how far my abuser would go to find me and hurt me. Eventually I determined she wouldn’t come find me there and it became my safe haven. The one place I could go and know I wouldn’t be followed and watched. Anyway, I pushed away the hurt and most of the time I was okay…but when the profound loss came this spring, it brought with it the pain of the abuse. The words came back just as vividly as when it was happening. Worthless. Stupid. Never going to make it. Unwanted. Annoying. Not good enough. Failure. Loser. That is just a sampling of how I was feeling and what I believed about myself. Abuse doesn’t go out like a birthday candle. Neither does grief. But I don’t have to be a happy plastic person…with smiles to hide [my] pain. (Stained Glass Masquerade – Casting Crowns).
I leave you with the closing lines of Stained Glass Masquerade, when the song slows to ask these very real questions that hurting people are subconsciously asking when walking into the church room where everyone seems to joyful and perfect and like they have it all together living in paradise, or at least a lot closer to paradise than I am…Sometimes the happiness everyone else exudes makes me feel even more like an outsider. I knew no matter how hard I tried that I couldn’t match their zest for life. I was the black cloud in a cotton ball sky no matter how hard I tried to scrub off the color to match everyone else.
Is there anyone who fails?
Is there anyone who falls?
Am I the only one in church today feeling so small?