The problem was, I was left with a lot of the damage. Words that are seared into one's memory and happen to echo similar words from the past. It is so easy to believe things that people tell you about yourself, when you have spent most of your life seeing yourself from other people's perspective. I may have hated almost every perspective, but it was all I thought of myself. There was years and years of damage, from multiple sources that needed addressing and no amount of plugging ahead was correcting it. I stumbled a few times, and ultimately I crashed over the summer.
The first stumble came early in the year, when I finally accepted that I had to face a medical problem that had haunted me for years. I don't think I have felt as alone as I did post-op, alone in a room and unable to even sit up. Friends had visited me the first day, the second day no one could come and nervousness turned into a pain that far outweighed anything physical that I was experiencing. And despite the many, many medications I had at my disposal, the physical pain was excruciating. That afternoon, I wondered if there would ever be a time when I wouldn't be alone. I had spent my childhood alone and with no one to protect me when I needed it the most, somewhat due to circumstances that were out of anyone's control but not made better by anyone involved. For one reason or another, things didn't change much throughout my adolescence or young adulthood, my marriage made that gnawing feeling even worse. But I survived the hospital and the surgery. As a matter of fact, it gave me resolve to start over. I would be pain-free for the first time in years. My condition was not as catastrophic as was originally feared and frankly, dragging would not be an option.
The Fall came in the summer, right before a trip I had been looking forward to for months. I knew what lie ahead of me as the first doubts started creeping into my mind a week before my scheduled take off. On the way to the airport, I just prayed that things would go well enough for me to still be able to enjoy the time I had with my friends. Of course it didn't. I took a black cloud with me. I got physically sick due to heat I wasn't expecting; the last push came from people reminding me just how unwelcome I was. Every single fear and doubt that I had had my whole life was smacking me in the face and I couldn't escape it. By the time I came back home, I was shattered and I didn't care to hide it anymore.
But then, things started to happen. People started to embrace me and tried to put this Humpty Dumpty back together again. Some of them were close, real life friends and others were people I have never met who sent me love and and well wishes with no obligation or expectation. I was blown away and humbled by it. And frankly, it confused the hell out of me. My own family literally couldn't get rid of me fast enough after I traveled to see them and strangers were reaching out to me with words and love that hit me almost every day as I checked my mailbox, finding something new from another unexpected source. It was like suddenly, there were a thousand invisible, healing hands reaching out to support me when I was weakest.
At the same time, I started listening to well meaning advice and realizing that frankly some of it had nothing to do with me. I suddenly started seeing me, not from anyone else's perspective but from my own. I realized for the first time that I don't need to BE strong, I AM strong. I am not thin-skinned for being offended by ass hole behavior. Nor am I unreasonable for wanting things that make me happy. For the first time in my life as shaken as I was, I started seeing myself for what I was and not what people told me I was. I kind of liked what I was seeing. It was right around that time that I realized of all the hands that were holding me together, my own were the strongest.
I started planning in earnest and making changes. I have taken to politely declining events that I know will cause me stress. I minimize my interactions with people who make me feel less about myself. I actually tell people when they're crossing boundaries. I make a point of treating myself the way I try to treat my friends. I am learning to value myself, even if no one else around me knows how to. It is still hard and there are still cracks. There is heartbreak. There are things that catch me off guard, hurt and challenge me. Underneath all of that is the knowledge that I can overcome things. I have taken care of myself my whole life and frankly, I'm much better at it than anyone else I know. It's good to know that for those times when exhaustion takes over, when I get overwhelmed or when I just need a reminder there are those thousand healing hands waiting for me. For that, I am grateful.