Running From the Past.
I made believe I'd never have to face my painful childhood memories.
"Smile... Its over... Don't feel it... No one ever has to know... It's in the past... Time to move on..." was my mantra.
The thing is, who wants to deal with all the difficult emotional stuff? My mind said..."I'm all grown up now, I have the 'perfect life' and I'm over feeling sad. Talking about it isn't going to ever take it all away. I certainly didn't have it all that bad and it could have been much worse. So what if my dad walked away when I turned a year old, and my mom checked out and did some drugs while struggling financially and emotionally to raise me?!"
My mom wrestled with depression and often hinted at suicide. While my dad left us early on, he checked in and flaked out a few times leaving me feeling confused and unwanted. I hated my childhood. I couldn't wait to leave the house. I'd show up to high school in tears when my mom threatened to throw me out if I left after graduation. When I finally made it to college, she refused to sign my financial aid paperwork (to avoid paying her taxes). She wanted me to keep waitressing and stay close to home. No way, not happening!
Say hello to parental abandonment, round two. I filed for emancipation, got a scholarship and finished my undergraduate degree with enough money left to backpack through Europe with friends. It was the only option in my mind. I wasn't going back. A year of therapy didn't really help. Just like with my dad, the only way I could deal with the pain was to block it out. I mentally disowned my mom and didn't talk to her for over a year. Slowly, I let her back into my life, but didn't really forgive her. I just moved on, searching for the peace, love and happiness I had always craved. And I thought I found it! I moved from California to New York, found an amazing new family of friends, discovered my passion for teaching, wrapped up a masters degree, fell in love, and got married.
I thought it was all over. Eventually, with the help of my husband, I learned to forgive my mother and truly love her unconditionally. She and my dad both had intensely hard childhoods and I know they tried their best with me. Once I became a mother, I gained that perspective on how hard it must have been for them. Beginning a new phase of life with my prince charming, three beautiful babies, and an (outwardly) repaired relationship with my mom, I thought I could put the sad stories behind me and have the fairytale ending, "Happily. Ever. After!"
Funny, right? I'm laughing at myself as I type it out right now.
Fast forward a decade and I started noticing painful emotional patterns that linked directly to past childhood experiences. Feelings of loneliness and abandonment began haunting me daily. My husband would have to work late or leave on a trip and I would suddenly be flooded with intense feelings of sadness. Subconsciously, it was like I was being left all over again.
This was around the time I focused on my spiritual growth through prayer and meditation. But I still didn't feel strong enough to face the past. I just kept running. On good days, I found ways to avoid the sadness with more activities and diversions. On bad days I sat at home, sulked, and had an extra glass of wine.
Then my mom died. Everything changed.
I love how life continually presents opportunities for spiritual growth. I find the lessons keep getting bigger until I decide to LEARN them! There was no avoiding this one...
The moment I read the subject of the email from the police chaplain, I knew she was gone. Suicide. She had been living back with my dad and she didn't say goodbye. Anguish tore my heart wide open. And then for a brief moment, a feeling of relief washed over me. It was as if I felt her presence in the room as she lifted this huge painful burden I had been carrying my entire life. That longing for her to be happy vanished and I could almost hear her telling me "It's OK, Mara. You can let it all go and just be still." And then the moment was gone and I collapsed into bed, incapable of telling the kids they had just lost their grandmother.
Be still and know that I am God.
In the days and weeks after, I kept getting hit with tsunami-sized waves of grief. The only way I could survive and avoid getting swept into the familiar land of denial, avoidance, and numbness was to breathe. Just like the pains of childbirth, there was no escaping it. I would connect to my breath and feel the pain wash right through me. I rode the inhale and exhale like waves in a vast and turbulent ocean. I would allow it to come and go without trying to control it. Trusting that I had the strength to survive because, honestly, I was just tired of running. It sucks to feel numb. In blocking out the pain, I lost the ability to feel joy, love and peace too. I was no longer willing to make that sacrifice.
I was able sink deeper into the grieving process at the Island Yoga retreat last summer. At the end of an intensely therapeutic class, I lay in savasana sobbing as I envisioned cradling my mama in my arms, telling her how much I loved her and finally saying goodbye.
Yesterday, marked the year anniversary of her death and I often still cry at the sight of her handwriting, a picture of her, the plastic box of her ashes in the office, or a memory of her playing with my kids. And I'm so darn grateful for every tear. It's amazing to feel again. No more faking it. No more running.
There is still plenty to process, but each day I'm finding the courage to stand still and feel it. Everything I have ever gone through has created who I am today and given me the strength to be here now.
So why do I share all this? Well for one, it's cathartic. Even now as I proofread this for the twentieth time, the tears are welling up. I don't like to focus on negative feelings and I'm not fishing for sympathy, but acknowledging the pain is such an important part of the process of letting it go.
I also don't want this site to be some picture perfect version of me. That would be dishonest. Most of the images are pretty and the posts are largely positive. If you didn't know better, it might appear like I have it all together. Not at all true.
But most importantly, life is precious and I am inspired to finally feel all the peace, love and happiness I wanted for my mother, and I know my children want for me. Somehow I feel like this is a vehicle for that. I'm not sure how yet, but I'm exploring my curiosity and seeing where it all leads. I've felt called to share my story for years now. So this is me putting it all out there and praying it's the right decision.
Thank you for being here. Thank you for listening.
All my love,
Ps. Images from the insanely talented Yan Palmer.