Turning 40 - A Redemption Story
The surprising result of a 10-year journey.
Just over ten years ago, I was standing in a children’s clothing consignment store in Littleton, Colorado thumbing through Halloween costumes not registering at all what I was seeing. I had a vague sense of entering the store, but foggily couldn't remember why I was there. I had sat Peter down in front of the train table (he was 18 months old at the time) as I aimlessly wandered around. In what I would later come to understand as a panic attack, I was experiencing a near dissociative state that could have left him in danger. So, I quickly grabbed him and ran out to my car. After strapping him in, I called Karl at work to let him know that I felt very strange and seemed unaware of my surroundings. I was going to hurry home but if something went awry, he would know my last whereabouts. I sped home, not knowing at the time, nor remembering later which route I took to get there.
That moment of complete loss of control in the midst of caring for a toddler sent me frantically searching for answers.
That night I called family members looking for a genetic clue. I made an appointment with my primary care doctor to get blood work done in case this was an episode of low blood sugar. And after talking to a friend, I got a referral for a therapist and scheduled a time for consultation later that week. It took something like a panic attack to get my attention that I had been burying something that finally needed to come to the surface.
My blood work came back normal, but my psychological evaluation did not. I was in the throes of clinical depression and didn’t even know it. Turns out I had been suffering it for years with the onset being postpartum following the birth of Lucy three years before. How, might you ask, did I suffer with lethargy, persistent feelings of sadness, loss of interest, and overall discontentment without knowing it? What I came to learn is just how good we all are at burying our suffering and doing everything else but dealing with it.
That panic attack forced me to begin dealing with it. I began by dealing with the postpartum depression. I had to take a hard look at the ways that I had emotionally checked out after Lucy was born and the subsequent repercussions of what that withdrawal meant for our relationship and most importantly on her emotional development. She would suffer from an insecure attachment to me and to every other person she would be in relationship with because of my failure to bond with her emotionally. With that awareness, I was then led to my own family of origin and the ways that I also did not get everything I needed emotionally. Therapy helped me learn that you cannot give what you did not get. With that realization, I resolved I would do whatever it took to get what I needed so I could make up for what Lucy lost in those years during my emotional lobotomy.
The next year, I was visiting a friend who was enrolled in a graduate school studying to become a therapist herself. I sat in on a formative class that she was attending called “Human Growth and Development.” In that particular class, on that particular day, as I sat as an observer, the professor said, “Attachments can be modified with great, great, great effort.” Having been working hard to both identify and understand attachment with Lucy and recognizing the gravity of our relational situation, I resolved right there and then in my heart that if what the professor said was true, and he could show me, I would move my entire family out to Seattle to learn just how.
And so that is what I did. A year later, I wasn’t an observer sitting in that same graduate school, I was a student. Because of that program, there wasn’t one emotional or psychological stone unturned. Everything was up for examination. Realities from my family of origin, my marriage, my friendships, my vocation, my religion, my politics, were all thrown into the crucible that is The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology and I chose to look at every deconstructed item in my world and contend with it. That process of being undone from the inside out came careening to a halt when I began my internship as a new therapist. I could no longer remain in an undone manner when I was being asked to hear, hold and contain stories from others of great harm, hardship and subsequent shame.
My head, my heart, my hands and my body were so full of rubble that I needed help to hold it all. My initial introduction into healing through therapy and graduate school was still not enough. So, I jumped headlong into what would become a 5-½ year therapeutic treatment, lying on the couch in the presence of a psychoanalyst.
I spent most of those days on her couch weeping. I had so many things to tell, to grieve, to leave, and to let go. I named how hard I tried to control my world. I narrated the chaos of both my own story and my own mind. I spoke into that available space tales of my shame, my failings, my shortcomings, my pains and my sufferings. I wrestled with my shoulds and should-nots. I laid down the pressure to know and to be seen. I battled current relationships that looked and felt too much like those from my past that continued to leave me wanting. And slowly, over time and through deep emotional investment, bit-by-bit, piece-by-piece, I found a kind of healing. Life situations continued to be and will always be often less than ideal and certainly imperfect, but I have learned how to deal with them, not only by surviving, but by learning from and ultimately thriving because of them.
I healed and I grew. I grew a deep, deep love and appreciation for redemption. The concept that God’s way is all about taking the broken, the shattered, the ash-heaps of our life and using those very things to create beauty has been the greatest lesson I’ve ever learned. I know redemption – its truth - at my core, because it’s exactly what happened to me. My biggest failure as a mother has been transformed into having not only a healed relationship with my very own daughter, but with my son and with my husband. And equally valuable, my relationship with myself has also been healed. I am no longer bound to hiding in my shame. I no longer hear the constant threats of not being enough, or being too much. I don’t have to struggle alone and in silence to figure things out; I know who to ask and where to go to get help. There is a kind of ordered mind where there was once mostly chaos and judgment. Over the last decade, I have turned my life upside down and inside out. I took a gamble on hope and moved 1300 miles from the only place I’d ever called home to a city where I would be a stranger. I emptied the contents of my pockets, of my heart, of my mind, of my soul, and of all my strength. I gave over to be examined my money, my emotions, my intellect, my allegiances, my body…I laid it all before the altar of a God I had been told was good. And together, we collected all of those contents, sorted, and re-arranged them. Some we let go permanently. Others we altered. Still other parts we just rubbed and rubbed until they were able to shine again.
So, here I am turning 40 and my life is the by-product of redemption. What was lost has been found. What was broken has been healed. Where I was captive, I have been set free. Where there were ashes now stands a beauty I never could have hoped for or imagined.