Rising Strong International cyber-bookclub Ch. 10
Catch up on the previous chapters here:
Chapter 10: You Got To Dance With Them That Brung You
Last Friday, I attended another of Beth Bornstein Dunnington’s Big Island Writers’ Workshops. I wrote about workshops, retreats in general, and my attendance at Beth’s last one in a gratitude post you can read here. In her workshop, Beth gave us many prompts to choose from and a time limit and then we wrote our hearts out. Prompts can be an image, a verb, a sentence fragment—anything that lights a spark in us.
Why am I telling you this?
Because Chapter 10 is about nostalgia, it's about owning and embracing our childhoods and where we come from in this world and in this life. The more I thought about what I wrote, the more the word “nostalgia” came to mind, so I’m going to go ahead and share one of the pieces with you. I never intended to make this public, but I’m going to because this is exactly why I'm writing my book. It's my passion. I believe it's one of the reasons my family faced what we did. That reason is to use my voice and our story to help combat the stigma that surrounds talking about mental illness. I think all of us have learned enough from Brené by now to know how important owning our stories is to the healing process.
I'll comment again at the end of the piece because I don't come across in a positive light below, but at the beginning, there are a couple of important things to know. One is that both my daughter and my husband are aware that I'm writing this blog and writing a book about our story. They share my passion–ending the stigma around mental illness–and know that the best way for us to do that is to continue to tell our story, unapologetically and with as much honesty and integrity as we can.
One day, we hope the conversation around mental illness and negative coping mechanisms like self-harm will be as common to our vernacular as the discussion around that of addictions, like drinking, drugs, gambling, shopping, sex, eating, smoking, etc.
People we love are suffering in silence. 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 5 adolescents, right now, are dealing with mental illness. Most of them feel alone, like no one could possibly understand what they are going through. That thought is simply not true, but we have to stop being afraid to talk about it. Harder than it sounds, I know. We have to stop believing that mental illness is anything other than what it is: a medical illness like any other medical illness. It is not weakness of character.
Here I go. The prompts I used for this exercise were: Me, on a stage, watching my child sleep, a carrot dangling two inches away, I created, and I envisioned.
Me, on a stage. That’s how my story starts. Me, on a stage. Every dream, day and night, was me, on a stage when I won my Academy Award. Me, on a stage, in the limelight. Me, on a stage being adored. Finally loved the way I’d always longed to be loved. Every dream was the same—me, on a stage, only it wasn’t me, exactly. It was a me that looked like Farrah Fawcett or a me that looked like Lynda Carter. It was me—still somehow young, but also all grown up. Me, who was beautiful and smart and funny, a me who was none of what I actually was: chubby and freckly, and ordinary. Me, who led an ordinary life doing ordinary things being ordinarily insufficient.
Real me obsessed over Sean Cassidy and Ralph Macchio. Real me stood, tippy-toe, on my bed to kiss the boys’ flat lips, the ones affixed to my walls in the form of endless posters I pulled out of Tiger Beat magazine and hung next to the puppy and kitten posters ordered from the Scholastic Catalogue. Sean and Ralph and Parker and the boy from On Golden Pond. Real, ordinary me got asked out by the most popular boy in school on April Fools’ Day. Real, ordinary me was plain and lonely and boring. Then, there was me, on a stage.
Me, I created, was glamorous and taking the world by storm. People clamored for my attention. Every night, real me waited for one of those boys to come and take me away, to knock on the door of my little house in nowhereville New Jersey. No matter I was eleven or twelve years old. I never stopped to wonder why Sean Cassidy might knock on my door. He wouldn’t have, of course. And never did. But I envisioned him coming because I was sure that the letter I wrote—in pencil and then held under the faucet to make it look as if I’d cried all over it—would be enough to make Sean come running to my rescue. He’d rescue me and sweep me away to Hollywood where I’d be discovered because I was, after all, an Academy Award winning caliber actress. I just needed to be discovered. When that happened, when me, on a stage in my mind became me, on a stage in reality, every dream I had ever dreamt would come true. I would finally be enough. I would finally be living the life I deserved. My tear-stained letter and my hero Sean would be sure to make it all happen.
I invented a reality for myself that was constructed entirely of fantasy. I loved my fantasy reality. Who wouldn’t? Gowns and jewels and gorgeous men. Mysteries and problems that were tidily solved in two hours or less. The perfection I sought, the perfection I chased was a carrot dangling two inches away from me, or rather, it was the carrot dangling two inches deep inside my brain.
This was not much of a problem, really. I was able to keep my fantasy life under wraps. Until I grew up. By then, I lived near the real Hollywood and the real proximity to my fantasy reality confused and bewildered me. I worked, sometimes, with real movie stars nearby, but they never knew my name. They never recognized me or invited me over to their house. I met a good man, a true man, and married him and then became obsessed with Kevin Costner and that stupid movie with a stupid message in a stupid bottle. Every goddamn day I was pissed as hell that my husband, Tom, walked in our front door and not my husband, Kevin. If Kevin, not Tom, had walked in, my baby’s toys would not have been scattered around the house, it wouldn’t have been like walking through a minefield where one unfortunate step would mean you twisted your ankle stepping on a block or you wrenched your back sitting on a giant Lego. If Kevin walked through the door, or even my husband, Ben Affleck (that was during my Pearl Harbor phase), then I would have been the me that’s on top of all the shit: the house clean, the dinner cooked, the toys away, and dressed to the nines AND wearing a smile to be greeted by and doted upon by long-fingered Kevin or crooked-smiled Ben, not by Tom who, after being gone at work for sixteen hours per day, often asked, “Why is the house such a mess?”
I never stood watching my child sleep when she was little. Most nights she actually slept next to me in my bed—she hated to go to sleep and letting her sleep with me was easy. Besides, my imposter of a husband, Tom, who was not Kevin or Ben or Sean, was relegated to the couch because, most days, I didn’t recognize him and I was confused and wondered where any one of my real husbands was and why they were not, in fact, rescuing me from this horse shit life of ordinary insufficiency that had followed me from my childhood all the way to my grown up life. My grown up life wasn’t supposed to be like this. My grown up life was supposed to be me, on a stage, not me dressed in extra-large size sweats and driving my SUV around trying to get my baby to go to sleep and cooking and being bored and tired and lonely, and well, plain. I was supposed to be extraordinary.
So, I never stood watching my child sleep until I started to spend my nights sitting on a pillow outside her bedroom door with my entire body on high alert waiting to hear the noise, the breath or the sigh or the quiver that meant she finally did it, that she ended it, that her blood was rushing out of her body and all over the floor.
I can tell you for a fact that using a razor blade to cut skin doesn’t make any noise at all. Watching your blood course through your veins doesn’t make any noise at all, either. I can tell you that while sometimes, assuredly, wanting to die is very noisy, most of the time it is very quiet.
Many nights I couldn’t be sure, so I unsteadily got to my feet. After so many hours on the hard wood floor, I leaned against the wall for a minute, as much to bolster my courage as my body, and then tiptoed into her room with my mini-flashlight. First, I checked the floor. No blood. Then, slowly, filled with dread, I crept to the side of her bed and shone the light toward her chest area to illuminate her face, not flood it. I stood watching my child sleep looking for signs of life. Or signs of death. Rosy or ashen cheeks. Twitches of eyes under lids. Soft rising and falling of chest.
I begged, pleaded, and postured with whatever or whoever it may be that’s out there to please, let it instead be me. Fantasy over.
Sean, Ben, and Kevin. They all left. I was abandoned in my time of need. I was left with ordinary Tom and ordinary me to figure out what it would take to keep the one thing I touched in this life that was beyond sufficient, that was extraordinary, that was as close to perfection as anything can be—my daughter—to want to stay alive. The end of fantasy was the beginning of beautiful reality, it just took a while.
Please watch one young woman, Bekah Miles, share her story of what she did to combat her feelings of shame, stigma, and lonliness around suffering from depression here.
Here's what else I want to say. Part of me will always be that lonely little girl from New Jersey who got asked out on April Fools’ Day—part of me will always be the little girl who thought life would be better when…when I wasn’t me anymore or when I looked right or when I learned enough to finally be perfect or when I was rescued. I will always be the little girl whose parents loved her and who did the best they could for her, but whose love, for whatever reason, fell short of piercing her heart with an arrow.
When life didn't turn out "right," I often felt, as BB helped me identify, like an exposed imposter. Life couldn't have gone more wrong than that initial year of my daughter's illness.
Moving forward from here will always include trying to identify, as BB also says, whether my expectations are rooted in nostalgia, the version of me that once was and all that she entails. My rumble: I am enough and I don’t have to be perfect to prove it. Also, I understand just how easy it could be for what I've written here, these few words about a story that's as wide and deep and vast as stories can be, to be misunderstood. The innocent bystanders, my husband and my daughter, have at times, I admit, been collateral damage in the story that is mine. However, what could be construed as decades of my negative emotions spilling out all over the place, was usually less dramatic than that and was a reflection of me, not of them.
Hence, this rumble, this reckoning and this revolution. To own my story and write my ending so it doesn't own me or the ones that I love.
P.S. Thank you Janice, Patty, and Stephanie for your participation here during our bookclub. Also, Steph wrote in the comment section of last week’s post that she is a professional photographer. Check out more of Steph’s work here.
Up Next: Chapter 11, our final chapter, spearheaded by Heather Higinbotham
Wow Tracey, your writing..your story…powerful. I'm ashamed to admit that I used to think that not everyone had a story to tell. I used to think that there were some people who no one would care about if they told their story and I didn't understand why those people were telling their stories. Much like Brené's revelation with Pamela, I finally realized that I felt that way about others because that is how I felt about myself. I felt unimportant. I was not famous. I was not beautiful enough or sexy enough. I was not smart enough. Since finding the courage to write my own memoir, I have come to realize that everyone's story is valuable. Everyone, famous or not, has purpose and lessons to learn and teach. The surprising thing is everyone's story seems to somehow become my story. It is all of our stories with different characters and plot twists. There seems to be such an epidemic of people feeling "not enough." I wrote about some of this in my last blog…the emphasis society puts on building our "extremities" rather than our internal strength. Well, whether or not we weren't raised to feel "enough", our stories are all about how each of us found that strength on our own. I feel honored to be able to read your story. Thank you!
Tracey , thank for sharing your deeply personal, heart-wrenchingly honest story. It touched me in a unique way that nothing else has. At 65, while I should know better, I tend to believe I’ve rumbled through most of what needs rumbling. I am so wrong! Your story caused me to sit back and question as honestly as I can how I viewed myself and my own role in my story as I grew from a young girl into an adult. I suddenly realized that, while as a very young girl, I was carefree and full of spirit and not really having a context for my family's unique dysfunction. In my pre-teens I became confused and angry with no tools to help me resolve my anger. This continued into my teens as the message of the 60s informed me of the generation gap and encouraged me to fault my parents. Beginning therapy at 18, I had confirmation that I was not at fault and that, for certain, my parents were to blame. Done and done! I had my story and I stuck with it. The tragedy is that my story, while containing substantive truth, was not the whole truth by any measure. My story (as Dr. Brown cautions us) kept me from holding myself and others accountable. While I felt the blame was not mine, my anger at the unjustness intensified. What your story seems to open my eyes to, Tracey, is the enormous pain we bear when we take the accountability onto our own shoulders, but also how the temptation to label and blame in a desperate attempt to assuage that pain can be just as crippling and enduring. The truth most likely lies somewhere in the middle. My ah-ha is that, in my case, that early therapy had a real downside. It gave me so much understanding but not without a price. Hmmm. I’m needing to mull this over more.
Tracey, thank you for sharing your precious story with the world. You are courageous, and you lead with your vulnerability. There's great strength there, not only for your own healing and your family's healing, but for those who read your words, too.
I also really appreciated BB's story of Pamela. I've encountered people like that in my work, and I've felt the satisfaction (however brief) of turning my feelings back on them. It was satisfying for only a moment (as I pushed "send"). My response to them rarely elicited the reaction I hoped for. As if they'd write back and say, "Gee, Maria, you're absolutely right. I need to examine my motives and change my behavior accordingly." Of course I have no real way of knowing whether they felt the shame or unworthiness that'd I'd experienced at their hands. In other words, the emotional revenge I sought was never realized. I wound up right back with myself, rumbling with the feelings I had. Her insight on p. 231 is gold: "I wanted Pamela to feel like an impostor who'd been exposed–that's exactly how I felt." BB's story will help me in future moments when I'm in "'mess with the bull mode'."
And, I love her closing comments: "I'm slowly learning how to straddle the tension that comes with understanding that I am tough and tender, brave and afraid, strong and struggling–all of these things, all of the time. I'm working on letting go of having to be one or the other and embracing the wholeness of wholeheartedness….my ten-year-old self…has saved my butt at least as many times as my well-mannered self. I can't rise strong unless I bring all of my wayward girls and fallen women back into the fold. I need them, and they need me."
Thank you for bravely sharing your story. I didn't expect what was coming while reading based on how I got to know you so thank you, again, for sharing your story bravely. Can't wait for you book and read more about what you have to share for us.
I agree that we'll always have that fantasy versions of us inside. I don't think they will ever die. They may get buried deep, but they'll always be there. It's part of our composition and some of the things we'll strive for in our lives can be linked to our fantasy selves.
This reminds me of the movie Inside Out. We hold on to our favourite memories, whether they're "real" or not, because they helped shape us to become who we are. Whether those favourite memories can bring some kind of pain or not, we refuse to let go as letting go means losing a part that's very dear to us, a part that makes us whole.
I'll never let go of the memories of my lonely childhood and teenage years. Remembering the pain and sadness attached to those memories fuel me in my life's mission. Pursuing something without passion is not appealing to me at all. But of course those fantasy of ours is not the end of our story, merely just chapters to the one waiting at the end for us.
I couldn't agree with you more Crystal re: building extremities rather than internal strength. I know I didn't begin to have a clue what something like that even meant until well into adulthood. Far too late to "stop" or belay or slow down or prevent all the negative messages or messages of what we thought was important but what never was from plotting a course for my life that left me bereft. I know I can’t learn my daughter’s lessons for her, but if I continue to learn mine, hopefully that will influence the way she continues to learn hers. We have come so incredibly far in the last several years. Further than this piece even begins to describe. We have further to go, of course, but maybe, with all the desperate unhappiness in the world, maybe this is the very lesson our generation and those after ours is here to learn. Maybe, we're going through what we are so our grandbabies and their grandbabies won't have to. I hope so, at least. Thank you for reading, and thanks for your comment.
Thank you very much Maria. I appreciate the kind words. And I hope so. I share our story because I hope to inspire those who are going through what we did to know they are not alone, they are never alone. There are people who understand. I loved BB's closing comments, too and appreciate that you shared them here. Thank you for reading and for your comment.
Yes Xeno. A part of me will always be that little girl and I wouldn't trade her for the world. The me that I was then is directly responsible (along with several other factors) for the me that I am now. Every day, I get a little bit closer to the reality of loving myself wholeheartedly, unconditionally. I embrace courage, compassion and connection on the journey forward, but I grab them in each moment that is. Now. Of knowing that I'm enough and of believing it. As I said before, I can't learn my daughter's lessons for her, but I hope as she sees me learning mine, she'll be inspired to learn hers–and the ones that will bring her mindfully and in awareness to see the light of her perfection–the kind of perfection that is inherent. Not found or bought or bartered for. It's so counter intuitive to what we're taught, especially women, to take care of others' needs first, to put "them" before us. when what we need to do is care for self. Caring for self is caring for other. Someone asked me once if I had to trade places with my daughter, meaning if she became me, would I want her to feel about herself with all that happened, the way I felt about myself. The answer was, of course, a resounding, "No!" It's been quite a journey to better understand peace and joy and even love. I wouldn't trade one minute of it for anything–anything except, that is, for my daughter not to have had to suffer in the process. Thank you for reading and for your comment.
Tracey, this really is one of the most genuine pieces I've ever read. I am SO proud of you! You took a huge chance stepping off that ledge – then soared! To be honest I was reading along – happily remembering Tiger Beat and the Scholastic posters! Kissing flat lips till the print faded, and never being asked anywhere by anyone. Then I saw you were a Jersey girl. My heart jumped. I was born in Somerville and raised in Bound Brook NJ. Can this world get any smaller?!
You're 'stupid note in a stupid bottle' made me snort! Oh the stories we tell ourselves – and the people in our lives we confuse the hell out of! You do indeed have a very extraordinary family for not just believing in you- but encouraging you by finding your voice and using the real story behind the pain – to point out vibrantly that you are not alone. None of us really are, although there are times, moments, weeks and years we feel it. WE say it enough that we actually have put ourselves in isolation. What the mind says, the body believes – our subconscious tries SO hard to do what we ask of it. And until there is a clear understanding of it – aka mental/brain/psychology/the why behind the feeling – all of this laid out bare on the table to explore, poke, and hug as an intricately complex part of ourselves. I do not see how the human being can grow. I find it amazing how many decades it took just to talk about sex! As if saying the word out loud would instantaneously create orgies and babies thrown around the streets!
It makes me think – which is what I think BB ultimately wants us to do. Pause for a moment – turn that ring three times or three hundred times. Find that safe place to work through our fears and falls and like she says about her therapist, "But she would never jump in and interfere with the critically important process of my actually feeling something." We have to think – we have to feel – WE have to work it out – then we will know it. From there we have choices. We have choices – even when we believe we don't. Maybe that is the life long practice she speaks of. That is what we can finally understand for ourselves, then sharing them with those we care about most first – our children, our BFF, our husbands (even if mine is not Tony DeFranco, Hans Solo, or Karl Urban!). And if our path leads us to sharing with those we do not know – well, that is indeed a rumble worth taking. Thank you so much for sharing your story Tracey. Thank you everyone for sharing your thoughts, views, ideas, opinions and insights. Every time I read every single person's insights – I learn something. I am so grateful to each of you.
I've ended my writings for the last twenty something years with Breathe Deep, Think Peace – a young student of mine years ago – when he was away at college and would write, always told me he could not help but do what the words said. He always took a deep full breathe, and even if it was just for the moment reading the next two words. He would sit still and be at peace. I hope and pray each of us do the same.
Breathe Deep, Think Peace
Xeno! SO glad you mentioned the movie "Inside Out" that should be required to watch in every school with proper training by the facilitator to discuss afterwards – and use in every day life in the classroom (most of our first experiences of being abused I'm sad to say) as well as helping adolescents/teens and adults navigate the sometimes insane world of emotions inside our homes and outside in the world. 🙂
Wow Marie – you summed it all up in your last sentence! Booya!
Nancy I love that when you write – you explore not only your own feelings/story. But are able to help me connect to mine. What a beautiful gift. There are days I can remember exactly, no, its not remember – I feel exactly the way I felt when I was in elementary school – the way my heart felt ripped from my chest as a young adult lied to and used, being terribly confused and thinking maybe they know something I don't – maybe their right. They got the rule book, I didn't. Which was completely opposite of a mother telling me I was special. I didn't feel special. Not in the least bit, and she had to tell me that because she was my mother! Right?! You are absolutely right – this is a lot and needs to be mulled over and revisited over and over again. XO
Crystal – your words, "everyone's story becomes my story" made a shiver run down my spine. You are so very right, and the younger version of me would have never believed that! The adult me is just beginning to realize how valuable that actually is.
When I see the word 'enough' – I always always think of The Sound of Music, when Maria says, "Enough is as good as a feast." For years I had no clue to what she was actually saying – then when it became clear – I tend to lean on it. Hard. It has taken years, and there is still many days of doubt, but to come to that realization: I am enough. Is one of the most powerful affirmations you can make for yourself. <3
PS Xeno, I am very curious to know what maybe you were expecting!! I love to surprise people LOL 🙂
oh…..my….gawd….Patty! I cannot believe you mentioned Tony DeFranco! I LOVED him…listened to that damn album until I wore the grooves down. That one, and my Star Wars album. Oh lordy…good times, good times. You're so funny! Thank you so much for mentioning that the piece made you smile and maybe even chuckle. This is a very good thing..it made me chuckle as I started to write it and hoped it would do the same for others. Look, my family has enough of our story in the rear view mirror that it's okay to start finding the bits of humor in it, and the ridiculous. That's one of the perks of this work! Being able to look back on our own seriousness, how full of shit we were (I mean, we still are, but that's another story) how full of shit we were, how seriously we took ourselves and to be able to smile! To give ourselves a break! What a gift. Working on my memoir, it is very easy for me to remember just how deeply I blamed myself for my daughter's illness. That was crazy!! There were, most certainly, behavioral patterns that I had to change and ways of interacting in my family that needed attention, but my daughter's illness was not my fault! It took me a long time to be able to believe this was true. I've met many, many parents who feel the same way. This is a big reason why talking about it, writing about it, sharing it is so important. Like Brene says, (I'm paraphrasing here) but if you put shame in a petrie dish with empathy and compassion, it can't survive. Thank you so much Patty. I wish for you the same…Breathe Deep, Think Peace!
I really deeply appreciate your comment here Nancy. Thank you so much. I know, for a fact, that there are many people who do not think it is "right" or "proper" or "okay" or whatever word you want to use for me to be telling my family's story in this way, because it is so personal and involves my daughter. If it was only me–no problem…but since it involves her, many people frown on it. Believe me. I can understand. At the last moment, I considered deleting this post and not publishing anything this week. Then I thought about Brene's Living Semester that I'm taking. One of the assignments was to determine what 1 or 2 values we wanted to carry forth into 2106 to light our way forward on our journey to Rising Strong. One of my two values was courage. I thought about deleting this post. I thought about the negativity that it might engender towards me and towards my daughter, because let's face it. Most people cannot and do not want to understand what we've gone through. Fear is a powerful motivator for distance. If I don't understand you, I don't have to worry about what might be wrong with you–because that will never happen to me. Ahhh, the naivete.
Anyway, I thought about deleting this post and decided that I was not going to let fear stop me. If I could help one person who reads these words feel less alone (Including me, btw) than the risk was worth it. The risk was so definitely worth it. It was hard for my eyes reading your words and my brain speaking them to me to determine if, ultimately, you feel your realization was a good thing. I sure hope so. I don't think it is ever too late to look back upon (not get stuck mind you) but to look back upon what got us to where we currently are and to use that to find the healthiest and most meaningful way forward. Thank you so very much Nancy. I am beyond honored to be on this journey with you. And yes… much mulling in my realms still to come too. xoxo
Hello all…I have not blogged for a few chapters as I've been side-tracked with some start-ups and let the book go. I have continued to read each weeks posts. I am impressed by the compassion you are sharing, with the reassurance, the hope that you offer one another. Thanks so much for your courage and commitment to growth, on many levels.
I was reminded of how important sharing our stories is by someone I barely know. I knew that he lost his 10 y/o daughter to cancer five years ago. Now that his four other children have left the nest, he and his wife have realized that if Julia were still alive, that they would not be empty nesting right now. He mentioned that it has become important once again, to tell the painful story of the last few days of her life….and, that requires that someone listen with their heart and soul. Well, I quickly made the connection to this blog and how you've been sharing personal stories that include pain. I wasn't sure if I would get back to posting as I'm still not caught up reading (I'm in ch 9). But, I just wanted to affirm your warm voices and encourage you all in your writing. And, yes Tracey, I also love Pattys Breathe Deep, Think Peace….With love and gratitude~
Oh my – we are sisters from different misters, Tracey.
(Only my imposter isn't George, Bradley, or Justin. )
For me it was Danny Bonaduce, Jack Wild, and David Cassidy – all of whom dealt with drug and/or alcohol addictions. Hmmmm.
Tracey, your piece was so authentic and therefore, refreshing. I am grateful that you had the courage to share this. You have so much to offer. Keep putting yourself out there.
I have gotten behind and am catching up. Thanks to all of you who shared. I learn and grow each time I read what you write.