I have lived much of my adult life as a badly broken person. I wish I could lay responsibility for this on something tangible like a bad childhood or abuse so that I could confront my demons and slay them once and for all.
But, my demons aren’t so easy to confront. They scream at me, but I often have a hard time figuring out where they come from. At times those have voices drowned out all rational thought. “You are worthless.” “You will die a lonely old woman.” “You are stupid.” “You are defective.” “You don’t deserve to be loved.” The cacophony stopped out all attempts to silence those horrible messages. Oh, I could put on a show and fake it. I was really good at smiling and pretending life was good. But inside, another part of me was lost each day.
I can feel it even now. The searing, white-hot pain. The nausea. The fear. The wash of embarrassment. The vulnerability. The pain of my insides being ripped apart by emotions I could not name. The self-hatred and disgust that I did not understand. Over 30 years of intense self-loathing. Thirty years of knowing I could never do anything right. Thirty years of wondering when I would be good enough to fit in somewhere, anywhere. Thirty years of not understanding what this was or where it came from.
I stumbled through life like an addict. I lived for the days when my demons chose to be quiet. When they awoke, I would do almost anything to get back to the quiet: alcohol, sex, parties, drugs, suicide attempts. Nothing worked. Eventually I gave up trying to silence the demons. I learned to live with them and accepted that they were right. I no longer fought them. I hated myself, I hated life, I dreamed of death, I cried each morning when I awoke. My life was controlled by my fears of vulnerability and rejection. My demons crippled me.
A person with severe depression, but no funds to seek treatment is one of the most vulnerable persons in society. Doctors, horrible medications, group therapy (a worse nightmare than the demons), bipolar disorder, severe depression. None of it meant anything if I could not seek true, useful help dealing with the cause of those crippling emotions. So, I continued to stumble along. Raising my son by myself. Doing my best to be a good mom, all the while knowing I was a defective mess who had no right guiding a young child to adulthood.
One day I decided it was time to stop. Don’t ask what made me think I would succeed at willing my demons into submission. Looking back, I realize I was naïve. But I did it. And, like an addict, I eventually went back to my old ways. Time and time and time again. In the meantime, I managed to earn two degrees and got recruited to one of Canada’s most prestigious universities to pursue my doctorate. But, those demons have kept me from finishing it.
One day, my perseverance stuck and I finally managed to accept that those voices were wrong. I succeeded so well that I even decided to date again. I thought I had my demons beat. I set goals and dreamed dreams that I had been too scared to even contemplate until then. I was wrong. I was only lying to myself yet again. But I didn’t understand this until almost a year later when he told me “I love you, but I can’t stay with you. I want to be selfish, and only care about myself. I can’t worry about whether I am making someone else happy.”
In that moment, my demons returned with a vengeance. They had simply been biding their time, waiting for every last defense to drop so they could drag me into their hell.
And what a hell it was. I stood in the middle of the room, turning around and around and around. I was lost. I had nowhere to turn. I had no idea what to do next because I knew that this time was worse than anything that had come before.
All I could hear was those damn demons. “You are so flawed, defective and worthless that even someone who loves you doesn’t want to be with you. We win. It’s time to stop fighting us.”
I don’t know why I clawed myself back from the edge of that chasm. But I did. I wasn’t easy. It took more energy than I thought I had. I hated every minute of the fight and wanted to quit every day.
But, this time I didn’t fight by myself. I found a guardian angel named Andrea. I wish everybody had an Andrea in their life. I don’t know if I would be writing this if I hadn’t had the perseverance to demand that somebody help me.
With Andrea’s help, I learned to name my demons. Shame. Identifying one emotion has changed my life. Shame was the source of every voice and every negative message. Shame was the source of self-hatred. Shame was the source of physical pain. Giving my demons a name took away their power.
Identifying and taming shame means I can be kinder to myself. I am learning that I am not defective and that it is okay to make mistakes. I am learning that I must be true to myself and that I need to let others see me for who I really am. I am learning that sadness, loneliness, and shame do not have to control my life because I can create lasting happiness and joy for myself. I am learning that my curiosity and creativity badly need an outlet and that I can show vulnerability and let them out. Most important, I am learning to accept that I am resilient and can survive.
I have been a badly cracked person for as long as I can remember. As a young adult those cracks split wide open and I broke. But, I have learned to find a space in which I can rebuild myself. I don’t know if I would have learned so much about myself if I hadn’t broken. There is a picture of an ordinary grey clay pot. The pot is nothing special. At some point, it broke. Rather than throw it away, some ancient person chose to celebrate the defects by repairing it with gold paint. This ancient, plain pot is now a work of art because somebody recognized that perfection is not a necessary component of beauty. I am that pot. I am not perfect, but it is my imperfections that make me unique. It is my imperfections that allow me to grow and thrive.
But, I am not finished yet. I am now 45 and I am much wiser. Yet, I still struggle. I am wise enough to understand that I cannot keep all of this locked up inside. I am wise enough that I realized it was an important step in healing to take advantage of the Anonymous Project and write this. Yet, even though it is anonymous, I still cheated. I wasn’t completely honest the first few times that I made the attempt to get it all out. I wasn’t honest with you and I wasn’t honest with myself.
You see, this isn’t just a story about a painful past. It is also a story about a hopeful future. I fell into the shame trap once again and forgot that I am allowed to be happy. No, I deserve it. The first few times I wrote this, I ignored the future. I still sometimes forget that shame no longer rules me. But, the voices have virtually disappeared. The intense physical pain of shame no longer threatens me. Now, I am finally at the point where I can work on the little things – like remembering that I deserve healing and happiness. And, for the first time in my life, I can explore what it means to be a whole person. I can explore the past, the present, and the future. I can accept and celebrate the cracks because they mean that I am no longer broken.