I am debuting a little something I’ve been working on called the New Story Project.
It’s going to be raw. It’s going to be real. But it’s also going to be fun!
The whole idea behind this project came to life because of a devastating trauma I faced about three years ago. I cut my thumb off on a bandsaw and it turned my world inside out for a time. This, however, wasn’t the first time that life as I knew it took a traumatic turn for the worse. You see, 17 years ago, when I was just 14 years old, I was involved in a fight in high school that left me injured in ways both seen and unseen. I call it a fight now, but really, it was an attack. Another girl came up from behind me as she instigated the offense that caught me off guard and it wasn’t long before I was on the ground being kicked in the head until I seized. This was no fair fight, and for many years I stressed and contemplated how different my life would be if just a few details were changed. From that instance I vowed to myself to be as tough as I could be. I learned to defend myself and I made sure that I would never let myself fall victim to a physical fight again. Now, I don’t want to portray myself as innocent in this particular situation because I was kind of a haughty teenager with not much of a filter on my mouth. Some people say I had it coming. But I say if you want to fight someone, square up and make sure both parties want to fight… or else it’s an attack… but, this was high school, and kids are pretty much stupid assholes at that age. The ridiculous drama, gossip and uncontrollable emotions of teenagers heightened the entire situation to be much more than it needed to be, and sure enough, I dropped out of school for good.
It wasn’t long before the people around me seemingly moved passed the incident. I mean when something doesn’t directly affect anyone else, it is easy to forget. But for me, the person who suffered the most from the trauma, I tried to learn to deal with the river of emotions I felt and the incessant thoughts and fears that flooded my mind. Shortly after the fight, I found myself seeking to escape and isolate myself from the world I lived in. I was prescribed Lexapro, Seroquel and Clonazepam. An antidepressant, an antipsychotic, and an antiseizure medicine, respectively. I was taken to psychological counseling, as well as occupational therapy for the next year. The pills helped me to escape the thoughts in my head and the uncertain unidentifiable feelings that whirred through me. I decided to take as many pills as I saw fit, and at just 15 years old, I’d live my life high as a kite day in and day out. I never told anyone what I felt, the regrets I had or the deep sadness that settled within the pit of my being. Instead I learned to adjust by becoming an amiable people-pleaser who would hopefully never get her ass kicked again. Then one day, after seemingly having enough of my life as I knew it, I consumed the entirety of the pill bottles and passed out on the kitchen floor of my house. I woke up in the hospital sometime after that. My plan to end my own life didn’t work, and now I had to restart the process of ‘treatment’ for my problems.
After some time, I got smarter to the concept of blending in and people-pleasing. I stuffed even further the darkness and sadness I felt and tried find other ways to cope with my life. I was a teenager so that added its own share of problems and baggage. Like many teens, I drank alcohol, smoked cigarettes and weed and acted promiscuously. I found solace in these behaviors because they were more fun versions of escape that involved my friends, laughter, the thrill of almost getting caught, desire, pleasure, and temporarily masked the unidentifiable emotions I felt; these actions seemed to make me happy!
My life was changed because of the fight. But because I was a teenager, my behaviors and actions could easily be excused, I mean c’mon, everyone was doing it… but there was a festering angst within me that I realized would never be consoled; someone else wasn’t going to come to my rescue, and whatever was going to happen, it was going to happen by my own doing. At the time, I found my best friend to be my journal and I discovered that I could express all of my feelings with my pen and I would not be judged, cut off, distracted, prescribed medication or tormented for sharing my somewhat unorthodox feelings. I didn’t comprehend how powerful this regular routine really was. I could sort of articulate my emotions, and I recognized that somehow this practice actually made me feel better.
I still pursued other activities and lived a rather fulfilling young adult life. It wasn’t until I cut my thumb off, some decade and a half later, that I realized I’d built the foundation of my life on faulty infrastructure. I had coped as best as I could as a damaged teen, but the life-altering trauma I experienced at the ripe age of 14 would led me to define myself and the world around me with a defensive bias. My survivor instincts guided me through the years, and I kept a very vulnerable side of me hidden and tucked away with brick, mortar, lock and key. I was never given, taught or encouraged to learn to cope with what I went through. Although time passed and I thought my wounds had healed, there was lingering damage that was never even addressed. I learned to adapt to the shortcomings that were a result of this incident, but when another catastrophic trauma occurred, I reverted right back to the coping mechanisms I’d developed as a teen, and these were not lasting methods conducive to healing. They were perfected means of escaping the pain, doubts, fears and uncertainties that dwelled within me. You can’t just put a band-aid on an amputated digit; you gotta get in there are reattach every ligament, nerve, tendon, artery and then the muscle and skin tissue, and it’s bound to be an agonizing, bloody mess. Now that part was just an analogy, but it’s one I can use. 😉
It took me almost two years of psychological counseling to truly realize that the only way to ascertain what I needed to overcome was to dive back into the incident and trauma that devastated me so long ago. I had to retrain myself to cope with what happened then, just so I could begin to cope with another event that I thought once again would define me. I had to openly accept the insufficient methods I adapted as a teenager just so I wouldn’t regress back to those same means of avoidance. In this case, I first had to learn to be compassionate with my younger self. I just did the best I could with what I had. That truth was okay for then, but if I really wanted genuine healing, I had to examine what thought processes I’d adapted as a teenager and delicately retrain myself with patience, acceptance, and brutal honesty.
For nearly two years, I would beat myself up for not being able to get over the arduous grief from my amputation. I told myself, “I’ve gotten over something before, I can do it again.” When in fact, I had not gotten over my previous trauma, I had only learned to stuff, avoid and hide away the darkness it created within me. Now there is only so much room in the pit of our beings to contain hurt. At some point it’s going to come oozing out…like high rapid spatter or a slow rolling blob. And that is exactly what was happening to me at 30 years old. But I sure as shit wasn’t about to show these feelings to the people around me. They knew me as happy. They knew me as tough. They told me I was strong, resilient and able. I couldn’t let the world know I was weak, lost and broken. I had strived for so long to prove otherwise… if I allowed myself to crumble, I would definitely be the imposter that I feared that I truly was.
Once I accepted that I was broken and in need of repair, I was able to let go of the constricting torments of my consciousness. It took a while, but once I was willing to admit that I would rather run from discomfort than sit with my pain, I actually began the true healing process. Healing is not about avoidance. It is confronting the very thing that hurts us. It is not about proving wrong our most feared thoughts. I am weak. I am crazy. I am inadequate. I am a failure. I am no good. It is accepting those thoughts for just what they are: thoughts.
As I have learned through repetitive failures, you cannot think or prove away your fears. You must allow your fears to play their role. Having fears is part of the human condition. It is how we have learned to steer clear of dangers throughout evolution. Being fearful is part of surviving. But living a valued life is far more than merely surviving. Living a valued life looks different for everyone, because we each value completely various things. It is up to each of us as individuals if we want to simply survive or if we want to live a life we value. Sometimes just surviving is all we can do… but eventually we come to a place through healing where we can begin to live again.
For me, connecting with others has helped me to feel fulfilled. Through compassionate conversations, tearful embraces, empathetic understanding and genuine relation, I have found peace, purpose and comfort for my life. I aim high above only living a life I value in hopes that I will hit the target and feel better about the challenges I’ve faced. We all face challenges. Life is suffering. The struggle is real… for some it is so much worse than for others. I don’t think my road has been immeasurably dauting, but for me, it has not been easy. I have found the best remedy for enduring this race called life is to share the load, run with people, let others love and help you; and, when the time comes, pass the torch of wisdom and experience, because you never know who is on their last leg of hope, who is in need of encouragement, a smile, or a measly five minutes of your time.
I’ve always thought when the going gets tough, the tough get going. But now I believe when the going gets tough, reach out and call on someone who loves you, someone who has been in your shoes, or someone who will give you the time of day to express what you are feeling. Sometimes that is someone you pay for their time, like a counselor or bartender. Sometimes it is a friend or family member. And sometimes it is someone just like you who is suffering and hiding and just waiting to connect, who wants to share their story and/or maybe even write their new story.
Thank you for listening, friends.