It all started a few months ago, this new feeling of weightlessness, and the ability to breathe. I’d walk down the street noticing everything…the wind through the trees, the smell of the air and how it felt against my skin. Somehow the world had slowed down to a pace of comfort with the ability to hold me in place. How recent the feeling of suffocation had covered me beneath the weight of self-inflicted mistakes.
I’d quit my job and traveled for two months spending time with everyone I loved in this world. It had been gratifying and rehabilitating. But when I returned home to Nashville in January I went into a painful depression. There were a million and one directions I wanted to go and the decision left me paralyzed. I was a brave woman and I could do anything...right? Anything was immense and I couldn’t narrow the list of possibilities. Soon the political atmosphere put me in a tailspin. My emotional state already unraveling and now crying had been added to my daily routine somewhere after coffee and before a shower. Okay, I wasn’t really showering. I’d stopped shaving, stopped wearing bras as if it was required when you are a woman seeking selfless purpose. I joined marches, causes, wrote letters, wrote blogs, donated, signed up for things…but every contribution seemed insignificant and I exhausted myself in the attempt to know everything that was going on. My heart was in a constant state of breaking, slowly dwindling the purpose hunting, selfless me set on saving the world.
Healing is not instantaneous. I think we all know this and yet anytime we are wounded, we want instant results. In the last 10 years, I took hit after hit after hit. And I flat out refused to be affected by it. I was strong damn it. I’d been through worse. I picked myself up and kept going. When the smoke subsided, I collapsed.
My intuition I’ve often thought of as my superpower. When given a crossroads, I could see the outcome of each decision. This is not to say I pick the right one. I often choose the more painful road. I don’t know why I do this exactly, perhaps because it is more familiar. I’m unfamiliar with the healthy choice. What would that even feel like?
The mind is tightly linked to the stomach. In my teen years, I vomited almost everything I ate. By the time I was 18, I was in the hospital. My esophagus shredded to the point of vomiting blood. My first diet restrictions started with the misdiagnosis of gastric reflux. No one ever asked me about my history. They treated me for the symptoms at the moment, blamed stress and no one dug deeper than that until I saw a therapist.
In one brief visit, she traced my pattern and brought to the surface what I’d been hiding in my gut. And my gut was furious.
You are knowingly choosing men who will hurt you.
At a very young age, I’d suffered sexual abuse. It is my second oldest vivid memory.
My first, the origin of the scar on my right cheek, a bite from our golden retriever when I was 2 ½.
The poison left from this attack weaved through me like cancer, forever altering my cells. It affected everything I did, everything I felt. Men were villains and I was drawn to the villains.
And I dared them to break me.
|As a Teenager, South Point, Hawaii|
I had a very thick armor around my most vulnerable parts. No one would ever get all of me. They could have the broken pieces, the ashed edges, and the fake persona. I was constantly changing the outside to hide the inside. I couldn’t be myself so I was the happy girl. The one with the pure heart and the positive outlook on life. I giggled and smiled a lot, I was shy and quiet and everyone I came into contact with thought I was a Mary. Now boys were afraid of me, I was too virginal to mess with.
I felt confident I had fooled everyone.
No one knew I was suicidal. How many times I’d stood on the edge of a rooftop, held blades on my wrists and pills in my hand. Lovers were unaware that I left my body during sex. I was in another world watching from afar and put my other self into play. They never got me, not one. My stand in couldn’t connect either, she was hollow and would do anything you asked of her. She craved the pain like a twisted villain of her own. And while she tried to be everything they every wanted, I hid tears and closed my eyes until it was over.
|19 years old|
My PTSD showed up later in life in all its glory. Flashbacks are a bitch. They started happening at the worst possible moments bringing waves of horror, torment, and fear. I withdrew even further not wanting to be revealed. It was safer not to be touched at all. I lived in my imagination where I had full control. And I let men beat me down with manipulation. I wasn't a person anymore, I was a thing that belonged to them.
I knew on day one what the end would look like, and it would be a spectacular explosion. I’d piled the stack with all the usual ignitable clichés. I wanted the world to see this blaze. This would end it all for good. I believed the lies even when I knew them to be lies. I believed that he loved me more than any other had loved me or would ever love me. I believed that if it came down to it, he’d always be there. He was my person, my best friend. I was relatively safe because he’d rescue me. Until the season came when I needed him most, and he revealed the wolf beneath.
I’d bound myself to the false prophet.
I was in yet another destructive relationship with someone who wouldn’t protect me.
I’d written this chapter of my life. I choose all the characters. I knew their history, assumed the risks and still gave them access to my heart. I took my punishment thinking I was being responsible instead of naïve and broken. I deserved this agony. I kept forgiving the same abuse over and over because I thought that forgiving it was true love. What I wouldn’t do for the love of my life? I’d give him a kidney. I’d take a bullet to the heart. I'd become anything he needed. This pain would validate me. But this was also a lie.
Love does not hold you captive, it sets you free.
Love is something you joyfully show the world, not a shameful secret you hide
in a box in the back of the closet.
A few months ago a feeling came over me that I hadn’t felt before.
I wanted to live, really live.
I started being myself instead of hiding in who I thought I was supposed to be. I started taking care of myself. I filled my body with a plant-based diet. I got off the couch and canceled my Netflix account. I spent time outside in my vegetable garden working in the dirt. I activated all the muscles in my body and concentrated on my breath. I felt deeply for those around me but it was no longer overwhelming. It was dear and protective and I had the energy to devote. Instead of texting, I started calling my friends and family and really talking to them about what was in their hearts.
My spiritual self was bound in the basement and I tearfully released it back to the atmosphere. I was embraced by the sunshine and soothed by the moonlight. I wrote and wrote and wrote and I danced and danced and danced.
I cleared out the clutter until all that was left was me facing shame in the flesh.
I am no longer bound to you. You have no power over me. I am worthy of love.
I sat next to a kind man with a precious soul and talked to him as myself.
No armor, no fake smiles. Just me in my vulnerability and it felt amazing.
Hello Sarah, nice to finally meet you.
Life doesn’t go smoothly even when you are on the right course. But you are equipped to handle the pitfalls and roadside assistance seems to always show up out of nowhere.
The attacks began shortly after the waves of joy, with each one escalating.
The first was the unusual crippling of my record player.
Music has always been my emotional therapy since I was a little girl singing the Annie Soundtrack and the Bert & Ernie Sing-along. One particularly rough day I started to play a record and no sound came out. Upon investigation, the needle was gone. Just gone as if it never existed. I’d saved up and researched for two years on this particular item, finally purchasing it as a birthday present to myself last year. I was trying to come up with rent and a replacement cartridge was $90.
Soon after I was vacuuming the bedroom and I heard a crackling sound as if I was vacuuming up bobby pins. It ended as soon as it began and I only checked it when I emptied the canister. There wrapped around the brushes was a rose gold chain. My heart began beating rapidly when I recognized it as my Zoe necklace. I frantically took apart the vacuum finding the pieces as if it had been ripped from my neck.
|Zoe Means Life|
My beloved dog of 18 years had passed over a year ago and I’d had this necklace made with her name on it. I’d worn it nearly every day and seldom took it off. I even slept in it. The one day in months when I’d removed it, carefully placing it on my dresser and it had fallen to the floor and been devoured. Flooded with memories up to watching her take her last breath broke my heart all over again. I sat on the floor, split open with waves of tears attempting to choke me.
|Me and Zoe in 2001|
Two things I owned that brought me immense comfort, sabotaged.
The third attack was this weekend. I’d been on a mini roller coaster of self-discovery and hopefulness. I’d blown off adulting for the day and decided to explore. I’d lived in Tennessee for 8 years completely unaware of the dozen or so spectacular waterfalls within a 2 hours drive of Nashville. I wanted to take someone with me but accepted that it would be a solo adventure. I made a plan to take my camera and visit all the waterfalls this year and write a travel blog about them. I quickly packed up a bag and I was off. It was a beautiful sunny day. It felt so freeing being back on the road. I drove fast, singing at the top of my lungs for an hour and a half before I reached Foster Falls.
I was prepared to hike and I was surprised to hear and see the water from the walking path almost immediately. I climbed the rock and log steep staircase to the bottom.
The atmosphere was serene and even though it was almost 90 degrees, it felt shockingly comfortable in the shade. I sat all my things on a large boulder and took off my shoes. It felt magical straight out of a storybook. If a fairy had flown by I think I would have accepted it as expected.
|Foster Falls, Tennessee|
I started taking lots of pictures, and a couple of videos. I set the timer on my phone so I could be in a few. I walked over to the other side to get another viewpoint. I set my camera low to be looking up at the waterfall, setting it on my tennis shoes to protect it from the damp ground. I turned my back and when I turned back around it was gone. It had not only rolled off my tennis shoes but there was a slight incline and it’d rolled down to the creek below. I saw the floating strap and bubbles emerging as I grabbed it from the ice cold water.
And Grief began immediately…
Denial: That didn't really just happen. It was a bad dream that I’ll wake from at any moment.
Anger: Screaming no no no, I begin frantically drying it off, turning it off, taking out the battery, taking off the lens…how far did the water perpetrate?
Bargaining: Please God let it be okay. I got to it in time right? I’ll never do something that stupid again, just please let it be okay!
Depression: Holding it in my arms and sobbing.
I try to call Canon but I have no cell service.
I gather all my things and hike up the rocks back to my car.
In my need for understanding, I text someone important to me who I think will comprehend the awfulness. I then call Canon’s helpline and sob to the agent what just happened.
Was it salt water? He asks
No, it was fresh water. I mumble
Okay, with salt water it would be a goner as the salt starts to erode immediately. Freshwater …well there’s a chance depending on how far the water reached.
He sends me instructions for sending it in to be evaluated.
I drove to the fork in the road. Left to Chattanooga or right to Nashville.
Chattanooga has gluten free chocolate chip cookies. I turn left.
My phone takes me on an alternate route it has never suggested before that is off the interstate. It's tranquil and winding along the water and I’m sure its divine intervention. It starts to calm me until I come around a gorgeous bend in the road that I want to photograph and I start to cry again.
The simply amazing chocolate chip cookies at Rembrandt's were going to fill my belly and make me feel better. When I get there, as if awakening from a trance with complete clarity, I ask if they have milk in them. “Oh yes”, she said almost wickedly as if she was describing a guilty pleasure, “lots of milk!”
It may seem silly but I felt like I was standing at a crossroads.
I’d given up dairy and felt better than I’d ever felt in my life and here this cookie filled with dairy sat taunting me from the glass display case promising to take my pain away. I’d even drove an extra hour out of my way to indulge in it.
I took a step back from the counter. I pulled out my phone and typed in "vegan bakery Chattanooga".
Cashew came up with pictures of vegan gluten-free donuts. I left the bakery and got into my car. It was 5:30, I pulled out my phone again to check their hours. They closed at 4 every day except Friday. What day was it? It was Friday.
With tear stained cheeks I arrived at Cashew and saw the donuts in all their plant based beauty. I asked what was in them and she looked confused….I started to tell her I had a lot of food allergies, including cashews when she said, “well there are no cashews and they are peanut free, soy free and gluten free”. I laughed and said, “yup that takes care of all of them”. I ordered a few to eat there and as I was digging through my purse for my wallet, I saw this shirt as if created just for me at that very moment.
Butternut Squash my good vibes.
I smiled, ate my donuts and called my mom.
Acceptance: I don’t know why this happened exactly. It felt purposefully derailing to my hopes and dreams. But things do not define me. Things don’t last. Things are here to be used not loved.
I cherish the words of minimalist Joshua Fields Millburn
“Love People and Use Things, The Opposite Never Works.”
This will not keep me from expressing myself. And if my computer is the next thing to go. I will write with a pen and paper!