Courage is going from failure to failure without losing
enthusiasm. Winston Churchill
I spent years struggling to overcome the sense that my life was a house of cards that was certain to collapse at any moment. The first day my daughter went off to school without me, I was terrified that she would be harmed or kidnapped. As my husband prepared to fly to Europe for a business trip, I felt with some certainty that he would not be coming home. I spent inordinate amounts of energy trying to be the Perfect Mother so that nothing would slip through the cracks. No boogeymen were coming in to my world, thank you very much! If I could just control every aspect of our lives, I could ward off the doom that was lurking just outside the walls.
Even after years without catastrophic events coming to pass, I still view unplanned events as suspect. Even with repeated reinforcements that my world is stable and strong, that what I have constructed is not a house of cards, I continue to look over my shoulder and wait for catastrophe. What is it about those events of my young life that were so powerful that they can override decades of peace and rational thought and cause me to cower in the corner? Why, after surrounding myself carefully with people that I can trust and learning to trust myself, do I still feel the sting of betrayal and terror of revealing the innermost core of myself to others? Emotional memory has incredible staying power. My logical brain can tell me that I did not invite these blows and have learned from them to become a compassionate, loyal friend and mother whose mistakes will not lead to destruction of my family. The third-degree burns on my psyche warn me, instead, not to take anything for granted and remind me that trusting others is dangerous. The pain response, that reflexive pulling away, is strong and so immediate that overcoming it is proving difficult.
After a year of exploring my motivations and fears, it is getting easier. I have pushed through that shrinking away, closing my eyes and sidestepping into the pain to deflect some of the heat. I am beginning to see the traumatic events of my childhood in adult perspective. They do not define me or my childhood years. They were instances that were tremendously harsh on a young girl, but there were others that were joyous and I have the power to put them side by side. At first, the frightening things were immense in comparison, but I soon realized they were ghostly and full of air. They seemed to float, while the joys of childhood and those that have come since rest firmly on the ground and feel solid and tangible. Holding my baby sister at two months old and calling her "my baby," playing in the sprinkler with my older brother - his auburn curls shining in the sun and me delighted with my new bikini, the freedom of driving my own car to school with the sunroof open, laughing with my friends on the beach when we skipped second period. Those memories I can see clearly and in focus. They are not holograms, but full-color video. As I open myself up to feel the emotional memory that comes from within them, the colors of the painful memories bleed together and go out of focus.
If I can push through the initial stomach-clenching of fear to remind myself that I am not defined
by my most frightening moments, I can begin to trust in what I am building and carry on.
The best way out is always through. Robert Frost