I'm not the worst mother

I am the poet of the Body and I am the poet of the Soul,
The pleasures of heaven are with me and the pains of hell are with me,
The first I graft and increase upon myself, the latter I translate into a new tongue.
(Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, 1892)

Every day, I know I've failed. I can feel it in my bones. The dangerous, no warnings world I grew up in taught my brain to tune to the negative frequencies. My mind as an adult is bathed in adrenaline and a very motivating sense of shame. It's taken years of therapy to understand that the picture I paint at the end of the day is not realism. It is dark, devious, like one of the Black Paintings by Francisco Goya: an incomplete representation that captures the darkness of the mind, not just the negative facts in the everyday.
Then something happens: I come across a painting like the one above, left for me on the kitchen counter by my whimsical 9 year-old, who thinks, dreams, breaths music and laughter and sunlight. It seems miraculous that anyone sharing genes with me could be so fancy-free. I read the words slowly: Beauty. Freedom. Love. Peace. Everything. Even through the sudden stars of tears in my eyes, the black letters are shouting to my soul. You taught her this!, my brain screams. All that blackness, fear, pain, suffering in your life? You've transmuted the sorrow into thankfulness for joy. You've taken the fear and transformed it into an immutable longing for peace and love. And these translated whisperings of the soul? The faintly glimmering flame of hope that life can be different and perhaps even beautiful? They have whispered their way into the depths of her heart and this is the song she sings, hope and wide-spread arms flung far toward both horizons, unafraid of sunrise or sunset, sunlight or storms.
I've spoken of this through gritted teeth: those who know the full depths of the pain proffered in this universe have unique ability to comprehend the beauty, to take each nugget of pleasure and value it, celebrate it. Locked in the inhumane routine of the psych ward in June, trying to piece together a spring season fraught with failure and old threats, I stared out the hazy safety glass at a world bathed in the summer sun. I knew I would feel the sun afresh when I walked out those doors. I didn't want it to take misery to make me appreciate life yet again. I want to remember on my own, that every day is a gift, and suffering always passes, and new seasons bring new challenges and new joys. 
I will my body to remember. Remember the significance of every small smile and momentary joy. Remember not to take it for granted. Remember that failure is often the prerequisite for success. What is it about our frail 3 pound human brains that allows us to forget this? To forget the hardest lessons of all?

And so I write. Think. Breathe. I refuse to forget that bittersweet still has sweetness and failure still has possibility and fear can be conquered. Remembering that gives me the bravery to open my eyes to each new day and believe that my scars are equalled by my sacredness and my pain is assuaged by the gifts from the universe that surround me each and every day.

You are your own champion

I went to the same gray-blue office for 4 years. Every week, I sat on a 1980's reception area couch that had been repurposed for my therapist. As time went on, I discovered that my therapist was standing on the shore of the sea I was tossed about in, and she held a rope. I'm sure there had been other people standing on that shore holding rope before her, people whose presence was blurred by the gray fog of depression and voices swallowed by the deafening wind of the screams of my self-hatred. My therapist was just the first rescuer I could see.

Life is a series of small steps. In 2010, I took a small step into a therapist's office, a tentative conversation that led to four years of the most intense emotional healing I've ever experienced. Seeing my therapist and the rope - hope - was another small step. Each step carried me further away from the precipice of suicide and onto ground more solid than I'd believed possible. I wasn't able to do much other than hold on to the rope, hanging on it while the waves continued to pummel me. It was my anchor to a sense of direction in the endless gray seascape of emotion, chaos, trauma. It was what kept me afloat. My therapist stood patiently for 4 years, urging me to climb up the rope to the shore. But all I could do was hold on.

I held up a knife made out of lies. Lies told to protect myself from the x-ray vision of a trained professional. In my tears and my tormented monologues in the office once a week, I was shouting, "Pull me in!" with new desperation. But my therapist kept up her calm encouragement, "Pull yourself in. You can do it. You are stronger than you think."

The rope was cut without either of us realizing it at first. It was only when she pulled in a frayed length, the weight on the end gone, that she looked and realized how far I'd drifted from shore on a tide of those lies. I hadn't shown her myself for weeks, buried as I was under a mound of deception, a maze constructed subconsciously to lead people away from the rawness of my innermost self. She walked away, unable to help any longer. She left a sign on the beach for me, "I'll send someone back to help you."


For a while, I was angry and grief-stricken. I had become so used to looking at shore and seeing her comforting presence, still holding the rope through every storm. Now I was left to my own devices and adrift once again. What I discovered is that I became more buoyant during those years she supported me in my swimming. I'm more athletic - I can cross great swaths of ocean using only the power of my own body and mind.

Taking ownership of your own recovery is another small step. I still need a therapist every week. Sometimes I still call out for her to toss me some rope. But with each extra hour spent treading water all by myself, I am building the strength to heal myself, to love myself, to navigate without someone on the other end of a rope.

Someday I might even make that swim to shore.


I warned her long before, that I can't just let life take it's course at the end of relationships. That my track record is a pretty unblemished path of destruction. I tried to tell her all of it, but damned if my brain didn't hogtie my tongue. What came out wasn't a clear enough description. Once again, someone I loved and trusted, someone who trusted me, I broke it all to pieces and here I am with the sledgehammer in my hand and dust still settling and I'm crying because it's all broken. I broke it. I can't stand it being broken. Where is the middle path? 

In that moment, the waking up moment when your rage and fear subside and you look around and you see what you have done, that is the most sickening sensation I've ever known. When your sickness leaches out and suddenly you are someone else, someone you can't control or predict, understand or desire to be - when all you can do is try to hold the reins as tightly as possible so you are still in one piece when the ride is over - the crash at the end is as much a surprise to you as it is to anyone else.

I didn't see it coming. I can't hear the train of my own crazy leaving the station. I don't even know it's moving until I'm trying to hold everyone in as the wind threatens to tear the cars to pieces.

Much of what I say to the sky these days is unintelligible. The person I'm most angry at is myself. I hate that I haven't grown up or learned or progressed. How is it possible to regress in an instant to the social function of a small child? Who is going to fix me if I hurt anyone who comes close? How do I quit hurting people?

More questions. Fewer answers. More desperate for help, less help available.
No matter how hard you fight the current, we're all just circling the drain.