How to survive disappointment

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Writing is some lonely work. Lately, I’d rather clean wet dog food out of my turquoise Dyson than write. This could be because I’m in  a six-week writing class, to which I say bring on all the tasks I can’t force myself to do in my ‘real’ job.  Business card design, scrubbing a trashcan lined with bleachy foils and padded with six inches of hair,  prying hardened facial wax off from every surface in my studio with my pinky nail but do not, Do Not, force me to sit down on my new computer, bought for the purpose of writing in my writing class, and actually write.

A friend asked me this morning why I’m not writing and I’m ashamed to say I had some pretty lame answers mostly adding up  to I Don’t Know.  For the last couple of years I’ve been talking to a guy that I pay to help me keep my head on straight (if you don’t have one of those, I recommend you find one), he doesn’t accept the  answer  “I don’t know.’  “It’s lazy,” he says. “I don’t believe you, I think you do know.”  I give him money to frustrate me and help me unearth from deep within, my true beliefs, my core confessions, the things I tell myself in a steady stream of affirmation and degradation, more or less equal parts depending on the day.  The truth is that it sucks to wrestle with life and living and God.  No wait, that’s the politically correct, nice-girl, go-to answer, but it’s not necessarily the truth of what I feel.

The truth hiding behind my nice answer is that it sucks to not get what you desperately want.

Do you know the thing I’m talking about? That one last thing, if you could only clean up one teensy tiny little detail in your reality, one dream in your heart that still hasn’t found a home in the daylight. That thing that threatens to overshadow every other detail of your life.  That one.  It stinks not to get it, or rid yourself of it, or have it fixed, or even fix it yourself because not having to deal with that red-hot thing would make every other detail in your life, sunny and 65.

I have teenagers living in my house. Daily, they deal with answers they don’t like.  Boundaries they’d rather blow through.  In fact, yesterday it seemed as if one of them was willing to wire themselves to an electric fence, sacrificing their very life in attempt to make it to the other side of the lines I’d drawn.

It got ugly for a long bit. Hobby Lobby, Walgreens, the doctor, every mile in-between the tension was building and with each turn on the odometer, more opportunities were presented from this litigator.  They were waiting for me to step off my game and give them the argument they wanted.  This one has been a student of my weakness since their birth.

While the fury was still blazing in my van yesterday, I found myself identifying with the fuming kid in the passenger seat.

As a compliant child  growing up, the reason I didn’t break rules was because I was terrified of the consequences.  Early on, I found that my missteps resulted in swift and sometimes disproportionate reactions and the over correction isolated me.  It came with intense emotion and unintended separation.  The sad thing is that the desired outcome, character strength, backfired and resulted in shame.  I still dance with some of these same tendencies, but I’ve grown as a parent and more importantly, as a living breathing soul, a human being, so scenes with my kids mostly don’t trigger me like they used to.   But  I remembered what it feels like to be the chid.

When the worst of it was over, I sat in the car alone for a few minutes processing my own emotions.  I’m not gonna lie, when the kid told me I was “the worst most controlling mother ever” followed by a few direct accusations, shame threatened to creep back in.  Every day it’s a struggle to keep that emotion from paralyzing me but  I realized that I had remained calm, connected and unswayed during the entire scene.  Sadly, this hasn’t always been the case.

It’s a price we have to pay as parents, a denial to indulge our emotions.  We have to sacrifice our own childishness.  I’m the grown-up  and though I’m in control of many aspects of my life, I can identify with this kid, more than they have any idea.  I’m smacking up against a hard wall that I’d expected would be demolished by now.  It’s my one thing. and believe me, I’ve taken a jack hammer and tried to smash it, gathered grime under my fingernails as I clawed at it.  I’ve even whittled my own shiv and tried to tunnel my way through solid concrete one teaspoon of dust at a time.  I’ve begged and bargained thinking that one of these days, God would take care of it once and for all.   For as long as I can remember, I’ve expected a ‘save the day’ sort of moment.  Like Ronald Reagan, eyes burrowing into  the camera, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” I’ve been staring straight into the hole of heaven trying to work a deal.

In my twenties, I was sure there didn’t have to be a wall in my life.  I had decided that I’d do life right the first time.   What I learned was that doing it right the first time is a myth.  I used to believe that God had a ‘best’ for our lives. I don’t believe that any more.  I believe that we live in such a messed up world and we’re presented with hundreds of choices every day. God has a lot of things he says about how we should live but he also gives us opportunities with absolutely no right answer.  More, in fact, than I’d ever imagined.  As a result, I’ve realized that life is more about becoming truthful to who we’ve been created to be than it is about doing the right thing. We can do the right thing and not be completely ourselves but we cannot be completely ourselves and not do the right thing.

If I tried to do it right fresh into adulthood, I decided in my thirties I would simply fix everything that was wrong.  Rebuild what was broken.  Replace what didn’t function.  I restarted and redoubled and recounted and recalled and relayed.  All strategies and techniques I unearthed in order to keep my disappointing wall from becoming my future.

Then, I turned forty and you know what I found out?  Every single one of us have the same wall.  I call mine disappointment but you might call yours anxiety.  Mine is something I live with but yours might be something you live without.  Mine might be bigger than yours but maybe someday yours will get knocked down.  Maybe there’s a new wall behind it.  In fact, I think you can count on it.

I’ve put a fight in my forties, digging through another layer of unhealthy thinking and working hard to get to truthful layers of myself.  There’s a reason we’re told  it requires pain and suffering to work out our salvation. Choosing to think true thoughts can feel like a full-time job and living in a way that reflects the truth of my soul requires overtime.  Because as I’ve stood within the ugliest parts of myself and begun to do the hard work of digging out, I’ve realized that my life’s work is dismantling the wall within my own soul.  Just last week, I asked another friend just how holy  is a body supposed to become down here.  I was angry about my disappointment and what feels like a near-constant struggle to navigate around it.  As I was throwing the equivalent of a teenage tantrum, I heard God within myself…..

Holier than you were yesterday.

More broken than you were yesterday.

More healed than you were yesterday.

More loving than you were yesterday.

More forgiving than you were yesterday.

More honest than you were yesterday.

 

For the day when you lose a baby

 

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We were looking at her calender after pizza on Sunday night when she asked if I remembered the date.  October 14.  The kids were wrestling in the living room, but we were a distracted audience.  For nine years, she’s remembered  that particular miscarriage and for some reason I just don’t.  I felt caught, found out.  I mean who doesn’t remember something like that, with the exception of someone who wants to forget.

She’s a pro at empathy, trained in social work, and she’s heard some of my toughest junk  but she’s a good friend and even so,  there was no way I could look her in the eye. Baby days are behind me and sometimes that makes me really sad but I will never, ever miss the days I came home empty and I still want to hide when I think about them.

I can tell you every detail about the first time.  How the timing was a few months early so it took me a few days to adjust.   About the two excruciating weeks when there was the slimmest of hope, but we still held on tight.  About the baby kicking safely inside the sonographer’s belly as she asked when I was seeing the doctor, she knew my baby would never kick, I didn’t know enough then.

But mostly, I remember the doctor.

I didn’t know he was handing out condolences when he walked into the room. I’m sorry, he said before the door latched.

Foolishly, I thought it was for my two hour wait. I brushed off his apology, no problem I understand,  and then he tossed me a word, denial.  It linked cold to my hope when I realized he was chaining it to me.

Chaining it.  To me.

That word  pulled heavy, and hard.  I  started to fall inside myself,  out of verbal firing range.  I saw his mouth keep moving and then my husband’s, but the next thing I heard was the door unlatching, followed by, how will you pay today.

For real? They were going to ask me to pay for something I didn’t even have?  I’d storm out of the office like a pro the second time, slam some doors to keep from screaming don’t you people know I just lost my baby, but I was only silently indignant the first time.

I’d felt foolish for worrying my way through the entire two weeks we waited for my HCG levels to rise.  Women have babies all the time, why should you think this pregnancy’s special.  Get over yourself, suck it up, get back to the grind.  

Foolishness turned to shame the moment he accused me of refusing to accept a detail he’d neglected to share.  My sixth pregnancy, or my seventh, I would have understood completely that I’m sorry meant no baby.

But it was my first.

And I didn’t understand.

And it sucked.

Shame hid beneath intense recurring pain the morning of the procedure.  They afternoon before, they’d inserted medication to soften my cervix and I should have known that softening the cervix was just a schmanky way to say labor.

But it was my first.

And I didn’t understand.

And it hurt.

Recurring pain turned to a referred ache that hovered over my heart and started to stab as people tossed around all kinds of careless cliches, sometimes all in one breath. You’re young, there must have been something wrong, heaven needed another angel.   They summed up my life-wide devastation in ten second sound-bytes they dropped between blinks. I’d been kicked out of the Baby-Making Club.  Everywhere I turned was a Baby-Carrying Member.  And those well-meaning but careless words made it worse.

In my first rush of maternal intuition or maybe I had just hoped for a girl we chose the name Isabella Kathleen for its grace and beauty.  I still have feelings of foolishness about this because so many of my friends lost babies they actually held.

Babies in blankets.  Babies with beautiful silent lips and soft cool skin.

Heather and baby Hope Renee.

Ashley and baby Mary Rose.

Cheryl and baby Rachel Lynn.

After our first loss, I wrote for the first time in years and put together an informal gathering with a handful of family.  I can still hear the words of one who couldn’t understand. What are we remembering…..there wasn’t anything…..right?  

There were kind words too, words that knew.  Older women I’d known for years shared their losses, tucked away for seasons,  and women at a support group gulped out  fresh stories of leaving the hospital empty-armed.

I listened to a few songs over and over during dark midnights and read every page I could find on miscarriage and pregnancy loss.

I walked around numb and lonely, feeling like a freak show because I wasn’t pregnant and because I couldn’t just get over it.

I looked for answers in my faith but  theology ground deep into my bones wasn’t worth smack in the middle of the night. Let me tell you what was though.

Jesus.

He’s  worth smack in the middle of the night.

He met me sitting lonely on my green velvet sofa.  He sat with me while I sobbed and tucked me in with his peace.  He held my head when I could only stare at the twinkle lights on my stupid plastic tree hour after hour.  It was the beginning of the first years in my life that I understood he cared about me.  Not just what I did, but who I was, who he’d made me to be.  It was the beginning of the journey that would bring me to write in this place I think……

We didn’t name any of our other children or commemorate their losses.  I think I grew tired of holding the uncomfortable gifts of silence people handed me when they didn’t understand.  I’m wired to swallow everyone else’s feelings.  The only way I knew to escape their awkwardness was to drink my own pain down so deep they couldn’t see it.

Distinctly different feelings wrapped unique DNA around each miscarriage, but my survival strategy was the same loss, after loss, after loss.  Target, to buy new lounging pj’s for procedure day and  Lowe’s, to make sure I had something to do with  my hands.

I found mindless repetitive projects that would pass  time between sentencing and execution although the second time, I wanted nothing more than to bust every window in the  house with a giant sledgehammer.  Most of the time, those stupid jobs distracted my thoughts while I  stripped wallpaper, sorted pictures, or painted walls. More importantly, they held parts of my heart I feared would drop off and disappear until I could manage to begin to put them back together.

I don’t  talk that much about my losses.  They feel private and honestly I don’t know if I’ve processed them as much as I’ve wanted them to go away which is funny to me, considering I process every other last shred of life to it’s bitter shriveled end.

I recognized, just this week that these feelings I’ve been carrying are shame.     It’s a hot, sick feeling that makes me want to hide and I haven’t quite figured it out yet.  I’m thinking it’s not coincidental (since I don’t believe in coincidence)  that last week I picked up a book I’ve wanted to read for a while. Yeah, it’s on shame.

We walk alone a lot of the time as women.  Carry the disappointments of our lives hidden from the crowds, often hidden from ourselves.  I heard William Paul Young say recently that we’re only as strong as the secrets we keep.  I’m learning here how to tell some of mine.  Thank you for treasuring them with  me.

I love music so I linked  below several songs that meant so much to me that first go round.  They look goofy because they’re old, but I still love them.