The Year of Extreme Change: 2017

With only one day to go before 2017 is officially in the history books, and knowing that tomorrow will be super busy, I decided to use today’s downtime to write the post I’ve been actually looking forward to all year.

It might seem weird for me to say that, given the loss and grief our family suffered this year.  When Mom died in April, I honestly didn’t know whether I’d ever feel able to be creative again, or laugh again, or do anything that reminded me of her.  But 2017 has proven to be a much more complex year than just a year of grieving.  It has been about change, at the most fundamental levels.

Change #1:  Less Internal War, More Internal Peace

The primary evolution that has happened this year is my newfound peace.  Through independent study, my grieving process, and the help of lots of sweet friends, 2017 has taught me the following things:

  • Nothing anybody else says or does to me is personal, even if it REALLY feels like it
  • I am constantly worthy of love no matter what I do or fail to do
  • Others’ opinions of me are not more important or more accurate than my own opinion of myself
  • I do not have to do everything right to be loved
  • I deserve to feel happy and be free
  • I am allowed to distance myself from those who try to make me feel bad about myself

These points may seem simple, but they have changed my thinking and thus my life as well.  I had entered 2017 feeling unworthy to be alive, trapped by the opinions of others, feeling like I had to please absolutely everybody so they wouldn’t hurt me.  I’m leaving 2017 knowing that I am free from the haunting opinions of past authority figures, family, and friends, and I am allowed to live to please myself and God rather than other human beings.

Change #2:  Rediscovering Myself Among the Ashes

This year, I have reconnected with a lot of my real self–for instance, I have learned that my singing voice is not actually ugly, and may actually be much more powerful than anyone ever guessed.  Before 2017 began, singing had become another way I pleased others, another way I could prove I was worthy to be alive, and it had become difficult to sing without tension and fear.  Now, with the help of my voice teacher, I have discovered that no one has ever heard my real voice, the one unencumbered by negativity…I don’t even know what my real voice sounds like.  But, for the first time in my life, I’m excited to find out and share it with others, and I won’t worry if somebody still has something negative to say!

I’m also connecting with my love for writing and composing again, and beginning to share both my words and music with others .  For a few months after Mom died it was hard to even think about doing any of that stuff–it felt like I shouldn’t do those things when Mom couldn’t enjoy them, if that makes any sense.  But now I can do it knowing that I’m honoring Mom with every word and note, because she always supported my talents and efforts.

Along with creativity, I’ve rediscovered some energy (long stripped away by anxiety and past trauma), and I’ve also found new joy in my long-term relationship, which finally became an engagement on December 4th, just two months shy of our 10-year anniversary.  It’s been a long road in many ways for both of us–a long growing period, a long time of working out what a relationship really is and what we can expect from each other–but we’re on the way to becoming official, and I’m over the moon about that.  (Even if we haven’t even set a date yet, LOL!)

 

Change #3:  A House Coming Back to Life

Our house was finished in 1980 and stands in the wilderness of western North Carolina…which means that nature and life tried to take their toll on the house and almost succeeded several times.  By January of this year, we had hail damage on the roof, missing shingles, cut-up walls from numerous plumbing leaks, curled and buckled floor coverings, and a driveway so rutted it constantly tore up our cars.  Not to mention the mold under the flooded flooring and the sections of rotted beams in the roof, which we couldn’t even see!

Before Mom died, she laid out the plan of what exactly was to happen with her life insurance money–she wanted my student loan debt taken care of completely, and the house repaired so we could still live in it if we wanted to.  And, as per her (excellent) instructions, almost all of that damage and debt has been wiped away.  2017 has brought us a lot of construction dust and some inconvenience at times, but it has also brought a lot of healing and restoration.  (I felt bad at first about using Mom’s money for all this, but as the lady herself put it, “Why else have I been paying premiums on this all these years, except to take care of you after I’m gone?”)

Change #4:  Living Without Mom

This has been the hardest change, but also the most complex.  I didn’t really lose Mom in 2017, when she died; in ways, I have been grieving her loss all my life.

  • When I was tiny in the late ’80s and watched her be constantly abused by my grandmothers, I grieved the loss of my unfettered mom, who had lots of energy and laughed often.
  • When an elementary school incident in 1992 made her believe I was a liar, I grieved the loss of my trusting mom, who always believed in me no matter what.
  • When her brother died suddenly in 1996,  and then she and Dad nearly divorced during a financial crisis two years later, I grieved the loss of my secure mom, who didn’t have to worry about sudden loss or money troubles.
  • When she became unable to travel long distances in the mid-2000s, I grieved the loss of my free-spirited mom, who felt able to go anywhere and do anything.
  • When her mother died in 2006 and the family squabbled over money, I grieved the loss of my untroubled mom, who didn’t worry about the love of her family.
  • When she couldn’t even walk down the stairs or get into a car after 2009, I grieved the loss of my able-bodied mom, who could enjoy our beautiful home even if she couldn’t go out.
  • When her sister died in February 2014, I grieved the loss of my happy mom, who could find joy in even the smallest things.
  • When she fell in June 2016, I grieved the loss of my independent mom, who didn’t have to do excruciating physical therapy to even regain the ability to sit up.
  • When she came home bedridden in August 2016, and the pain in her stomach and back became steadily worse over the next eight months, I grieved the loss of my pain-free mom, who could at least enjoy television, conversations, and music without suffering.

I watched Mom go through so much loss and trouble, and I grieved with her over all that pain and suffering until the day she died:  April 25th, 2017.  I’m not saying that I was relieved at her death–not at all.  But according to my belief system, I believe that she is healed, happy, free, and whole again, much as I remember her from my littlest days.  She no longer has to endure under the mountain of sadness that she carried.  Knowing that she is content and free from her burdens, I can be free from them too.

2017 in Summary

Even before my engagement this month, I knew 2017 would be a year I’d want to write about.  So much has happened, so much has changed, and I am leaving this year behind feeling somehow pieced together after being broken for so long.  The seams between pieces are still there, the glue is still wet, but I’m healing.  Some prayer requests years in the making are now coming to pass.  Things are looking up at last.

But I gotta say, 2018, you got some BIG shoes to fill!  I am excited to see what you bring!

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Dec. 26th Doesn’t Mean Stop the Peace, Love, and Joy

Still growing, still learning. One thing that has occurred to me today is that no matter how much we talk about “the spirit of the season,” it doesn’t matter unless we go and do something Christlike. That means speaking kindly to those we’d rather not; that means serving someone when it’s an inconvenience to us but a blessing to them; that means putting aside our thoughts about someone and seeing them as a person worthy of love, because God loves them, too. And most importantly, that job is not done on December 26th…it continues throughout the year, even when we’ve put away the ornaments. ❤️

Flexibility and Functionality

Physical therapy exercises done this evening, after several days off due to being so sick…and whoooo, they are still not easy, but I didn’t lose much ground, either. For instance, I can put my left ankle on my right knee–not without pain and a huge stretch, but I can do it. To my knowledge I was never able to do that before physical therapy, not even when I was little. Seems like such a small thing, but it means I can put on and tie my left shoe without contorting into a super-painful and inconvenient pretzel shape 💯👍👍👍

The lack of flexibility in my left leg is almost as maddening as the lack of strength in my right, but I can see that at least the left leg is coming along in flexibility. (Now if my right leg would get with the program and get stronger, LOL!)

A Glorious Day

Now that I’ve got all my thoughts a little more assembled (LOL), let me share with y’all the details of this incredible day.

I had planned to pick my boyfriend of nearly ten years up at his workplace around 2 to go to Noodles and Company in Gastonia for a late lunch. I pulled up in the parking lot around 1:55 and texted him to let him know I had arrived. He told me he needed to run his briefcase back out to his car; I told him he could put his work stuff in my trunk if he needed to, but he said he “needed to run out to the car anyway” so it was no big deal. Looking back, this was my first clue that something was afoot, but since I thought maybe he was putting away his coat, I didn’t take much notice of it.

When he finally came up to my car, I had my jacket pinned up in the window as a makeshift shade against the sun. (Hey, I had to get creative because it was getting hot out there waiting for him, LOL) He tapped on the glass and said in his cute singsong tone, “I want to see youuu!” I laughed and was like “You can see me if you get in the passenger side, lol!” But instead of getting in the car, he peered in through the windshield, grinning, and said “But really, I want to see you.” Then he opened the driver’s side door a little ways and handed me a small pale blue bag, kind of plain looking. “An early birthday gift for youuu,” he said, in that same sweet way.

Reaching inside, I found only a tiny, navy blue paper box; my heart leapt, but I restrained it–I’d been hopeful and disappointed so many times. “it could not be a ring,” I thought, managing my emotions. “It’s not a ring box, after all. This is likely a pendant necklace, which is a fine birthday gift, and I can wear it to din–”

And then I lifted the tiny top off the box…and I saw the diamond solitaire set in pale yellow gold, its facets set afire in the afternoon sun.

I didn’t breathe–couldn’t breathe–for several seconds. When I did speak, all I could manage to whisper was “Are you–is this serious? Is this real?” He nodded, quietly, with the little sincere smile I knew so well.

I sprang out of the car and hugged him, sobbed, thanked him, hugged him tighter, sobbed even more, thanked God…I’m not even sure now whether my words were audible or whether I just sang them in my soul. It wasn’t because of the ring–it was because of all the things it represented. The long season of waiting had ended, the siege of dashed hopes was over. My prayer was answered.

We don’t have a date set yet; we as an engaged couple barely have any plans made. (Of course I have a Pinterest board STUFFED with ideas, ROFLLLL, but I want us both to have equal say in what OUR special day will be like.) All I know right now is we’re engaged and I am absolutely over the moon. ♥

God is Speaking

God is speaking all the time, so I’m trying to be still enough to hear Him in my heart. This is tough when everything else competes for my attention, but it’s definitely worth doing, since I feel immediately calmer afterward. ❤️

Passivity is Poison

Putting aside passive entertainment in favor of active learning and participation has been SO difficult, but necessary and rewarding!

At first, when I started the exercise of putting aside the Internet for a while, I thought I was just breaking an addiction to technology. But instead, I came to understand that I had actually become addicted to being passive in general–because it was SAFE. I believed that no one would hurt me as long as I didn’t say or do anything that anybody disagreed with. I also believed that if I was myself–truly myself–I would be hated and lose every friend I had, as had happened during my childhood.

I have thus lived in terror of being abused and humiliated again for TWENTY-FIVE YEARS. And it did happen again and again during that quarter-century span, only strengthening the fear and anxiety and making it even more real to me. I eventually became so afraid that the fear became anger and irritability; I felt like I was slowly suffocating and only existing. I even began to isolate myself because the pressure of being passive and trying to exist around others was so great–which only made me feel like I’d lost my friends anyway.

But through lots of professional care, compassionate loved ones, and much study on my own, I can see I don’t have to be passive to survive. I can finally begin to believe the dangers of the past are not present anymore. PTSD has made me live them over and over in nightmares every night for most of my life, but the storm in my brain is now beginning to weaken, and I have hope I will see the sun again. ⛈☀️❤️