keep living

//

i used to think i knew what happened when people died. i comforted myself with images of heaven, of a better place, of no more crying and no more pain. the reality is i don’t know what really happens when someone dies. i can guess, but i don’t really know. the old adages don’t bring any comfort anymore. truth is brutal to swallow.

i used to think i had experienced the worst traumas i ever would. i thought i had seen enough of my share. childhood sexual abuse, the divorce of my parents, acquaintance rape in highschool, clergy abuse in highschool and college, being asked to leave a church due to said clergy abuse while they encircled the hurting pastor and his family, the stillbirth of my second child, the miscarriage of my fourth child, losing the scaffolding of the christian faith and christian god that I had built and based my entire life upon…and then the sudden disappearance of my husband and his suicide eighteen days later.

i am sitting here tonight, six and a half months later, still trying to figure out how my life turned into this. supposedly there comes a point where you figure out how to stop asking the questions, how to stop trying to figure out what the hell happened, how to keep the internal tsunami at bay that still desperately wants to save him.

i cannot imagine another man in my life, although i want it and parts of me feel guilty for wanting it now. maybe i want it this soon because of how it all ended. but the reality is that i am not a loner. i don’t do life well without close friends and without a man i love who also loves me back. there is so fucking much i want and need to be different from here on out, but before i nail down all those specifics i just want another human being to look me in the eyes and tell me they see me and that they believe i’m going to make it up and out and away from this ground zero. i want to believe that i can trust again, that i won’t let fear dictate my life from here on out because of all the staggering losses.

there have been days i have wanted to box it all up and call it quits, but really that is not an option i want deep down inside, nor is it an option i would ever pursue. giving up, throwing in the towel, no fucking way. feeling hope again? i sure as hell hope so. feeling wanted again? yes, please. i didn’t die when he left our house quietly one sunday morning. i didn’t die when he pulled the trigger to end his own life. i didn’t die. i didn’t die. i didn’t die. i am alive. i am here. i get to be here. my life is no small thing. i don’t take my own life lightly, i don’t hold it carelessly. i’m here and i want to live. i want to keep living. and i will as best i can.

i wonder sometimes what becoming a widow suddenly and traumatically is supposed to look like and feel like. i wonder if i’m anywhere within normal or if i’m just totally screwed up and can’t even tell. i just don’t know. does anybody really? i know it’s not all black, there is still color. it’s not all tears, there is still laughter. it’s not all sadness, there is still beauty and enjoyment to be found. if you had asked me a year ago what i thought life without him would be like i never would’ve guessed right. it would’ve been too far outside my lived experience. but I can tell you now. it’s hell and it’s not hell, it’s a nightmare and yet it’s not, it’s horrific and maddening, and yet on some days it’s mostly just exhausting and confusing. and every now and then some normalcy seeps in the cracks of this shattered life and you see flickers of light that tell you that you are still very much alive, and life is still very much worth breathing for.

{zt}

labyrinth

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outer symbol matching the inner angst.

when they connect with one another i am always a little bit jarred awake, as if i have been sleepwalking in my life and someone just shook my shoulders till i looked them in the eyes.

here it was, this physical representation of what i was going through internally.

labyrinth of the heart, tucked away off the road at the back of a park.

unexpected and beautiful.

i walked around and around, twisting and turning,

wondering when and if this was ever going to end.

it was small and large all at the same time.

difficult and easy, a combination of sensations.

exhilarating and monotonous all at once, like life often is.

where was this leading?

who would I be when I got to the end?

who am I as I take each step, ever-changing?

like a maze that goes where you think it does, and yet where you don’t

will the way out ever present itself or are you stuck here forever?

wandering, pondering, supposing, trying to figure it all out over and over again.

the road away from a supreme being to rule your life is a tricky one;

if only the inner life could be navigated so easily as this.

an external truth mirroring a horrific internal battle no one else could see but me.

some days on the walk i give up and sit down, no more progress to be had,

other days i limp, some days i stride confidently, everyday it takes courage.

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i asked myself: who do you listen to now?

what do you put your trust in?

what can you actually depend on?

is anything really true anymore?

am i true?

am i trustworthy?

can i chart my own course?

can i believe myself?

will i listen to me?

has it really been me all along?

at the end of it all the arrows point back to me.

this is where the answer is, has always been.

i must show up for my own life, no one else will walk this road for me, nor could they,

it is mine and mine alone to traverse, no matter how much i bleed in the traveling.

me. i have circled around back to myself.

welcome home to yourself.

{zt}

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say what?

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//

“Don’t let a boy get his hands down your pants!”

That was the extent of my official sex education, and it came from my grandma when I was a tween. She declared it nonchalantly as she sat at her sewing machine working on a project. Alrighty then, thanks for that. My parents were silent on the subject. I learned about my period from a “bad” girl at middle school who came in the bathroom while I was in there and wondering what in the heck was going on with my body. I had heard everything pertaining to sex was taboo and bad from my fundamentalist-go-to-church-every-time-the-doors-were-open religious upbringing. Judy Blume, Harlequin, masturbation, and my uncle’s porn blooper videos and magazines were my best “unofficial” teachers. Yes, you read that correct. Go ahead and chuckle, it’s okay. But here’s the thing, what I thought was horrible and what I thought was pure and right were all mixed up and tossed together, I couldn’t separate it out, and it was information overload from all the “wrong” places. Maybe, maybe not.  I wonder sometimes who I would have grown up to be had I not had such a tight noose around my neck from the purity culture shoved down my throat from day one.

The stage was set very early on for sex and shame to be synonymous and linked irrevocably together. My parents never showed physical affection towards one another in my presence, and frankly didn’t act like they really liked one another all that much, tolerating was more like it. My father was very authoritarian, and I was wise to never step out of line, or else. Experimentation made shame worse, friend rape doubled it, then having my pastor want to be more than friends clinched it as a marriage of shame and blame that would last my entire adult life, until now, because hopefully we are on the verge of much needed divorce, shame and I.

Yes, you heard that right. On a basketball court in Mexico, on a mission trip, I was approached and asked about being more than friends. With my pastor. Who was married. Whose children I had been babysitting. Who had been pastoring my current boyfriend and his family most of his life. For several years, this abuse of power and position was happening. I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. I craved the affection and the love. As the months and years passed he poured into me emotionally what he saw I was lacking. I saw in him what I thought I wanted in a spouse some day, a family of my own, at times I saw the kind of dad I had always thought I needed, other times I saw what I wanted in a partner. I had no one pouring into me and he stepped up to the plate. I was starving and he saw that. My parents had divorced just before we moved to the area with my Mom, I was reeling from the changes, and I was in the middle of highschool and all that goes along with that. The emotional affair began very early on and quickly. I knew our connection was wrong and cried everyday, but couldn’t stop myself from being involved with him it seemed. I remember wishing someone else saw what was happening and hoping they would come talk to me, to us, that someone would make it all stop, make us stop. Things had fallen apart with the boyfriend I thought I was going to marry, he was emotionally and verbally unhealthy and possessive, we had broken up, and this pastor had provided much needed support during all of that mess too. Part of me wanted to reconcile with my old boyfriend, to make things right there, he was the socially acceptable one I could be with anyway, it wouldn’t be so ugly with him. And surely he would grow out of the immature, hurtful stuff right? I did try to patch things up a bit with him and hide the “affair”. The pastor and I had hoped we could simply bury it and stop and noone would ever know. So we tried that, yet the emotional affair continued. The years culminated in a short sexual relationship lasting only a few weeks near the end of it all.

The watershed moment came when he woke up one morning and decided he was telling the church and his wife, but he wanted to know if his wife wouldn’t have him anymore if I would have him. I had been living in a basement apartment of their home for a few months, so he just came downstairs and made the life altering pronouncement, I said yes and fell to the ground. He left me there to babysit and never came back. Two elders from church showed up at the door several hours later telling me they knew everything, and that I needed to pack my things and leave. My heart fell to the tips of my toes, I felt betrayed and hollow inside. The bad one had been found out, I was the enemy. The “A” on my forehead burned into my skin. They asked me to pack my bags and leave, that the pastor and his wife were waiting down the road to come home, but I needed to be gone first. I couldn’t even say goodbye to the older child, she was away at camp. I was so heartbroken as I packed my things and hugged the two young boys. In the following week I met with the board of elders at the church. I was told that someone had to leave, not everyone could stay, and they had decided that since the pastor had been with them nine years, he needed to stay, and I had to leave. I was referred to a counselor where the church was paying for eight sessions, and I was told I could not come back to the church.

The pastor resigned that following Sunday, naming his sin of “adultery” but not naming me, but everyone knew it was me. I was seen at a local movie theater by a member of the church I had been tossed out of, I was called a whore out loud in the front lobby. I was the other woman, the one who slept with the pastor and almost broke up their family, the one who caused their beloved pastor of nine years to resign. He stayed in the congregation for another year or so and then moved across country to pastor another church, one he is still pastoring to this day, 24 years later. Parting ways was excruciating, the sadness and guilt ate me alive. Depression came into the picture, not surprising, yet shocking in it’s ruthlessness. I had a bottle of tylenol poured out into my hands, a mountain of pills that I almost swallowed. Somehow I looked into the bathroom mirror and into my eyes and I couldn’t go through with it. Now I see there was another realm of reality going on that I didn’t recognize then. I realize now that we never really stood on equal ground, that it really wasn’t an affair as I had always thought. We were not both adults equally consenting to engage in a sexual affair. I have lived under the suffocating shroud of shame for 24 years now, half of my entire life, and all of my adult life. I thought I was used goods and could not be used in ministry and that my chances of finding the kind of husband I hoped for were ultimately gone for good. I have always been treated as though I was more to blame, that I somehow must have seduced him and had plans to ruin his family and his life, as though in the quiet of the night I schemed about how to ruin him. No one told me until just a couple years ago, 21 years after the “relationship”, that what happened to me was really clergy misconduct, clergy abuse, clergy sexual abuse. Until finally someone called it what it was. Someone said, this wasn’t what you have thought it was all your life. Do you see how it is not even truly consensual when the scales of authority are so terribly out of sync?

Everyone pretty much treated me as the disgusting other woman who does not know how to act around married men, and someone to always be suspicious of. My story has been used against me at times. I have been accused where there was no fault, suspected when there was nothing but innocence, had my honesty and integrity questioned because of my history. Why is it that it is I who has seemed to pay the steepest price for what happened? I can’t describe how deep the shame grabbed ahold when I was accused of seducing my pastor, trying to break up a marriage, and soiling my family reputation, being kicked out of the church, having the “affair” used against me later, thinking I had ruined my chances of Christian ministry and a godly husband bc of the “affair”. 

I wake up in the mornings sometimes and in that blurriness before getting up I forget that my life has been marked with shame. For a blissful few moments in the innocence of waking I often forget. I wish my life did not have the story that it does, that my history was not so marred with spaces I want to black out with a permanent marker. But we all know life doesn’t work that way, there is no real way to cross out the stuff we don’t like, it cannot be erased. I am learning though that shame does not have to be my constant companion, that I can choose to be on the last lap of shame in my life and one day I can run across the finish line of that terrible ugly race I entered into. I am learning too that what happened to me was not truly as I thought it to be at the time. That it wasn’t actually something I willfully signed up for and knowingly walked into with a free and informed decision. For all these years I have been made to bear the brunt of what occurred. Everyone rushed to restore the fallen pastor, but the supposed adulterous woman was best left to be stoned and condemned, forever marked as someone untrustworthy. So much untruth in that narrative. Now I am finding hope outside of religion, apart from the God of my childhood, the silent and very absent God I want nothing to do with anymore, whether or not he is even there to begin with. I am healing, slowly but surely.

{zt}

wondering

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//

Extra strong afternoon coffee

Laying down even after the caffeine, I’m so tired I just can’t stand up anymore

Brain too busy to let sleep come, but this sideways rest is something good anyway

Incessant wondering of what this is all really for

Tickles of anxiety a constant companion

What will happen next, what is it I’m steeling  myself for, why do I live waiting for the  bottom to fall out

This apprehensive edge I stay on of wanting more, but depletion makes my progress forward slow and sluggish

I’m caught in a slow motion life that is passing me by furiously

Time won’t stop for me to catch up, to get my shit together once and for all

The searching is a hunger that drives me, yet somewhere deep down I sense it is right here and right now that the real life really is

Where did I ever get the idea that the best is out there somewhere else beyond me, if only I could get there and not be late

How can I convince myself that the soothing is in the present, with me, in me, all around, right fucking now

I sing sweet inner lullabies on the good days of beauty chasing

But today I’m fighting just to survive to another good day

These are the days when the tiredness almost takes me under, the days that despair pulls on my strings to try and cause an unraveling

How can I keep it all together

What is all this really for again?

Today the flowery language of love and hope isn’t cutting it

The bitter cannot find the sweet

I’m just here, wondering if it’s really okay to speak out loud the truth of today and how it feels to cry in the spaces between moments, to hide myself in the cracks of the hours

I’m peeking out and saying this right here, this is real too, that life sucks some days even with the good stuff still here, the heaviness takes over sometimes

The yin and the yang, they are forever trying to find balance

I wonder if I really will survive this when I know I ultimately won’t, yet maybe I will on some level, I want that to be true

How do I keep up a happy face for the little ones under my care, what is it I’m supposed to be telling them to look forward to again?

On days like today I seem to forget, yet maybe it is on these days that I’m truly remembering something else, the pieces of me that are still just as true but harder to reveal

These aren’t happy feel good letters strung together into words to bring a smile

This is me wondering what the hell I’m doing this for day after day after day

Is it for them, for him, for me, for a better world

I ask myself if I’m allowed to even be in this place, to talk about the holes in which I live and breathe

It isn’t all pretty, my eyes are burning and my head is hurting

My limbs are heavy and I feel I need to sleep a thousand years

But somehow, someway, I will keep going on until I can no longer, I will keep holding to the truth that I get to be here, and whatever today looks like or feels like, it is mine, and it’s okay to be here, and it is even good when it isn’t.

beyond the looking glass

 

{I wrote this in response to a prompt about how we all have different selves that reside inside of us, and sometimes we leave ourselves. So this is me talking to a younger me that left in the midst of personal, spiritual, and relational tragedy.}

//

You left when he did
When they said go because someone must

Only a ghost of you was left

Traces of a girl hollowed out by love

Or what she thought was love but ended up being something entirely different

Reaching back through time to find you, chase you down, where are you

When you left where did you run to, where did you hide?

From them? From him? From me?

I cannot fathom the fractures so deep only the heart can feel

There are no words for the deepest of things

You left and I cannot find you

Then she left

Then he left

Then another one, and another one, and another one

All the leaving left me

Left me altered beyond repair

Broken pieces shattered and scattered so far the winds can never return them all

I get glimpses of you sometimes, as though beyond the looking glass

Through water and fog and beauty

You come to me in whispered words

Caresses by a phantom who loves me

I wonder sometimes if you pass between the worlds to come to me

To tell me one day it will be okay

That you are busy gathering up the pieces

And that you will bring them all to me once you have been completely found

You search far and near, here and there to find every last one

You are convinced it is worth the fight to reunite them all

You work to convince me to convince myself

To get me to believe I am worth the trouble

It is not a journey of impossibility, although quite improbable

All the twists and turns, the new devastations that hurl us canyons apart again

And again and again

With each hurling the layers multiply and the pieces scatter again

But you are convinced

And you are not leaving me again, yet you are and i are still standing on separate islands

Together yet apart

One yet separate

Same yet different

And you won’t give up

And you beg me not to either

 

::words to a silent god, 2016::

{written in response to a prompt about how the different selves that live within us intersect. the prompt came from this lovely writer found here: JENA SCHWARTZ}