sticks and stones

Sticks and Stones” is an English language children’s rhyme. It persuades the child victim of name-calling to ignore the taunt, to refrain from physical retaliation, and to remain calm and good-natured. It is reported[1] to have appeared in The Christian Recorder of March 1862, a publication of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, where it is presented as an “old adage” in this form:

Sticks and stones will break my bones
But words will never harm me.


It’s a total lie of course. Words harm. Worse, the lingering effects of harmful words hurt and haunt.

The past several weeks have been remarkable uncomfortable, even painful.

I’ve been thinking a lot about balance lately. I saw my doctor this morning and he presented me with a real, viable, pragmatic process which would allow me to breathe out a sigh of relief and provide a respite from the battle within. The more I think about it, though, I realize that taking it would put me back where I started nearly three years ago. I would relegate that part of me I’m just getting to know back down into the dark recesses of myself, where it would be a changeling left to fend for itself…and inevitably because there would be no long-term resolution or satisfaction, the cycle would go on.

It’s a frightening thing to feel something within grow. After years of being, in essence, dead inside, finding a heart that feels and hurts and yearns, there is profound knowledge that there is something more than the abuse, something more than the words or the fists or the instrument of choice hurled.

My life is more than an account about unspeakable acts inflicted on a child or an acutely sick family in chaos or the death of innocents and innocence, but about hurt—both intentional and non-intentional, physical and emotional—how all involved are affected and in the line of fire, and how we get scorched on the sidelines, collateral damage. It’s also about hope, about how hope and grace can permeate the deadness of a heart and nurse it back to life, through the hurt, into that something more.

But still there has to be balance somewhere. It seems just outside of my reach these days.

Once upon a time, I wrote schedules and kept multiple calendars and had daily to do lists as a measure for whether or not I was doing a good job or not.

I threw them away earlier this year and decided my worth should not be based on whether or not I completed a to-do list or did everything on the schedule well. It felt good initially. But in moments of angst and uncertainty I craved them, because even if they pointed to me as a failure, they were comfortable and known.

I’ve learned that while I don’t need the prescriptive methods designed to provide a false sense of control, I do need a routine and constants in my life. I need the same breakfast every morning. I need a consistent morning rhythm, especially before work, and I need an equally consistent one after the work day has ended. Not as a measure of anything, but more as a guide to ensure that my anxiety doesn’t go off the charts…a balance of sorts.

Even at the office there’s a rhythm to the day that is both familiar and comforting. It varies some from day to day, and even from season to season, but there’s a definite ebb and flow that allows for unexpected opportunities without being overly alarming and unmanageable.

I haven’t found that in my home life (yet). There have been too many changes, too much uncertainty for those constants to be made known in the new way they will be, or at least I hope they will evolve and develop. Soon.

And then maybe the old scripts, the hurtful voices and words, will finally fade away.

Shame is a bully

Sometimes in the middle of the night I wake up convinced I’m suffocating. Nothing eases it until I go outside and gulp air and even then it takes time for my heart to stop racing and for the tightness in my chest to ease. It’s no better when it hits during the day, during church, during a meeting, out with a friend. Panic attacks…they’re a symptom of a deeper issue. They feel deadly.

I thought by now it would be better.

Lots of things can be deadly, like the dark and the shame and the crush of old (and new) skeletons, millstones, and internal infernos.

It’s like trying to fight your way out of a burning house—there are points when you almost think you’ve reached the door to fresh air and freedom only to find yourself further engulfed in sooty, smothering smoke and so you decide there is no way but to jump straight out of the burning building.

When the unseen burns on the inside finally seem unbearable and intolerable for even a moment more—that lunge from the flames and life seems the lesser of the two unbearables. To jump out of life seems like a favor for everyone. Not because death is so appealing but because life is so agonizing. It’s not about wanting to die, it’s about not being able to stand being devoured.

No, I’m not particularly suicidal at this moment. But I have been in the past. I made a plan. I made arrangements…because there didn’t seem to be any way out, any way to stop the flames.

No one can tell you not to jump unless they’ve felt the heat, unless the bear the scars on having been singed.
I don’t talk about it much (at all anymore), those feelings, because the cliches and platitudes and excuses and accusations make it all worse and make the temptation stronger.

It’s where I am some days, though.

Saying it’s caused by my sin shames me even more. I’m acutely aware of my shortcomings and how I fail Him. To the person who told me if I just trusted God more it would be better, I say you’re right. I need to trust God more. But the Bible says Jesus came for the sick, and if I know anything, I know I’m sick and wounded and that some days it feels like it will never end. And I believe He alone can help me even with those wounds I don’t understand, wounds that keep festering and refuse to heal, even wounds that stink—He will not turn me away. He will never leave me or forsake me. Even when everyone else does because I’m not “getting over it” quickly enough.

Shame is a bully. Grace is a shield.

We meet for coffee

We meet for coffee.

It hurts.

The one person I thought I could confide in, who encouraged me to confide with promises that it would not change anything and that it wasn’t “too much.”

Promises that turn out to be empty and false.

Tentative attempts to talk rebuffed with “you need to trust God more.”

I feel afresh the shame, the regret, the feelings that it was wrong to talk so ingrained for so many years by similar events…tell someone, ask for help, they promise it will be okay, they disappear and become distant.

The tip, though, happened…at church. The person who had done a Bible study with me every Saturday, who had slipped in and sat next to me Sunday after Sunday for over a year stopped acknowledging me. The irony being because I thought she was busy with the children’s care during church, I didn’t even know…until she told me she sat behind me one Sunday (via email), and yet had made no attempt to contact me…no touch on the shoulder as she passed behind me, not one word before I slipped out, nothing.

Then the comments from others like “are you ever going to be okay?” began to take on new meaning and pain.

And if I get an email, phrases like “I hope you’re okay emotionally” ring false and sting.

Once a month we meet for coffee, if she remembers.

It hurts.

Sometimes, dreams die

Earlier this week I realized I was going to have to let go of a dream that I’m (1) never going to attain; and (2) is now hindering rather than helping me.

Another dream died because of now physical limitations so I guess it falls under both 1 and 2 above as well.

It’s time I accepted it.

Letting go hurts. It smacks of failure in my mind. More failure.

Two days ago I had a flashback at work quickly followed by a panic attack. It was dismissed as lingering effects from being ill so no one really said much when I exited quickly, crying. But I knew.

It caught me off guard because normally they happen at night…because all dark and scary things happen in the dark.  I haven’t slept more than 2-3 hours in a row for well over a year now despite doing everything my doctor has asked me to try. He says it’s normal, that I’m making progress.

It doesn’t feel that way to me.

Friends say “you don’t trust God enough?” or “aren’t you better yet?” when I struggle with leaving the house for whatever reason or talking.

I want to hide. Or disappear entirely.

But something holds me back…

Even on tough weeks like this one.

Friend or Foe

It’s easy to get distracted from the “issues” at hand, and equally easy to get swallowed up by the memories surrounding them. Somewhere between those two extremes is where the real work happens.

It’s a battle, moment by moment sometimes, to stay there. It’s hard and it hurts. It’s difficult to determine if time is a friend or foe.

Last night I failed and found myself swallowed up by memories even after trying to not go to that place.

The shame and fatigue in the aftermath of that failure are hard to describe right now. It’s another type of battle, but a real one nevertheless, to not isolate myself, to reach out and not lose touch right now.

I’m weary…from fighting…of life.

It’s Been A Hectic Week

It’s been a crazy week. Between preschoolers performing, forty of them squeezing into an area more fit for 10 and heartily singing Christmas carols, and big changes at work and the annual holiday work dinner, not to mention the regular “stuff” of life and work, I’m exhausted. One might think that would translate into at least one night with no panic attacks or bad dreams, but it hasn’t and so the tiredness has accumulated over the past few days. I can feel myself getting twitchy and feeling short-tempered over the events and interactions that are generally just parts of the ebb and flow of life.

This time of year is so full of expectations and busyness for so many. Do they ever find time to stop and simply enjoy Christmas?

As a child, I had very low expectations for the holiday. They were not a particularly peaceful or happy occasion. That hasn’t changed much over the years and if anything, they have become a sad time, steeped in dark memories and grief.

If I’m actually able to sleep, I still wake up at 2:15 a.m. most nights even though this December will be the 13th anniversary of that horrible night. The anniversary, ten days before Christmas, is a vivid reminder of the fragility of life and how quickly things can change…a reminder that carries into January and February and more grim anniversaries.

It would be so easy in some ways to get pulled into the busyness and more, more, more—ness of this season. But busyness and more things are never true or lasting fixes no matter what false promises and hopes they offer. Even as I strain against my own expectation that things would be better by now, for the most part I’ve managed to avoid those trapdoors.

All my attempts to make and will myself better and all the books and exercises I’m completed to make things better and all the attempts at conversation haven’t worked out, and in some cases have even made things worse because it feels like one failure heaped onto another failure.

So after tonight’s party I plan slow down and rest as painful as it might be as opposed to constantly flailing and fighting that isn’t accomplishing anything.