“Don’t you ever struggle any more?” the young woman asked after our conference, looking deep into my eyes as if searching for the secret, hidden in the ‘windows to my soul’.
“I’m human. Of course I do,” I said, smiling. “But I’ve accepted that as part of life, and part of being healed.”
“I wish you had talked about that….”
Here’s the reality: the past has lost its grip, but the power of memories like that will always be part of my life. It is inevitable. There will be triggers. I hear certain screams and my blood runs cold. The unexpected popping balloon will make my heart race; it’s too close to a gun shot. And angry distant yelling takes me to a time and place, where a child’s heart falls silent with fear. These are my realities.
What has changed, however, is the impact of that power. Where once it was altogether negative and debilitating, it has now become a force for good, for right and for purpose. Even in the hard times. Even when occasional flashbacks blindside me.
The hard times used to knock me down for weeks, if not months. Now they are moments in which I turn quickly from my pain to reach for the hand and heart of God. They used to knock me down and out; now they present a challenge, an invitation to something greater, something more whole, more enduring, more fulfilling. When my chest grows tight with the anxiety of PSTD–something I fought against daily for years, and now experience mostly in new situations or relationships–I celebrate that I am growing, learning and stretching. Oh it’s still frightening at moments, but I’ve seen it often enough that I recognize it’s all part of moving forward, even though it hurts. Much like stretching a tight muscle, or discovering muscles you didn’t even know you had.
Mostly I guess I’ve stopped struggling against the impact of the abuse by accepting that I walk with a limp, while refusing to stay stuck in negative patterns. It’s somewhat like the cancer patient who loses the ability to walk during treatment, and ends up in a wheelchair. When the cancer goes into remission the individual can sometimes learn to walk again, but could as easily resign him or herself to being confined to wheelchair. To learn to walk again requires effort, determination and resilience. It is a choice. Some try and learn to walk again. Some try and remain in a wheelchair. Some never put in the effort.
And right about there the analogy falls apart because cancer and abuse are two very different things. But the reality is that our investment, as individuals who have overcome abuse, makes a tremendous difference. And even if we learn to walk again, and walk with strength, there likely will be things that trip us up more easily for the rest of our lives. This doesn’t mean we are not ‘healed’ and whole. It means we are healed with scars. And scars tell stories, and stories connect hearts.
Stories… Yes, they connect hearts. And as ours heal, and we become comfortable with them, scars and all, something rather beautiful takes place; the focus shifts from our pain and need, to focusing more on others and hearing their stories.
I thought of that yesterday when I walked into a store and started connecting with a young cashier, a beautiful young woman from Egypt. It all started with looking for pearl earrings to replace my ‘go to’ pair; one of which I lost recently. I don’t wear a lot of jewelery partly because I don’t care for the feeling, and partly because of metal allergies making it so that I mostly only wear gold, titanium, or stirling silver, with the latter being most common for day to day. I shared this with the young woman so she could point me in the right direction, and so it began. From allergies we moved to health, to research, to psychology, to dreams and whatever path women’s minds choose to take things. If one can call the spaghetti trail a ‘path’ at all.
She told me she is going back to school in the fall, having dropped out of studies that had not held her interest; she hoped this would be different. Being old enough to be her mother, I playfully told her I too was returning to school, which. We exchanged areas of interest, and our reasons for choosing our particular field of studies. And she told me how her mother had become a doctor in Egypt, only to have to go through it all over again to be a doctor in Canada. It was a compelling story of courage, determination and resilience and she told it with a blend of admiration and disappointment which I only understood when she said it made her sad that her mother had to work so hard, put out so much money, only to not be fully appreciated. “People think doctors make a lot of money and are super rich, but they’re not.” She went on to say how General Practitioners only make around $70,000 after years of financial investment and time spent. There was no resentment, just an honest opinion.
Jessica intrigued me. She was helpful, curious, and an engaging communicator and connector, yet somewhat reserved. She shared quite transparently her disengagement from past dreams and the direction she had wanted to take her life and studies, while persisting in her search, even while knowing that her first love would always be art.
“When you find that thing for which you are created, you will be engaged; it will be different,” I said. I applauded her for investing herself and doing well in the opportunities she had, even if they were not her dream, and encouraged her to not give up on her passion and interest. I was about to tell her about setting up an Etsy shop for her art, when she told me she had set up an account recently, but nothing was happening on it yet. And that’s when I decided I would tell a bit of her story and our little encounter…
(If you love to colour, and also enjoying supporting young people, check out her Etsy shop HERE. Jessica has drawn the colouring pages available, and I know it would mean a lot if you took a moment to visit her shop and consider making a purchase. And, no, she has no idea I’m doing this. But I do hope when I drop in to say ‘hi’ next time, that she will excitedly tell me her art has started to sell.)
The real connecting started when we shared our stories. Both of us have encountered disappointment and challenges in our lives. Both of us, though decades apart in age, are learning to push past roadblocks, fighting for our dreams, and overcoming obstacles.
And that is why I no longer struggle with being an abuse victim. Though rarely, the aftermath at times causes me to struggle, that is true, but it is the thing that opens doors to relationships in ways I would never have imagined, allowing me to inspire others, and others to inspire me. And that makes it all worthwhile.
Make friends with your past. Embrace your story. Embrace your scars. And, inevitably, it will connect you with the stories, the scars and the hearts of people around you.
~ T ~
© Trudy Metzger