I want to talk to you today about birthdays.
Last night I was blessed with a simple nugget of wisdom from my sweet partner in life, Chris. He was simply repeating words that seem to be old as words themselves, it will get worse before it gets better.
And whether that means we're referring to the battle or the war I believe it applies both ways. Last night he and I laid on the bed and just talked about the internal lives we all live and the continuous dialogue that takes place within our minds. How strange or small events, comments, instances in our lives can shape everything we think about ourselves. Opinions muttered passively can ordain every thought we have when we look in the mirror. I believe nearly every woman who reads this can agree to that in some way, and even many (if not all) men as well.
It is incredible how much someone who has (according to outside opinion) always seemed to come across as extraordinarily confident and bold is, underneath it all, frail and vulnerable. A delicate soul as manipulable by words as tissue by water, flame by breeze. I am that soul; For years I've been frustrated by my internal dialogue that tells me to PERFORM. Be a certain way. Use your words carefully. Write, write well, because that is what others expect of you. Don't swear. Be honest, but not so open that people think you're "needy" or "weird." Avoid tattoos. Be "pure" (don't even get me started there). Look pretty. Don't be fat. Don't care what others think. Live unique. Orders that were fed by society, media, religion, or some sordid blend of each.
The truth has come to my attention that these ideas are not just rules that should or should not be broken. They are binding laws that feel like gravity they are so impossible to defy.
Like clockwork, whenever I boldly confront the skeletons I carry within my closets (abuse, neglect, hate, fear, addiction, weakness, worry, doubt), my entire psyche devolves into a revolting mess of instability, anger and hurt. This inevitably leads to tears--constant bouts of unpredictable mourning--that consume random moments of peace, turning calm to calamity, rest to terror. It is in these blessed, horrible moments (some alone, though often shared with dear Chris, tenderly) that the worst of the lies I believe come to haunt me.
You are horrid.
Who could love you.
You're a fake. You're not loving--you're needy. You're not encouraging--you're manipulative. You're not giving--you're desperate for attention. You're not a mother--you're just some guy-with-kids' girlfriend, how could you possibly think you were worthy to lead and love and care for those girls? You're not pretty--you're fat (and you know that fat can't be pretty, right? Don't kid yourself). You're not interesting--you're a parody. You're not intelligent--you're a snob.
It's those replacement thoughts that are the most damaging to me. They get even more ridiculous.
You're not edgy--your blonde hair is too flat (flat, straight hair is lame). You're not a real feminist--you care about how flat your hair is. You're not totally open-minded--open-minded people know that feminists can also care about their hair.
It's a dialogue that SPIRALS, deep into a black-hole-abyss of self-loathing that is endless. There is a quiet voice that fights desperately to convince me that those words that hack away at my self-worth are lies, but the voice is timid, often hard to hear at all, though I can sense its presence.
When I confront the lies they only get louder, stronger, and more convincing. I feel weaker and lose the strength to continue the work it takes to undo the opinions others have said to me (or I believed they were insinuating).
Last night was one of those nights. All day, for the past few days, I'd been asking the questions like "Why was I abused or neglected in that way," "Why did that person feel led to treat me that way," "What is wrong with being fat, why can't I accept weight loss simply as a health issue," "Why must I be addicted to this thing," and other nearly unanswerable pleas. Because of this questioning, the tears came to me rapidly, interrupting dinner, conversations, trains of thought. Chris so warmly and readily pulled my heart to his and patiently sorted through these twisted webs of my history with me. Not fixing me, but guiding me. Reminding me of the work he cannot do, and how greatly he encouraged the practice and work of a true therapist, though still doing so much with what he could help me sort out.
What does all of this have to do with birthdays?
Chris told me two things last night that truly stood out:
1. It will get worse before it gets better, and
2. "It's time to reject any voice that isn't god's."
About the first, he was right. From the darkness of last night's pain came the lightness that came to my soul in this morning, and then throughout the day... over... and over... and over...
I often make a big deal leading up to my birthday because I fear how rejected and sad I would feel if I got no recognition. (Hear this: I don't make a big deal of it because I feel that I'm awesome/amazing/someone that should be worshiped. It's the exact opposite.) If I make a big deal and host my own interesting celebrations, I won't notice if nobody else says or does anything. And who cares anyway, right? After all, it's just a birthday. Everyone gets one, every year, once a year, their whole lives.
But the thing is that I truly believe part of why birthdays are so special is that it isn't just a celebration of the day you were born. It is the celebration of life itself. It reminds you that before-22-years-ago-today, the world existed without me; It reminds you that one day you won't have any more birthdays. Life means that you once didn't exist, and that someday, you will not once again. It is sobering. It is strange.
I think left without the reminder from people--family, friends, and strangers--that you matter and that "Happy Birthday," that strange and sobering reality of your finite existence can lead to an particular kind of loneliness that is especially filled with despair and disappointment.
Today, however, that was not my reality.
Two simple texts that I received today--notes that were free to the senders and probably took them each less than 1-2 minutes to come up with and send--encompass the feeling overall that I've been covered with and filled by all day:
"I'm very glad you're alive and in my life. You're a blessing. Happy for another year with you!"
"I hope that you had the most amazing birthday today. :) You are an incredible woman, friend, mother, girlfriend, and person. You are creative, intelligent, compassionate, and beautiful in every imaginable way. You have change me and my life for the better, and I am constantly thankful that I get to know you!!"
I will say that both of these girls are particularly good with both language and encouragement (and are both English majors, so they know how to use language to hit the spot!), but those two messages (in conjunction with the countless other texts, calls, cards, gifts, hugs, etc. I received today) lifted my spirit and affirmed my soul in ways that I could not have ever believed just last night.
It took the thick, sap-like depression-muck that I traversed last night to come out on the other side to be so ripped open that I may be receptive to such billboard-sized expressions of love and support.
Those words in my head are truly lies, and I am stunned that I may be surrounded by such a troop of humans who are willing to speak god's words to me. Please note: I'm not religious, and maybe you aren't either. But the god I mean here is this (and this is also what Chris was referring to):
I think birthdays, though sort of a silly cultural thing when looked at with a quick glance, are a great gift. I don't think it is wrong to want to be reminded that you matter. Many people don't have a troop of people to speak god's voice to them--but I think if you believe in god in some way or form, and especially if you admire the actions and ideas of Jesus Christ (a man I'm getting to know), it is our call to speak these words to one another. Often and frequently and daily and always would be ideal.
I am not here to preach. Only to share what incredible, beautiful truths have been realized within me on this day I turned 22.
Chris told me last night to learn to strengthen that timid voice (that I do believe is the god-voice) and let it grow louder over the lies I've learned to believe about my self-worth. And as my heart took the chance at opening wide a chasm that could have been filled with disappointment (or even just left there, gaping), I was instead stunned to find god's loving words poured into me everywhere I turned today.
In the end, it is not so much birthdays that I wanted to talk with you about today, but my own birthday experience that reminded me of the power of words and the importance of living community.
I leave you with a quote. Today my friend gave me one of the coolest gifts I personally could be given: a bag of old, filled out and scribbled in journals from 4-5 years back that I'd left at her parents house back in high school. I was thrilled! When I opened one of them, here's what I found written on the back page:
"I can taste it:
Healing is on the horizon
it is on the horizon.
& it's for
A final thought: I believe in honesty. Being raw and open is something that I challenge myself to do and be in every instance possible. I have written candidly about my struggles with depression, self-esteem issues, eating disorders, and addictions for some time, though each time it is a struggle and takes courage. Seeking help from friends is even harder, and taking the steps to get professional help to healing is the most challenging and terrifying. I still have demons that are un-uttered that I am still gathering courage to release into the world of therapy and seek after healing. If you have ever even considered looking into talking to somebody about any fears/doubts/weird thoughts/anything, do it. If you want to talk to me, I am here for you and I will aid you in finding the help you want and need.