I don’t do resolutions. I usually pick a word of the year. But this year that doesn’t feel right to me. One word can’t encompass everything I have been through in 2022.
This has been one of the hardest years of my life. When you stuff grief into your luggage and you don’t deal with it, you never know how or when it will show up again. Complex childhood trauma creates a lot of grief that we aren’t taught is grief. We are told how to feel about it and then if we don’t move on from it based on someone else’s timeline, then we are weak or we are too much or some other projection of their subconscious. And when that childhood trauma is so pervasive in everyday life as a child, you don’t realize just how much it shapes and informs your decisions and behaviors later in life.
For me, as a teenager, I decided to just put one foot in front of the other toward building the life I dreamed of having. Being the best mother I could be, having the best marriage I could have, helping other people who have been through what I have been through, making my community and the world a better place for all humans, and anything good and positive that I could lean into. But I didn’t use that to bury my head in the sand and ignore my problems. I grabbed every self help book that resonated. I journal nearly every day. I sought help from experts and researched new approaches. I worked on my emotional responses, my belief systems, my internal triggers, how I communicate, my sexual and feminine repression, deconstructing weaponized religion and moving into spirituality, and so much more. Every year that I was uncovering more of me, I was also unlocking the very well kept grief of it all.
This year that grief said you have no choice but to finally deal with me. Here is your depression.
So I got up extra early to work on myself. I tried to work through my inner shit when they were otherwise busy with sports, or friends or hobbies. I gave up large pieces of myself to homeschool and give them a great education. I worked hard to be an example of a contributing community member through volunteer work, making our home a safe haven for other children in pain, and always being at the ready to serve when a call for help would come in.
I do love helping others. I don’t do it because of recognition or accolades. It is my purpose on this planet to help and serve and love the shit out of other people. I love so hard and so easily sometimes that I have been told it is intimidating to be loved by me. I do it without even realizing I am doing it or that I am doing it to the point of losing myself in it.
One thing that people don’t talk about is the circular staircase effect when it comes to working through complex trauma. I used to call it the onion but that metaphor isn’t truly accurate. Because for people like me, doing the work means taking a step up the staircase and elevating more into myself but also each aspect of the trauma is layered. It will come back around with the next layer at some point. This can be repressed memories or integrating parts of a memory that you once dissociated. The layers reveal themselves when you are doing the work and as your conscious mind is ready to deal with the next aspect.
My husband told me recently he thinks he has become numb to sadness because I have a lot of big and deep emotions all of the time. It triggered me. I spent my whole childhood being told I was too much of something and that meant that I was too hard to love. My mother and older sister both told me that their lives would be easier if I wasn’t here. And their actions reinforced it often enough that I started to believe them. I was just a child. I still struggle with anything that I interpret as someone telling me I am too much or a lot to handle. It makes me feel unworthy of love and that I have to earn love by being less.
So for 27 years, I have pushed forward. The pattern of: do some work, come up for air, build a “normal” life for us all, see the pain still hovering under the surface, feel the tide pushing it up, do some more work. This pattern worked for me for a long time. It got me to where I am today, which is someone who broke the cycle of trauma and is helping many others to do the same. The tools and systems of one job will not work as well in another. In essence, The things that got me out of the cycle won’t help me build the future.
When I started to feel the tide pushing things up to the surface near the end of 2021, I knew what that meant. I knew what was coming. And intuitively I knew that my old tools weren’t going to work with this version of me. She is done forcing, pretending, stepping aside, putting herself on the back burner, making it easy for other people to take advantage of her giving and loving, and is no longer available for people who don’t want to try to understand her. But I did it anyway. I started doing all the old things of find some new books that deal with what is coming up. Get serious about spiritual work and journaling. Get back into a steady workout routine. Lean into the healthiest foods. Get up earlier and carve out more time. Shut off your desires and suck it up buttercup. You need to get laser focused if you are going to keep from drowning in this.
And I could feel myself sinking in even deeper when the repressed memories started showing up in my dreams. I started experiencing childhood regression of sleep problems. Falling asleep was becoming im[possible because the memories were so ugly and painful. Staying asleep was even harder. I would often wake myself up from sobbing in my sleep. And the less sleep I got, the more I could feel the pulling of my soul into the deep end. I started to unravel in ways I have never experienced before.
It’s really dark in the deep end. And it is incredibly lonely. I have learned that most people in my life can’t handle even talking about the deep end with me. I am surrounded by a lot of people who can’t handle the depth of my pain and only want to be in my presence when I am wearing the mask of happiness and doer.
People who don’t have depression or mental illness have a spectrum of ideas and opinions about it, most of which come nowhere near close to the truth. I have heard all sorts of opinions over the years. You must be mentally weak if you can’t just get over it. If you would stop holding a grudge then the memories wouldn’t have a hold on you and wouldn’t be so miserable all the time. Doesn’t the life you have built undo all those old thoughts and feelings? You are making depression happen to you when you talk about your trauma. Plenty of other people have had those same things happen to them and you don’t see them depressed. You have such a good life with your husband, kids, friends, family and community. How can you possibly have it hard? You seem so strong. How can you have depression?
Depression and Complex PTSD aren’t items you pick up and put down at will.
Most people didn’t understand my need to cocoon. They internalized that I was mad at them or that I was being a snob or even that I was being selfish and not sharing my everything with them so they could “be there for me”. People have a hard time being there for me the way I am there for them. I couldn’t take the feelings of rejection when they couldn’t or wouldn’t sit with me in my pain and I certainly wasn’t willing to try to make them feel better about what I was going through. I needed to cocoon in order to fully take care of myself for the first time in my life. 42 years worth of grief is a lot to deal with.
I have almost daily childhood trauma, physical abuse, sexual abuse, rape, neglect, poverty, shuffled around between houses and family who made it clear that they didn’t really want me. I have 2 children who are no longer living and buried both of my parents and all of my grandparents long before I turned 40. I have a bio family that isn’t healthy for me to have relationships with. The only place of belonging I have ever felt in my life is when I am alone with my husband. Everything else can bring up feelings of insecurity and self consciousness. After 22 years in my husband's family, I still often feel like an outsider, especially when the whole family gets together.
The next step toward being able to cocoon meant that I needed to ask my husband something I have never asked for; for him to stop everything and take care of me. When our daughter Allyson died, I got up and took care of our other 2 children when he went to work. When my dad died, a friend came to help me for an afternoon when he went to work. When my mother died, his parents took care of our kids when he went to work. When our youngest son was born via cesarean and our other kids had to be chauffeured everywhere and he was
coaching for the 6 weeks I was healing and his paternity leave was used up taking care of other people. I have my whole life been the caretaker even when I was struggling. I have always, even in my pain, gotten up and taken care of our lives. I never asked for someone to take care of me. I was trained to believe that I wasn’t allowed to do that. But this time, I knew that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be around to take care of them ever again. So I gathered up all of my courage and asked my husband to take time off of work to stay home with me, take care of Weston, and take care of me; to learn to do more of the house management, to do more of the family management, and to learn how to lean in for me.
And it was really helping me. I was slowing down and learning to listen to my soul much deeper than ever before. I wasn’t plagued with “MOM” all day long and I found the mental space I had been craving my whole life. He wasn’t home everyday all day but he was home for pockets that gave me hope. Something I hadn’t felt in a long time. This space of pockets lasted 6 weeks. It was enough for me to suck it up and fake it again but it wasn’t enough for me to BE better.
And then our son came home for a 2 week leave from the military with his new fiancé. Not only was I far from well but I was going to have this future daughter in law in my home for 2 weeks straight and we had never met. I had to suck it up. I had to be okay. I had to put my best foot forward. Especially when they announced that they would be getting married while they were home…now I had to help plan a wedding and a celebration in under a week with a young woman I barely knew who would be joining our family. I have never felt so disconnected from myself and my children. I had to push the depression to the side as much as humanly possible because I couldn’t let my problems interfere with my kids' big life moment. I was a huge fucking mess the entire time they were here. Which just continued to prolong the resurfacing out of the deep end. The moment they headed back to Italy, I sunk into the deep end again but this time Covid had joined me. I was horribly sick for 4 weeks and I am positive that my deep depression had a lot to do with me staying sick with it for so long.
During this time our oldest daughter had given birth prematurely to twins. The months of medical ups and downs with the babies, the feelings of celebration to be washed over with more setbacks. And then finally, both babies got to come home! With all the round the clock care that they still needed and a 3 yr old at home with a dad who had to go back to work, our daughter needed help but not just with the kids but also someone who would step in and take care of her too. So Wes and I packed up the car and headed to Montana. It was exhausting and exhilarating to be in that space of babies and toddler again. My grandkids are so full of personality and life and their snuggles can heal a soul on a level that words could never touch. It was wonderful to just unplug from my “real” life and dive into being with Krista and her family. To make memories with Violet, to feed them all, to nurture them all, to put my heart into giving and receiving love on a primal level. To feel that I was wanted there but not just because of what I could do for them but because of what I meant to them. My soul started to resurface during those 2 weeks. The day we had to get in the car to leave, all of us were emotional. The hugs lasted longer than usual. The goodbyes were repeated again and again until we were unable to see them on the front porch. I cried for the next 30 min of driving, my soul feeling like it was breaking and leaving something behind all at the same time.
And then back to my “real” life. Within days, the rut had reappeared and I realized that it wasn’t just depression that I was battling. It was being stuck. There are 4 times this year when I got out of my town and I started to see my passion for life re-emerge.
There is a thing that happens with small towns. They have a way of making the rest of the world disappear. This can have a healing property but it can also create massive isolation. And my particular small town is remote enough that it doesn’t take much to make you feel stuck when you have a soul that needs exploration, experiences, and travel. For 2 years, my soul wasn’t allowed what it was craving. This was the beginning of the unlocking of my grief and the rise of my depression.
I am not better yet. But I am doing better every month. I am rediscovering, redefining, and re-inventing. I am becoming. I no longer see depression as a thing to treat. I see it as my guide to finding the fullest version of me. I learned this year that when depression surfaces for me, it is because I am denying my soul of something it craves for long enough that my soul needs to scream. Depression is my soul screaming to be heard. And I am learning how to listen.
I didn’t choose a word for 2023. I chose a phrase. One that will guide me to keep listening. One that will help me to act on what I hear. One that will shape the tools of my future. One that throws out arbitrary rules and allows me to just simply discover the future me.
This is the year of becoming; how good is it gonna get?