What It Is I Am Working On


Chinese magnolia, in my beautiful garden.

I wish I wrote on this blog more. I wish it were one, long continuous conversation instead of me sending postcards to the winds when I feel panicked or sad. I suppose I should be comforted, then, that I’m not here more often, if that is what drives me here.

Though wonder brings me here, too. And days of transcendent joy.

I guess what I’m saying is I wish I made more of this sacred space. I so deeply admire the many, many bloggers I know who write every single day. I so enjoy being kept close to their internal dialogues. I even find it comforting knowing their posts are adding up on the days I don’t read them. They are a constant, a presence, a well I can always return to. (Thank you Lindsey, Alexandra, Jill, Wolfie, Rita, MirRita…)

I spend my days flitting in and out of other people’s minds, every day another discovery or three, another post my co-workers and I share with delight or our hearts in our throats. It’s magical, really.

I want to be magical. Constant. A presence.

The work I am doing in therapy right now is very hard. Eighteen years of carefully unpeeling my gorgeously constructed, highly evolved coping devices and at last I am standing naked in a burned-out field, nowhere to hide, nothing to do but keeping feeling over and over and over and over again the one-two punch: that I am terribly vulnerable, very afraid and that I am absolutely fine and solid and well.

It’s a lot to take in. And I have to keep taking it in, week after week after week.

I know there are people who could never understand eighteen years of therapy, who would consider that a failed effort. But actually therapy has helped me build up great admiration for my brilliant mind, a mind that crafted such a complicated combination of responses to the stresses of my childhood that I’ve had to walk the emotional path backwards, a step at a time, so I wouldn’t lose the thread, so that I would know what I was feeling was genuine, so that my therapist could patiently tell me where to look instead of what to think.

Sometimes I feel guilty for feeling so wounded — me with all my successes and achievements and the relative ease that making some money in my past has brought into my life compared to so many. But that’s part of the sickness, too, downplaying my ache. I have a lot of material to bully myself with. Because I succeeded, you see, at the fantasy that was supposed to save me. To become some kind of magical, powerful adult who could be so big that the agonies of life would never touch her. I wasn’t going to marry, no, too afraid of that, and so I convinced myself I’d never need it or want it. (And we can note that I have not stayed married or successfully partnered, and raise a collective eyebrow.)

Learning to stand still and feel both the crushing grief for the child that was me and all she had to carry — all she decided to carry, as an act of self-preservation and self-delusion — as well as the truth that I am whole and well and on my way to healed is an endless journey. I know I will never fully reach the end of it, even if I walk my emotional history all the way back to the beginning of time and carefully dismantle all the defenses I built to help me get through.

That is bittersweet, for sure, but I am learning to love my wounds, slowly, and to accept that the deal I made with myself as a determined, willful, empathic, driven girl was impossible and that I cannot judge myself for having failed it.

I promised myself, over and over, in the darkest and hardest and most disordered parts of my childhood that I would not be damaged, that I would understand my parents’ weaknesses, that I could digest their adult issues and forgive them, that I knew they were doing the best they could, that my mother never got her chance, that my father had no idea how to reach my mother in her pain and her mental illness, that the line between discipline and abuse was not as clearly defined as it is now, that it was too hard to resist leaning on a brave, bold little girl who spoke like an adult and showed such fierce strength…

I promised myself, lying in bed at night, waiting to hear my parents go to bed and turn off the lights, I promised myself, as tears slipped out of my eyes and into my ears, closing off the sounds of the house, I promised myself that I would not be hurt by all they couldn’t be, because I would make my understanding big enough to erase the damage.

But it was never going to be possible to be that big. But I could not have let that truth in back then, for I would have disappeared into something that would swallow me whole. I felt that empty, liquid void lapping at my ankles on the worst days.

I still struggle to believe that this powerful mission of mine failed, even now. Even as I’m typing these words, I feel my body wince against the admission that I couldn’t do it. (I did do it! I did do it! Don’t tell me I didn’t do it!! I’m here! I made it!)

I am grown now, and even more so, older, and bloodied and bruised in the way we all are by life and its regrets and heartbreaks. I am serene in how I’ve carried those heartbreaks, staring them straight in the face and allowing them to run through me, my eyes open to learn and see who I am, what the world is.

How could I ever possibly explain to you that even with all that, I still don’t know how to unlock the door in my subconscious that will let me forgive myself for not getting out of my childhood scot free?

There is the tapestry of identity that we weave from memories, experiences, hope and dreams. And then there is the tapestry that is woven in a back room of our mind, untended by our conscious.

Someday I will be able to let go of the idea that I need to forgive myself for being wounded, and then both rugs will become one.

Until then, I suppose I will be an occasional visitor here, caught up equally in the relentless task of living life’s details while also quietly, unconsciously twisting together these two different stories — both one and the same, as they have always been, the total sum story of me.

About stacy

I am a writer, author, mother, former magazine editor (last at Redbook), optimist, and, above all, a searcher. I'm still searching for whom I'm really meant to be, after a series of very jarring losses. Since then I've been trying to figure out what's next. Or, in other words, how to fill in the blanks.
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8 Responses to What It Is I Am Working On

  1. Amanda says:

    “How could I ever possibly explain to you that even with all that, I still don’t know how to unlock the door in my subconscious that will let me forgive myself for not getting out of my childhood scot free?”

    I cannot explain how powerful that is for me. Bit by bit, I have uncovered pieces of the puzzle (the tapestry) that help me understand why I still lick certain wounds. But, it is easier keep it locked. I’m irritated that it still lingers, waiting in the back to be “dealt with”. Can’t we just get on with our lives? How do we forgive? It’s a life’s work, isn’t it.

  2. Rita says:

    “…I still don’t know how to unlock the door in my subconscious that will let me forgive myself for not getting out of my childhood scot free” You know, sometimes I think I could do this if it weren’t for my children. Most of the time, having come to understand why I made some of the disastrous choices I made, I am able to be forgiving of my younger self. I can feel compassion for her. But when I see those choices affecting my children now, I don’t forgive her. All I am is deeply angry with her, still, for not being smarter and stronger and for taking others down with her. I watch my own beautiful, young, vulnerable girl working so hard to accomplish so much (and she is so, so accomplished for her age–for any age, really), and when I step away from the relentless task of living life’s details and think about why she is pushing herself the way she does, why she is so driven to prove herself, that door slams shut.

    I think sometimes I will only be able to truly forgive my younger self if my children emerge from their childhoods relatively healthy and intact.

    In the meantime, I am grateful for your words here, whenever you are able to write them. I don’t think we can stand this kind of introspection on a continuous basis. There is that relentless task, and although the details sometimes seem so mundane, they are still important. I know it is only in how I carry them out, day after day after day, that I have some hope of helping my kids through the crucible of their own young years.

  3. Lindsey says:

    Oh, Stacy – I wish you wrote more here too but every single time you do you take my breath away. I have goosebumps of identification and empathy and love and admiration. The imagery of a tapestry is very important to me – when I was in high school I wrote a long piece about that, and used Carole King’s quote from that song as an epigraph. That last paragraph here just blow me away – yes, yes, and YES. Please keep exploring (I don’t view 18 years as a failure at all – I view it as a huge accomplishment) and keep writing and know I’m always, always here reading. xox

  4. Rita Arens says:

    Reconciling who we are or were with who we want to be or wish we had been is one of the suckiest jobs in the world, for sure. In my mind I had built myself into a pillar of strength and maternal love for my sister through my mother’s cancer. But in reality, I was pretty selfishly concerned with my own feelings, and my eating disorder almost destroyed everyone around me. Accepting I did all that damage is something I still struggle with. It doesn’t mesh with my self-image as someone who treats those around her with love and respect. Realizing that no matter what I do, my actions will piss someone off (someone whose opinion matters to me or someone whose opinion does not) really rocked my worldview a few years ago. That you’re able to give voice to your feelings is really important and helpful, no matter how often you do it. I haven’t been sharing my feelings as much on my blog in the past few years as I used to because to some extent I’m ashamed of them. I wish I were stronger, less sensitive, not as easy to knock off my feet. I guess we just write through it.

  5. Melanie says:

    You are very brave and generous to bare your soul and share your doubt and pain. As my marriage of nearly 3 decades has ended with the soul mate who I have been with all my adult life, I too have felt an utter failure and relived all the doubts and fears and pain I have ever had. But I tell myself that I tried and I failed and I had wins too. Failure is the biggest teacher and pain the biggest agent of change. Just as our broken dreams of the future are not reality, nor is the past that we think we should have had. I have found your book so incredibly helpful and it has enabled me to embrace the changes and forgive myself and him and life. I have been reading Eckhart Tolle who says that we are so caught up with the story of our live and trying to fit to the narrative we have made is problematic. So true. I am trying to forget about the story and just live. It is a default pattern so not easy to drop, but I keep reminding myself!

  6. D. A. Wolf says:

    How many of us get out of our childhoods with the sort of freedom we might like?

    Some, perhaps. Maybe even our children, if we find ourselves learning lessons from our own struggles.

    Finding joy, finding ourselves… I’ve finally come to realize that it is a constant process. Some days I can’t even imagine it. Other days, I’m right in the midst of it. Sadly, the shadows of childhood are always nearby. But on the good days, they’re way off in the distance, and that seems pretty damn good.

    As for the virtual page versus “living,” if you have an option, take the “living” while you can. Never doubt that it’s right.


  7. Kim says:

    This was so beautiful. I *adore* your writing style.

    My favorite passage:

    “Learning to stand still and feel both the crushing grief for the child that was me and all she had to carry — all she decided to carry, as an act of self-preservation and self-delusion — as well as the truth that I am whole and well and on my way to healed is an endless journey.”

    I can so relate to this. Thank you for your words.

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