I Hold My Breath

I hold my breath.  Hold it in.  It’s what I have to do.  To keep all the painful emotion inside.  All the disgusting yuck inside.   Inside where it must stay.  To inhale…to exhale…both would give me away.  Both would allow everyone to see my defects.  My brokenness.  The “yuck” that is me.  So I hold my breath.  I hold it all deep down in the depths of me.  Where it can’t escape inadvertently.

I hold my breath to keep from confirming everyone’s suspicions.  They know I am not like them.  They sense I’m different.  A different species.  Alien. They suspect there are things inside of me that aren’t inside of them.  Ugly things.  Dark things.  Things that need to be held in, never shared, that should never see the light of day.

I hold my breath because I’m not sure I deserve air.  I’m not sure I am worthy to partake.  That I have done enough to earn the right to breathe.

I hold my breath because I am afraid.  Of everything.  I wait, cringing inside, for the blow that is sure to come.  And I am afraid because I don’t know if I will be able to survive the next one.  I’m afraid because I’m not sure I will want to survive the next one.  I’m afraid of what the next blow will cost me.  For I am sure the price will be too high for me to pay, even if I find I want to pay it.

I hold my breath and smile.  Acting as if all is well.  Pretending to be who I was supposed to be, but will never be because that person didn’t survive her childhood.  Walking dead woman…can’t let it show.  Some secrets are not meant to be revealed.  Not ever.  So, I hold my breath.  Hold it in.  Even as it explodes inside of me.

I hold my breath and perform to the best of my ability.  Try to be good enough.  Try to do enough.  Try to do it all without breathing.  Without bothering anyone.  Without causing ripples or stirring the still, silent air.  Never daring to relax enough to cautiously take a tiny, simple breath.  A sip.  Never daring to let down my guard.  To let my mask slip.  To allow my fractures to show for even a second.

I hold my breath so I won’t offend unduly.  For I have come to understand, by simply existing, I offend.  I am a freak of nature.  Unspeakable.  Horrible.  If I hold my breath, I can almost remain invisible.  If I hold my breath, I can be a ghost.

I hold my breath because I’m not at all sure I deserve to live.  Nor am actually I sure I am still alive.  Dead things, you see, do not need air.  They can’t perish without it because they no longer require it to survive.  So, I have come to wonder if I’m holding my breath because I have finally died.    If the time for breathing has passed me by.  If I can finally exhale.  And finally let everything I have been hiding and holding in place for so many years…quietly go.

 

All The Tears I Never Cried

Psalm 56:8  New Living Translation (NLT)

You keep track of all my sorrows.
    You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
    You have recorded each one in your book.

The message is clear; touching.  We have heard it repeated and expressed in many different ways.  Through songs, blogs, stories and in inspirational articles.  In sermons and poems. God has our tears.  Every tear we’ve ever cried.  Not a single one is lost.  Not a single one went unnoticed.  He collected them each one.  He recorded them in His book.  God is moved by our weeping.

But what about all the tears never cried?

All those tears I was never able to release.  All the pain still held behind my eyes.

Most of my tears haven’t been cried.  My eyes have stayed disturbingly and resolutely dry.  The dam I built when but a child remains strong.  No water is released, no matter how great the need for relief.  No matter how much the pressure behind it.

It wasn’t safe to let them flow freely; not when I was a preschooler.  Nor when I was in junior high. Not when married to the man who rejected me.  Who didn’t love me.  Never loved me.  It wasn’t smart to release them to form rivers that would drip from my cheeks and drop off the tip of my nose.  It wasn’t safe to feel.   I held them in and kept them sealed tightly inside, carefully hidden in the darkest depths of my soul.  Until I forgot how to open the floodgates.

There they remain.  Tears never cried.  Stagnant.

My heart has been in deep pain most of my life.  My journey hasn’t been easy.  It hasn’t had many ups.  But the major blows have been plentiful.  I’ve encountered too many difficult challenges that beat me to a pulp until I was too numb to respond.  Until it was all I could do to get up off the floor.  Take a step.  Then another.  I’ve had abundant reasons to cry and I’ve longed many times to weep uncontrollably.   But showing vulnerability has never been safe.  Feeling such raw emotions has proven to be foolish.  Letting someone see my heart has always been idiotic.  When I slipped and exposed my weakness, the repercussions were many and they were terrible.  So I have swallowed the pain.  And the tears.

They have remained dammed up behind a massive wall of numbness.  Repressed for years and years.  Every blow has caused the wall to be built higher.  Wider.  Stronger.  The ocean of tears to grow deeper.

What about those tears?  The ones I’ve never cried?

Are they of no significance?   Hidden and unexpressed, have they lost their authenticity?  Is unexpressed pain of no importance?  Do only the tears actually released have meaning?  Are they the only ones that count?  The only ones God collects and treasures?

The tears we cry matter. He sees.  Has compassion.  Wipes them away.  Holds each one.  Knows the reason for them; for every single one.  These are the precious tears that are kept in His bottle and recorded in His book.

Are they the only tears God cherishes?

If so…

I have a million uncried tears rotting in my soul and they will never have significance.  They are worthless. The battle I fought to contain them is meaningless.  The struggle I went through to carry them, to prevent them from inconveniently raining down on others, is inconsequential.   I carried them when sharing them would have been easier…if riskier.  I held them back and pasted a smile on my face to survive.  And when surviving became all I knew how to do, the uncried tears multiplied until they were legion.

They are legion still.

But they are not in His bottle.  They are bottled up in my heart, a painful reminder of all I have suffered alone.  Of how my life has left me with nothing more than regrets and toxic memories.

“He knows your name
Every tear you cry
He knows the pain
How you feel alone”

 (Moriah Peters, “No Shame”)

When I do not cry, is He unable to know my pain?  Does He not discern how alone I feel?  How the nights are empty and silent?  And the days are wrapped in rabid isolation?  Does He continue to absent Himself, uncaring of the hurt that rips me apart and stomps me helplessly into the earth where I am ground again to dust?

When I can’t cry, does He not care?  Is He untouched by my tearless brokenness?

I wish I could cry freely and let God collect the tears in His bottle and record them in His book.  I wish I could believe my pain moved Him, whether I managed to shed the tears or remained too afraid to let my guard down; to open my heart.  To be that vulnerable.  Revealing weaknesses through tears is risky.  It can give those who are intent on hurting you a way in to your most tender places.   Places where they can do the most significant amount of damage.  But I cannot cry.  I am imprisoned behind this wall.  I have waited too long to seek release.  The ocean of tears I have held in for a lifetime know the boundaries set for them so long ago and no longer cross the line.

They are contained in my bottle.  A dead sea.

All the tears I have not cried.  That I’ve held inside trying to survive.  That I’ve choked down while they almost choked me.  The only bottle my tears reside in…is the cavern of my heart.  I am drowning in them.  Their salt stings my eyes.  I taste them in my mouth.  But God doesn’t gather them.  He does not hold them in His hand.  There is no comfort to be had.  Only this ocean of sorrow.  Growing larger, deeper, wider with every passing moment.  And I do not know how to swim in the foul waves any more than I know how to weep until this endless sea of tears is finally drained dry.

Can’t See It

I was watching that You Tube video again…the one about the blind man sitting on the concrete walkway with his little cardboard sign, begging for money.  He is getting a minimal response: a coin here and there, but certainly not even enough to buy him a cup of coffee. 
Then a well-dressed woman stops, picks up his sign, rewrites it, sits it back down beside him and walks on. 
And suddenly everything changes.
People walking by pause; read.  And they give him money. Quite a bit of money.  He has no idea what is causing them to respond with such generosity.  He’s clearly amazed.  After a long successful day of begging, he recognizes the footsteps and feels the shoes of the lady when she stops in front of him again. He asks her what she did to his sign.  She tells him she simply said the same thing he had said, but differently. 
She has reworded the sign to read, “It’s a beautiful day and I can’t see it.”
(In case you haven’t seen the video:  Blind Man Begging)
I’m looking out my living room window as I type this.  It’s a beautiful day.  But I can’t see it.
No, I’m not blind.  Not physically blind, anyway.  But I am emotionally blind.  My soul is blind.  My heart is blind.  Because I’m so depressed, no matter what good there might be right in front of me, I can’t see it very well.  Not really.  Everything is completely overshadowed by a bleak, gloomy, gray film that cloaks my world.  I’m shrouded in a thick fog that hides the sunlight and prevents me from recognizing much of anything positive.  The fog covers my thoughts, my soul, and it is everywhere.  Depression does that to a person.  It sucks all the beauty and life out of one’s existence.  It makes me blind.
I truly do try to find beauty in the small things.  At this moment, one of my Schnauzers (Zoe) is laying on my legs, dozing, content, snoring lightly.  The other (Hannah) is happily chewing a stuffed toy on my lap, secure, safe, adored.  I love them both fiercely.  I take pleasure in them.  They are one of the few pinpoints of happiness I experience and they motivate me to get up in the morning…and to continue to live.   It’s not as if each day doesn’t hold some good.
Birds do sing outside my window.
Inside, I am alone.  I am surrounded by silence…except when Zoe and Hannah alert me to a bird flying by, a squirrel in the yard or to the arrival of my mail.  Or perhaps a rabbit has invaded their yard.  Mostly, I listen to the refrigerator hum.  The heater kicking on and off.  A jet as it flies overhead on the way to some distant airport.  The keys of my computer click and the hard drive hums quietly.  Occasionally, sirens wail as the fire trucks or ambulance rush by on the main road closest to my house.  At certain times of the day, I can hear a low, muted roar from distant traffic. There is no laughter.  No conversation.  The click of doggie toenails on the tile or their paws as they pad on the carpet behind me are the only other footsteps in my life.  There is no hand reaching out for mine.  No welcome hugs.  Excited dogs bring much needed life to my otherwise bleak reality.  I try to make that be enough.
My reality threatens to swallow me whole.  I fight the darkness.  I want to see.  I want to live.  But life laughs in my face and runs away into the fog.  It remains always just out of my reach.  So elusive.  Unattainable.  It’s a beautiful day and I can’t see it.  I can’t reach it.  Can’t touch it.  There is so much pain.  So much brokenness.  So many regrets.
It’s a beautiful day.  But I am alone.  It’s a beautiful day.  But I am without hope.  Without connections.  Terrified.  It’s a beautiful day.  But my soul has been nearly destroyed by childhood abuse and rejection.  By isolation.  It’s a beautiful day, but my heart is heavy, shattered, hurting.  I am unloved.  Unwanted.  It’s a beautiful day, but I have nothing to look forward to.  More struggles.  More loss.  More pain.  It’s a beautiful day, but I can’t see it.  My eyes strain to find the beauty.  I try to make the tiny things big enough to give me a reason to go on.  Yet I am overwhelmed by my wounds.  By emptiness.  By devastation. 
There is no magic pill for me.  Nothing alleviates the darkness of my world.  Nothing opens a door.  Nothing seems able to set me free. I have tried everything I know to try and done everything I know to do.  But still, I cannot see.
There is no way to write the sign in a nicer, prettier way; to say something profound that will evoke the help I need from those who pass through my shattered world.  My dilemma can’t be solved by coins tossed in a can.  Although the money would certainly help, no sum can solve my problems, allow me to escape this suffocating isolation or heal my broken heart.  The crowds pass me by without seeing me…as blind to my darkness and need as I am to the sunshine through which they walk.  We exist on different plains.  In different dimensions.  There is no portal through which I can cross over to the warmth and caring of their world.  No surgeon can repair the damage.  No psychiatrist or psychotherapist can put my fragmented soul back together again.  I haven’t any second chances.  No miracles appear to be waiting in the wings.  It’s a beautiful day and I can’t see it.  Can’t touch it.  Can’t get there from here.
There are things that could make a difference.  There are people who could as well.  But I don’t live in their world and they don’t want to believe in the existence of mine. It’s too harsh and cold in this place where I exist.  I would cause them too much inconvenience. Too much trouble.  I am never worth the effort.  The expense.  The love.  My flaws have robbed me of value.
I don’t mean to cast a dark shadow across their path. I don’t expect them to acknowledge me or throw a few coins in my direction.  No one has to read my sign as I sit, lost, empty, hurting.  I realize I am not their problem and they bear no responsibility here.  I am but a speck in the eye, easily blinked away.  The help I need is far beyond what most are capable of giving.
It’s a beautiful day.  I can’t see it.  I long to be set free.  But I can’t find the words that will magically make everything change.
 
 

To the Left of Me

She lives just out of sight
to the left of me
I catch glimpses of her
from time to time
her battered wounded body
bruised and broken
a quivering mass
helpless
repugnant

My eyes do not linger long
not wanting to look too closely
not wanting to see too clearly
not wanting to know
what has been done to her
to make her appear
so horribly ruined
She is little more
than a pulpy mass of torn and beaten flesh
So grave are her injuries
she cannot escape the moment
where she is frozen
forever
in time

I’m not sure of her age
don’t know
her features
for I never look too attentively
Yet, even if I could bear to study her
I doubt I could describe her
in any detail
she is too badly fractured
she is too deeply wounded
she is too hideous to carefully observe

I do not acknowledge her
in those rare moments
when I catch sight of her
out of the corner of my eye
there to the left of me
I do not give her
even the slightest
friendly sign
Instead
I look away
turning from her
quickly
telling myself she is not my concern
not someone I want to get to know
or spend time with

Sometimes thoughts of her prick my mind
and I wonder about her
what she is like
why she is there
what happened to her
who she is
But I sense the answers are intensely painful
causing apprehension to shoot through me
like liquid ice
causing me to squirm inside
to sweat fear from my pores
So I quench the questions
before I can finish the thought
swiftly close the door
turn the key
in the lock
and I walk away

Yet when I am alone
in the deep darkness of the night
I can’t help but ponder
her
I can’t help but
contemplate her fate

I sense she is a child
with unruly golden hair
one who used to love to run with the wind
whose limbs were strong and growing
I believe she danced in the sunshine
twirled in the cool green grass
caught snowflakes on her tongue
breathed deeply the crisp fresh air
I believe she was alive once
inquisitive
sensitive
I think she must have laughed with delight
at the beauty she saw
in rocks
and leaves
in stars
and trees
in clouds
and fields
She was a child
who was fully alive
like the wriggly trusting puppy
she loves
with all of her heart

She was animated
and knew the joy of life
until
abuse stole her spark
left her dark
and pulverized
She could no longer dance
or laugh
and she watched the wind
run
without her

I think she withdrew
deep within herself
in a vain attempt to protect herself
from the crippling blows
the horrible physical
emotional
sexual abuse
the violent environment
the nightmare of her world
The lack of love and nurture
broke her
into a zillion pieces
annihilated her
mutilated her
decimated her
crushed her
and left her as she is
today

She is bloody
trapped
isolated behind her walls
She is deathly quiet
shunning oxygen
existing on emptiness
surviving
but not thriving
not living
not alive

What does she want from me?
Why is she there?
I feel her watching me
feel her pleading eyes follow me
as I go about my day
She is like a scratchy sweater
too warm and too tight
pricking, itching, scraping me
binding, squeezing, restricting me
I am so uncomfortable with her
uneasy
wary
wanting her to go away
wanting her to leave me alone
to release me from her prickly
painful touch

I fear her
for I am afraid
she is not simply an elusive ghost
haunting and unsettling me
dwelling where I can’t quite see her
to the left of me
I am afraid
if I look too closely
I will find
she wears my face
shares my heart
sees with my eyes
cries my tears
tastes my fear
and that it is my blood
she is bleeding
my blood
running through her veins
spilling from her wounds

I can’t bear to look at her too closely
because I fear
this broken
horribly disfigured child
is me