For years I’ve been waiting for a break – a time in my life where everything was good and normal. Through the work of EMDR and the loss of my best friend, I realize life will never be normal because there is no normal – at least the ‘normal’ I always pictured in my head. Maybe on some level I always knew this, but I am beginning to embrace this normal – the normal ebb and flow of life. The happy, the sad. The brave, the scared.
Throughout my years in outpatient and residential eating disorder treatment I longed for the normalcy that I saw other living in. However, I had no idea that “normal” was even possible for me. I honestly could not imagine living in a house with food in the pantry or living a life outside the confines of my eating disorder. Then through recovery, I found that precious normal I dreamt of, albeit a chaotic normal of raising a baby, building a non-profit from nothing and navigating life as a new mom.
Just as I was adjusting to life in recovery as a working mom, an avalanche of life changes fell on me – a move and, well, Marjorie. During Marjorie’s early birth and cancer, I craved the normal chaos that I once had. The ability to travel and do what I love while also being a mom whose exhaustion stemmed from late night teething fussiness and not chemotherapy drips.
Chemotherapy ended and I was left in spinning in cancer’s aftermath. I knew the grief. I could identify it and I worked hard to move through it, but I couldn’t shake the festering anxiety and panic that kept me frozen and disabled.
While I silently suffered with PTSD, I dreamed of living without the constant fear of losing loved ones. My mind, wounded from the trauma of Marjorie’s early birth and cancer, held me prisoner. I was unable to complete emails, drive long distances or just walk my kids to the grocery store.
After a month of being symptom free from PTSD, I lose my best friend. All I could think was, “What’s the point?” Why should I get up today? It felt like life kept slapping me in the face. I did not want to get up. I wanted to bury myself in bed and be a Pitiful Patty.
And I did. I definitely had my Pitiful Patty moment(s), but I kept getting up – and I continue to get up. Not because I have to, I have a choice. I could keep hiding in bed, but I know I deserve better. Life isn’t always easy, but it is worth it.
Two weeks ago, all I wanted was to curl up in a ball and sob. However, my busy and chaotic house filled with two and four legged babies kept me from having that quiet space. When that precious space presented itself last week, I took it.
Last Tuesday, I found myself alone in my hotel following our day scale smash at Meredith College. My heart is always a bit heavy, but on this day my heart ached with the weight of the world. I only had two hours before having to get up and go speak that evening at Meredith.
I looked at the clock and gave myself 45-minutes. I screamed and cried into the hotel’s stiff pillow. I held my phone that has her picture and clutched her prayer card in my other hand close to my chest. The grief flowed out of my broken heart. There was no one or nothing to stop it.
Some time later, I got up and splashed cold water on my face, attempting to reduce my puffy eyes. I got dressed and sat on my bed. I said a long prayer, to God, to GaGa, to whoever was listening. I always say a prayer before speaking, setting the intention to pay it forward by planting just one seed of hope in one person.
But this prayer was different. I prayed for grace to help me make it through the evening. This prayer was for me. I wanted to show up and do my best for the amazing students. I didn’t want to let them down. But my heart hurt so bad I honestly didn’t know how I was going to get through. I prayed for grace. I prayed for strength.
The evening was wonderful. Our speakers, especially our recovery speaker, was extraordinary. No one saw my hurting heart, well one person did. The one person in the audience who knows me better than anyone. One look at me and she saw through the smile and knew my heartache. No words needed, just a hug and nod.
Since Gaga’s passing, I’ve had to “pull it together” for various speaking events and engagements. It is not me wearing a mask or stuffing emotions. It is quite the opposite.
It is honoring the grief and hurt when time and space allows and it is getting up and walking on because that is life. That is life. We must keep going, even when we feel, “What’s the point?”
There is a point to this thing called life. One look at my Manning and Marjorie and I know there’s a point. But as deep as my love is for them, I must allow the feelings and grief to flow through. Tuesday it flowed. It hurt. Really bad. But I got up and kept going.
We must keep going. Life goes on – whether we want it to or not.
This weekend we celebrated our first holiday without our matriarch. It was a brutal mix of joy and sorrow. We carried on our traditions, started by GaGa and made new memories. We grieved together. We laughed together. We sat with each other in the pain.
Rather than block each other’s aching hearts, we sat with each other in the pain. No one brushed away tears with ‘At least’ statements –
‘At least we had her for so long.’
‘At least she went peacefully in her sleep.’
We know all of the at leasts, but those statements don’t help heal. Sitting in the hurt, letting the grief flow is what truly helps.
Through the years, my family has grown stronger in the ability to embrace the pain and not wish it away. Friday night my pain was once again unbearable. Everyone was settling into bedtime routines and I snuck away, collapsing in the play room. I just needed to cry alone, or so I thought.
Suddenly, I felt the loving arms of my aunt wrapped around me. She laid next to me and held me tight. We cried together. She simply said, “I know, baby. We hold tight to our memories. But our hearts still hurt. I know.”
My parents left today and my heart was sad, but content. I spent the afternoon watching my kids splash in the pool. It is in these simple moments, I feel GaGa most with me. I can see her smiling at Manning determined to swim in the (slightly cold) pool. I feel her belly laughing at Marjorie as she dances (and prances) in the sunshine.
Life isn’t about normalcy. If I keep waiting for normalcy, I will waste my days wishing for something that will never come. So I am quitting the chase for normalcy. Instead, I will embrace this life as it is – the joy, the sadness, the grief, the bliss, the really shitty bumps. No more day dreaming of what normal might be, rather I will simply embrace it as every moment comes. (But please note, I still reserve every right to lay in bed when need be to cry into a pillow – and maybe be a Pitiful Patty for a minute or two.)
F*ck normal, cheers to this chaotic life.