Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Letting Him Go - A Story of Sacrifice & Tears

Letting my son leave for a 2 year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was one of the hardest things I have ever done.  It has now been 4 months since he left and most days it is better, but some days I miss him terribly.  I am part of an email group for other mothers who children are in the same area of Brazil that my son is in and today I received an email with a story in it that really touched me.  Even though I didn't have the problems this mom did with her son, I was still touched and wanted to share it.  The sacrifice my son is making is huge and I love him so much and I am so proud of him!  Here is the email story:

My sister gave a lesson in church today, blending LDS missionary work and motherhood together. She asked for my feelings on the subject, and so we begin—

It was a brilliant summer day, and we were both busy at work in the kitchen~I was kneading bread while Ashton hammered the pegs into the little playschool workbench. Hammer, bam, crash, crack, bang.

“Mom, when I go on a mission...” he lisped—and we spoke of when and where and what it would be like. Then I heard the telltale break in his baby boy voice as he realized what he was saying—the weight behind the future plans. Suddenly it was more than he could bear. “Mom! I don’t want to go! I don’t want to leave you! I want to stay here and be little! Do I have to go? Do I?” And he bowed his head over his knees and wept. I scooped him up into my mother’s arms and told him a lie...but I knew better. I knew that there would come a day when he would want to go...when he did want to leave me...when he would move away from home as a young man, to be about his Father’s business.

The boy turned 14. He had just finished building and detonating a bomb. He had his cell phone taken away weekly. He refused to floss between his braces and had eye boogers and mouth corner mustard on a consistent basis. We weren’t sure if he was going to live past the age of 15—it was iffy at best. We walked up a dirt trail on our way to Youth Conference testimony meeting—I was there as a leader, and I didn’t know it at the time, but he was there as a leader, too. He spoke of Joseph Smith~his same age~being willing to die for this Gospel and his God. Then he fervently declared that, if it were asked of him, he would do the very. same. thing. And he bowed his head over his folded arms, and wept.

He grew strong and handsome—became a slave to fashion and an admirer of beautiful women. He was elected Student Body President, lettered in Debate, tutored special needs peers and figured out just in time, how to be a friend to his siblings. All of this was intermixed with Come To Jesus scoldings, “What in tarnation were you THINKING?” and a heavy dose of believing the Earth’s axis went directly through him.

We raised the bar. And he ducked under it.

We raised the bar. And he tripped over it.

We raised the bar. And he backed up, gathered up his noble spirit and running with all his might, flung himself to the heavens and catapulted over the bar, soaring to the highest heights! We stood on the sidelines and watched with mouths gaping. And we bowed our heads on each other’s shoulders and wept.

He was called to Florianopolis, Brazil, leaving one week before Christmas. He and his very best friends strengthened and brought each other unto Christ, and then departed within months of each other, to bring even more souls unto Christ. Stripling Warriors, these young men. I received the long awaited letter the very first week he lived at the Missionary Training Center. “Mother, I love you so much...you have no idea. And you were right. About everything. I am just now beginning to see it all. Thank you.”

I’ve placed him in his own little section of my heart as a necessity. I only check in every week, and only for a short while, as I read his letter and write him mine. It’s the only way to survive the gaping hole that is exactly his shape and size. But just last week, I was checking through my wallet during sacrament meeting, and pulled out Ashton’s missionary picture. I touched the one dimensional face, then handed it to my husband whispering, “Remember him?” He poignantly stared at the image, then whispered back, “He’s still ours, you know. We get him back.” And we looked into each others eyes and smiled.

And I know that within a few short months, there will be a young man, sweltering in the brilliant Brazilian sunlight, hammering away at the work. Scriptures in his hand, a tool in the Lord’s. Hammer, bam, crash, crack, bang. The letter will arrive and his voice will crack and echos from the past will take on a different meaning, “Lord! I don’t want to go! I don’t want to leave these people! I want to stay here and continue to grow big! Do I have to go? Do I?” And he will bow his head over his two year sacrifice and weep.

But the work will go on. Because some other courageous mother stands at her kitchen counter, kneading bread and talking of when...and where...and what...in preparation for her own Stripling Warrior to go to battle—to be about his Father’s business.

And he will not doubt it, because his mother tells him it is so.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Holding My Breath

Holding my breath, instead of breathing through my pain, emotional and physical, has been one of my major problems.  I have definitely improved, especially compared to this entry that I found recently in my therapy notes:
"2/8/09 - . . . I am running on an endless treadmill of a project or stress thinking that if I just put all my efforts into it I will get it done and then I can move on with my life.  I keep thinking "get this done, then I can live."  What I need to do is live, breathe, love and do the project in between breaths, not the other way around.  I try to focus on the stress thinking by "doing" so I can make the stress go away, but I see now life doesn't work that way.  I have got to quit holding my breath through the trial and just breathe.  Breathe life and live it and let the stress pass through me instead of consume me, but how?  I only know how to just hold my breath and take the pain and hope that it ends soon. . . .  I don't know how to put the concept into practice. . . .  When I am faced with a stresser I push harder at it and what I need to do is walk away, breathe deeply, let go of thoughts, allow peace and healing to enter my body and stay with that as long as I need to. . . .  I keep pushing at the problem even though every ounce of my energy is gone.  Instead of re-grouping, eating, breathing, recuperating and coming back with more energy, I try to do it depleted. . . .  The more I push the harder it gets, but I don't want to give up.  I'll take any amount of pain if in the end it will be better.  I'll take it all, I'll sacrifice everything, every bit of me, if in the end it will be better. . . .  [H]ere I am realizing I was pushing hard hoping on the other side would be the happiness . . . the happiness is before the pushing. . . .  I pushed when I needed to breathe (like in labor) I never stopped to breathe, I just pushed.  Eventually you have no energy if you don't stop to breathe."

Finally realizing that holding my breath wasn't helping me made a huge difference.  It is awareness that gave me the strength to change.  Now I can stop, think things through, take a deep breath and then make a better decision.  I can say to myself, "I really have been working a lot, I need to take some time to recuperate" and do it without feeling guilty.  I couldn't do that before, I didn't have the skills nor did I even realize what the problem was.  All I knew was that I was exhausted, but I just had to keep "doing" as it was all I knew.  "Do" and you get acknowledgment, "do" and you feel worthwhile, "do" and you are a good person and so on. 

Now when I am working on a project or feel stressed, anxious or overwhelmed, I don't keep pushing, I pause and breathe.  I take a minute to determine the problem then decide on a reasonable solution.  Sometimes that solution is to take a break, deal with the emotions, finish the project later, get help, etc.  I know that I don't have to do it all on my own anymore or all at that moment.  Life is definitely better when you don't hold your breath!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hiding

One of my favorite games as a child was "kick the can."  All the kids in my neighborhood would gather at night and we would put an empty can in the middle of our cul de sac (we called it the circle).  One of us would be "it" and would start counting while the others would run and hide in the darkness.  As the game would go on you could hear the attempts of others running from the darkness to try and kick the can before getting caught.  Eventually, you would hear the sound of the can getting kicked and falling on the road and it would all begin again.

Hiding has it's moments, like in kick the can, but as an adult it hasn't helped me much.  For years, hiding emotionally was how I survived.  To tell you the truth, I didn't really even realize I was doing it until I started therapy a few years ago.  "Hidden" is the name of one of my therapy boxes because I know that hiding is one of my unhealthy emotional habits.  I have hidden physically as well, especially when I first started dealing with a lot of these emotions, I withdrew and hid from my life in many ways.  When I was young I would often hide behind the couch and I would lay as still as I could and wait, wait to hear my name, wait to see if I was important enough for anyone to notice I was missing.  It is sad to say, but in those moments of hiding, I never did hear my name.

I didn't really think about the hiding that was going on at home, I guess because it didn't seem like hiding.  I always knew where to find my mom, in her room on her bed reading.  When my dad was home from work, I knew where to find him too, in his room on his bed reading.  It occurred to me the other day that even my older sister did this, in her room on her bed reading.
 
In my early 20's I had gone to a therapist once and talked about a relationship that hadn't gone well.  She encouraged me to share my pain with those closest to me. I couldn't do it. I couldn't even tell my best friend how badly this guy had hurt me.  I didn't see the therapist again, I just couldn't bring myself to tell her that I couldn't face my own pain, let alone share it with others (little did I know at the time how much more pain was yet inside me needing to come out).

When I started dating my husband he would ask me what I was thinking and so often I couldn't tell him.  We laugh about it now, but one night he literally sat on me until I finally shared the pain from that relationship.  Once I let it out, I cried and cried and he just held me.  He has been my best advocate for letting out my emotions, but even with him I hid so much.  Often, rolling away from him at night pretending I was fine, but would wait until he was asleep and silently cry.  My therapist encouraged me to "roll toward" him and not away from him when I had the urge to hide what I was feeling.  It felt so unnatural and vulnerable, but I learned how to do it.

I have to admit that when I started my second attempt at therapy, I knew I was talking to her in a very logical manner, but it was all I could do.  It took months before my emotions started to come out of hiding. It was really scary for me, I would make sure I was home alone first before I would let anything out, then years of suppressed emotions would suddenly explode from me and I would have a panic attack or cry and cry (sometimes both).  At therapy I would only let a little out at a time and my therapist would breathe through the emotions with me.

Sometimes life seemed too much and withdrawing and hiding felt like the only way to survive, but I know better now.  Once I was aware of what I was doing, I could physically feel it when I would start to lock down my emotions inside.  The funny thing is that the more I let them out, the harder it is to hide them.  My therapist had told me once that there are four main emotions which are fear, sad, mad and glad.  Over the past few years, I have learned how to feel joy, share my sadness, express my fears and have made a few attempts at letting out the anger (this one truly scares me).  I still have a ways to go, but now I know that I feel better as I allow myself and others to see my emotions.  I have learned how to let them out, breathe through them and survive.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

It's Okay to Break

"I just want to be broken for awhile," I said to my husband the other night.  That might seem weird to say, but I was crying and feeling broken and it actually felt freeing.  All my life I have felt like I had to have everything pulled together.  I felt like I had to be strong for my siblings as my mom struggled with some challenges in her life and I continued those feelings into adulthood.  I remember saying to my therapist one day that I didn't understand how my mom could have the "freedom" to fall apart in front of us.  I was almost jealous, because I would not allow myself to do that and especially not in front of others.

I have been working on what I call my "therapy boxes" (I initially brought up my boxes in my blog entry "Plugged Up Emotions") for several years, it is an emotionally painful work and I have only worked on a portion of them.  The day after my tearful conversation with my husband, I thought about my therapy boxes and I had a huge realization.  In the first part of my boxes I have processed my experiences in my childhood.  In the second part I had wanted to put how I had perpetuated those experiences into adulthood which I am still working on.  Each of my boxes has a category, for example, one is labeled "broken," as I thought about that box in particular, I realized that I carried that problem on from my childhood by not ever let myself feel and experience "brokenness."

As I wrote in my blog entry "Joy is in the Bouncing" I have learned that balance is not standing stagnant in the middle of a teeter-totter, but it is in the going back and forth between two opposing things.  So in order for me to really be "fixed" I needed to let myself be "broken" for a little while.  I have been pretending to be fixed and forcing myself to be pulled together as long as I can remember.  It's almost as if I have an invisible rope that I'm pulling tighter and tighter around my body as the brokenness inside tries to escape.  I see now how physically exhausting holding that rope has been.

I remember going on a field trip to the BYU Eyring Science Center where we were shown a huge pendulum that swung back and forth across the room.  Just like the bouncing of the teeter-totter, the pendulum swinging back and forth represents balance.  Maybe it will take a little longer for my pendulum to swing back from "broken" to "fixed" than I would like, but I believe that the more I allow the pendulum to swing the sooner it will swing back and maybe it won't swing quite so far to the opposite side next time.

I have had this quote in my reading notes for awhile, "When what is inside naturally comes together with what is outside, that is a miracle."  It is from the book Addiction to Perfection by Marion Woodman and I have always liked it, but never felt like it pertained to me.  Today I feel like it does, I feel like as I allow myself to feel what is naturally inside of me that I am coming together with what I have always tried to show on the outside and that truly does feel like a miracle!