I turn 40 later this month, and as such have become hella reflective. This year has been one of the worst years of my life. So much so, I’m thinking of canceling my 40th birthday party. Please, please forgive my swears, but what is the gottdamb mutha-effin’ point of a celebration when you are wildly swiveling through the five stages of grief every other day or week? And please know, I do not say any of this lightly. I do not say that for the sake of page hits, Facebook hyperbole, ‘likes’ or pity.
I say this because it’s completely, wildly, disappointingly, surprisingly, mortifyingly true. For those of you who’ve kept up with my blog & my writings know that the implosion of my 1st marriage, a complete breakdown, a fierce custody battle, an ugly divorce are all a part of my story, and that too was deeply painful. This year rivals the level of pain & hopelessness of those years. I cannot say why. I am still surprised at the turn of events. I only know life is as equally a nightmare as it is terribly beautiful. You wake up to happy mornings & go back to bed only to experience the terror all over again.
One of the horrors of living through pain—physical or emotional— is that it knocks you off your equilibrium in such a dastardly way. The demons in the blue dress you fully expect to show up at the front door never come. The demons you never expect, show up at the back door and as you answer expecting milk & cookies bitch slap the hell out of you. Any semblance of equilibrium is laughable.
After a few too many traumatizing moments, I went into survival mode. I can think of one or three traumatizing moments/days of every.single.month of this year, including July when my sweet daughter, Reverie was born. Her birth was traumatizing. The morning I had her I spent 10 minutes on the phone with one of my best friends literally screaming & crying that I couldn’t do it, begging for her help. Begging for rescue. As she cried herself she walked me through it…”I can’t be there babygirl, but I am here now. You have to rescue yourself. You have to dig deep and find your strength.” She gave me the best advice she could in just a few minutes and then I went into active labor. None of this was because of the physical pain, which by then was a moot point. I was almost outside myself, beside myself, internally combusting asking God for the mercy. And mercy to spare.
The following 6 weeks left me in a fog of utter despair, culminating in a truly horrific moment when my world came crumbling down and my reality was altered. It was in the following weeks, my 11 yr. old asked me why I cried so much. That he’d seen me so often weep bitter tears felt heavy. Hopeless. I may never write Reverie’s ‘birth story’ because the trauma of the night isn’t a story anyone wants to know. Very truly one of the worst nights of my life.
But when she arrived, like a beautiful dream, she brought me to a state of reverie in the midst of a heart broke in half. The straw as they say.
“But Grace”, you may be thinking, “what about all your nice pictures & seemingly mostly decent existence as PROVEN BY YOUR PRETTY PICTURES!” This year, I’ve found the pictures to be a tangible form of God’s grace. The pictures are how I cultivate gratitude. The pictures are how I force myself into the present moment. The pictures are the way I focus on something as healthy & beautiful as my children and as light-hearted and artistic as hair or make-up. The pictures keep me from addictive behaviors and unhealthy coping mechanisms. The pictures keep me from bleeding out things that must not be said publicly. The pictures help me capture the beauty and the love I have for my sweet little Reverie who has surely saved my life this year. Surely.
Sharing the pictures is the way I’ve tried to get you to see what I see. It’s almost as if I’m saying, “Here, look at this perfect baby. There is still beauty in the world. There must be hope, right? Because look at this LIFE that was gelled together in my belly.”
Or “Here, look at me, LOOK AT THIS WOMAN. A woman is thing of beauty, not a social problem. This woman has worth. This woman is intelligent. This woman is strong. This woman is fine the way she is. This black @$$ woman should be proud of who she is and every other black woman on this planet. This woman has dignity. This woman believes deeply in her passion as a social justice advocate on behalf of the poor and the vulnerable. This woman is a protector. This is a woman to treasure. This woman is a teacher. This woman is a leader. This woman is broken, but she IS A WOMAN. This woman here is precious. Can we love precious women, God’s daughters? Or will we continue to demean & debase what God has made & called good? Is this what you see when you see this woman?”
Everything else told me otherwise. So many circumstances. So many interactions. And so I shared my face and perhaps hoped it communicated all of those things to both myself and the ones whose actions send micro-aggressive messages of hate & disdain of WHO I AM. I share my pictures unapologetically because in the most jaded burrows of my soul I feel this: if one wants to disrespect me and my people, the *exact* way we are, F-CK YOU. Fuckitty-f-ck, fuckitty-f-ck you. That’s the jaded part. The whole part of me, the part that’s small and vulnerable, the honest part has been screeching & screaming to find the truth in my dignity as a living, breathing, loving, hurting black woman. And on behalf of every black woman I ask…
D O Y O U E V E N S E E M E?
Do you hear me? Are you even listening?
My very worth is on the line.
No. My life is on the line.
God made me who I am, but you taunt and reject it. Why should I entertain hateful rhetoric that demeans and denies my people and me our very personhood?
I never did have the strength to tolerate it, but now, now I struggle with the strength to fight against it. So, look world. Here’s my face. That’s all I got.
All of what’s happening is not my story to tell and is not yet fully understood but if I had to force myself into just one word to describe this year, it would be FEAR. Every month, a tremendous all encompassing, paralyzing, WTF fear gripping my throat always threatening to squeeze the hope out of me, always beckoning me to end it all. The specifics are inconsequential. My therapist asked me to write my year, the traumas and the fears with pen & paper, his response validated what I’ve known: I’m not surviving. When a therapist says, “Look, you are not surviving this,” you take note. Living with pain, yes. Getting by with grief, yes. Surviving, no. Not unless change comes like a bat out of hell.
Another friend said to me, “Grace, why do you go about like everything is okay? Stop that! I know you’re dying inside.” Most of us know why we go about as if everything is okay. We all have our reasons. I have mine.
As for me, I’ve never been one to trust my intuition. This is a core consequence of being a childhood abuse survivor, particularly the way my abuse was carried out. The primary message I got was this, “Even though this feels very wrong and I am deeply afraid, this is my Dad, so MY feelings are what is wrong, not my abuser’s abuse.” An underdeveloped sense of trusted intuition has crippled me in 1,000 ways in this life. And I still wrestle with this. Me: “This feels very wrong, I am deeply afraid. MY feelings are what is wrong. This is my fault. I deserve this. I am humiliated. Good. That seems about right.”
Tell me, how do I pursue freedom, when I struggle to embrace that I should not feel humiliated by people I trust?
But like slow brewed coffee, there’s something slowly brewing in my soul. It’s in the air. Things have been changing since April. By then, my intuition—though still not trusted— was desperately warning me: wake up! Wake up! Wake up! It was around that time when Beyonce dropped Lemonade. That was one of the first times in my life I felt my journey of the pain and sorrows of being a black American woman to be understood and visibly expressed so perfectly. I resonated beginning to end to the point of belly-aches.
Beyonce’s message stood conduit for the Holy Spirit, God’s work moving in me, gently whispering in that still small voice, ’trust your intuition.’ Genesis. The beginning of me making important but painful discoveries and progress toward my person hood. More on this in the months and the years that provide insight.
It was God who woke me up in the middle of the night just before my daughter was born with one simple but powerful message 9 characters long. It’s been God who I’ve screamed and cried to for days and days and days and days on end. It’s God’s tender Fatherhood that’s held me together when confusion and shock loomed larger than life. It was God who gave me words of warning on a journal page in March that were confirmed by mid-August. And it’s been God who has provided so generously emotional support of my inner circle, a mid circle, even an outer circle. On God’s provision, on God’s faithfulness, on God’s words, insight, love, care, compassion & tenderness I don’t have enough words of gratitude. Never will.
If I move forward with this 40th birthday party it will be to celebrate lessons, learning & growth. The sad hard truth is that I learned more this year more than any other time of my life. I learned that I have to love and care for myself; mind, heart, body & soul. I learned that my beauty, my dignity, my worth has to come from tightly monitored, internal truth-telling. I learned I have to stand up for myself. I have to fight for the good I want to see in the world. I have to advocate for the broken & oppressed with prayers, time & money because it is my calling FROM GOD HIMSELF. And how dare anyone disregard & belittle who God says I am? I have to embrace who I am, who God made me regardless of rejection, perceived or otherwise. I have to know when to say enough is enough. I have to quit rejecting my intuition. I must not live in fear. I have to face what I must face.
Learning comes through pain. We all know this. And I have learned my full this year. I am full on learning, thankyouverymuch.
And maybe that’s worth a 40th birthday party? Maybe that is my rescue. I have made it to 40, despite many odds.
I’m still not sure what I’m going to do for my 40th, but whatever I decide will be exactly what I need, not what I’m expected.
Here I am Lord, speak. Your servant is listening. My rescue is on deck. I know for sure.