BY Patience M Brown.
Has healing been hard? Yes. As with anything that requires a change in the right direction, it has been hard.
It would be easier to leave things as they had always been. It would be easier to hide behind my fears and pretend I don’t know something is wrong, terribly wrong. But hiding and denying what needs change may give you momentary satisfaction, but it will harm you in the long run. It is harming you already. ..
I do not wish to repeat what I’m getting healed from. .But a recap won’t hurt. I was a painfully self-sufficient person. I recoiled from people and relationships. Occasionally, I would give them little bits of information about myself. I’d tell them just enough to have them thinking they knew me. It was hard trusting anyone but myself. I knew I wouldn’t disappoint me; I wouldn’t make me a promise and fail; if I didn’t expect anything from anyone, they couldn’t possibly let me down. And so I was my own sufficiency.
That mindset runs my life. It dictated what I felt and didn’t feel. Out of it flowed the issues of my life. “Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it flows the issues of life”, Scripture says. Well, my heart had mighty walls surrounding it. Walls encoded with fear and the dread for pain.
I had friends. Really good friends. I suspect they would do anything for me. I had elderly friends too. I called them ‘Ma’ and ‘Sir’. I suspect they’ve always been genuinely interested in my welfare. But I just couldn’t know it. I couldn’t allow the love sink. I didn’t know how to. The walls kept out the pain, but they also kept out companionship. They may have served to keep out hurt, but they locked in the loneliness. Looking back, I’m actually very sorry. Sorry for the years I wasted in pretend friendships. I’m sorry for holding back so much and expecting that no one really cared; no one could be trusted.
How did it all begin? I stumbled upon where I had begun to judge things wrongly and it made me cringe. How could someone’s indiscretion leave such deep marks on a child? My neurosis began in childhood. I was among the bright students of my days. Teachers would praise me and earnestly expect my parents during the PTA (Parent Teachers Association) meeting or the Open Day (the day when parents came to school to interface with teachers over their child’s performance and behavior, one on one)
I just knew that if my Mom came, she would be very proud of me. My teachers would tell her how brilliant her child was. Though I might have been a stubborn case at home, I was good at school. This would make her happy. So with every PTA meeting or Open Day, I would plead and plead with my Mom to come. She just needed to take some time off the shop, and it wasn’t too far from school (both primary and secondary). Daddy was a no-go area. He couldn’t leave work, but Mommy could drop by quickly, talk to my teachers, probably drop a bit of appreciation package, and return to the shop — knowing that her child had made her proud.
And with this hope, I would beg and plead. She would promise to come. But she never came. I don’t remember her coming. Time and time again I would plead, she would make a promise or say she’d try, but she never came. This broke my heart. It hurt. I’d watch the school gates earnestly as parents trickled in, but Mom wouldn’t be among them. I would hold on in hope till the very last hour, but it would only end in disappointment.
My mind knew that she had rational reasons for not coming (I have never blamed her. Providing for us probably weighed too much on her for school meetings to take up such precious business hours. I now understand) but my young heart expected that I would be her priority. My heart expected that she would keep her promises. It was hurt, disappointed, and it made conclusions — wrong ones.
I realized that the source of my pain was in my expectations. I was getting my hopes up. Ah! If I continued like this, I would die from disappointments and heartbreaks! So I locked up. I would still tell Mom when the PTA meetings came up, I would invite her for the Open Days, but never with the earnest expectation that she would come. And when she didn’t come, it didn’t hurt. Not anymore. With every missed PTA Meeting, with every missed Open Day, I grew more and more hardened. I grew more convinced that not having expectations was the way. It was necessary for survival.
There were other instances apart from PTAs that disappointments set it, but I blocked those avenues too. I stopped expecting anything. And I never regretted it. It truly was necessary for survival. No one could hurt me anymore. Literally. You could have daggers on your tongue and they wouldn’t go past my ears to my heart. Everybody was a disappointment. Expect that and you’d be fine. And so I did.
Growing up, I developed sophisticated principles around this mindset. I erroneously transferred the survival tactics of childhood into adolescence. And adulthood. ‘No one can be trusted’, that was the creed. Since the error was never corrected, as my mind developed, it morphed with it. I authored pretty amazing principles: Rule number 1: nobody owes you anything. Rule number 2: if you don’t want your heart broken, keep it to yourself. Don’t extend it to anyone in trust, it’ll break.
These things were pretty dear to me. And I lived by them. No one could hurt me. You’d have to get through to me first. And no one was permitted to get through to me. I lived in my own guarded world. I wasn’t a snob or anything of that sort. But it could appear like that. Since I was very detached from people in heart, I couldn’t easily note things around me, and I couldn’t note people too. Or I’d just go straight to the point of what needed doing and give no thought to friendship or companionship. I’d smile and be polite, but after the task was done, there was no need for further relationship, more like an official secretary.
But to the people I called friends, it was a slightly different matter. Slightly. I would joke and laugh at jokes. We’d converse about similar interests. I’d tell them just enough about me to contribute my quota to the friendship. I could be as charming as anything. Looking back, I wonder if they never realized I was so guarded.
These friends couldn’t hurt me — I made sure of that — but I also kept myself from feeling loved. I kept out the pain, but also kept out the love. Well, both could come through one door, and the door was tightly bolted. I even lost the key.
I would embrace them fiercely yet keep them at arm’s length. I would listen as they shared themselves with me. I would cherish and protect that information. But I had no idea how to let them into my walls. Truthfully, I didn’t know I was keeping them out. As I said, I even lost the key. But they persisted in hammering against the walls: what’s wrong with you?’, ‘What’s going on?’ ‘Talk nau. Share what’s bothering you’, ‘Do you need anything?’. .Questions like that would challenge me ‘Nobody owes you anything’ creed. And I would avoid them. I just wasn’t about to let myself go. Expectations had burned me through childhood. I wasn’t about to bond with anything anymore! I would avoid uncomfortable conversations, even to the point of rudely cutting a friend short. I lived running.
Things continued like that until the wall cracked; until the light of God’s love began coming through. To my utter amazement, I realized that even God — the One I prayed to and called Father — was subjected to my neurosis. Wow! It shocked me to realize. So all those times I prayed to God, I had Plan B, C, and even D, just in case He didn’t come through. Wait, so I couldn’t even trust God?! Wow! Now that’s a stronghold!
My healing has been steady, but never easy. I’m still on the stair. At times I beg for some indulgence; to be allowed to take the easy way out; to just stay wrapped in my fears some more. But indulgence will not give me the strength to face the monsters that circumstances birthed, and I nurtured. Love can. Love rarely indulges. Instead, it requires me to make the difficult choices, the right ones. The ones that heal and restore. God’s love can heal me.
I choose love. The indulgence may give me temporary respite from the pain of growing out of my mindsets, out of the fears that have lived with me, but it will not help me. The challenges don’t get easier tomorrow, so I’ll face them today. I could run, but I choose to stay. I am helped to stay; to be loved; to be whole. And I do not have to face my fears alone. Love is with me on these stairs. Love never leaves. Forever.
It’s been getting better. Loving fearlessly; bonding with people; offering and accepting help; expecting goodness from the world, my world. It’s been getting better.
But on some days, the violence is almost unbearable. The Holy Spirit within me says “Go on. Trust”, the fears rage “You dare not” ..and the war erupts — in my mind, in my heart and I get panic attacks. But by a miracle only God can do, I choose to listen to His Spirit, and He helps me fight through my terrors. Sometimes I give in to fear, but it has been losing ground. If it’s going to be a war every time, then I’ll fight on the Lord’s side. I’ll fight to yield to Him. It is then that the pain, the chaos, the panic attacks become meaningful. . . . .
The Lord is the strength of my life.
P. M Brown.