When I was twenty-one, I was in a very dark place. It was a year after my first suicide attempts. I was no longer at school, and I wasn’t working. I was trying to survive but falling a little further every day. The eating disorder was in full control. I binged and purged multiple times a day. The physical cost was high but the mental cost was higher. I hated myself and my life.
One rainy evening, after yet another episode of hanging out in the bathroom and vomiting while the shower ran to disguise the sounds, I shaved my head. It was not a good time. It was not nearly as neat and calm as the phrase “shaved my head” suggests. I grabbed hunks of hair and slashed it off with scissors, leaving a disaster on top of my head. Short bits, medium bits, sections of skull visible; it looked like I’d been attacked by a weedwhacker.
I came to my senses once the damage was done and panicked. I didn’t know what to do or how to explain myself, so I ran. Out of the house, down the street, and away. I had no destination in mind, but I ended up in the entry way of a nearby church. Somewhere in my mind, I thought “sanctuary”, I guess.
Unfortunately, it was locked up tight; there was no help to be had. Eventually, I made my way back home where the incident was largely ignored. My parents talked about taking me to a hairdresser to fix the problem but we never really talked about the self-destruction in any degree of depth. Didn’t talk about how it traumatized my younger brother who was in the house at the time. Didn’t talk about the despair my parents were feeling over their inability to help. Didn’t talk about the pain and misery that someone must be feeling to attack themselves so violently. Like so many other incidents, it slipped away into the unspoken realm.
I’ve talked about it off and on over the years; it’s a long time past now to let it go yet it’s still on my mind, at least periodically.
Last weekend, I went to a fashion show put on by a local recovery house featuring fashions from the thrift store they run. High tea and clothes. I went with my mother, since she invited me and bought the tickets; I had no idea where it was being held. Imagine my surprise when we pulled into the parking lot of the same church I ran to so many years ago.
I mentioned it to my mother who pointed out something important: “that was a long time ago and things are different now.”
Yes and no.
The memory is still vivid and I think it’s because I choose to let it be. It was a horrible day from a horrible time and I didn’t get the help I needed. I didn’t get the support I craved, the sympathy I desired, or the understanding I deserved. We spend a great deal of time not talking about problems in my family. “It’s fine” is a family mantra; even when things patently aren’t, we don’t like to focus on difficulties too much.
I’ve discovered over the years that ignoring things doesn’t make them go away.
And yet, she was correct. It was a long time ago. I’ve had other really bad days. I’ve also had good ones. Why then do the bad ones still stand out? I suppose it’s because I let them.
It would be nice to have people give me what I need but in the absence of that, I have to give myself what I need. And what I need is acknowledgment. Acknowledgement that a lot of really hard things happened. That it’s okay to be sad and to grieve and to wish my history was different, even while understanding that it’s not possible.
It’s also okay to let them go. Letting go doesn’t mean it wasn’t important, or impactful. It means that it’s time to let the wound heal. There are enough challenges in the present. It doesn’t help to focus so much on the unchangeable past.
I have not watched Disney’s “Frozen” as yet; I don’t know why, I love animated movies but for some reason, that one didn’t appeal. Still, like everyone else, I’ve heard the main song. “Let it go.” Easier said than done but important nonetheless. When you poke at old wounds you just open them up again and keep them fresh. It’s okay to let the scar tissue form. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t bad, it doesn’t mean you don’t deserve compassion and sympathy. It means you’re moving away from a life of pain and that’s always a good thing.
I’m a fan of being pretentious, at times, so rather than quote Disney, I decided to look up the Latin phrase. Libera. Let it go. I don’t have to hug every bad day close to my chest and take it out periodically to prove that I suffered.