I woke up this morning, as I do every morning to see my daughter sleeping beside me. The soft, chubby curve of her cheek pressed into the sheet. Breathing softly and steadily, her mouth slightly curled up at the edges as if she is smiling as she dreams about things 3 year old girls dream of. The fresh scar on the bridge of her nose is still pink and raised on the edge.
While she is not even aware it is there, I can see that this particular scar is still tender and new. I can see the swollen pink ridge right beneath the surface of where the skin has sealed over the wound. This scar is still healing and not yet faded and I can’t help but notice it right at the center of her beautiful, pale porcelain face. I look at her perfect little cherubic face and that scar right in the middle starts a chain reaction.
Remembering my own scars, long since faded, I can still see the faint suture marks on my finger from an exploding glass Coke bottle when I was 4 years old, only one year older than my daughter at this moment. It was deep and I needed 6 stitches.
And then there is the tiny one tucked neatly into my eyebrow from a run in with a coffee table (isn’t it a rite of passage for toddlerhood?).
And there is the 5-inch surgical scar on my belly and small ones on my back and belly button where they cut me open to operate on my back and eventually to fuse my spine. Those have left me with the most physical pain and a disability I wasn’t quite prepared for.
But the deepest one of all isn’t visible on the outside.
I didn’t even realize it was there at all for the longest time. Lost in delusion I thought my self-hatred must be my fault and that at the heart of it all it was just because I was innately bad and wrong.
What is that quote from The Perks of Being A Wallflower that we accept the love we think we deserve? The love that I had accepted was lukewarm and half-assed because that is all I could muster for myself.
Two decades of self-loathing and an eating disorder later, I couldn’t ignore things anymore. My ostrich approach was not working. I worked and toiled and did everything I could possibly think of to find my way out of the darkness of depression and bulimia- medication, therapy, yoga and meditation.
You name it. Anything to find the source of the self-loathing and rip it out by the roots so that I could watch it wither and die next to the bed of wildflowers I planted in it’s place.
So the behavior change was complete.
But the feelings were still there.
The source of the feelings that caused my eating to become disordered in the first place was not dispelled. I thought by changing the behaviors themselves everything would take care of itself and I could continue on the same upward trajectory.
Promising myself I would not let my issues affect my kids (too late) I tried to continue to work on my “issues”. With a son, my “girl” issues fell to the side. But then my daughter was born. was so wrong about being healed. I was just too numbed out to know the difference. On the outside the wound of self-hatred should be long healed.
But sometimes when I touch the bandaged place, it feels sore and infected- like I forgot to tend to it. I covered it and looked away praying that it would heal and I could move on. Turns out it doesn’t work that way. You have to clean out the wound. A nurse should know better, right?
So it festered. I covered it because I couldn’t look at it. The product was a life consumed by self-hatred and the delusion “I am flawed”. It leaves you paralyzed and confused you and then abandons you to rot in your own self-loathing.
The signs weren’t obvious to me.
When my hatred for my body and myself started at the tender age of 10, I did not understand where it came from. Not understanding the basis for these feelings did not stop me from being acutely aware that those feelings followed me my entire adolescent and adult life despite not ever getting at the source. I thought it was because that I really was stupid, ugly, fat, unworthy, or any number of things that I had convinced myself that I was over all this time insert self-deprecating adjective here__________.
The list is endless. You know what I’m talking about. Insert your own_________.
We all have a list of things we think we are, don’t we? And we keep telling ourselves again and again,
“This is my story” I had to learn to love myself so that I could show my daughter how to do the same. If realizing your shit is going to affect your child if you don’t figure it out isn’t enough to motivate you, I don’t know what is. Somehow, though, I had this idea that it should end here.
With the discovery that there is nothing inherently wrong with me. I feel like the awareness should be enough. It’s not. Despite no longer being visible, the scar remains. And it still hurts even though I don’t feel like it should. It is such an old wound. How can it still hurt like this?
Intellectually I know these things can’t hurt me anymore. I’m not afraid of the dark now that I turned the light on in the hidden recesses of my mind. I know that my long-standing disdain for myself, only recently dispelled, is not real. It is unfounded. It isn’t me. It never was. I am whole just the way that I am.
There are no missing pieces.
Being broken feels catastrophic in the moment you are in it. It leaves you horrified at the tragedy of your fractured life, scared and scrambling to see if you still have all your pieces.
Even if I had some sense that all the pieces were still there – could I somehow gather them all up with a dustpan and broom? Could I sweep them up among the fuzz and sand, and leaves that blew in when the door was left wide open?
And after I fished the pieces out of the dustpan full of dirt, would I ever be able to put them back together again?
That pervasive sense of not being ok, of being deeply flawed, of not feeling deserving of anything that I had been blessed with, continued to follow me through the twisty roads that I had chosen to travel. The routes I concocted just trying to get where I thought was going (wherever that was), without a map, choosing which way to go in the dark- confused and fumbling, squinting to see the signs.Only to find myself then wandering around unfamiliar territory the next morning as the sun came up on the bad turns that I made. My mistakes illuminated until I could see them shimmering like shattered glass scattered on the road, the sun catching each piece making them sparkle like diamonds.
I remember finding a small chunk of busted windshield in a parking lot when I was a little girl. When I picked it up, it fell apart into dozens of tiny pieces. I remember pretending that the little pieces were precious jewels- holding them in my hand and rolling them back and forth. I remember being so excited at my discovery. I even remember envisioning a black velvet pouch to slip them back in to hide them away. My little fantasy was shattered when my Dad saw me playing with broken glass and made me throw it away.
And then it occurs to me.
Forgiveness is what transforms those mistakes when they begin to catch the light. Broken glass is transformed into diamonds in the eyes of a child, not because of delusion, but because a child sees beauty in things that we have forgotten were beautiful. Without forgiveness it remains broken glass.
Forgiveness of all those I felt slighted by somehow, carrying around their rejection like a chain around my neck. And by far the hardest one of all, forgiveness of myself. In finding forgiveness for myself I realize that I’m still that little girl, holding those pieces of glass in my hand like diamonds when all someone else sees is broken glass.
That is my purpose. To take something shattered and make it sparkle. And then I know.
We were never meant to be whole. Like the very atoms we are made of, we can all be broken down to our most basic components. And it is when we are broken that we find what we are made of. What we are capable of. Who we are at our essence. At our core. Our nucleus.
When I was a child, I lived for the time after a huge mid-western thunderstorm would rumble across the newly planted fields and accumulate in the little ditch just beyond the back door. Full of cold, clean, fresh rain I would jump straight in with my bare feet sinking into the soft, soupy earth until the mud in the bottom started to swirl like chocolate syrup in my little makeshift water hole.
I would let my heels sink in, alternating with my toes, rocking back and forth, feeling the cold, smooth mud squeeze between my toes. When you are a child, you don’t mind getting your feet dirty.
So today I’m stepping out the back door and I’m jumping in that huge puddle barefoot before I have a chance to think too much about how dirty my feet will get. The fact is, the mud will wash away in it’s own time. And when the mud is dry and the water washes over my feet and washes them clean.
I know that I’m ok in this moment.
This moment when I realize that it’s the mud that reveals true beauty. Our broken souls, shattered on the ground like an accident scene, sparkling like diamonds, scattering our light in all directions.
I remember the white peonies that flocked the perimeter of my grandma’s yard, and the soil they grew in, that she tended and tilled. The dense, soggy earth, wet with rain that gives rise to layer upon layer of those delicate, white, paper-thin petals.
Their intoxicating smell reminiscent of summers in June and everything that is beautiful to a child before the world tells you its not.
Oh, and that reminds me- It’s Monday, when I put on my mud mask and do my own little DIY beauty treatment. But today when I wash it away, I’m going to look at my reflection and into my own eyes and see the reflection of the little curly headed cherub with a scar on her nose that will fade in it’s own time until it is only a memory,
And the little girl holding a handful of broken glass, and into the striking brown eyes of my beautiful 12 year old niece whose light shines so brightly- already uncomfortable in her own skin before she even has a chance to grow into it and I’m going to look into the eyes of the little girl waiting for the rain to fill the puddle
and then I’m going to look into this now grown woman’s eyes in that same shade of blue, slightly muted with flecks of gold and grey- their corners now graced with soft and delicate lines.
I’m going to see all of those reflections and finally understand that their beauty is overwhelming. Like lotus flowers bursting into bloom with the mud as their medium.
Like diamonds catching the rays and scattering them into a thousand rainbows of beaming light. Let all that muck and broken glass and pain be the food that grows us into the fullness of our soul. Of that which we already are and were always meant to be.