“Stay away from her…… she’s really messed up right now….. damaged….. you don’t want to talk to her!”
THAT is the first he ever knew of me, words of warning whispered to him as he gazed at me from across the room in a crowded bar on a random Wednesday night…….I still don’t understand why she said it, Why she described me in that way, Why she would warn him off.
Except…….. it was true, every word of it!
She had watched me struggle, cry, scream, drown myself in bottles of wine, unable to eat
She had seen me stand, for months, on the brink of total destruction day in and day out, clinging to a buoy in the middle of my emotional ocean trying desperately not to drown in my bitterness and anger, my hurt and my hatred.
And I was losing the battle!
But I was breathing and in that season of my life, that was all I could do.
Frankly, I was proud of just breathing! I was keeping the promise I made myself that night…. the night my world fell apart, when I promised myself I wouldn’t be destroyed.
Problem is: breathing isn’t living!
I kissed him that night in that bar and despite what she’d said, he kissed me back! He’s perfect like that!
I wasn’t the kind of girl that kissed random guys in random bars…. But that night, I did……for all the wrong reasons.
I kissed him because I was lonely and dying on the inside. I kissed him because I needed to feel alive. I kissed him because he didn’t know me or my story and he didn’t feel sorry for me. I kissed him because he was cute and funny and represented a freedom I couldn’t experience with anyone else in my life …….I kissed him because at that moment, with him, I wasn’t that girl with that story.
And for all the wrong reasons, I ended up quitting my job and moving all the way across the country to be with him. I left everything I had ever known: my friends, my family, North Carolina and that awful story!
I said, “moving out to California is an exciting adventure full of freedom and a fresh beginnings…. “
Which is all just lovely way of saying that I was running. Running as fast as I could away from my nightmares. Running toward him. Not because we had taken the time to build a solid and grounded relationship, not because I had carefully considered whether it was the right decision for my life or my heart, but because it was an out from the hell I needed to escape.
I did love California….. I loved being there, I loved my life there and I didn’t want to come back but for all the wrong reasons! No one there knew me, no one knew my secret, no one looked at me with those sad eyes. It was just him and me day in and day out….. it was wonderful, but for all the wrong reasons.
Then we dated, got engaged, moved back to North Carolina and got married…… for some of the wrong reasons. I say “some” because there were right reasons: I did love him greatly as I walked down the aisle to become his wife. I did, with all my heart, want to be with him and have a future with him…… and still do and I knew he was one of a kind! He had patiently started putting the pieces back together.
But there were wrong reasons too……reasons that should not have been part of my answer when I said “yes” to his generous offer to claim me and all my mess as his forever:
I was 36 years old and scared I would never get married;
I was dependent on him, in all the wrong ways, though I would never admit it then,
But most of all, the biggest wrong reason….. it was a way to show the world (and myself)that I was fine, just fine…. All better!
To give my story had a happy ending!
I told myself I was ready, I knew it was time, I swore I was past my past! I was wrong!
I wasn’t finished healing… not even close! But I had grown much better at hiding my scars – which was worse…….. way worse! Scars demand attention and the cracks…. they always show, after time, and mine were no exception.
8 months before we kissed in that bar that night, I said “yes” to a cute cop holding a beautiful ring.
6 months before we kissed in that bar that night I was part of a beautiful couple with someone else and I had a beautiful white dress and the spring wedding coming.
And 4 months before we kissed in that bar that night, I walked in my house and it all fell apart right before my eyes.
I watched in slow motion as my fiancé pulled the gun from a drawer. I watched him stare straight ahead at the wall, never once looking at me, thought he knew I was there. I watched him put the gun to his head and then he pulled the trigger. I watched his body crumble to the ground. I stood in the room unable to move or scream or stop it. I remember every detail. I remember the sounds, the smell, the smoke, the bullet. I remember knowing instantly that he was dead. I was frozen and the moment seemed to last for hours though it was really much shorter. It only took seconds for him to destroy so much of my life and his for all the wrong reasons.
I ran, after the gun fired…. I ran… right out the front door. His friend was there, he caught me in his arms as I fell to the ground screaming.
The next few hours and days seem like vivid still shots from a movie:
There was the shaking….. I couldn’t stop shaking… lying in the middle of my front yard;
there was the bright light of the helicopter hovering over our house shining its spotlight down;
there was the flood of investigators and there were questions;
there was the gun residue test on my hands and there was kindness of a senior officer;
there was my dad who arrived much sooner that he should have been able to from his house hours away and
there was my mom with her sisters because they had been out shopping;
there was yellow tape…….. a lot of yellow tape as they took me away to a hotel.
Then there was the flight to his home and more questions and
there were the lies told by those embarrassed by the true facts;
there was the eloquent eulogy I gave at the funeral;
there was the praise and admiration for my great strength;
there was his grave……. And the single rose I laid upon it and
there was the last tear, the last tear I allowed myself to cry.
And then there was nothing….. just nothing, inside or out – I was numb, dead, broken and destroyed…..
There was nothing for a very long time!
That was seven years ago.
Today, the man I kissed in that bar that night, is still my husband and we are still married, for all the right reasons.
Today I am a mother to 2 beautiful and energetic boys who are the reason my heart beats every day.
I struggle with the balance of work and home and the waves of mommy guilt that threaten to wash me away some days. My dreams are common: more time and energy, more patience, constant laughter and more memories. I pray every day that I am making the right decisions for my family, my marriage and my children and that I am making them for all the right reasons.
Today, I still struggle with the scars that tragedy and hurt left behind. I am sure I always will. I am not special. Everyone has scars…… Scars that threatens to define us …… to steal our joy.
Today I am called a “Suicide Survivor”, a title I did not ask for …… a title I want to give back….. a label burned into my being like a scarlet letter. Survivor…. (SIGH)…… I want to so much more than just to survive…….. I want to thrive full of joy and gratitude.
Today there are days when there is still nothing. Joy doesn’t come natural like it does to others, not just yet anyway. For me, it’s a choice, a struggle, a battle, every day…… every moment. It’s like if you had to constantly remember to breath…… you know you can’t just stop, you can’t just forget it, you can’t just live without it; you have to make the effort because if you don’t, you will die! You can’t live without breaths and you can’t really live without joy.
Today instead of joy I live with fear, constant fear. Fear of the unknown and the known. Fear for the reasonable and unreasonable …… Like the night I would not allow our first-born’s pack and play to be placed under a ceiling fan because I was convinced the fan would shake as it turned and a screw would get loose and the fan would fall on him in the middle of the night or the reason every single night I must actually see our front door locked despite my husband’s verbal assurances that he has locked it. Horrible situations constantly playing in my mind at all moments of the day, like a horror movie that just won’t stop. I don’t know why this is, I assume it’s because I have had a front row seat to see life’s fleeting nature, I saw death happen right before my eyes, I understand how uncontrollable life is and how quickly the unthinkable can happen and how bad things can be……. And how bad it can hurt!
Fear is an ugly powerful monster. Joy is like chocolate for fear and it devours all of the joy it can from us.
I long for the day I can fully embrace life every day, with a natural joy that replaces the fear and echoes in laughter that fills my home. I long for the day I look in the mirror and don’t still see traces of those tears I cried so many years ago, the day the scars have all faded. I want to feel the light of healing and forgiveness and the absence of bitterness.
I want to fully understand grace and learn to extend that to myself!
I am not there yet, even now……. But I’m getting there…. day by day…… I know it’s coming: the Peace that passeth all understanding.
There is an urgency now; I must not pass these scars onto my children. I must show them to overcome, to thrive and not just survive because that’s not enough. Breathing in and out…. existing, it’s not enough! I want more than that for them…. I want more for them, for my family and for me! I want them to love without fear. When they hurt, I want them to cry, to let it out and to own it proudly……… there is no shame in tears. I want them to heal and to not just be tough and strong. There is strength in tears.
I want joy….. I crave it…… like a rabid beast starved of meat but there are days when it still feels just out of grasp. My daily prayer is this, “God fill my home so full of joy and laughter that it spills into the streets and God, make me the epicenter of it so that my kids may learn to live differently than me and remember me as happy.”
I am working on it and fighting those old demons every day. Until I get there, I will keep fighting……. drawing strength from my God, my faith, my husband, my family and my own inner strength….. because I am strong, unbelievably so……. We all are, you are!
I am still broken and cracked, but I now know that God uses adversity. He allows circumstances to create those cracks in our lives, the ones we try to hide, because it’s the cracks that allow his light to shine out to the world from within us.
And that guy I kissed in that bar….. he’s still with me…… we are still holding hands and we are still kissing, even during the storms because those wrong reasons, they have made us stronger and drawn us closer. We are still learning to dance in the rain, but he loves me just the way I am and exactly where I am. He does not try to change me, he does not try to fix me, he just understands me and in that way, he is perfect.
Those wrong reasons have cause hurt and hard times and they have created challenges, but I know all those wrong reasons led me to where I am today and it is where I am meant to be…….
Our life is not perfect, but it is blessed beyond measure. It is more than I could have ever imagined or prayed for. That’s the awesome thing about God, he knows what you really want and need more than you do.
Even when we make choices for all the wrong reasons, God sees our hearts, he knows our pain and struggles, he forgives our weaknesses and he offers grace making our messy beautiful.
This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!