I have Lyme. I’d like to not have it anymore. I also just want cake.
So… loss, amirite? Nothing is more universal than loss. Even if everything in your life is perfect, which it’s not, so… don’t try to lie and tell me it is. We live in a world of entropy; you’re losing things right now you don’t even realize. But this is not a science class. So, enough of that. I felt like writing about loss today (obviously), so I’m going to. It’s my blog and I’ll do what I want to, say what I want to, make you cry if I want to. But you probably won’t cry. I’m not about that downer life. I’m gonna try to inspirational the heck out of this post.
I know the phrase is always “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away”, but that hasn’t been my experience. So I reversed it. And I have three actual life experiences to share that back up my revision. One of which is Lyme. I bet you already guessed that one. But it’s the last one. So forget about it for right now.
My first marriage (wow I hate that paragraph opening. I hate saying those words. I shouldn’t feel like that but I do. Like I’m some kind of man-hopping Liza Minelli type – wait was she? I hate suggesting someone’s marriages weren’t taken seriously, I don’t know her personally, please forgive me if I’ve assumed something I shouldn’t why am I rambling). Okay so my first marriage guys, was a struggle. I was raised in this wonderful family where loss wasn’t something I was accustomed to, at least life-altering loss (my brothers DID eat all the good cereal before I ever could, and on a repeating basis at that so I felt like I knew loss, such great, cinnamon toast crunchy loss). But I didn’t. So fast-forward a few years and I meet this wonderful, polite, mild-mannered and God-devoted man and we marry and I feel like I have just been blessed with this wonderful thing that fulfilled every teenage pre-expectation of what married life would be. But it wasn’t.
And I know all of you married folks out there are doing this right now…
For me though, it was new. And it wasn’t just like if he leaves his clothes and wet towel on the bathroom floor one more time so help me blah blah blah, but it was tough stuff guys. Within months what I believed my marriage to be was taken from me and a new marriage was put in its place. One where my needs went unfulfilled. One where my trust level crumbled to zero. One that isolated me and for a long time held me in this stagnant place of secrecy about my situation. One where I was put in a place where I believed I had to be strong and guarded and had to build a 3-foot thick concrete wall around my heart in order to survive. Anyone who lives with an addict will understand. You become robbed of many things. Most of all, your hopes and dreams.
I survived in this marriage for 4 and a half years. I think the both of us could say that. He had much survival attempts on his end too. He tried so hard every day. He battled. And even though our battles were both centered around his choices, our battles were so very different. As time passed I got my bearings again. I fully accepted the situation, had mourned the loss of the ideals I had brought in to the marriage, and began to make a choice. And this is where I believe the critical point is for all of us confronted with trials and hardships we would never have chosen to enter. Hardships always presents two paths and yet only one of them leads back to life reimbursement, so to speak.
I could have become extremely bitter. I could have blamed him for tricking me or causing me so much misery. I could have escalated the ugliness. I could have immediately divorced him. I could have become hardened and callous and allowed my experiences to turn me in to a person skeptical of the world and maybe there were many days where I was. But every day, for nearly four years, I woke up and chose to try to forgive him, whether he asked for it or not. I just began my day with forgiveness in my heart, no matter what emotional chaos, deceiving, or disappointment that day would bring. If he came to me repentant and asking my forgiveness, I would freely give it. If he came to me needing emotional support, I would choose to not remember how little I was receiving from him and give to him anyways. I chose to stop keeping score. I built a home and a surrounding that was conducive to the goals we both shared – overcoming his addiction. I was not perfect by any means. I was young and naive and barely knew how to do any of these things, but I tried. If you just try, and keep on trying, that’s all that matters. I chose to turn to God for my un-met needs instead and every day I immersed myself in reading scripture. I’m not going to tell you everything became easy. I am obviously not going to tell you the marriage was saved, because I’m obviously no longer married to this person. I’m not going to use the word “obviously” twice in one sentence anymore either. I’m also not going to sit here and type out how all my tears were turned to joy. They were not.
And yet, He giveth.
I look back on those years as priceless. WUT. It’s true. I became an adult during those years. I learned how to forgive. Not just like, oh you dropped my favorite blush compact and now the powder is all broken up and I am really mad about it forgiveness. But like gut-wrenching, soul-twisting, how could you possibly see me pained and hurt and lost and crying on the hardwood floors from your actions and yet within hours go and do the very same thing to me again forgiveness. It hurt more than anything else to do it. But I learned how to do it. To really do it. To do it without guile or secret grudges or secret counts of wrongdoings against me in my head. I believe I was given this because I wanted it, and I worked for it. I didn’t just wake up one day and decide “Oh I’m going to be this wonderfully forgiving yet not enabling person”, or “I am going to just go ahead and love this person that is hurting me anyways” and have it just happen. Four years people. It took four years to develop. The same with compassion. I chose to see past myself and view his pain instead. I could go on. I grew so much as a person during those years. I grew closer to God. I had amazing spiritual experiences that I consider sacred and will remember for the rest of my life. I know all of these things were given because I decided I would choose the better path. He makes up for the loss in unexpected ways.
A few years later, I would experience another significant loss. To be truthful guys, the losses keep growing bigger. Sooo, head’s up. I was living in Scottsdale. I had just finished eating a $5 dollar avocado burger from Carl’s Jr. for dinner. I was watching “W” the movie. I could tell you every detail of the day if I wanted. But I won’t bore you with the mundane details of a day that for you was probably normal, but for me, changed everything. Just let it prove to you that the day is forever etched in my mind. My phone rang. I know the exact scene in the movie where it did. It was my father. He could hardly speak. He kept repeating my name over and over. My younger brother had just been killed a few hours earlier in a motorcycle accident.
I fell apart. I began shaking violently. I spent the entire night sick in the bathroom waiting for my morning flight back home to my family. The following two weeks were a blur. I still remember bits and pieces. Bits like standing around the family room of my childhood home with my other siblings, all of us in shock with blank faces as Grapevine Fires by Deathcab for Cutie was somehow randomly playing on tv. Pieces like crying myself to sleep every night in the basement of this home or the part where I was walking towards his casket prior to the viewing, almost in slow motion, as I looked upon him for the first time since my last visit home for Christmas. This was my first real, up close, personal, ripped-from-my-own-flesh experience with death. This was a person whose diapers I changed, who I watched grow and whom I played with as I grew too. A brother who had a tumultuous adolescence and a brother I prayed for and spilled tears for. A brother who was beginning to grow in to himself and taking wonderful paths. A brother whom I identified with in so many ways, and a brother who could make me laugh and whom I loved more than myself. This was my flesh, and had it been any of my four siblings it would have been the same. It was grief previously unknown to me. It was a depth of grief that I did not know existed.
And yet, He giveth.
This experience melded our family together tight as steel because, again, we all made a choice. We mourned together, we laughed over memories together, we felt each other’s pain together, we became emotionally vulnerable together. As a family we each individually decided that instead of cursing God for taking our Justin on the cusp of overcoming his demons and experiencing success and accomplishment, we willingly gave him back. We exercised faith in the loss. In the midst of our grief, we chose not our will, but His.
Waves of grief would wash over me for many months to come and at times, they would overcome me. If I was at work, I was pulling myself together in a bathroom stall. If I was driving, I would have to pull over. Choosing to have faith in the loss does not take away your grief. But you choose it anyways. Again, I was blessed with so many positive experiences as I did this. I learned my brother is ok. He is happy. He is active. He is waiting for us. I know we all have differing beliefs, and many who will read this blog may not agree with mine. That’s ok. But for me, I believe my choosing a path of faith in the unknown reasons for my loss brought me knowledge of Justin’s continuing existence on the other side. I gained this, I gained greater faith and greater compassion for those who also grieve. I gained a greater understanding of this life and the life to come and I gained many sacred and personal moments that again, I will always hold dear. From time to time I feel my brother near, checking in on me. It is tangible, always visceral, and always leaves me in awe.
You know what’s coming next. After all, this IS a Lyme blog. You know that this time, it was my life that I lost. A life I lost and yet was still forced to exist in. I had just remarried a wonderful person. A person who embodied everything I expected my first marriage to be, ten years later. I had just settled in to a life I was completely happy and fulfilled living in. I had a job that I liked. I felt great. I was active and strong and feeling old wounds healing. I was building the most self-confidence that I’d ever had previously. I liked myself. My life was filled with things that I liked. However, as with the loss of my brother, overnight that all changed. I lost it all. I lost the ability to participate in my new joy-filled marriage. I lost the ability to properly perform my job duties, and eventually, I lost my job. I lost my strength and my ability to participate in activities I loved. I lost the ability to eat foods I loved. I lost the ability to remember things, to perform basic cognitive tasks, to sleep, to take a shower, to watch tv or go out in the sun or to exist without fear and discomfort. I lost the blessing of being able to wake up each day and not immediately be held back by severe physical and psychiatric symptoms. I became a shell. An illness I had been harboring unknown had finally flared as if the Hoover Dam broke.
We used to spend our time doing things like exploring remote Costa Rican jungles… to just playing Words With Friends together on the couch. For years.
Nearly two years later I look back on the journey this illness has taken me and more than any other moment of loss I’ve experienced, this one makes me the most… verklempt. I rarely talk about even 15% of it in public. Because. Verklempt.
When they say the depth of your suffering, or grief, or sorrow or whatever such things like that, indicates the heights to which you can experience joy, it’s true. I have not known suffering like this before… I didn’t know it even existed. I have not known loss like this before… I wasn’t aware it even came in this form. I have not known such long-term discomfort without any time-frame for release, before. I have not been faced with so many of my fears all grouped together in one experience, before. My process of acceptance and overcoming took many stages, but eventually I chose to grow. To accept. To overcome fear. To focus outward. I learned in a way I hadn’t before that no matter what your suffering looks like, if you quit focusing so much on yourself, you quit caring so much about yourself… in a good way. When you quit asking for your suffering to end, you start asking for ways you can rise above it. What you can do. How you can reach out. A compassion grows. Empathy grows. Patience grows. You become this person who is transformed. Transformed doesn’t even accurately describe it though. I have grown so much and grown more aware of others from this illness than from any prior experience. I feel the depth of my very soul has been painfully dug out week by week, month by month, until my ability to feel and understand the importance of this life has blossomed. I am not the same person I was before my first Emergency Room visit when my health suddenly went berserk back on June 19, 2003. A date which I share with my brother’s death. A date I have coined as the re-birth for both of us.
This illness has also brought back into my life my former passions for art and writing. Through both I have reconnected with or met such wonderful people, all of which have been blessings for me. Through this blog alone I’ve met some amazing people. A woman recently reached out to me who said she heard about my blog from a lady in her doctor’s office. Um, what? You guys know about my blog? People actually read this? And pass it along? That blows my mind. But anyways, Kristie is the embodiment of everything I’ve spoken of, to me. In our brief conversations I have felt of her joys and her losses, and her great joys despite her losses. It has made her beautiful inside and out. I want to be a Kristie. Just look at her in this stunning photo. This is Kristie, arms and face heaven-raised during the storm, and joyful in the storm. Her spirit is mighty. Don’t you want to be a Kristie too?
I don’t regret or bemoan becoming sick at all… and it isn’t even over yet. I can not explain my gratitude for my experiences with this illness without weeping. All of these losses I’ve experienced (and these three just being a few of many), had the power to shatter me. And, many of them have. In fact, I think I came out of my 20’s in about a million pieces. And just as I was starting to pick up my pieces and put them back together again, the whole Lyme thing happened. God has a funny way of building you in to something better. I was speaking with my mother the other day and we laughed at how society would have sent me to a therapist, would have told me to “focus on me”, would have given me license to indulge in a little selfishness in order to find myself again and build back my confidence. But God? NOPE. He was all like “let’s take this from her and this and this and this and this and this and then that and that and that, and once she stops spinning and starts trying to live again, let’s drop the hardest one yet on her and see what she does”. I don’t know if I have done everything He hoped I would or if I have handled my illness with as much grace and faith as He hoped for. I hope I’ve come close. But all that aside, after everything I’ve gained from these past two years, I can’t help but kneel (while the storm still rages) in gratitude and humbly acknowledge, “He giveth”.
In fact, He giveth more.