So my son lost his job. He was fired the week before Thanksgiving. His dream job… Well, all right, perhaps it was not his dream job. Let’s just say it was my dream job. One that I would have loved to have had myself. My stomach is still in a knot as I write this post; a week after first hearing the hard news.
He seems ok with it. It seems he’s learned from the mistakes he made. The work wasn’t fulfilling him anymore. He would have quit soon anyway had he not gotten fired. Still. I felt like I’d been smacked in the gut by a bear.
After a day or two of pain, I found myself longing for the foggy dissociative haze that was once my brain. A numbed out holding place where nothing hurt deeply. Everything could be minimized (well, he was going to quit anyway!), spiritualized (God’s got this! Surely this was meant to be!), or blamed (those dirty pigs, firing someone right before the holidays!?!?), OR, (my unique speciality), DOING ALL THREE AT ONCE.
I no longer deny the reality of my abusive childhood, nor my present mental-health-struggles. Living in those truths is changing my brain. One might think that things would get easier when one is getting healthier mentally. It is a bit trickier than that for me. I denied reality (as an unhealthy coping tool), for so long that there are consequences. Bad news is harder to handle than it was prior. The pain is sharp. Foreign. It tempts me to return to the emotion-less-void that is still so familiar to me. On the flip side, exciting events can, literally, be overly stimulating. I also have to enter into those slowly and with caution.
All of which makes the holidays, err, interesting.
Very early in the morning on Thanksgiving day, I put a turkey in the oven with my heart heavy over my son’s situation. The feeling of loss had eased some, but not enough for me to host a gathering with a smile on my face. I knew I had to pull myself together before the turkey was done. The familiar ‘place’ in my mind was waiting for me to return. I entered into the numbness with relief, because, well, have you ever hosted a Thanksgiving dinner at your house?? It is a ton of work!
The scary part is I didn’t even notice, or feel, the burn on my arm that happened when I put the turkey in the oven. An hour or so later I saw the ugly red gash and only then did the wound begin to throb.
That’s when I realized that it is better to be in reality after all. Because to harm yourself, or to have another harm you, and not even feel it, is scarier to me, now, than anything else. Denial is not a place I want to be anymore.
I thought of Jesus weeping outside of Lazarus’s tomb. The shortest verse in all of Scripture: John 11:35. A mere two words: Jesus wept.
Dead Lazarus–whom Jesus knew would be raised from the dead in mere moments. Why the tears? Why not focus on the miracle, which was literally about to happen, and which Jesus alone knew was about to happen. It seems strange–why He would cry. Everyone else, who had no idea Lazarus was about to come back to life — sure — it makes complete sense that they would cry and wail and mourn. But why was Jesus crying over something He was about to fix?
Perhaps it is because Jesus didn’t deny any truth. Not for a second. And in that moment, wherein Jesus wept, there was death and loss and hard changes and grieving people all around Him–and so He cried too. He felt the pain. The God-man who is full of Grace AND Truth… stayed in reality.
Scripture doesn’t record Jesus’ reaction when Lazarus emerged from that tomb moments later. But I suspect Jesus was shouting, laughing, dancing, hugging and crying happy tears along with everyone else. I have a hard time believing that He was just standing there, aloof and removed. I think He engaged fully in the celebration which likely ensued.
Living outside of reality works to escape the pain of life, in your mind at least. But the body knows when an injury has occurred, even when the mind is somewhere else. The body always knows. Books have been written about that (The Body Keeps the Score. When the Body Says No.). I’ve read them both in my recovery. They make some very good points; I dare say: chilling points about the importance of living in reality. Indeed, just like my Thanksgiving day oven-burn, it can’t be ignored forever. The body will get the mind’s attention eventually and then it will hurt. We think we can ignore it as a way to deal with it, but it won’t disappear like a salesman at the door. It waits and waits, even though you never invited it in, the pain doesn’t leave. The saddest thing is that a whole lot of restorations and resurrections might happen while you are ignoring the door.
It would be a tragedy to miss those while hiding from pain. And so, while part of me still wants to numb out, a bigger part of me wants to experience all of life. The pain and the joy. The sadness and the celebration. So I placed the good china on the table with a gash on my arm, tears in my throat, and a smile on my face. I felt it all that day. My emotions looked like the heaping bowls of sides, the platter of turkey, and the four kinds of dessert. Or was it five?
There was too much of everything.
But it was good.