My friend Marnie recently spoke at our women’s group, this is her story as I heard it. I’m glad she agreed to let me share it – her story needs a voice.
‘…I had always felt the different one in my loving home – the loud, crazy, weird one. I was proud of my outspokenness and I liked to have fun. I was the big one, the insensitive one in social situations. At school I was the ‘not so pretty girl’ and the target for bullies. While I was proud of being different I didn’t realize a seed of rejection had been planted and the rejection I faced at school and church watered this until the roots began to choke out the person I was. They shaped me into a hard, strong, independent woman, who covered sadness with humor, surrounding myself with people and activities to keep my sadness and anxiety at bay. In all the surrounding I was lonely.
My earliest memories are of anxiety and worry. I felt like I had to make sure everyone in my family was safe, if I could control every situation it would be OK.
This behavior continued into my adulthood and just before I got married my body began to break down. The constant stress and anxiety started to take its toll and I developed allergies resulting in torturous itching.
I married my college sweetheart and promptly regretted it. Marriage wasn’t anything that I had thought it would be. I had married an alien – how was I going to do this for the rest of my life?
My health issues continued, a herniated disc, years of debilitating pain, unable to walk most days and in and out of the hospital. The pain radiated down my leg causing permanent nerve damage. I suffered in silence. I withdrew from life, angry at God, wondering why he was doing this to me. This was not what I had planned. I was going to be a wife and mom who stayed at home and raised my babies. So far I had married an alien, had 2 miscarriages and was unable to carry a baby to term. As my friends around me were having babies I sunk into anger and despair.
I had always felt a calling to adopt and had shared this with Rob before we got married. One day we received a call from the ministry saying that they were looking to place a child into a family. This started us on the fast track through home studies and background checks. The child was placed elsewhere but during the process we met our son. We fell in love with 3 year old Geo, he came to live with us, it was clear he was in mourning for the loss of all that he had known. He had come from a completely dysfunctional situation where there were no boundaries or rules, for a child with FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) this was a really unhealthy combination.
We believed the sooner he had boundaries, rules and structure he would be much better off, we focused more on bad behavior than on forging a strong loving relationship. We didn’t realize the damage that was being done and as we focused on curbing the bad behavior his frustration and anger grew.
When Geo was 11, it all came to a head. We had just had our birth daughter and we had also adopted two more children with FASD. Our house was out of control and I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Geo refused to assimilate with our family and was becoming increasingly more abusive and mean to us all. He began running away and destroying his room. Staying up throughout the night screaming and pounding the walls while kicking the ceiling above his bunk bed. We were all at our wits end and the anger that we felt towards him was toxic to all of us. We began looking for treatment programs for troubled youth but found Canada sadly lacking. My life long friend with 2 teenage boys offered to take Geo for 2 months so that we could regroup. During this time we got a key worker who worked with us to understand FASD and we started to implement strategies that would help us all succeed. I was not emotionally prepared for his return, suffering with PTSD from years of emotional abuse and his rejection of me as his mom. His behaviour continued.
I had completely shut myself off from everyone and had nothing to give. I met an acquaintance one day who invited me to a bible study on love.
I laughed to myself as I thought that once again God was giving me a kick to get up and love this kid. For many years, well meaning people had offered their help and advice. Often pushing me more to bury myself away reminding me again of the root of ‘you are not good enough’. I had nowhere else to run, my humor was gone, I said ‘OK God if this is what I need to do I will do it.’
I went to the bible study on love and I listened quietly until I thought my head would explode, I finally said to the leader ‘how can I love someone who is abusing me’? I closed my eyes and squared my shoulders waiting for the inevitable Christian answer. But it never came, instead the women came around me and prayed for me. They gave me grace. This was my first breakthrough into healing and softening my heart – and I will never forget that feeling of grace. I never realized that what I was craving was grace. The strong independent one who never gave grace to myself or others. Something inside me changed as I experienced grace. Grace is so important in this busy, harsh and judgmental world that we live in. I began to heal slowly, but not enough, I was still stuck in my pain.
We finally met our counselor who helped us transform our family, by introducing us and teaching us the works of Gordon Neufeld. Through many months of counselling we have learned to stop reacting to Geo’s behaviour and instead address the root. Asking ourselves first why is he so angry and frustrated? How have we contributed to that? How can we respond differently in order to diffuse that anger and frustration? What does he need from us?
We started building a connection that was subtle, persistent, enduring and calm. Geo began to feel like we “got” him, that we really were in charge and that things were going to be OK. With that sense, he could breath a little more deeply and learn to relax and rest, instead of constantly living in the fight or flight mode. We learned to find a softness for him that we had lost along the way.
But, I didn’t think I would ever learn to love this kid again. I was holding onto my anger and sadness with everything in me, I was so defended after years of pain and abuse that had been inflicted by Geo, I did not have any desire to change it. The only reason I agreed to go to counseling was because I had 3 others coming up behind him. If I could stop what had happened with Geo from happening with the other kids, I would go. I had absolutely no hope of repairing our relationship.
The process of trying to fix my son led me to the startling realization that it was me that needed fixing. My counselor kept telling me, “you need to find your sadness, find your tears for this kid. You need to feel your futility”. Human nature is such that when the going gets tough we get tougher. I had lost my ability to feel my sadness because if I did I might shatter into a million pieces. As I started realizing what it meant to find my sadness I began to feel the layers start to unravel, recognizing how they had changed who I was. My past had shaped the person that I was. My parents were amazing, loving and committed, who were frustrated with a daughter that they didn’t understand or know how to help. They, as we were, would have been heart broken to know that they had wounded me with their words. I would not have recognized it had it not been for what we began to understand from Gordon Neufeld about anxiety and defended behavior with respect to feelings of attachment.
Every reaction I had in my life was based on those feelings of the little girl trapped in perceived rejection – toward my friends – being funny, toward my parents – controlling circumstances, towards my husband – never relying on him, towards my kids – not being soft and loving, and towards God by trying to run the show on my own.
I was defended against being vulnerable – to everyone. – how then could I expect my 11 year old to be any less defended against vulnerability?
When I was able to see Geo for the scared, lonely three year old that he had been, I began my journey to find my tears. I shed the tears of my futility and it helped me to cultivate courage.
I had the courage to face my fears and in doing so, I am now able to live my authentic self, the woman God made me to be, not the woman that others caused me to see myself as, not the woman I had molded myself into, but the woman God saw me as.
I no longer feel different, I feel strong, poised with God’s strength not my own. I no longer feel inadequate to be a mother my 4 beautiful children. I am secure and through his grace laying it down daily – my anxieties, sadness. In doing so I am learning to be a softer, gentler more compassionate me.
I strive to give grace to others and to myself. God has tasked me with 3 special need kids and a toddler who tests me daily. When the going gets tough they inspire me to be softer not harder. I try to find my heart eyes – to look underneath the surface of the moment to the inner workings of my kids, to try to find a way to really see each of my kids with eyes that know them and their needs and then the answer of what they need in that moment becomes intuitive. This journey has not been easy and I probably would not have chosen it but had I not gone through every single one of the trials I would not have found my way back to God, to my authentic self.
The bible says “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ 2 Corinthians 12:9
When I allowed the feeling of grace to wash over me from others it began to change me, when I allowed God’s grace and God’s strength to flow through me that is when the real change started.
‘God desires to restore us—the real us. As he heals our inner life, he calls us to rise to the occasion of our lives. The most important journey any woman can take is the journey into becoming her true self through the love of God. It’s a beautiful paradox. The more of God’s you become, the more yourself you become—the “self” he had in mind when he thought of you before the creation of the world’. Staci Eldridge ‘Becoming Myself – Embracing God’s Dream of You’
Thanks for taking the time to read this, I hope it encourages you,
See you tomorrow, Michelle xoxo