It’s not that I didn’t expect change. Of course I did; and it’s not like my concept of change was minimal; it wasn’t. However, change has always been a relatively fluid concept in my life, I don’t much care for it and I am keenly aware of its presence regardless the situation. Changes in the pictures in the frames on the mantel, no more mint tea at my local supermarket, my fiancé’s face when he realizes a food I suggested wasn’t actually disgusting. Change. I hate it, or I say I do, but I roll with it because I can adapt. That’s the thing about rock bottom when or if you ever do reach it. Change is the only option left. No more freebies, no get out of jail cards (literally) no more paper thin excuses or half assed truths. If you are lucky enough to hit bottom after free falling through trap doors for a decade then change is inevitable. It’s all you got. There’s up and there is dead, and trust me when I say this, death is the easier of the two.
People don’t believe in it for the most part How much can people really change? Arguably you are who you are until you’re not. You’re still you, just playing someone else that better fits your circumstance. So they’re skeptical, and they’re wary and for the most part they’re unimpressed. Because ours is a life of words, little action. We make a thousand perfect promises we never keep and burn down every remaining bridge until the distance is so great- words mean nothing. Then comes part two- action and the only key to action is time. Time to prove to no one else but yourself that you’re not all bullshit. That you do go for walks at dusk with your new baby. That you do believe your opinions on controversial matters are valuable enough to speak truth those who you’re afraid. That you do start eating gluten free, and don’t eat left overs in the light of the refrigerator at midnight. Because these are the changes that are more vital then their parent changes like sobriety, true love, healthy relationships, surrounding yourself with only good people and deciding even when harder to make better choices.
Because it’s in the small changes, that the big changes earn validation. I won’t tell you that I’m living a better life if I don’t want you dropping by my house uninvited. I won’t tell you this guys’ different if all you hear are excuses. I won’t allow myself to bring another life into the world, if I’m still an infant myself. I won’t give advice if I won’t follow it in my own choices and I absolutely will not ask for trust because I’m aware trust is like jumping out of an airplane and hoping that this time, unlike the ten times before, your parachute will work.
So let change be what it is. Scary, often painful and more often than not shown only in verbiage rarely action. I can tell you everything I know you want to hear. I’ve honed that skill over far too many years of letting manipulation define my worth. But watch my actions. Come to my home, love my child, watch Netflix on the couch with me all day and feel that I am present now. Not because I say I am, but because truly that ease you feel around me now took years to earn. I’m proud of many things I’ve accomplished in my 30 some odd years of existence, and fatally horrified by more. But that which I’m proud of are the things that earned me a warm bed to sleep in, a man whose love alone proved that hopeless romantics really should hold on, a baby girl with dark hair and blue eyes who smells like lavender and grabs my pinkie like she’ll never let go and a family who- though tentatively- years later have helped me find the bricks to rebuild the valley of castles I burned down. Be proud of change, allow change, create change, and never, ever look back.
The weird part isn’t the expectations of what you should be, or who you were, or who, inevitably you are. The weird part is the change. The moment you realize this life is a new one. Not one that you returned for parts and made of it what you could, its the one you never thought you’d drive. Shining sliver emblems attached to the hood… The parts all came together in this way that you cant really explain but you try too. You answer their questions, you parade their admirations, but you, for the first time are truly a part of something so great, so different, so not you that you’re constantly reminding yourself that it is how it appears. Brighter. The ceilings are higher, the colors are brighter. You stop choosing black as your go to color and opt for burgundy’s and rustic teals instead. You decorate your home, or your body differently than you used to. You want people to be able to read you, but make sure they never stumble upon the missing chapters. The ones you tore apart your body in. The ones that scream pain, darkness. Those chapters used to lead people into believing you needed to be saved. But you’re not a kitten, stuck in a tree somewhere. Youre not the kind of girl that heard fairytales and learned that monsters exist. Youre the kind of girl that read fairytales and learned that monsters can be killed.
Youre quiet a lot, when you’ve been through things that other people fear understanding. This life isnt meant for the tamed. People try to relate, when they know you come from an ironically claimed “colored past”. And when they do you nod often, but not too often, and you use vocal ques to assure you answer their statements with an interested quip or an assuring “exactly” Like they get it. They don’t get it. No one gets it. You don’t even get it. Because you yearn for normal to find out, there really is no such thing. It’s an idea that we kill ourselves trying to attain, just to capture a moment where you’re not being watched or pitied or disowned. Just normal. Normal like you write down grocery lists by aisle so you don’t have to retrace your steps looking for sugar in the ethnic food isle. Normal like you wake up in the morning without that extra deep breath into your pillow. Normal like you believe your parents to be- until adulthood blows that myth right out of the water. This is the awakening, the moment. There is no normal. There is just good, sometimes even great and if you’re really lucky- enviable. But the latter only works when envy is sought out by those quietly watching, not those your performing for. Performance kills happiness always, and if that last statement makes no sense to you, then trust me… you’re doing it wrong. Happiness isnt a trophy behind glass that those aspiring for the same pat you on the back for. Happiness is never needing any awareness that such trophy exists at all.
So you mend, and you seek and you trust. You slow down, you accept silence and you rock a newborn in a chair until their head falls limp and you are in complete awe of their vulnerability. People ask you what changed and if your answer is anything other than jumping with your eyes closed and trusting the water is deep enough, you’re still holding on. Holding onto the past, the present, the future, the fairytale, the unattainable wealth or unearned fame. Change is unconscionably scary. Change is regret and acceptance and uncertainty and faith. Change is God for some, and reason for others and change is the only key to unlock yourself from rock bottom. Change is beautiful. And change, like life, is only attained when youve stopped forcing its will and allow, with eyes closed, someone to push you off that cliff without ever seeing if the water is even there.
You may write me down in history With your bitter, twisted lies, You may trod me in the very dirt But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you? Why are you beset with gloom? ’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns, With the certainty of tides, Just like hopes springing high, Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken? Bowed head and lowered eyes? Shoulders falling down like teardrops, Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you? Don’t you take it awful hard ’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you? Does it come as a surprise That I dance like I’ve got diamonds At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame I rise Up from a past that’s rooted in pain I rise I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide, Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear I rise Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear I rise Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise I rise I rise.
I wonder what my life will mean to you. I wonder if your eyes will ever see the survivor behind mine. I wonder if you’ll ask questions and if you do if I’ll answer them correctly and with unfiltered honesty. I wonder if some filtering is acceptable. I wonder what your laugh will sound like and if you’ll ask about my tattoos and the scars that lie beneath them. I wonder if I’ll be someone to you more than just your mom. I wonder if my story will change you. I already know your story has changed me.
I know few things but that which I know, I know well. I earned the right to claim my ascending climb to light in my darkness. I earned these lessons in a way I hope and pray you never need to experience to understand. When that stick screamed two red lines I froze. I worried about everything, mostly I worried I wouldn’t have that magical bond- that you’d be put in my arms and I’d stare into blank eyes with an empty heart. I worried because love and vulnerability no longer come easily to me. They’ve been beaten, torn, twisted, misconstrued and used as venom in the life I left behind. I didn’t know what healthy love was. I didn’t know unconditional, I knew only tough love from the family I was burning to the ground- and tainted, twisted, bribed love from those who claimed it was something it would never be. Love was a four letter word that managed to manipulate a great deal of the last decade of my life. A four letter word that I felt so fully, and so strongly as a kid- that I trusted it blindly and completely. So when my decent began, and the darkness trampled in I held on so tightly to the word itself that the actual feeling, the meaning, the strength of such a word became arsenal and I followed it like a moth to a flame, believing cracking promises and grasping at anyone or anything that made me feel worthy. Worthy of twisted love in the darkness is something I hand to god I will never let you feel. Lies of abusers promising their solo understanding of who I was as a person. That no one would love me like they did, that I was unloveable to everyone but these select few who held ice to the lips they had split, or sat in Emergency rooms assuring my story was matching to whatever made it my fault, holding bloody t-shirts to my forehead, split open, blood so thick even my eyes swelled shut. This is the kind of love I had convinced myself I deserved, these were the men that “loved” me, and they were going to save me, cause saving myself would never be an option. Until one day…. one amazing day, it was the only option I had.
Then, I met you little one. 3 plus years later, when the dust had settled and my battle torn family had almost mended back into a different but unexpected unit- even stronger than we’d began and painfully buried and mourned years ago. You, little girl, are a miracle in ways I hope one day you can understand but never have to hit bottom to truly appreciate. My goals for you are simple. The moment I saw your face, everything was re-wired. I no longer selfishly thought how things would effect me, I thought only about how beautiful a life you are destined to have and how, although I know I’ll mess up, probably often, I’ll never let you near the path I insisted on walking- a road less traveled to somehow find a self I’d lost years before.
All the wondering, in moments veered from fear of my lack of connection and altered views on love to complete and fundamentally honest happiness. Not the kind of happiness a puppy brings at Christmas or a thick enveloped from the college you’ve been killing your self to get into arrives but a true, untainted, unshaken, unexpected pure love. I knew in that moment you were my miracle. Having had and given up a child to addiction many years back I realized there was no comparison when one tries to quantify love. My love for him is not lesser in meaning or value but the emotional ability to truly connect to a child I knew I’d never be able to care for is not comparable to the birth of a child I was ready for. My heart wasn’t strung behind metal bars waiting for the inevitable to arrive at my door. Instead my heart felt full. So full i was unsure of how to let it out. I couldn’t hold you right away, I couldn’t see you, you were taken so quickly and my heart literally felt inflated behind a rib cage beating away as the pushed and pulled to sew me back up. I got one glimpse. One. That moment did more for me than I’ll ever begin to correctly define. I learned I wasn’t as broken as I worried I’d always be. I was able to feel, truly feel bliss without guilt or fear. Which as a recovering addict is harder than you think. I realized the other shoe not only wasn’t going to drop, it had left that infinite ceiling above my head years ago and I could finally accept that. Holding my hand and never losing my eye sight was your father- another love I’d challenged and challenged until I learned on my own that I truly did deserve. These may seem like obvious observations for a woman in her 30s but keep in mind i spent a decade convinced death was truly my only way out of the brokenness that overcame me. A hollow shell I desperately dug in the sand trying to fill with anything but what I truly needed. Drugs, men, violence, abuse, jail….. nothing filled the expressionless void I had become. Until one day it changed.
I’ll come back to those stories little one, right now what’s important isn’t how or what saved my life- but that I stand proud that today I get things like a relationship with a mom who I had hurt so badly- we went almost 6 years with no contact. We mourned each other as one would in death and that was the only way we could save ourselves from the horrible pain my existence presented in what was once an unbreakable relationship. I lost everything time after time after time, homeless sleeping under buildings, living out of cars- but nothing, nothing like the loss of my mom ripped my heart the way it did. I pined for it in a world of self pity I was too selfish to see. Never realizing she too had to bury and mourn her only child- the only difference was I could get high to temporarily forget it all. She had to do it sober. Once you find sobriety and truly switch sides of the addiction/addict relationship you see the pain and destruction that lurks among the ashes of the burned bridges piling up around you. My family suffered more than I could understand until I became sober with open eyes and a mended heart and witnessed on my own the absolute hell that is the cycle of addiction. I said so many goodbyes too soon I began to expect it- and that little one is never a place ones heart should get used too.
It’s 2 am and I just finished giving you your bottle. You look at me with those navy blue eyes and I’m beginning to see you see me, and I’ll leave that feeling with little description because until you hold a tiny human that you carried inside you for nine long months begin to recognize the world you saw fit to bring them into- words will only dull how full my heart feels. It’s inexplicable and I love that. As a woman who needs definitions and certainties, exact times and dates and organized planners with post it notes- you leave me with tiny moments of magic; and I’m more than ok leaving it at that.
The smell of your head on my chest and I’m somewhere else, watching- like a girl watching romantic comedies waiting to be appreciated for her messy hair and glasses as she types away lost in a Starbucks a story that only exists in fairytales and Hollywood fantasies.
Lying on a mattress on a floor of an existence I barely survived and I saw nothing when I closed my eyes. No dreams, no fantastic love stories or knights in white armor just darkness. Hope searing from my bones I felt nothing. Absence, the loss of sunlight and color and beauty in sunsets- blank. Empty. My soul was void. White- the absence of anything. My hope was torn- shred in so many pieces I gave up trying to collect it. I thought more about death than anything else. I turned my head from mirrors on the occasion I’d shower and when I caught I glimpse my eyes were black. I’d stare and wait, for a slimmer of recognition. Then the mirror would fog enough my face slowly disappeared in the steam and I was gone. I’d been gone for years.
In this moment those memories are just that. Images, slowly being replaced by moments like these. Your tiny hands on my chest, your head resting on my heartbeat and you’re breathing feels like music when I close my eyes. You know no other person but the one whose heartbeat you are the only one to recognize from the inside. You grab my pinkies and your navy blue eyes wander around at this new, beautiful world where you know nothing but touch, and love and warmth and trust. Trust in me I’ll keep you safe, and happy and I’ll make sure my darkness never enters your life. You will be so loved baby girl. You’ve healed wounds that have run decades deep just by existing and you were created by true love.
May you always be strong enough to stand by what you believe in but walk away from what you don’t. May these nights on my chest show you unconditional is the only love you can accept as you grow. May your nights let you dream wisely and may your days help them come true. May you never know absence or longing and may those who promise you greatness never fail to deliver- and if they do, May you always be able to deliver your greatness on your own. May your eyes be beautiful but your soul be true and may you never know a pain too deep to conquer. May you ask for help when you need it and offer it when it’s needed by others. May you love deeply, and speak honestly. May your kindness be true but never be weak. May you learn from my mistakes and defeat your own calmly and without haste. May you be happy and may you only accept a soulmate kind of love. May you light up the stars with your smile little one, you never know whose life you may change.
Sitting in the doctors office and I’m staring around the room. The smell is familiar but the air is different. There’s no one in my stomach this time and no baby carrier beside me. All the posters show pregnant belly’s and baby size charts. There’s equipment on the table that’s inevitably going to be used to pull all 20 of the staples in my stomach out.
The nurse asks what everyone asks- “when will she be able to go home from the NICU?” And I’m so sick of this question I could scream. But I don’t. I list off all the things that she’s beaten so far and how healthy she is and wrap it up by explaining she just needs to fully bottle feed to get discharged. This still doesn’t answer her question- so the nurse, like everyone else continues to hold eye contact until I give them a number. A number I would die to have but don’t. I can only ballpark what the doctors say “hopefully just another week”, I manage a smile but it’s fake and it hurts- inside I’m crying because “today” is not my answer and another seven days feels like forever.
It’s not just that I can only see her on other people’s schedules and it’s not the amount of pain that’s still making everything feel almost impossible. It’s knowing that night will come and I’ll go home and she’ll stay there and I’ll miss more and more moments with her and the emptiness that leaves keeps me awake at night.
Women don’t talk about c-sections often, they are in fact stigmatized as “the easy way out”… nothing could be further than the truth. They are scary and they are raw and the lights are so bright they make your heart beat right out of your chest. You lay on a metal bed, built like a cross with a blue cloth barrier below your head so you can not only not feel your body you can’t see it either. They use the word “pressure” in a manner in which the word itself seems harmless but the fear of what that “pressure” really is still scares the shit out of you. And believe me when I say, you may be medically numb but mentally you are fully aware your organs are being pulled out and put aside and once that baby appears in their absence there is no numbing agent to control what you’re feeling “pressure” or not. Your mind is racing, you’re excitement is kept at bay when all the worries and fears and pushing and pulling are mashed into an indescribable mess of soft voices cheering you on, your partners eyes fighting to keep yours on theirs and you wait and you wait, knowing there should be a cry a scream an anything- but you hear nothing. The voices stay soft but get faster, nurses start using first names to call one another over to the heated bassinet by your head that you struggle but can’t quite see. So you panic and the pressure continues to fight for your attention but you’ve lost all interest in your own body and are concerned with only hers. Cry baby, let the nurses raise their voices and say “there you go” as they swaddle her in blankets. Anything. Something…. nothing.
Then the faintest cry is heard and even as voices raise and metal tools clink onto metal tables and you’re aware your organs have returned to your body you wait for the next. All the while the man you love doesn’t look away. Not once. Even when you beg for him to go to her he stays holding your hand like he found it amongst a crowd in the dark, and he comforts you, in that way only true love can. The doors open and they wheel in the incubator. The story begins…
Tragedy trained me for a life that I barely survived, and strength defined me for the life I fought blood sweat and tears to earn. We are all victims of circumstance, my path was a dark one. But I rose, piece by piece- moment by moment- choice by choice- I rose until the addiction, and the violence and the secretly lethal demons inside me were no longer what owned me. Women fight to be perfect. Perfectly loved, perfectly fit, perfectly nurturing, perfectly imperfect. But those of us who fought through hardships, regardless what they were, and made it still struggle. Struggle to accept normalcy (if there is such a thing) struggle to hide the ash of the fires we left behind and struggle to accept the happiness we so bravely earned. This is my story, my battles, my triumphs and my beautiful recovery into a world I gave up on.
Now sober, and honest and for the most part identified by judgment of others as somewhat normal, my tattooed arms hold the hands of a love like no other and a baby girl who already- even at 5 days old showed me what a true warrior is. This is not a story of fighting the darkness, this is my story of accepting the light.
For the women who don’t talk about the battles but are scarred from the fights. The women who rose again and again until one day, like air they rose high enough to keep going. To the women who took the road less traveled…. moms, daughters, lovers, learners United we stand and together we rise.
I’m a new mom, in a new life, blessed in a new love learning how to adult a decade later than most. I’ve overcome addiction, violence, loss, homelessness, abusive relationships of every kind, the loss of a child and stole every shred of calm and peace from the lives of the ones I loved. None of that made me strong. Strength came when I had nothing left to give. The cement floor of a jail to the private jets of my childhood my fall from the very top to the very bottom was a long one. It cost me family, friends, opportunities, self worth, happiness and motherhood.
You’re not alone in your imperfections and faulty choices. You’re not alone in a life littered with ashes of the bridges you burned. We step over bodies we’ll never get back, and fight fiercely for those that we might. We survive. It’s not until after that, far down the road we gain enough courage not to die from our mistakes but live for our futures. Be brave enough to accept happiness and second chances. This is my second chapter, maybe it can help you believe in yours.
Light up the night with stars wild one. One day your smile may save someone’s life- ॐ