I have stuffed so much of me down into me; I sometimes choke on the regurgitation of me. I swallow hard and try to make the ache of recognition go down smoothly. It won’t. Sometimes I feel my esophagus will explode with the stretching of all I have demanded it hold – a lifetime of pain to stuff in and swallow.
I have found a deep sorrow and ache awake in me as I look carefully, individually, at the things I have demanded stay down in the belly of me. Things like my love for domestic animals and dancing – things that the mate I chose to marry does not share. Not his fault really – by the time we met and married, I had stuffed nearly all of me down into me and did not even know I existed anymore. I was a mere shell of space that contained a person long dead. Childhood dead.
But I am coming alive. Things long swallowed and a space of existence that has been dead since childhood is reviving. I am learning to uncover me with thanksgiving for me and to celebrate the places in me that survived the horror of childhood. Those who have also survived that horror know the things of which I write. I see your head nodding, “Yes, yes, I understand. I identify.” But sometimes spouses, mates, friends, and certainly extended family members simply do not know or understand – may never want to know or understand. And I am left with the ache of coming alive. I am told the ache signals the life in me that is rising from the depths – and death – of me.
The coming alive necessitates grieving. I must give myself room to grieve decades and decades left submerged in the darkness of burying my life in an effort to preserve my life. I am aware that many people divorce from present realities in the process of coming alive because they recognize the truth that they were not alive when major decisions of life were made.
And it is here that I come face-to-face with a great dilemma: I love my spouse. I love the gift of him and the worth of him. I love what little of his story I know – that he, too, swallowed decades and decades of life. As I come alive, he, too, is invited to examine the “what” and “why” of his childhood death and stumble into the realm of life. He, too, has desires and dreams that have long been kept down in the belly of him. He, too, feels the ache of coming alive to dreams I do not share. What do we do with that?
If we walk away, what are we leaving – abandoning? All we have created – even in the deadness – that is good and pure and holy and right. Children. Grandchildren. Dreams built. Years of turmoil traversed with the breath of God at our back and the Spirit of God covering us so we could “live and move and have our being” when we did not even remember how to breathe.
So how do we move forward with the recognition of whom we were created to be – the longings we feel stirring – the dreams we’ve forgotten to dream – slowly being uncovered?
I believe we look with true eyes and thanksgiving at who we are now. We don’t have to hide anymore. We can embrace the longings with kindness and love. At the same time, we can seek ways to include those dreams in the life of who we grew to be in the dead, empty places of swallowed life. We don’t have to completely leave one to have the other. We can embrace both as we slowly say “yes” to life and let go of the dead spaces.
It takes God’s gentle Spirit, a thanksgiving for the stories we bear, a love for the life we have been given, and a rejoicing over the redemption that has been birthed in time for us to see that, “you (the enemy) meant it for evil, but God meant it for good…” (Genesis 50:20). And though I’ve yet to understand the words, I believe the God behind the words. God is still in the business of “comforting all who mourn, providing for those who grieve in Zion – bestowing a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:2-3).
I am thankful for the stuffing that will no longer stay down. And I am thankful for the life I find around me as I am coming alive – ache and all.
Christine Browning is a lover of story—including her own. She loves to hear and longs to respond well to others’ stories. A late bloomer in the field of education, it is her absolute delight to teach at Milligan College in East Tennessee. She also counsels women who have experienced trauma and abuse. Christine is the mother of three adult children, three incredible grandchildren and has been married for 42+ years to her delightfully playful husband, Tom.