What it means to be free.

You know you’re a writer when you have written 2 school papers in the last 3 days… And you still find the time to churn out 2-3 pages of your memoir.

This week has been a little crazy. I finished finals last week and ended my semester with a 4.0. This week, I started a 2 week class. And promptly got sick, which was no surprise after pushing myself so hard this semester. But in the middle of my Nyquil and Sudafed induced haze, I’ve had a strangely pervasive sense of calm. This is despite being sleep deprived (really, how does that happen after taking Nyquil? Makes no sense).

A week ago, after my last exam, I also had an EMDR session with my therapist. Different ideas have been filtering in ever since, assimilating themselves into my experience of life. My class this week (Art, Politics, and War) has talked about how you look at images through different layers, different conceptions and ideologies you are surrounded with. I’ve been looking at my life through certain ideologies that are shifting.

Growing up, my life was so fantasy-driven that sometimes I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I was beginning to interpret events the fall before my sisters died. Talking to Rachel, my beautiful younger sister, helped me to understand the framework my life was held up by. She gave me a frame of reference for my crazy family; she validated my experiences. Because of her I was starting to see and believe that the world I’d grown up in was dysfunctional. 

Rachel:

Rachel - in Mexico

Then I freakishly lost her, and my twin Stephanie, on the same day. I simultaneously lost some of the frame of reference that I had for my family. Combined with that I had been indoctrinated with the idea that I shouldn’t ever tell anyone about what my family believed, because they would think we were crazy. I should be silent. Part of me believed that if I spoke up about what was really going on, I would be excommunicated, rejected, disowned.

But my perspective is shifting. The more I’ve talked about it, the more I’ve told people the ridiculousness of it all, the more I’ve started to see it from the outside. I’ve had a time of vomiting all the bad out of every cranny of my intestines. Figuratively, by my speech; but I feel it in my stomach, where I’ve always felt every emotion.

Last night, I finished up the paper I had due for my class today. And then I started to write. A writer friend suggested that I should be less vague in telling my story. So, I began writing some of the clear details of the year I was 15. And some of the clear details of other parts of my life. Despite how hazy and sick I was feeling, I could be clearly in those moments as if I was a spectator with a full understanding of the characters. And suddenly, while writing, I was outside of my life.

I was looking back on the little girl, wrapped up in a pretend world where my dad told us that we would someday be billionaires (unfortunately, I’m not kidding). I was looking back on a little girl who had to pretend to know manners when we went to 5 star restaurants, despite living in a tiny 3 bedroom apartment in a low income neighborhood. A girl who learned to use a knife and fork in the Continental method because it was more sophisticated. I was looking back on nightly conversations of how God was going to miraculously bring this Money into our lives. I was looking back on the girl who was trapped in a dark depression the summer her grandpa died, with no one to even notice how bad it really was. I was looking back on the pain I used to realize by cutting my shins with my razor. I was looking back on my obsession with a boy who was a writer like me. I looked back on the writing and how I used to pretend that as a writer I was so outside of society and no one could possibly understand me because I was an artist. How that idea helped me in some ways to cope with the true reality of my invisibility to my family. I looked back on the girl who asked a distant God every day to somehow save her from this life, to maybe give her dad this Money after all so she could escape the isolation. Since God apparently was going to give him this Money anyway. Even though it seemed like God cared a lot more about that than giving her a dad who could see her, God was the only reason she had to survive. And this was all before she watched her sisters die and got a divorce – 2 things that she never expected would happen.

And instead of feeling so immersed in all of those experiences that I couldn’t separate then and now, I had a new experience. I saw it as if I was an outsider.

Wow. What crazy ideas my dad had. What a strange little world we lived in. WOW! That life was mine!

The thought was extraordinarily validating. I blinked at it and chuckled to myself. Wow.

My EMDR therapist last week referenced Silver Linings Playbook. I was delighted because that movie had just given me a gift of understanding my dad’s world; the strange, OCD, magical thinking of the dad in that movie seemed so familiar. Watching it, I felt a sense of understanding for my dad that I had never had before. I said as much to my therapist. His response?

“You grew up with a mentally ill father.”

Looking back from the outside, I know it. I’m no longer connected to that pain, because it’s over. In that detached attachment, I embody compassion for my past life and feel a quiet acceptance of who I am now.

And here, now, in the very present, I am free. After living for most of my life trapped by visible and invisible walls and borders, that is so liberating to know.

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