Legacy

We’re not up for that.

The countless times I heard that phrase as a child. It started with disinterest. It became a lack of time. It became a lack of motivation. It became a lack of energy.

It was too hard to interact with the world, to interact with life, to interact with others. So much easier to shut it all out. I think my dad was really, really afraid.

I see his legacies still hanging as paintings in corners of my mind.

BIG

 

They’re lovely dreams, really. My dad just thought that because something was painted in technicolor, it was real. Or perhaps it’s just that he wanted them to be and was afraid of what real truly was.

Some days I don’t blame him, either. Living in a low-income apartment complex carries a certain amount of stress with it. Children throw rocks in the street for entertainment. Heroin needles are littered by the trash can. We were awakened in the middle of the night to drug busts, hysterical drunk women calling for taxis, and overdramatic boyfriends driving pickup trucks across the lawn. Murders happened first down the street in shocking drive-by fashion. Then one day an apartment is boarded up and you’re told it’s because someone murdered his wife/girlfriend. Posters for sexual predators are hung on light poles, and your sisters are followed home by strange men.

I can’t understand why we stayed so long. 10 years in the same apartment. 1997 – 2007. In the beginning, we were on food stamps. At the end, my dad made almost 100K a year. And yet he felt somehow trapped. Perhaps those paintings had become reality.

Or maybe it’s just that when you shut yourself away from life, from reality, the light can never reach you enough for you to grow. Energy disappears because you have nothing to innervate you.

I’ve gone through periods of anger at my dad for his fantasies of riches.

1.7 billion dollars, Dad? Really? And did you really have to maniacally twist my life around the stunted tree you were growing from the seeds of your delusion? Did you have to ruin my life for your dream? I had to listen to you every damn night for 10-15 years, talking about what coincidence that day “PROVED” that God was going to give us this money.

So many words became loaded with the bullets of your desperation. Persia. Imminent. 1.7. Montana. Any time Iran was in the news, I knew about it. Every Montana license plate or moving truck that drove past our car, becoming an endless blur of reasons. Riddling me with holes.

We were

We were all shot through with the emptiness by the times my sisters were shot in reality.

Maybe that’s gratuitous of me to say, but we were all slowly dying anyway. When your 16 year old sister is desperate to move to Virginia to live with her best friend, there’s a problem. When you’re slowly suffocating inside your life, there’s a problem. I lived in a glass box.

I heard “no” so often. No, it was a family day so I couldn’t go to a concert with my then-boyfriend. No, our family was busy so I couldn’t go hang out with this or that friend.

Louder were the silent “noes” inflicted. No friends nearby because church was 2 hours away and we were homeschooled. No boys because courtship was the name of the game. No speaking up because Dad was head of the house – ok… that wasn’t a silent no, it just became one after we spoke out one too many times and had to face wrath.

My parents slammed the door in the face of Life, a wragged wraith disguising the sorceress beneath. They became the beast, but I was the one locked in the castle for years while the rose dropped petals and I waited for love to find me.

It’s legacy.

I still struggle to open the door.

I have flashes of insane rage at my dad for doing this to me. But somewhere down the line I calm down because I realize I’m still doing it. I am my father’s child, just as he was his father’s child.

My dad used to come home in the 1960’s, and no one was there to greet him. My grandma says he used to ride the streets on his bike trying to stay away from my grandpa. My aunt says the atmosphere at home was abusive. I don’t know what the truth is, but I know that my uncle is a sociopath and my dad has very obvious delusions.

So it’s no wonder that my dad carried this legacy on. The anger that he unleashed on us if we “crossed him” although it almost always was never our fault. The way he pushed away life as if he couldn’t bear it. He had never been able to. He had never been taught to. And reality gets very heavy sometimes. Especially when your dreams fail, and you have to eke out a living on food stamps for awhile after making 20K a month, as he had in his younger years.

He just closed his eyes and shut it all away. And in fear, he shut all of us away, too, lest we threaten his world with our unique version of earthquake. With our uniqueness in general. He disguised our prison with beautiful visions of future wealth, and they became our virtual reality.

I have learned well to shut out the light. I still do it. I was taught all the right phrases. “It’s too much for me right now.” Maybe though I’m just really, really afraid. Because I have learned how the pain of loss aches through your bones long after the loss has passed. To let light in means I might lose it soon.

Why do I feel such exhaustion? Maybe it’s not because I’m too tired to open the door. Maybe it’s precisely because the door is closed. Growing things can’t create food without the sun.

It’s been so long, though, and I was taught the ways of caged life so well that I struggle to learn what it means to live free. Liberated. I still stand behind the door feeling too tired to pull it open. Or that’s what I tell myself because that’s what I’ve learned to label it as. That’s the story I’ve learned about this dogged weariness.

I'm frozen in fear of even the beauty of

I’m not in constant anger at my dad anymore. Compassion is more often the norm. I have no desire for anything more than a shallow conversation with him, and I will never ask his advice. But I understand it now, the way that reality can feel like a stalker haunting your steps. I understand because I run away from it, too. Reality can equal hollow, endless loss.

I shut out good too, though. Just as the Universe extends its warm loving arms. I don’t know how to accept it because I’m always waiting for the backstab.

It’s legacy.

And I know it’s time I start a new one, for the sake of my future children. It’s what I continue to strive for. Backstab is no legacy to pass on.

But please hold me in the light, because some days it feels like too much for me to find on my own. Just know that I am trying.


 

An update to how I’m working through things with my dad now – It’s Complicated

Advertisements

This is Real

It is so frustrating when I am in the middle of making dinner and realize I need another pan, but I take one look at what I’d have to do to get one, and I completely shut down. I decide not to wilt the kale and sear the garlic. I decide to just go with what I have because it’s too much effort to wash a pan. It would be one thing if this was just once a week, but when it’s every damn night, it gets debilitating.

When every day I go to work and I usually start out okay, but by the middle of the day I’m slumped in my desk chair. Or the reality that many mornings, before I go out the door in the morning, I’m playing that poem I recently posted over and over again just to give myself the courage to go to work. Even the fact that I have that poem half-memorized from reciting it to myself so much to just give myself courage.

“Some people will never understand the superpower it takes for some people to just walk outside…” “…screaming for their pulse to find the fight to pound…” “every time I hurt I know the wound is an echo so I keep listening for the moment that grief becomes a window…” “…knowing their is a chance our hearts have only just skinned their knees…” “…friend if the only thing we have to gain in staying is each other, my god that is plenty, my god that is enough, my god that is so so much for the light to give…” “…live, live, live…” (From The Madness Vase by Andrea Gibson)

I went to the doctor today. And it wasn’t for my body, it was for my soul. It may have been a medical doctor, but I needed an emotional one. When I reeled out my history, how I’ve struggled with depression since I was 15, he asked why I hadn’t been on medication before. “My parents kind of didn’t believe in doctors, and also I have a lot of neglect in my past.” That statement was loaded.

It also wasn’t completely every morsel of truth. I am stubborn. And everyone has told me – “Once you get divorced it will be better. Once you do the steps it will be better. Once you get through EMDR, it will be better.” The past 2 months have proven it to me that it’s not better. No matter what I do, I am chewing glass constantly. It’s why my smile has such an intense sparkle.

My friends know I’ve been tossing around the idea of medication for at least a year now. In actuality it’s been 2 years since I first came across this idea. The telling thing is that my mind hasn’t changed. I’ve had periods of up time, periods where I smile and I’m happy and I’m okay. But I always drop back down again into the dark, and it’s tiring. I’m tired of bouncing along the bottom.

The past 2 months have been the worst in a very long time. I have lost all motivation. I am sure it has something to do with starting a new full time supervisor job and totally changing my career path. But my career path too just served as a way to keep me running. There is a Pablo Neruda poem that I love that says:

“If we were not so single-minded about keeping our lives moving, and for once could do nothing, perhaps a huge silence might interrupt this sadness of never understanding ourselves and of threatening ourselves with death.”

Except, that my silence is filled with sadness I’ve never taken time to stop and face. Now that I have taken time to stop and face it, it’s hit me like a ton of bricks. “And the bass keeps runnin’ runnin’ and runnin’ runnin’ and runnin’ runnin and runnin’ runnin’ and…”

Somehow I have always wanted this to happen, though. Somehow I have always felt that I’m just outrunning myself and I want permission to just stop, collapse, admit I really am not okay and line up my external reality with my internal one.

I did a daylong meditation retreat on Sunday and it was horrible. The idea of it was lovely. The thought and intention behind it was fantastic. But we started with a meditation connecting with our body, and it was then I realized just how much emotional pain I’m holding in my body. A LOT. I was all choked up. And the whole day was about sitting with unpleasant feelings. I had pretty much only unpleasant feelings and meditating felt like absolute torture. I wanted to be anywhere but my body. There were other meditation events this week that I was planning on attending, but I haven’t. It feels much too raw.

I knew even more surely that I needed to take next steps.

I was terrified going into the doctor’s office today and jittery from drinking only coffee and having no breakfast. They asked me to fill out the medical history form, of course, and they asked about mental illness. For the first time I stared at that in recognition. Then I marked:

Mom: Depressed.
Dad: Mentally ill. Thyroid.
Grandparents: Mentally ill. Bile duct cancer. Depression. Anti-psychotics.

I stared at the page in shock. I don’t think I’ve ever so concretely put down the fact that my father is mentally ill. My mother is mentally ill. My grandparents, also mentally ill. My parents are undiagnosed. But it’s obvious. The questionnaire didn’t ask about aunts, uncles, cousins, and that would have been even more revealing. I’ve known these things, but never written them so clearly in front of my face. I felt the cold reality of this whole thing settling over me. My DNA was a mess of strange genes, and I was a petri dish that a bunch of them had gathered in.

So I told the doctor (a cool guy who blends Eastern AND Western medicine) some of my history. That I had been in counseling for PTSD, and why. That I’d been depressed off and on since I was 15. Divorced. Crazy family“Why weren’t you on medication before this?” All of my friends have been shocked at this very thing – that I have never been medicated.

After explaining my symptomology, the doctor prescribed me Zoloft, with instructions to pay attention to its affects. He’s concerned (I’m concerned, too) that I might have Bipolar II, and if so, Zoloft will make my manic states worse, so I’m instructed to look for that. He asked me to get a nutrition lab done so we can look for any markers in my nutrition that might cause depression, too.

I was also told not to date. I quote – “You’ll be a new person next year after we get this thing sorted out so you don’t want to get into anything before then.”  I don’t know how I feel about that, to be honest; I’m tired of avoiding dating. But maybe it’s just a signal that I can take things more slowly and just ease into friendships with men, like I have been. But that’s a whoooole other post.

I left the office feeling both relieved and totally different. Something pinches my heart with a strong thumb and forefinger, and the resulting pain and bruising is proof that it’s not a dream. The reality is: I am now a person prescribed to take depression medication. I am depressed.

This is real.

Stay Here With Me

There is a spoken word poem by Andrea Gibson that is my love poem to myself. It’s called The Madness Vase/The Nutrionist. I heard it in person last week when she was here for a sold-out show in Colorado Springs. (By the way, talk about an awesome experience – attending a SOLD OUT Spoken Word show. All the feels, errywhere)

 

 

It just so happened that the day I saw her live was the 10th anniversary of my Gramps’ death. He died the year I was 15, which was one of the most difficult and painful years of my life. Spoken word has always pulled me back to that year, as evidenced by the poem I shared on here a couple weeks ago. So it seemed so extremely fitting that I, by no fault of my own, ended up at a spoken word show on the 10th anniversary of his death.

In any case, I had watched The Madness Vase about a week before the show, and cried. Spoken word always makes me cry. This one in particular so spoke to me in my current and past selves.

But hearing it in person, on the anniversary of my Gramps’ death, was an incredibly healing experience. I could feel her in me, the 15 year old. The depressed one. The one that didn’t want to live anymore, that strained with the effort of staying in her skin for one more day, that drew bloodlines on her calves trying to let her trapped self out. The Madness Vase grabbed her and didn’t let her go. I grabbed her, hearing these words, and didn’t let her go, and I whispered to her, backwards in time, Live. Live. Live.”

Because I think my current self can still somehow reach back to my past self and speak those words to 15 year old Laurie. I think it kept her alive from then until now.

And well, the poem’s been rattling around in my heart like socks in a clothes dryer ever since. I found Andrea and Kelsey’s Tumblr yesterday and I’ve been using it to speak healing to myself, over, and over, and over. I encourage you to go have a read if even for a moment you don’t want to be here. Not even just necessarily if you want to commit suicide. Maybe you’re just so tired of life and don’t want to be here anymore, and you’d never pull the trigger or swallow the pills, but some days you just wish a Mach truck would plow you and end it all.

This site will give you a few reasons you might want to stay. Stay here. Stay present. Stay aching.

Lately it’s been so hard for me to stay here. To feel that generous ache that takes over the black hole of my heart and to want to stay here in the face of all the wounds that still need healing. There is no bruise like the bruise loneliness kicks into your spine.” It’s hard to stay here with the bruises.

This poem makes me want to never stop crying. And maybe that’s a good thing, because lately I’ve been coming out of my skin and trying to put my own self back in. Doing my addict thing and avoiding the raw fierceness of my inner girl who is crying for healing. So maybe I just need to keep “listening for the moment when the grief becomes a window.” Maybe I just keep repeating to myself fiercely, these words: “you stay here with me, okay? you stay here with me.

Live. Live. Live.”

 

You too, out there. You stay here with me, okay?

 

One can learn a lot in 2 years.

Today I am officially 2 years sober from alcohol!!!

I am laying in bed at 10 o clock in the evening, nursing an ear infection, with a dinner that for some reason upset my stomach and had me in the bathroom for 30 minutes (TMI, I know. Deal with it), and yet, I am smiling. Gratitude. Despite not feeling great I went to a meeting tonight and celebrated with my community. It was a new meeting but it’s amazing how even there where I know no one but one other person, my Higher Power meets me. It’s magical.

My whole sobriety is fucking magical.

Despite the last couple of weeks where my sick and twisted brain has tried to convince me that I’m not an alcoholic (denial never leaves, y’all), I see tonight that it’s crazy I’m sitting here. I told a run-down of the last two years tonight and as I spoke I marveled. Because when I decided 2 years ago to go into recovery, I have no idea why I did. I just for some reason thought, “I can’t stop this. I need help.” I have no idea why. It was not a huge moment. It was just a decision.

And yet it has been the best thing in my life. I’ve learned some major things, like:

  • For me to drink is to die. It still takes a bit for this to get through to my brain, but it rocks me when it does. I realize that my drinking will actually lead me to a. kill myself or b. kill someone else. Actually, B is probably more likely. I drank and drive quite a bit and almost wrecked into someone once. The fear of killing someone honestly does keep me sober some days.
  • I can’t do sobriety by myself. I tried for quite some time, to do things my own way. And honestly it DID work, until it didn’t. And when it didn’t, it really didn’t. I had to get a new sponsor back in November because I almost drank. I had been working steps only with someone in my other program. Same steps, but working with an addict who gets it is so much different. And I didn’t think it was… until I was faced with it. Which brings me to…
  • Taking suggestions. They always say this in my recovery program and I always thought I was good at it until I started doing it. Then I was like, “oh. Haha. I can’t take suggestions. Haha! Yikes on bikes.” Which THEN also brings me to…
  • Humility. For reals. You guys I thought I was the bomb.com when I started recovery, because I HAD DONE THE STEPS in another program so I KNEW. I didn’t know. It took me a long time to figure out that I didn’t know. Probably at least 3-4 months. Maybe more. And some days I still have to be humble and admit I don’t know. And damn some days that sucks. But when I get it, I learn so much more than I ever thought I could.

I think maybe one of the things I’m most grateful for is that today, I know what I love. Back when I first got sober, I had no idea what I liked to do. I liked to drink and that was about it. Or sometimes play guitar. Today?

I love hiking. I love spoken word poetry. I love writing this blog. I really deeply love my spiritual practice and having one that I try to commit to. I’m passionate about buddhism (which is a huge part of my practice) and what that has opened up for me. I’m passionate about true spirituality in general and people who are committed to that practice. I love being with my community. Hanging out with friends. Having an artistic community. Steering people towards a life they REALLY love. LAUGHING. Private jokes. The outdoors. Plants. The ocean and beaches where I’m alone. TRAVEL – and NOT just to run away from life by doing it.

2 years ago, I couldn’t have named any of that. Even a year ago I couldn’t have.

Honestly, only my Higher Power and doing the work I’ve done could have got me to where I am today, and I could not be more grateful. I have a life that I love and I am present within it. That is a wonderful gift. It strikes me that, after having a brush with death in more ways than one, I am privileged to have a life today where I am fully present to it.

I could not ask for more.

I’m toasting you all with my cuppa tea over here… here’s to you all, sober community – thank you for being a part of my sobriety. And to the rest of you who read, here is to you for being witness to this beautiful life, it truly brings healing to me to have you read.

Thank you.

Let Off With a Warning

I love long drives. Something about the open road is tremendously appealing to me, so on Friday when I left for a little mountain town about 2 hours away, I was ecstatic. Freedom was in my grasp!

On the way to this town, there is a huge valley. The highway through it is long and flat for a good 5 miles and speeding is almost irresistable.

(Really, I just want to know how you DON’T speed going through this valley. I’m pretty sure it’s actually impossible.)

Up until recently, they weren’t really regulating the 65mph speed limit. I’ve driven this way countless times, complete with pushing my little Honda to at least 80. That’s a conservative estimate, because I know this trip I was edging 90 miles per hour. I might have an adrenaline problem. In any case, I have never seen a cop in this area until this winter when I went through with some friends. Hmm.

This was in the back of my mind driving up this time, but I thought “Surely it was just a one time thing.”

I went flying down that first hill. There was a car in front of me going the speed limit, which I thought was lame. I mean really? I promptly passed him and at the point where the road starts going up again (right at the edge of that shadow from the first hill) I had hit almost 90. My car, however, is old and has 223K miles on it, and I slowed down for fear of making the rattletrap thing fall apart. My bumper is already duct taped.

(pretty much, this needs to happen)

Well, needless to say, I crested the hill and slowed down to a modest 76 miles an hour. I know this, because I passed a cop.

(I am indeed one of the internet masses that can’t resist a cute cat. You’re welcome)

As soon as I passed him, I knew I was toast. He pulled a u-turn. “Oh f-ck,” I muttered. I slowed down and he caught up with me. I was shaking as I pulled over to the side of the road. Cops always make me nervous. I immediately just pulled out my license, registration and… oh damn. Shit, shit, shit. This cannot be happening.

I couldn’t find my current insurance card.

Let me also clarify that I am the super goody goody who has never gotten a speeding ticket, and hasn’t even gotten a TRAFFIC ticket in 5 years. Yeah. 5 years. And here I am with an expired insurance card.

The cop saunters up to my already-rolled down window. To my surprise I see he is young, ginger, and handsome. “Ma’am, do you know why we pulled you over today?” he drawled, with the sweet tones of a country boy.

My voice was shaking when I replied. “I was speeding?”

“Yes ma’am. Do you know how fast you were going?”

“Um… 70…(seeing the look on his face)…75?”

“76.”

“Oh.”

“Can I have your license, registration, and insurance?”

“Um, well, here’s my license and registration, I’m still looking for my insurance…” I turn away from him to paw through my glove box desperately, as well as the pile of crap I’d already pulled out of it: old resumes, my Owner’s Manual, napkins. “Um I guess this is the most recent one I have,” I finally said in resignation, handing him one from this time last year.

“Okay just sit tight ma’am, I’ll be right back.”

He walks off and I turn right back to my glovebox and continue my desperate pawing. In my head I just know I’m doomed. I am definitely getting the first speeding ticket of my life today. Expired insurance at a speeding stop is pretty much a death knell. I’ve been paying my insurance faithfully every month – where the h-e- double hockey sticks is that damn card? I finally turned back around when he came back to the window.

“Ma’am, I’m going to let you off today with just a warning.”

“Oh my God! Thank you so much!” I was absolutely floored.

“Yeah I saw how nervous you were, you were shaking when I came up to the window. So, just… be more careful, go the speed limit, okay?”

“Yes, sir, I will. I’m so sorry.”

“You have a good day now.”

I rolled up my window. Still shaking, this time in disbelief. Why the hell had he let me off? I could only surmise that it was because I was young and looked quite fetching. I absolutely did not deserve it, and I knew I didn’t deserve it!

My treacherous heart, however, lurched in rebellious glee that I’d gotten away with speeding. (I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that)

It’s funny because I think this instance parallels my current life circumstances. Truthfully? I’ve been getting warnings that I need to slow down. The irony of this is just now hitting me as I type this. I got a warning to slow down. My life has been warning me to slow down. Parallel?

And this is kind of important. When I speed up my life, I lose sight of priorities. I get close to a sobriety birthday and I cut down on meetings instead of increasing them. I drift away from community. I think I’m a bother to them, so I don’t call or stop by. But I keep going, I keep getting faster, because my own rebellious heart jumps in happiness at getting away with so much. I can start a new job, and do spoken word poetry, and work on a 4th step in one program, and do my 12th step in another program, and work on revamping my blog, and look at new career fields, and have two sponsees (that I’ve been almost too tired to give to like I should), and do my 11th step in the morning, and join a new book club.

I’ve been speeding up and trying to escape my life by outrunning it. At that place, it’s only a matter of time before the top blows, I tip back the bottle, and guzzle.

This incident also reminds me of a night just before I got sober, where I got busted drinking by the police on my college campus. I was the oldest in the room… 23 years old. The next oldest was 20. In other words, I was the only legal person there. The cop never checked my ID and let me go. I went back to my room and I knew I had lucked out for some unknown reason. The next morning, I went to my first recovery meeting. A week later, I stopped drinking for good.

So I feel like it was a good reminder of that moment almost 2 years ago. A warning of what will happen if I don’t check myself before I wreck myself. I think it’s lucky, or maybe my Higher Power, that I was on my way to a recovery retreat. I was heading to the exact place I needed to be.

It’s also interesting that all weekend I found myself questioning my alcoholism. Over, and over, and over. “Maybe I’m not really an alcoholic, I mean I didn’t drink as long as these people, and I never got a DUI, and I don’t have a lot of drunk stories, and, and, and.” Differences instead of similarities. Not remembering that I lose control when I take the first drink. I drink to escape, escape, escape. Forgetting that two separate therapists told me to consider going to a 12-step program for it. Forgetting the night I was drunk driving and almost hit someone. The insanity was strong with this one.

I was reminded over and over this weekend why I’m sober and why I belong in recovery. Why I need to slow my life down some and remember my priorities, and as they say, keep first things first.

Considering the circumstances, I’m really lucky I was only let off with a warning.

 

The Patron Saint of Lost Causes (The Day My Sisters Died, Part 3)

If you are just joining in, I invite you to read Part 1 and Part 2, here and here.

——-

st. jude
(St. Jude – The Patron Saint of Desperate Cases and Lost Causes)

“If this is salvation, I can show you the trembling.
You’ll just have to trust me. I’m scared.
I am the patron saint of lost causes…

…We’re not questioning God.
Just those he chose to carry on His cross.”

-Anberlin, *Fin

I was a lost cause walking into the Emergency Room that day. The whole world was swirling around me, like a tornado. I sat in a plastic chair in a daze. The news was droning our story above me, but I was in so much shock I couldn’t process it. I heard my mom, as if from a distance, asking the ER nurse where Stephanie was. The nurse was repeating details of where Rachel was, but not Stephanie. Even knowing the truth, I didn’t want to admit it. I felt sick to my stomach.

After a few minutes, a detective from the police department came and found us. He led us through the hospital in what seemed to me like a maze. I could barely focus. Suddenly we were in a quiet conference room. My friend G– had followed, but wasn’t allowed into the conference room with my mom and I. I am not sure where Grace, my youngest sister, was. I can’t remember if she was there or not.

The only questions I remember from the detective were where we thought the shots had been coming from, and whether we knew anything about why the shooter had attacked us. I explained where I thought the shots had come from, later on finding out they had come from the exact opposite direction. That’s just how confusing it was. I also told the policeman that I knew the shooter had come from the YWAM base in Arvada down to where we were. Honestly, I had no logical reason for that. I just absolutely knew (and was correct). I thought at the time that maybe it was because I’d also been involved with YWAM.

After the questioning, we were taken upstairs to a huge waiting room. I walked in and saw one of my boyfriend’s friends there. I went right over to him and he hugged me, tears sparkling in his eyes. I sat down with him and my other friends who’d arrived. My mom and sister went into a smaller room off of the waiting room.

Another detective arrived and they called me into the room. I knew what this was going to be. I saw the look on the detective’s face, the agony in his eyes. “I’m so sorry. I have to tell you that your daughter Stephanie is dead.” My sister Grace let out a loud cry. My mom had tears streaming down her face. I remember feeling numb, not crying. My friend G– looked at me and grabbed my hands. “I need to tell you something important,” he said. “You need to remember this.” Yet today for the life of me I can’t remember what he said just then. I just remember his desperation. “We’ll pray for resurrection,” he said a moment later. “All is not lost.” I knew it was.

We waited.

My dad was in surgery. They were trying to take Rachel into surgery, but were having a hard time because she kept losing blood. My boyfriend arrived in the middle of this. I took him to a side room and that was where I told him that I loved him for the first time. He tried to stop me, but I wouldn’t be stopped. “No, you need to know. I love you.” I was desperate.

His mom was there, trying to find out what we needed. Scores of other people showed up. My friend Sarah, who had tried to get to the church but couldn’t get through the police barricade, kept trying to get me to eat. I wasn’t hungry; how could I be? She and my boyfriend insisted I should eat. When I told them the only thing I felt like eating was dark chocolate and Mountain Dew, they went to the gift store and bought me a bar of Cadbury’s dark chocolate. Someone handed me a bottle of Mountain Dew.

It’s so odd the little details you remember. Friends. Chocolate. Mountain Dew.

My dad came out of surgery and was in the recovery room. They asked if we wanted to go see him, and of course we did. We were escorted through two sets of double doors. My mom, Grace, and I huddled together as we walked through the doorway. My dad looked only semi-conscious, laying there on a white hospital bed with tubes everywhere. My stomach was dropping lower by the minute. We gathered around the bed.

“Where’s Stephanie?” my dad asked.

We looked at each other – my mom, Grace, and me. No one was speaking! Why wasn’t anyone saying anything? A resigned sort of feeling came over me and inside, I bucked myself up a little.

“She’s… she’s gone,” I said.

I have never said any words in my life that were worse than those three. Out of all of the horrible moments in this horrible day, this one was among the most awful. I watched as my dad’s face contorted in pain, and my heart seized.

After a couple of minutes we went back out to the waiting room. I felt like I’d been tackled by a 200-lb linebacker, and I was laying in the middle of the field with a concussion. Friends came and went. I sat with them, trying to distract myself. My mom came and got me when the doctors said we could go see Rachel. They couldn’t get her body warmed up enough to go into surgery, and she was losing blood fast.

So my mom and I, my friend G–, and two of the pastors went in to her room to pray. My boyfriend sat outside the door.

I think I lost my mind when I walked into that room. This was my baby sister. I’d always, always looked after her. When she was in the hospital a year before due to an ovarian cyst, I was the one that stayed with her longest and didn’t want to leave. When we were little and under the care of some sadly misled babysitters, I was the one who snuck into a dark bathroom to check on her as she was in time out for 25 minutes. She was MY baby sister. I may not have always been the best oldest sister, but Rachel was so special to me. Only 2 months before, I’d become weirdly overcome by sudden emotion and told her, “I just don’t know what I’d do without you. I just want you to know that, I don’t know what I would do without you.”

All this must have rushed through me when I saw her laying there, eyes closed, tubes everywhere, ribs bruised. I prayed. I don’t even know if prayer is a good technical term for it. What I did was to say everything in my power, to beg with all the words I had that she would stay with me. I used my words like swords to fight off evil; Eowyn in the Lord of the Rings, facing the Witch King.

I quoted all of her favorite movies; she loved movies. Harry Potter. Lord of the Rings. I told her that she was my Marianne, and I was Elinor, and please, please don’t leave me here alone. I called desperately on God to save her life. I asked her to please come back from the darkness. And I sang.

“Everybody wants to be understood
Well I can hear you
Everybody wants to be loved
Don’t give up.

Because you are loved.”
Josh Groban – Don’t Give Up (Because You are Loved)

Finally, I’d said everything. I’d prayed everything. I’d sang everything. I knew it was time to give her to God. My friend G– disagreed with me. I stayed in the room to go along with him, but it was clear. It was time for me to let God do whatever He decided. Soon after, we all left and went back to the waiting room.

Grace and I sat building a puzzle in one corner with a friend of hers. It was late; 10 or 11 o’clock at night. I tried to distract myself by just looking for pieces to the puzzle in front of me. Some minutes later, one of the pastors appeared. The look on his face told me everything. I sucked in a deep breath.

“I’m sorry. Rachel has gone to be with Jesus.”

I started crying then. It hurt, oh it hurt more anything I could imagine. Grace started crying too. I was afraid I’d make her cry even harder, so I stifled my tears, to be strong, for her. We sat huddled together, Grace, my mom, and I. Trying to hold ourselves together somehow. The pastors prayed, as a sort of benediction.

The nurses came and asked if we wanted to see Rachel one last time. My mom, Grace, and I walked in to the quiet dark room that only minutes before had been bustling with light and activity. Rachel lay on the bed as if she were asleep. Her eyes were closed. She looked peaceful. I could feel her, still in the room with us. The nurses had mentioned that she could, as an organ donor, donate her eyes. As we stood there with her, we softly discussed. “No, we can’t,” we decided. She was the only one in the family besides my dad who had gorgeous blue eyes, and they were one of her trademark features. We couldn’t do it, it was still too close, the pain too sharp.

There were many other defining moments over the next few days. Planning a funeral. Visiting my dad in the hospital. Finding pictures of my sisters for the press and for the funeral pamphlet. Meeting Rachel’s best friend, Aimee, for the first time. The viewing. The service. Hearing stories… one of the most amazing being from the paramedic who took Rachel to the hospital.

He said she’d died in the ambulance. And suddenly she came back, and light filled the ambulance and even her skin color changed. I can only imagine; her blue-gray skin is tattooed on the walls of my mind. How breathtaking that must have been. Even in the darkness – light.

Just as it was in life after.

——

Life After

“This is the correlation
of salvation and love
Don’t drop your arms
I’ll guard your heart
With quiet words I’ll lead you in.”
Anberlin – The Unwinding Cable Car

In obvious ways, this event radically altered my life.

But what I wasn’t prepared for was the beauty it would bring me. In fact, a part of me still recoils to think of calling something so ugly a place of beauty. And yet. Darkness births light.

I learned resiliency.

I am so grateful and blessed today to have a life that is actually beautiful. But lest you think this is one of those stories with a pat ending; it’s not. I didn’t snap my fingers and recover. It’s taken a lot of hard work. Grueling days. Countless tears, screaming and raging as I drive down the highway. Falling apart in my therapist’s office.

Now, I often feel that my sisters repeat the refrain back to me that I sang to Rachel in the hospital: “Don’t give up, because you are loved.” It’s tattooed on my rib cage, in memory. There’s some days I need those words every five minutes.

Even now, the sting of loss doesn’t fully fade. I’m 25 years old and every day, I become more like my twin, who I thought was so unlike me. Beautiful, but so bittersweet. And oh so many days I wonder what they would think of me now. Who we would be together. We never got the chance to become adult sisters. I lost the ones who shared my childhood; Grace is 8 years younger than me and has grown up differently. I lost partners in crime. It hurts, every day.

Rachel, though, wrote something beautiful in her journal a few months before she died. She talked about how you can let sadness overcome you and live in that sadness, or find the courage to carry it with you, but to no longer let it define all of your life.

I’ve learned how to survive dark days. What it means to be supported unconditionally, even from beyond. The sacred beauty of God as I now understand It – not the God of fantasaical youth, or the God of limiting cages, but the God who favored freedom, grace and wild love.

Maybe most of all… I learned how to feel. Not to drop my arms to life, but to hold them up to where salvation and love come in. Light comes in.

Feeling all the pain, all the horror and sadness and maelstrom. That’s the important thing. See, I kept my arms crossed in front of my chest for years, through a marriage, divorce, and addiction. Trying to hold it all back. Caging myself in. When I finally peeled my arms down and asked for help, that was the correlation of salvation and love, rushing in. If only I could just keep showing up, every day, and have the courage to not drop my arms.

That’s what it’s about today; that’s what I want to share with you. That’s what it took to make it through and finally learn resilience. To just show up, every day, and not drop my arms across my chest but to spread them wide to the world. It’s grueling work, and sometimes it takes all I’ve got. My Higher Power, my sisters… they’ve all supported me through to this point, just whispering, “Don’t give up. You’re loved.” And I’ve learned though that it’s really amazing what happens when you give yourself to the work: It gives itself to you. The light shines in the darkness.

And the darkness does not overcome it.

—-

I wanted to graciously thank all of my readers for accompanying me on this journey of telling my story. Your presence, as I have said to you over and over again, has meant the world to me. Sometimes, healing comes to a greater degree through being witnessed. Thank you for witnessing me. I am grateful to all of you. Especially to those of you from The Rebels Project – an amazing community of survivors that I am so privileged to be a part of. You guys are in many ways like family to me; thank you for existing. You’ve been a light in my darkness. If anyone reading has been affected by senseless tragedy, I encourage you to get involved with The Rebels Project, a place where you can find understanding community and support.

I am also very grateful to the band Anberlin, whose songs I quoted because their CD, “Cities”, was the only thing I specifically requested after December 9. The Unwinding Cable Car was on repeat in my CD player for months. That CD got me through the darkest days of my life and I’m forever thankful it existed. Thank you, Anberlin – thank you for the impact you’ve made. I’m looking forward to seeing you on your last tour this year.

Alexithymia (The Day My Sisters Died – Part 2)

Trigger Warning: I know several people are reading who have also been through a similar experience to mine. In light of this, please know that some of this post may be disturbing to you. Please monitor yourself if you wish to keep reading and don’t read more than will unnecessarily disturb you. I am going to try to write this in a clear way, on a line between giving details without being overly graphic. However I know that each person’s triggers are different, so I just ask that you are very gentle with yourself as you read.

Click here to read part 1.

sisters
(L to R: Rachel, Stephanie (my twin), me, Grace. September, 2007 – 3 months before)

Alexithymia, the name of my sister Rachel’s favorite Anberlin song, has a strange meaning. According to Merriam-Webster, it is “the inability to express one’s feelings.” Psychologically, it can mean “deficiency or complete inability in assessing and describing one’s own emotional state.”

How can one describe their emotional state during a trauma? It’s impossible. Even after, looking back, I have no words that can fully express what I felt. I can only shape my words to form somewhat of a container for the feelings that occurred.

This is the hardest part to write for me because of so many things. As I write, in my head I hear so much noise. That is what is most present for me as I remember December 9. The noise was unbearable. Noise is still my biggest trigger. I hear it all in my head when I write and it’s excruciatingly painful.

I think maybe the silence I’ve had, though, is even more painful.

——

“It’s alarming how loud the silence screams
No warn, no warn, no warning…”
Anberlin

There was no warning. There was silence, and then there was chaos.

My mom was in the driver’s seat, my dad in the passenger. My twin was behind my mom, and behind her was my youngest sister Grace. Behind my dad, the seat was down and the door was open as we waited for my sister Rachel to get in. Behind that open seat, was me.

After the sound like a balloon popping, there was another pop, and another. And then the window next to my twin sister shattered.

My dad yelled, “Get down! Somebody is shooting at us!” My little sister screamed. My twin sister, just behind my mom, moved to get down. As I slid down in my seat in the very back of the van, everything suddenly became very still and slow. My thoughts came in slow motion. My dad yelled for someone to call 911, so I automatically grabbed the phone that was in my purse and dialed.

Though my mind was slow, my words weren’t. As soon as the dispatcher answered, I was spitting words at her in absolute panic. I don’t remember exactly what I said but it was something like, “Someone’s shooting at us, someone’s shooting at my family!” I felt like I was suspended in time. Thoughts floated through my head almost slowly enough so that I could see words appearing.

I’m going to need counseling after this.

I forgive this guy, he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

This is the same person who shot up YWAM last night.

We’re going to be home by tonight, we have to… God said we’re going to go around the world, that we’re going to get this money,  so we have to survive.

Short, staccato noises kept coming without fail. They echoed, bouncing off the buildings, loud as all hell. Two dots appeared in the windshield as my parents cowered in the front seat, trying to stay out of sight. Glass was shattering everywhere.

I could feel the hate this person was directing at us; not really at us though, at some inner demon that tortured him. I felt as if, though I couldn’t see him, I was looking into the eyes of pure evil.

“I’ve been hit,” said my sister Rachel, outside the car. The screaming escalated. “Oh my god!” my dad yelled, jumping out of the car without thought to get to my sister. He was shot and fell on his stomach about 10 feet from the car (if I recollect correctly and that’s a big if).

My little sister had rushed past me at the same time, somehow miraculously escaping the gunman’s notice. I remember her as a blur, going past me. I clutched the phone in my hand.

My sister’s been shot!” I screamed at the dispatcher.

My dad was yelling “oh my god, oh my god.”

Screaming and loud popping alternately traded off, echoing, echoing, echoing.

I was babbling to the dispatcher. My mind wanted to fly into the stratosphere, and I was hysterical. “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,” I said. But she had asked me where I was, so I pulled myself into the moment and described clear directions to our location.

The sounds started moving away, blessedly away. A silence that was not silent drifted down on us. Screaming was still coming from all directions, but everything felt chillingly, disturbingly still.

In the silence I heard my dad saying to Rachel, “I’m sorry I couldn’t get to you honey, I’m so sorry.”

It was then I saw my twin sister, Stephanie, in front of me. She wasn’t moving. She was face down on the carpet in front of the seat.

“Both of my sisters have been shot!” I screamed at the dispatcher.

Suddenly my mom was in front of me, sitting with my twin, cradling her head.

“Can you find an exit wound?” the dispatcher asked. “You need to stop the bleeding.”

There wasn’t any blood, though, except on her face. She’d hit her nose when she fell to the floor. That image is seared into my brain – my twin’s face, as if she were asleep, peaceful. But blood ran down from her nose. I wished to God she was just sleeping.

There was a small hole in the back of her yellow coat but that was all we could find. The dispatcher kept telling me, “You need to find an exit wound.”

My mom was saying, “I can’t find an exit wound, I can’t find an exit wound.” She was crying, hysterical as I was. We looked and looked, not finding anything. My mom carefully turned my sister over. Still nothing. My twin’s brown hair flopped around her face, limp.

I got frustrated. “Here,” I shoved my scarf at her. “Put this on the wound!” I yelled at her. There was no wound to put it on but I had to do something for God’s sake. I felt helpless, standing by on the phone with hands full.

“I think she’s gone, I think she’s gone,” my mom said, half weeping. I blocked it away. I couldn’t deal with that yet. She asked me to get her keys and anointing oil from the front seat, so I got out and leaned in the passenger door to get it from her purse. I cut my left palm on the glass that lay on the passenger seat from the shattered windshield.

The dispatcher told me “Emergency crews are on the way. You need to look for them, let me know when they arrive.” I saw a white truck from the fire department driving towards us and as I went to wave him down, I passed Rachel laying on the pavement.

I can’t describe to you anything worse than what her face looked like at that moment. I felt like all the breath had been ripped out of my body. She was mumbling something as I walked by. She wore a shirt that had a sunset on it; I didn’t remember this until 4 years later. It’s oddly ironic to me now. Her face was gray and blue as twilight, horrific death was there. Everything inside of me was sinking like an iron ball in the ocean. There are not enough metaphors in the world to describe to you the depth of agony and despair that I felt.

My arms waved slowly at the rescue truck. “Over here! Over here!” I called. My voice sounded reedy and thin, even to me… hopeless, because hope was draining out of my body. “Emergency crews are here now,” I told the dispatcher. “Okay,” she said, and we disconnected. The man pulled his truck over with a screech and ran toward us. He ran past me, not realizing how intimately I was connected to the situation, focused on getting to the van where my sisters were.

At that moment other people showed up and someone grabbed me. “The shooter is coming back!” he yelled, and my sister Grace and I were dragged to a nearby black pickup truck, where we cowered in the front seat. Two boys sat in the back seat, staring at us. One said something to me, I don’t remember what. “Those are my sisters,” I babbled at him. I had lost myself by this point. I dialed my boyfriend’s number on the cell phone still in my hand. Voicemail. Unintelligible words spilled out onto the blank message. I disconnected the call. “Breathe,” I told myself, out loud. “Just breathe.” I tried. I rocked back and forth, trying to calm myself. My teeth were chattering. My little sister Grace sat across from me, dazed and in a similar condition to mine.

I dialed again, this time my boyfriend’s dad’s number. His mom answered. Words rushed out of my mouth. “My sisters have been shot!” I screamed into the phone. “Oh my god. Are you okay? What hospital are they taking them to?” I had no idea. There was an ambulance there now but I was disconnected from them, hiding in this truck. “I don’t know. I’ll call you when I know.” She agreed. I disconnected the call.

We realized the shooter wasn’t coming back and got out of the truck. I started wandering back towards the van, feeling detached, out of my body. An ambulance was there, and EMTs were everywhere. With my dad. With Rachel. They loaded her up into the ambulance. The siren blasted loud and eerie through the parking lot.

A police officer grabbed me and said, “Go into the Tent.” (This was the nearest building to our location, a tent-like structure used by the church for smaller events) My then-best friend had called me to see if I was okay. I told her what was going on. The police officer, frustrated, grabbed me by the collar and dragged me toward the building, intent on getting me out of harm’s way. My mom was next to me again, crying hysterically. My sister Grace was a shadow beside me.

My call with my best friend was interrupted when my boyfriend called. I told her goodbye and spoke to my boyfriend. We were in the lobby, near a collection of standing tables. Someone threw a pile of coats underneath and I crawled up on the coats and curled into a fetal position. I didn’t want to move. My mom was saying, “I think she’s gone, I think she’s gone…” and crying. “Ugh,” I thought. “SHUT UP.”

On the phone with my boyfriend, I was pleading, pleading, pleading. “Please come now. I need you,” I said.

“I don’t know if anyone is going down yet,” he said. I could feel his hesitation. A part of me thought, “What? This isn’t supposed to be how it works. He’s supposed to say I love you. I’ll be there right away.” But he didn’t. He kept stalling. I kept begging. “Please J—-, I need you. Please come now.”

Finally the words came through the phone. “Okay. I’m coming. R– is going to drive me down to meet my dad.”

Somehow, we moved into the tiny auditorium in the building. People still thought the shooter would return and police tried to shuffle everyone into the auditorium to be safe. (I don’t know how they thought this was safe) My mom, my sister Grace and I all sat down at a table. I was on the phone. My mom, a coat draped around her shoulders, was talking to a woman who had appeared. Grace was crying and talking to another woman who had come to the table and knelt down next to her. I crouched, bent in half, on the phone with my boyfriend. My mom was explaining to the woman what had happened. “I think she’s dead, I think she’s dead,” my mom babbled. I turned away and plugged my ears so I couldn’t hear those awful words.

“My mom keeps saying my sister is dead and I can’t deal with that right now,” I told my boyfriend. “You need a Bible,” he said to me. “Get someone to give you a Bible.” I lifted my head and asked for a Bible. Someone brought me one, and I turned to Psalm 91, the only thing I could think of to read. I read it out loud, twice, because I couldn’t concentrate on it if I read it silently. After I finished the last verse, I suddenly began singing.

Jesus loves me, this I know…

I was terrified and hysterical. It was the only truth I could think of to hold onto.

Just after I’d stopped singing, I got another phone call, from the man who’d led my DTS team the year before. I answered and he asked if I was okay, if my family was ok. I could barely force out the words, “No, it’s us.”

“Oh my god. I’m coming right now,” he said.

Right around then, someone found us and realized who we were. The pastor came up. Another friend I’d known since the summer, J—, saw me at just the moment when the pastor pulled everyone in to pray. He came up to me and wrapped me in a big hug, and I didn’t want to move. I’ll never forget his face; the sadness, the pain. The pastor prayed. And when he finished, finally someone went to find out which hospital my sisters had gone to. My boyfriend still waited on the phone.

Someone told us that the shooter had committed suicide. I felt an extreme relief. All I had wanted was for someone to STOP HIM. My body relaxed just a little in overwhelming gratitude.

A policeman came over and I explained that a friend was coming to find me and they NEEDED to let him through. A few minutes later, G– appeared. “G– is here, hang on a minute,” I told my boyfriend, and G– wrapped me up in a huge hug and didn’t let go. I was wishing he wouldn’t, all I wanted to do was be held at that moment, because I was shattered into pieces inside.

I told my boyfriend I was going to get off the phone now because G– had arrived. So I disconnected. We sat for a few minutes waiting while they got a van to take us to the hospital. They told us where Rachel had been taken, but not where my twin, Stephanie, was. No one seemed to know, or they were keeping it to themselves. Finally, we all piled into a church van. G– came along in the van, and I was grateful, I needed someone there. I sat in the back next to my mom as we drove.

We were at the light at the Fillmore and I-25 exit, just before arriving at the hospital. I was looking at the sky, and it was in that golden hour just before sunset. And I saw Stephanie – my beloved twin sister – and she was with God. She was smiling.

I knew she was gone.

——

To continue reading, go to Part 3.