I think it’s a common denominator for those who have had multiple losses or tragedies to feel as though a Pandora’s Box opens with each new loss/tragedy. No matter how much we resolve or work with our wounds, there is always a bit more healing that needs to be done and these things tend to gather together in Pandora’s Box just waiting until the scab is picked at.
When my mom died nearly six weeks ago, the box opened again but it hasn’t – and won’t – swallow me whole. My Reiki attunements and training have kept me out of the box this time. I’m better equipped to deal with the scab picking and allow healing rather than resisting the waves of emotion. However, when my brother died five years ago, I was swallowed by the box for awhile. I got out of that box, finally, because I’m a bootstraps kind of gal . . .
I spent my teenage years in Wyoming and one of my favorite expressions from that time is when the going gets tough, pick yourself up by the bootstraps. You know those straps on each side of the boot that you use to pull the boot on with? Those are bootstraps and it can take some work to get those boots on – one at a time. When you think you can’t go on, pull on those boots and trudge through the muck to the other side. I became a “bootstraps” woman in 1983, and I’d like to share my story . . .
On December 11, 1982, I gave birth to my second son. My first was premature and stillborn three years earlier so I was naturally scared of losing another. I went nine days overdue before I went into real labor with an infection. Everything went wrong during labor and Mark Adam was severely asphyxiated due to birth trauma. We made the decision to terminate life support which is a horrible decision to make for your own child. Two minutes before the respirator was scheduled to be shut off, Mark died on his own in my brother’s arms; he was 5 1/2 days old.
During the gravesite service, each of my brothers had a hand on the back of my chair. They were shaking so much I was sure I’d fall into the grave with the baby! I was struck by how wrong it was to be burying my own child when he should be burying me. I really wanted to just fall into that hole with him. My mom, who thought she was being helpful, told me I probably wasn’t meant to have children since I’d now lost two.
After the funeral, my family went home (all in different cities and states), and I was alone with my ex-husband who got drunk the day before the funeral and stayed that way. He was a violent drunk at times, and I was too afraid and ashamed to tell my family.
Within nine months after baby Mark died, my ex-husband’s alcoholism (and physical abuse worsened), I was raped by someone I knew, and I had an early miscarriage. The day after the miscarriage, I just didn’t think I had it in me to go on living. It was too much, and my coping skills were non-existent. I was 24 years old, and I just didn’t know how to make it better or go on.
I gave up, called in sick to work and planned my death. After sending my goodbye note as a telegram to the ship my husband was on (he was in the Navy), I hung up the phone with incredible peace and was prepared to do it.
At the exact moment I turned away from the phone, there was a knock at my front door. I was going to ignore it but something in me made me go to the door anyway. I answered it and there stood a co-worker who had heard about my miscarriage. I will never forget the look of concern and compassion on his handsome face.
I should back up and explain that four months earlier, I had started a new job. On one of my first days, I passed by a man in the office courtyard and instantly KNEW without any doubt whatsoever that I would marry him some day. I clearly remember shaking my head and telling myself that that was nuts because I was already married–unhappily so but still married. I later learned that this man worked for the same office and we became friends. It was this co-worker who stood at my door with a single flower in his hand saying he thought I could use a friend. How could he have known?
I let him in and we talked. He let me go on and on and cry my eyes out without trying to fix anything. I felt completely safe which was amazing considering I’d been raped a short time before and my comfort zone with men was nil. He listened and he cared; he cried with me. And I forgot all about my plans to end my life. Why would I want to when there truly was goodness in the world? You see, that was all I needed to know – that there truly is goodness in this world.
I know an angel sent him to me that night – or maybe he’s really an earth angel – and we’ve now been married 25 years.
That was the night I decided to pull myself up by the bootstraps; that was the night I decided to LIVE; that was the night that giving up was no longer an option I cared to entertain.
The way back wasn’t easy . . . I had another miscarriage four months later. I left my ex-husband and telling my family was HARD. There was shame involved. I felt like a failure, but I honestly couldn’t live with someone I was terrified of. I deserved better than that; we ALL deserve better than that. He refused to get help so I had to help myself.
I flunked that semester of college, and I nearly lost my job with so many absences. I decided to stay in San Diego instead of running home to my parents. I worked harder at my job, talked to the Dean at school and got the F’s removed from my record, I found an apartment I could afford which was in a horrible part of town but I survived it, and I worked hard to pay off my share of the bills I got from the divorce (my ex charged thousands of dollars while he was deployed). I started to feel better about myself because I was taking care of myself for the first time EVER. I didn’t need a man to do it for me; I didn’t need my parents to do it for me. Those boots were carrying me through the muck and it sucked while I was doing it but it was the best education in the world. I learned that no matter what, I could take care of myself and that life is absolutely worth living.
So for me, when the going gets tough, I pull out those boots and yank ‘em up by the bootstraps. They carry me through the muck until I get to the other side. They never let me down because they were sent by an angel who knew my shoe size. 😉 They’ve carried me through losing both of my brothers, some serious injuries and illnesses with my sons, financial woes, a near death experience . . . they’re a thing of beauty, those muck covered boots! Sometimes I forget them for awhile, as I did five years ago when I lost my last brother, but they appeared when it was the right time. That’s the thing about my boots, they have divine timing too.
If you’re a bootstraps woman, I’d love to hear your story. Shoot me an email and let’s chat!