Pain and suffering leave a deep scar.
Even if there’s no outward evidence of the damage, pain leaves a mark on the psyche and the spirit that is permanent. Lately, I’ve been running a mental finger over that scar, reminding myself that I didn’t imagine it all. It wasn’t just a bad dream. Like a tongue seeking out the hole of a missing tooth, I can’t resist exploring that area over and over again.
I want to write a story, a story about how God sustained me, how my faith was strengthened, how I’m better for having suffered, but I’m stuck. Looking back at the endless years of seizures and pain, depression and drugs, I feel so much grief. At times I’ve become frantic, trying to make sense of it all and trying to figure out why all of this happened to me in the first place.
Somehow, I need to come to peace with the fact that I may never know why but I finally realized that I won’t find peace until I acknowledge the grief – until I lament.
So…this is my lamentation. This is what I lost.
I lost memories. I lost time.
Pain robbed me in so many ways. Suffering cheated me out of so many things. It didn’t just cheat me, it cheated the people I love.
A single event or moment in time will stand out and I can easily recall the sounds, smells, and emotions of that time, but the bigger picture of my past is baffling to me. The harder I try to make sense of it all, the more frustrated I become. There are huge gaps and holes, years that are just a fog.
I was forty years old when I lost my license and much of my life to seizures. Sam was 3, Rachel was 5, Ashley was 18. As a grown woman with three children, I became dependent on my parents, my family and my friends. I couldn’t drive my kids to church, couldn’t get to the grocery store on my own. My sense of self disappeared along with my self-confidence.
I have pored over old diaries, medical bills and calendars, to cobble together the timeline of my life. It’s helped jog my memory but there are still gaps of time I can’t account for.
Just writing this makes my eyes sting with tears. Because, in those huge gaps of time, my three amazing kids were living their lives, without a ‘fully present’ mother. I can’t retrieve those years, those sweet childhood moments. This causes me no small amount of pain and anguish. I’ve tried, time and again, to surrender what I can’t pull back, to trust that God was by their side when I was not, to believe that their dad and grandparents and all the other well-meaning and generous adults in their lives, did the best that they could to make sure Ashley and Rachel and Sam were cared for and loved, but it still hurts. I weep for what we lost – for what they lost.
I don’t want to revisit the pain and admit how much all of this must have affected my children but I long to move beyond this, to redeem the pain in some small way.
I lost my self.
Because, to my mind’s eye, my scars are so obvious, the change in me so dramatic, it is disconcerting when I meet someone who only knows the new me, the after-pain-changed-me me. What is even more confounding is when someone, who I’ve known since ‘before’, treats me as though I haven’t changed.
Can’t they see that I’m completely altered by the experiences I’ve been through? Surely they see it tattooed on my arm or written on my forehead. How on earth can they miss it?!
In the years since my recovery, I’ve regained my sense of self but I’m not the same as before. I lost the old me.
I lost my faith.
At my lowest moments, God was lost to me.
All my life, I felt His presence. I didn’t always want to feel it, because that presence was, at times, convicting me, pricking my conscience and challenging me. But it was there. He was there.
F. Scott Fitzgerald said “In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.”
In my three-o’clock-in-the-mornings, God was silent. There was a gaping void where His presence had once been. That void beckoned me in the dark hours of night and sometimes even during the day. I grieved the loss of His presence as I grieved the loss of my health. My depression was a pit that I climbed into. I could smell the musty earth and feel the cool gravel between my fingertips. That dark cavern became comfortable and it was harder and harder to draw me out.
I lost all hope.
This shouldn’t be over-spiritualized. There were physiological factors involved. I was clinically depressed. Pain and heavy medications dramatically altered my brain chemistry.
At one of my lowest points, my dad came by to visit. The timeline of this isn’t clear. But I remember him coming into my darkened bedroom and sitting by my bed. I was in the fetal position and barely responded to his presence. I can’t imagine how that broke my father’s heart, seeing his girl in such physical pain and mental anguish. He stroked my hair and sang softly. After singing for a few minutes, he started praying and I began sobbing.
“He’s abandoned me, dad!” I cried out.
“I can’t pray anymore. I can’t read my Bible. I have nothing left. I’ve failed God.”
He passed me a tissue and waited for my sobbing to subside.
“Karen, you don’t have to pray. Let me pray. Let it go.”
It is a terrible and terrifying thing to lose faith. For someone who was raised from birth to believe, to ‘trust and obey’, it felt like a betrayal of not just my faith but my family, my history, my childhood. Everything that had been firm and certain, was now sinking sand. There was nowhere for me to gain a foothold.
That’s when I rediscovered Job, Jeremiah’s Lamentations and the Psalms of David. I’d read them many times before, but in my previous life, I focused on the Psalms of praise and the Psalms of comfort. Now, I found comfort in the grief of Job and the Psalms of anguish. I felt a kinship with David in his moments of darkest despair. I read his words and wept as I cried out to God.
“Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
Why do you hide your face
and forget our misery and oppression?
We are brought down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
Rise up and help us;
rescue us because of your unfailing love.”
These are things I lost. Maybe tomorrow I will recall the things I found.