Of the trade-beauty for ashes

My very first guest post comes from Carrie. She’s a bright, loving, and all around awesome gal. I hope you enjoy her words and her voice.

The Trade: Beauty for Ashes

I recently read a quote that said, “Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be?” There was no author listed, just a simple question, yet profound in the same sense. For days I have been meditating on these thoughts: Who was I before my rape and assault? Who was I before I was a survivor? Who was I before recovery, support groups, therapy, and other survivors that were such a crucial and integral part of my life?

Recovery brings a variety of emotions parading on whim through your heart—grief, sadness, anxiety, anger, worry, jealousy, bitterness, and frustration to name a few. I have allowed myself to feel each and every one of them because I know now that I must in order to continue to heal. It hurts though. And since lately, I can’t seem to remember “who I was before,” and the hurt has turned to unrest.

Those who know me know my faith is my lifeline. One scripture I am fiercely clinging to promises, “[God will] comfort all who mourn and give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes.” In Biblical times, it was customary to lie in ashes during great times of mourning and difficulty. So when the people of that time had a problem in their lives, they would literally sit down in a pile of ashes. There was no mask, no putting on a brave face. I love that. Life is real. Terrible, unspeakable tragedies occur all around us on a daily basis. It is inevitable that you will experience pain. It won’t always be painful. There may be nothing initially beautiful about ashes, but there are heartfelt moments and amazing people you meet on this journey. I have experienced love, acceptance, and understanding as never before, and I truly believe we can all trade our ashes for beauty. Even if you are not spiritual, the metaphor can still be powerful.

What about the recovery—the trading hurt for healing part? I may not still be in the ashes of my assault, but I don’t feel like I’m anywhere near understanding or seeing the beauty from it either. Can I just be honest? The waiting, the healing—It is the most difficult, most excruciating experience I’ve ever been through, even more so than the assault itself.

This is the hard part to write about because the wound is still so fresh. Although it’s been years since my trauma occurred, some days it still feels like yesterday. Small things turn into huge things. A simple task turns into an unexpected, complicated mess. My therapist, who is a saint, keeps telling me to, “Be kind to yourself.” But, I’m angry! I’m frustrated! I want to shake off the ashes and never look back. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t happen that way. It is a trade. This recovery is a process, and I have to be patient with myself.

Getting upset when I can’t physically or mentally show up for friends and family bothers me the most. I’m hard pressed to have patience with myself during those times. Let me share a recent example. There was a holiday party after work that I had been looking forward to for weeks. Parties and gatherings are overwhelming for many, as well as myself, but I was actually anticipating a fun time with some coworkers and friends. Well, it didn’t happen. After work, I had a panic attack complete with those voices telling me how much of a failure I was, how I would never be enough, how people were going to see how incompetent I was at my job, that I was a mess, and so on. Staying for the party was out of the question. I rushed home and collapsed in a ball sobbing uncontrollably for the better part of an hour. But here’s where the story gets good and I am trying to focus—You know those heartfelt moments and amazing people I wrote about earlier? One of my friends texted asking me if I were feeling better, but frankly, I was a little over life at that point. Well, she told me to come over right away. She sat with me and listened. Her husband made me grilled cheese and a cup of tea. I was probably there for three hours, and it was just what I needed to keep going and keep trying. She refused to let me give up. She and her family are just several of the many amazing people who have opened their hearts and homes to me and have prodded me lovingly along on this journey.

Brene’ Brown, a renowned author, researcher and speaker states, “Owning our story can be hard, but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky, but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” Brene’ also speaks a lot about courage and says that the true meaning of courage is to tell your story with your whole heart. Well, I am working on that. I want to tell my story with my whole heart. Why? Because in the midst of lying in and dusting off ashes, there are beautiful moments. There are amazing people who see the beauty from your ashes even when you can’t and especially when you can’t! I don’t want anyone to forget that or get too mucked down in the ashes that they can’t see those moments happening!

So back to the original question, “Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be?” If you can’t, that’s ok. While you’re searching, experiencing this ride we call life, stop often. Recognize those little moments and that joy that comes from connecting with people who truly care for you. Allow yourself to feel everything, but also allow yourself to begin trading your ashes for beauty. I am speaking to myself as much as to you. Listen to those whom you love and let them sing your life song to you when you can’t remember the words. That is part of authentic recovery and those moments remind you of everything you truly are.

Thanks, Carrie. Beautifully said.