Therapy and broken hearts

It’s been a while since I’ve heard from God, and I’m starting to get worried. Is it deity vacation week or something? I’ve humbled myself, listened till my ears rang, prayed, pleaded, meditated, and generally been extremely petulant. Nothing.

It’s hard to write when God is being so quiet. I started writing yesterday but found there were too many threads in my head, no common theme. Conflicting ideas and topics that I can’t seem to reconcile. All against a background of relationships that are in flux, and at the same time a general sense of waiting, not being sure where anything is going exactly.

I really don’t think God intends to break my heart with his silence, but you never know, you know? So I read this essay by Parker Palmer about broken hearts. He says you can choose, when your heart is broken, to let your heart shatter and let the shards of it injure those around you. Or you can choose to let your heart be broken open, and in its brokenness to become receptive to new experiences, to new ideas, to new ways forward.

Palmer applies the concept of a broken heart well beyond the romantic sense of the term and into all types of loss and conflict, including the conflict of one’s ideals with harsh realities, and what John Keats called “negative capability”: the ability to hold two conflicting ideas in your head and heart without feeling the necessity to resolve them.

That idea has begun to give me the courage to go on holding all those threads in my heart and let them stretch it open to receive something new. It also gave me the patience, I think, to continue to wait on God or whatever, to accept that an answer or an insight or even the peace I’ve requested may not come today or tomorrow or even next week. To accept that it’s okay, even beneficial, to stand still and let my heart be stretched open and just to hold it like that for now. To not need to find a solution, a resolution, a common theme, or a way forward, yet.

Unfortunately, holding all those things in my head and heart at once is not especially conducive to writing pithy, profound journal entries. So this one won’t be pithy or profound, but it will be real. I will start with a confession:

I’m seeing a therapist. I am a person who sees a therapist. There it is: I am in therapy.

And now I am going to become the very annoying sort of person who writes long narratives about her therapist, the important work she and I are doing together, and how much good it could do you, too, if you’ll just give it a chance.

Actually, I have no idea whether it will do you any good or not because only you know the state of your heart and soul, but I am going to tell you about it anyway. She gave me an assignment this week that was both fun and painful, in that order, and I am going to share it with you. The assignment was to list my ten best childhood memories, and my ten worst childhood memories, in that order.

Some of the stuff I came up with I’ve never admitted to before, so I just want to say that it’s a little scary putting it out here. But I think the process of confessing scary things helps to open me up, to break my heart a little more so that I can receive what I need to receive. And I also think that when a person—me or anyone—shares scary, secret stuff, it opens up space for other people to admit their scary stuff too, and maybe not to feel so ashamed or scared. And if we can get this stuff out there and love each other anyway and despite it all and maybe even a little bit because of it all, then we can all be a lot more at peace with ourselves and each other.

That’s the theory anyway. I hope it works, because otherwise I’ve just put a bunch of my shit out here for nothing. But here it goes.

So, starting with the easy bit which is the ten best (in no particular order), here they are. For their privacy, I’ve anonymized the identities of some of the other parties involved in these memories.

  1. Buying a chocolate bar with my allowance and then sharing it with our dog, squatting beside him inside his doghouse. (Age 8ish)
  2. Eating fresh tomatoes out of Grandpa’s garden, later going to the 7-11 with him for Slushies. (Age 8-15ish)
  3. Dad standing up for me to the preacher, who had accused me of having a problem with authority. I was 18.
  4. Building a “boat” with my friend Helen out of an old door and whatever we could find around the property. Fishing for minnows in the canal nearby. I was 12.
  5. My friend Angela singing “Whalebones and Crosses” to me in a tent outside their house one night. I always loved her version better than the John Denver version she played for me the next day. Something about the shadows cast on her face by the flashlight and the sweetness of her barely-older-than-me voice. The soulfulness in her eyes. I was 11.
  6. Playing cars under the canopy of trees in our courtyard in Newmarket. With my brother. I remember how satisfying were the roads we built, and the sensation of pushing the cars along those clear paths.  9-10.
  7. Pretending to baptize each other in the wading pool behind our house, my brother and me. I was probably 3-4 years old. Maybe 5.
  8. Horseback riding. A little bit when I was very small—4-5 years old, horses my parents boarded for someone. A lot more from ages 11-13 when I took lessons in England.
  9. Being invited to a ballet by a teacher who had an extra ticket and asked if I wanted to go with her. I still remember the ballet. I was 11 or 12.
  10. Being selected to hold a raptor for a bird show—wearing that enormous leather gauntlet, holding the weight of that magnificent bird, feeling it launch from my arm. I thought I was just incredibly lucky, but I was later told I was selected for my enthusiasm—it wasn’t luck, I was *chosen.* I was probably 11.

The next ten are much harder to put here, because they are deeply personal. But that’s sort of the point, so here goes. My ten worst childhood memories:

  1. This is a recurring memory: Finding myself alone in some part of the house, most often in the 300-year-old house in Newmarket, England, and remembering one of many sermons and Bible classes about the Second Coming. The terror of realizing that Jesus might have come, right that minute, and left me behind, and I wouldn’t even know. Running around the house looking for my parents. From ages 9 and up. Not sure when that particular terror ended, but it was well into my late teens at least.
  2. Wanting to go in a tent with an older boy I knew. Agreeing to let him and his friend play sexual games with me in exchange for being allowed to be in the tent. Age 8, I think. I know I am not alone in this memory, and it is not the only one of its sort. That’s as much as I’m willing to put in a public place, but I’m putting it here because I know I am not alone and I want anyone out there with similar memories to know they are not alone either and that they don’t have to be ashamed.
  3. Peeing in my chair at school when I was 12. I was too afraid to ask the teacher to use the bathroom and thought I could hold it until the bell rang. Afterward, trying to put my chair up on top of the desk without anyone noticing the pool of pee. Hiding my wet bottom behind my backpack and then realizing that mom wasn’t going to pick me up from school. Having to walk all the way home in my peed-in skirt.
  4. Taking the dog for a walk and losing control of him when he sighted one of our pet ducks. He killed the duck, ate its chest out, while I stood pulling on his leash, screaming and kicking at him. I knew he would want the duck, and had let him get close to it because I had remembered a conversation in which I was told that the ducks were too big to be injured by the cat, and I had assumed the same was true of the dog. Then I felt stupid for not realizing the difference and for letting it happen, but I was too ashamed to tell anyone the truth and I let everyone assume it was a complete accident. I was 8 or 9.
  5. Washing paint off my skirt in the bathroom sink, then the teacher calling me a “stupid child” in front of the rest of the class for getting my skirt sopping wet. I was 9.
  6. Finding my hamster dead and knowing it had probably starved to death because I had not kept it fed. I never told anyone the truth. I was 10.
  7. Picking this awesome bulb mushroom, it was as large as my head, out of the field. I was so proud and happy to be taking it home for our haunted house. Then getting rushed and knocked breathless by Mom’s stupid pet llama, my beautiful prize smashed against my chest, me flat on my back. Mom was really sorry about it, but she always wanted me to stand up to the llama myself and never satisfyingly stood up for me against him. She always loved that llama. I wanted her to hate him like he hated me. I was 11-12ish.
  8. Two things: Dad coming in to tell me about Henry’s death, the sorrow etched under his eyes; Mom coming back from Charity’s last trip and telling me how she had forgotten to pack her bottle so little Charity was hungry and pleading for something to eat as she took her last breath at the vet’s office. Charity was a baby llama we raised in the house. I was 17.
  9. Very vague memory—I was sleeping on the floor in a room with a bunch of other people. Very young. I had been afraid to try to use the bathroom in the house where we were staying, and I had pooped in my pants. I could smell it and it was uncomfortable (squishy), but I was afraid to admit to it, afraid to ask for help, and afraid everyone could tell it was me and were silently judging me. I’ve never told that memory to anyone before doing this exercise, and I don’t think I even really remembered it until now. I don’t know how old I was.
  10. My brother killing the ants I loved. They lived in a nook beside a clay pot in the courtyard of our Newmarket house, and formed an orderly line to go foraging each day. I would put mosquito larvae in their path and watch them carry them down to their nest. I felt a strong affinity for them, for some reason. My brother would deliberately torture and kill them, just to make me mad. I was 9 or 10.

There. That’s my ten and ten. And now that I’ve bared my soul, I want to request that you also let your heart be broken a little (this is the where I tell you how much good my therapy could do you, too, if you’ll just give it a chance). See if you can list your ten best and ten worst childhood memories. See where it takes you. Does it hurt a little to admit to them? Does it open new places in your heart? Do you have the courage to post them here or email them to a friend?

It’s certainly interesting to me the power these memories have still for me—the shame I feel at admitting to some of them, especially worst memory numbers 2, 3, and 9, even with approximately 30 years between me and them. Do you have memories that still hold that power over you?

I told you this entry would not be pithy or profound. There is still no common theme here. I don’t know where this assignment will go for me, what the therapist will make of these memories, what I will do with the thousand other threads in my heart that I haven’t even touched on here. I don’t know. But I’m willing to sit here with an open heart for a while and just wait. I have faith that it will be good in the end. I hope so, anyway. (And if you happen to talk to God, will you please tell her I’m waiting?)


2 responses to “Therapy and broken hearts

  1. I was going to send you an email referencing this but instead I’m going this route. Wow. Struck a chord. More to talk about, whenever we take that girls’ time out that we’ve discussed.

    Lovely writing, you’re one of those people whose writing makes me feel inadequate, like I’m still just babbling.

    • Thank you. I’m glad it struck a chord. But don’t let someone else’s work make you feel inadequate–we’re all in this together, and we all have our own style. I do love that you think my writing is “lovely” though. Thank you. 🙂

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