Have you ever been going merrily about your way when WOMP! you find yourself face to face with a dark relic of the past? Old demons that throw you back into a place you thought you’d crawled out of long ago?
For the past fifteen years, I’ve gone through great lengths to create a better life for myself. This process started the minute I moved away to college and realized I didn’t have a tormentor to hide from anymore. I was finally free to be and do without harassment. Eventually, when bitterness welled up, I forgave and when sadness poured out, I processed. Somehow, I learned to love and trust enough to marry a genuine, loving man. Together, Mr. Smith and I live a life fully blessed and enjoy each day doing what we love. And then…WOMP!
Over the past few weeks, I’ve suddenly become very short-tempered with myself. This is because every day I’ve managed to accidentally break something or bump into something. And when I’m not busy breaking or injuring something, I’m forgetting something. A month ago, I would have chalked it all up to an off week, watched some Seinfeld and moved on. This time around, however, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was a worthless, clumsy idiot. Scorning myself only made my clumsiness worse, but giving myself grace was out of the question. What I needed was punishment. So I began hurting myself.
I’ve alluded to this before, but I grew up in an abusive home. On a regular basis, I was called “worthless” by my step-father, a title that was as humiliating as the treatment that came with it. If there was an opportunity to beat me down emotionally, he took it.
My step-father’s behavior got worse as I progressed through high school, so I spent as much time as possible with friends and on the tennis court. Oh, how I loved to hit that ball! My mental game, however, was atrocious. I rarely won matches because I was so intent on not making any mistakes. Inevitably, I’d miss a serve or hit a ball out of bounds and spend the rest of the match berating myself. One day, I got so mad that I hit myself hard on the side of my calf with my racquet. To my surprise, the pain felt good, and I was instantly hooked on the relief it gave. From that day on, I spent practices beating my legs and shins to a pulp. The bruising caused enough concern that I had to get iced and bandaged each day before practice, but it wasn’t enough for me to quit. I deserved the pain.
Then one summer afternoon, something magical happened. I don’t know what was in the air that day, but my conscious mind floated away allowing me to play with reckless abandon. With all of the pressure gone, I nailed every stroke. For hours my coach and I slammed balls across the court, laughing euphorically; I literally felt like I was flying. When I arrived home, I still felt floaty. Perhaps it was the floatiness that caused me to drop my dinner plate, and as my luck would have it, the plate hit the floor right as my step-father entered the kitchen. Instantly, he flew into a rage, ecstatic to have a reason to attack. I did not mean to break the plate, but I was called a stupid, worthless idiot nonetheless. When he eventually stalked out of the room, I was completely deflated. The glow from my magical afternoon on the court was gone, and I never experienced a moment like that again. I went on to lose match after match, beating my legs all the while until I quit the team my senior year.
It makes no sense why a person who is being hurt by another would eventually develop the desire to hurt herself. Yet somehow, in a strange subconscious twist, I became my own tormentor. I’d beat myself up during the day and the parental unit would take over in the evening. What makes even less sense is how, even after years of thriving in a loving, nurturing environment, those same dark feelings of worthlessness could float up to the present causing the desire to torment myself again.
And yet, here I was with a bruised elbow. The day before, I had accidentally bumped it into the sharp edge of a door frame. Beyond fed up with my clumsiness, I had had enough. Anger overtook me, and I rammed my elbow over and over again into the door frame until I felt the flesh grow soft. Though my arm throbbed, I felt instant relief. A few days later, I pricked myself one too many times with a needle during a sewing project. Deciding to make it worth my while, I stabbed my finger repeatedly with the needle. If I developed a hang nail, I’d rip it off just to feel the intense discomfort. It wasn’t until I injured my back after pushing myself too hard at the gym that I realized this self-destructive behavior had to stop.
Why am I sharing all of this? Maybe you’re facing a dark place, too. Maybe some dreary piece of your past has floated up to the top and is wreaking havoc on your peace. Maybe you feel like everyone has it together except you. I am sharing all of this to say: YOU’RE NOT ALONE. Not only are you not alone in feeling inadequate, but you don’t have to cope with these feelings alone. I didn’t even realize the importance of disclosing my behavior until I confessed to Mr. Smith why I had a bruised arm and sore fingers. Immediately, I felt in control again and began to feel grace for myself.
Even though I still struggle with the deep feelings of worthlessness accrued during those dark years of my youth, I can feel them fade each day that I am surrounded by love. Not only that, I believe they have grown even weaker during this whole ordeal. Whenever a piece of past pain floats to the surface of our hearts, we have a chance to skim it off. Each day I skim layers of that chunk off by choosing to give myself grace. Today, I broke a glass, but all I did was roll my eyes and take a deep breath. It’s a glass, I broke it, move on.
Had I only given myself grace when I was younger, who knows? I may have had many more magical tennis practices–I could have “flown” more. Tennis may not be my sky anymore, but I still wish to fly. There are many places for me to go yet, and I am worthy of the journey. We are worthy of the journey.