I’ve never felt Enough.
I’ve always felt Less Than.
I’ve belittled and berated myself. I’ve put myself down. I’ve told myself all of the lies that I can’t and I won’t and I should and I shouldn’t. I’m too fat. I’m not pretty. I’m not good. I’m not worthy. I’ve shamed myself. I’ve starved and binged and purged myself, all the way down to 73 pounds at the age of 19. I’ve wanted to disappear. I’ve hurt myself and cut myself, before cutting was even a thing. I’ve swallowed pills and puked them back up. I’ve smoked the pipe, and emptied bottle after bitter bottle until poison filled my belly and ran through my veins, so that the only way out was getting pumped out of my stomach in a sterile hospital room. I’ve looked for love in the worst places, with the wrong kind of men. The kind that don’t respect me, don’t see me, don’t care about me. That want to hurt me, with their words and their minds, and their hands and their bodies. I’ve been in harms way. Too many times. I’ve made bad choices. Too many times. I went back after he pushed me, again after he hit me, and kicked me, and dragged me by my hair. And again and again. I went back when I knew he could kill me. I went back when I knew that I might not make it out alive. I’ve been beaten down and gotten back up, more times than I can count. At the mercy of the vicious hands of an abuser.
I was lucky. I did make it out alive. And even luckier, I did find someone who loves me. He sees me and hears me. He is gentle with me, and to me. He loves me and likes me. He wants me. He cherishes me. He’s made a life and a family with me. A good life. A happy life. A beautiful family. But…. But. Behind it all, I still wait for the shoe to drop. The luck to run out. I wait for him to know what I know. That I’m not good. That I’m not worthy. That I’m not enough. That I’m less than.
The day I realized I needed to make a change – a real honest to goodness no holds barred take no prisoners sink or swim set the world on fire and figure out who the hell I really am underneath it all change – was the day I was sitting in my psychiatrist’s office just a few months ago and he told me that I’m perfect.
“Perfectly imperfect,” he said. And I cried. I sobbed. I ugly cried. Right there in front of him. Big huge tears and shoulder wracking sobs and ugly snot running down my face. I wanted to run. To hide. Crawl under the chair. Climb out the window. To disappear. I didn’t want him to see me for the fraud that I am. Because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t believe him. How could I believe him? Nothing about me is perfect. I’m the one who’s not enough. Who’s less than.
I’ve been so ashamed for feeling less than. And so afraid of taking the chance to be more than. I’ve been caught in this vacuum of breathlessness.
Strangling. Paralyzed. Terrified.
So riddled with fear that I can’t even breathe. I don’t even know how.
At 41, you’d think I’d know how to breathe, right? I mean, it’s a basic (and necessary!) bodily function. And theoretically, I should have been doing it for the last, well, 41 years. Because if I’m not breathing, I’m not living. And if I’m not living, then what’s the fucking point?
But here I am, in this state of breathlessness. I didn’t even know that I was holding my breath. For all these years. All tight and pent up and red faced and eye popping chest on fire strangling. Feeling like I would implode.
No sudden movements, you might burst!
No exhaling, because…KAPOW!
No emotional release…..BOOM!
The thing is…when I can’t breathe, I can’t feel. Or think. Or be. I’m paralyzed. Stuck. Frozen.
I can’t laugh. Or sing. Or cry. Or scream. Or dance. Feel joy. Feel pain and sorrow and be so completely heartbroken that I crack wide open. Be raw and pure. Be messy and so fucked up and beautiful. Be so damn happy that my laughter rushes through the trees. My tears singe the leaves. My smile shines a light on the path and leads me to right where I’m meant to be.
And then one day it happens. I just can’t hold it back anymore. The pressure has built up for far too long and in one fell swoop the gates release, the locks bend and burst, the doors fly wide and I begin to relax and…the air! The air! It rushes and gushes and dances and does cartwheels in my chest and lungs. It wakes up my heart. My whole body and mind and spirit and soul tingle with the just the hint of life being born.
Take a breath. Hold it. Release.
I tread lightly. Quick and shallow breaths. It feels like I’m testing out new waters. Dip a toe in here, a fingertip there. As the tension breaks it sends ripples across the surface. The murky waters churning up so much ugliness and sludge, swirling around and around and around. The pain, the sorrow, the broken pieces…start floating to the surface. Glimmers from the sun play with the reflections.
Take a breath. Hold it. Release.
Feel the air come rushing in to fill me up, and then like a frightened lonely child it rushes out as quickly as it came. Eyes cast down in fear and shame.
It’s all so new. I keep them to closely measured short clips of breath. The slightest bit of air. Only what is needed to just get by, because it’s too much to handle all at once. I’m overwhelmed, I run away. I kick and scream and push away. Even just that hint of air, of breath, of life, sends searing white hot pain across my skin my bones my eyes my mind.
I can’t stop it now.
All this feeling.
It comes in waves and crashes over and over and over again. It knocks me down. I get back up. It grabs my legs and yanks them out from under me. It drags me through the mud and tries to swallow me whole. I punch and thrash and scream and kick and finally I break away. My lungs burn as the torrid air is hot and hard and fast and pounding in my chest. Yet, I stand. I look around. I brush the savage mud from my trousers. I take a step. I survive.
I breathe in. I breathe out. I live.
So I take what I’ve always felt about myself, all the lack and less than and not enough and nothing, and I kick it to the curb. Throw it out with the bath water. Toss it into the wind and don’t look back. And instead I take what I’ve learned – what I’m learning – about myself. And I embrace it. I cradle it and coddle it, and love up all on it. I walk around it and admire it, head to toe. I become acquainted with this new person.
This stranger who I have so much to learn about. I see glimpses of joy. Of spunk. Of fire. Of passion. Of light and love and strength and power. Of Enough. Of More Than. I see her still standing in the shadows, but she’s peeking out and taking chances and starting to believe that she’s quite possibly worthy of being seen and heard and loved. And I’m in awe. I am in awe.
And I look forward. To what’s next.
Melissa Dodson is a California girl who found a home in the trees of Portland, OR. She’s a stay-at-home mom and housewife, and an aspiring writer/blogger who writes about being a motherless daughter, grief, depression, and vulnerability. Her FB statuses triumphantly report those days when all she can manage is a shower. You can follow her blog athttps://breatheinbreatheoutlive.wordpress.com. You can also find her on twitter @breathewriteliv and on Instagram breatheinbreatheoutlive.