I thought I would want my heart back. The one I gave to you.
After all, it belonged to me, and contained everything I ever was.
My past, with all its mistakes, regrets, and ugly scars I had hoped you would learn to love anyway, for they were still a part of me, a part of my story.
My present, the way I laugh even when I hurt, the way I love even when I break, the way I choose to believe the best and fight for what is good and face each morning with courage even when the night captures me with fear.
My future, where the best parts of me await my arrival, where all that I dream for, hope for, strive for will finally come together with surreal promise.
My heart belonged to me, but in freedom I gave it to you.
You knew of its fragility, its damage, how fiercely I protected it, guarded it, never allowed anyone close enough to hurt it again.
But you said you were different, you were safe.
And so I offered it to you, and trusted you to look after it as carefully as I always had.
At first you did. You admired my heart, held it with heedful hands, and looked upon it with tender eyes. It flourished in the warmth of your love, so consuming, so fervid.
But soon your gentle hold became a weight that crushed as the grip of your fingers pressed tighter around the heart you once held gently against your own chest.
Possession. Jealousy. Expectation. Demand. Control. Anger. Isolation. Abuse.
You always felt you were too much for him, with your spirited heart and vibrant laugh, your reflective mind and unabashed emotion.
Him, who liked to keep things simple, uncomplicated. Nothing serious, nothing deep, nothing complex. Nothing that would make him think or feel.
Scared to frighten him away, you did what you always do.
You made yourself less.
Piece by piece, you tore off the parts of you that you thought would be more than he could handle. You lay them out thinly between pages of the tattered book you keep—the one that hides all the parts of yourself you’ve been afraid to show the world.
You made yourself more manageable, more palatable, easier to handle. Because if this is what it would take for him to accept you, want you, maybe one day even love you, then you would do it. It would be worth it, for him.
For a long time you pretended you were happy. Maybe sometimes you even thought you were. But sometimes those torn-off parts called out to you, and your body ached to have them back, to be complete again. No, you told them. You are too much, you’ll only frighten him away, as you pressed the pages together once more.
You tried to convince yourself you could survive this way, as a silhouette—no substance, no soul. But you were empty, hollow, wasted away. Weightless, you struggled to hold yourself up any longer. You needed those parts of yourself back, the ones that held you together, the ones that made you whole.
And so, one piece at a time, you began to restore yourself. Slowly, quietly. Maybe he wouldn’t notice. Or maybe if he did, he would somehow learn to love those extra parts of you anyway.
It wasn’t your fault.
It wasn’t your fault you weren’t protected from getting hurt when you were younger.
It wasn’t your fault you weren’t told how much you mattered, how much you were worth.
It wasn’t your fault you had no voice, that you were powerless and not taught to say no.
It wasn’t your fault you didn’t know how to draw the line around your heart, mind and body to protect yourself from being hurt by others.
It wasn’t your fault the people who should have shown you where to draw that line instead made you feel you weren’t important enough to keep safe.
You grew up with no lines and no boundaries and you didn’t know the difference between love and abuse, and because of that, you allowed others to hurt you, when all you really wanted was for others to love you.
And that isn’t your fault.
Let yourself be angry. Let yourself be angry that you were never told how much you were worth. That you never protected yourself because nobody ever protected you. That you allowed people to violate the lines that should have been there but never were because you weren’t told how to put those lines in place.
Because you weren’t told how important you were, and how much it mattered.
How much you mattered.
Let the anger rise within you. Allow yourself to cry tears of rage and grief for all you have lost. For all others have taken from you – not what you have given away – but what others have taken from you, that you can no longer get back.
I know you love him, dear heart.
Love is enough, you tell yourself.
But deep in the hollow of places you don’t want to explore, you know it isn’t.
It used to be, back when it was whispered under summer skies with salty air in your lungs. When it was murmured beneath cherry trees that blossomed with the promise of harvest. When it was breathed against your neck as morning sun spilled golden light upon tangled sheets.
It used to be enough, back then—back when love was shiny and new.
But summer skies are soon defeated by dark-colored clouds as cherry trees stand naked and forlorn in the starkness of winter and golden light recalls something beyond your grasp.
Love is enough, you tell yourself.
You know he loves you, even when he hurts you. He’s sorry, always sorry. He wants to try harder, wants to do better, if you’ll only give him another chance. You wipe away the tears that stream down his face. They are real tears, genuine tears, sincere tears, and you pull him close to you, forgive him, and say you’ll stay.
Love is enough, you tell yourself.
You believe in a love that can overcome, and you love harder. You love with all you have, all you are, all you can. You love until you are on the floor, until there are no more tears, until he has destroyed you to your bones and even when there is nothing left of you, you love.
Love is enough, you tell yourself.
I am tired of NOT taking an hour off.
It’s 2 pm on a Friday afternoon.
I count the productive minutes left in my day before my children are home.
Ninety minutes. Ninety minutes.
My fingers tap against the desk. I need to write… dates and deadlines approach too fast and the heartbeat in my ears sounds more like the second hand of a clock. My eyes sting. I stifle a yawn and tell myself it’s too late in the day for another coffee. I waste minutes as I watch geese shuffle past the window in their clumsy line.
I feel wrecked. Overwhelmed. The week had already thrown enough at me, made worse when my husband decided he wanted to lamb-mark before the rain. Which meant I had to drop everything and cook food. Lots of it. Because for the rest of the week, not only did I have to feed four growing children, but also four fully grown, working, hungry men.
And so my mornings have been spent wading through muddy sheep yards and marking lambs, before a couple of hours of writing time grasped in the afternoon. Then school pick-up before the rest of my day is spent in the kitchen baking copious amounts of food, making dinner, preparing lunches, helping with homework, doing chores, sorting and folding washing, cranking the fires, feeding the animals, paying the bills, etc.
When the evenings have slowed down I’ve reached for a glass of wine, somehow synonymous with calling it a day, and have fallen onto the couch. Except, I haven’t called it a day. I’ve remembered messages I need to reply to, emails I need to return, plans I need to confirm. I try to fool myself into the belief that sitting on the couch with a glass of wine is conducive to relaxation time, but as my fingers quick-fire against my phone in virtual conversations I’m too tired to have, I know this isn’t true.
When I chose to let you go, there was no great moment of triumph.
There wasn’t an earth-shattering epiphany that changed my life, where music played and the universe conspired to bring everything together for good.
There was no conflict, no turmoil and no struggle. No internal argument. No weighing of pros and cons. No decision to be analyzed to death—even by me, who cannot make a decision without weeks of obsessive thought over every possible outcome.
There were only two words, when I chose to let you go:
No more will I measure my worth against your opinion. No more will I be pressed into the shapes you carved for me. No more will I tell my heart to quiet down, ashamed of its clatter. No more will there be blood on my feet from the eggshells I walked on as I tried not to give cause for your disapproval.
No more will I anguish over the ways you misunderstood me. No more will I fight to justify the intention of my heart. No more will I beg for you to see me, the real me—to know me, to love me.
No more will I live my life for you.
When I chose to let you go, there was no holy encounter. The stars did not collapse from the sky and cascade into the oceans. There was no ferocious wind that rattled the walls or blazing fire that consumed all within its destructive path.
I see you everywhere.
You’re on my Facebook, posting selfies of your latest workout as sweat drips from your brow, words like dying, puking, exhausting are hash-tagged underneath.
My Instagram is filled with pictures of you, sporting your Lorna Jane as you burn away the calories of the cake you shouldn’t have eaten, but were too weak to resist.
You sit opposite me, order your salad, no dressing, and berate yourself for being a pound heavier this week.
You are fraught with comparison, with how short you fall next to the mothers at the playground you’ll never be as fit as, the group of women at the gym you’ll never be as strong as, the bodies in the magazines you’ll never be as sexy as. You beat yourself up. Promise that tomorrow you’ll eat less and work out more. No excuses, no matter what. Push yourself, purge yourself, pressure yourself.
I was once like you. I obsessed over the number on the scale, lived by punishment or reward, survived on protein shakes, and applauded myself for staying under 1,000 calories a day. I worked out, no matter what. No matter how tired my body was, no matter how run down, exhausted, or unwell. I worked out until I almost threw up, head over my knees, rebuking myself with slogans. Go hard or go home. Unless you puke, faint or die, keep going. Excuses are for people who don’t want it bad enough. I pushed past the pain and worked out when my muscles were fatigued, when my body screamed for me to stop, when I injured my knee, my shoulder, until I eventually tore a disc in my back.
And that changed everything.
We met before the time I knew myself.
It was the time when your approval mattered—when your approval became the foundation of the fragmented woman I was.
“You tell me who I am,” I would say, as I awaited your instruction, wide-eyed and so very eager to please. And you told me who I needed to be to win your approval, and your love so laced with conditions and strings attached to heights I would never reach. You drew your lines and wooed me into them.
But your lines soon grew into walls. Walls so wide and tall and deep I could no longer see over them or around them. They closed in around me and I became captive to them as they seethed with your hushed expectations.
I could never leave, for if I did I would know of your rejection, your disapproval, your criticism, and abuse. And you were the one to build me, so I could not bear that you would break me.
Though afraid of the darkness, I stayed in your walls so fraught with conditional love and approval. Sometimes I would see a shard of light, fleetingly, and I would believe for one whimsical moment in the love you were never capable of; that perhaps you would see beyond the surface so smeared with scars and recognize the purity of the heart underneath.
But I would soon learn your love was not light, nor hope, nor truth, nor freedom. It was the sound of the door as it closed behind you, the lock and key to your walls of darkness. I molded and shaped and bent myself to fit within your walls, but no matter how small I became for you, my efforts were futile when the walls would always change shape on your irrational whims.
The darkness grew thicker, more pungent with your dissatisfaction, until my heart too became dark, filled with a blackness that poisoned my mind and wasted away my soul. I began to hate myself almost as much as you did, this girl who could do no right. Worthless, hopeless, useless.
You nearly broke me.
But not quite.
There is a path we take.
It is not a journey forward, but one that leads us back.
Back to the places we were first broken.
Back to the places we fear the most.
We resist it, fight it.
But on that path lies a trail of broken pieces. Splintered fragments of ourselves we left behind when they were too sharp to hold and cut us open. Back then we didn’t know how to stop the bleeding. So we left the pieces, scattered on the path, and continued on our journey.
Removed from the pain, but separated from ourselves.
But now, we must go back for those pieces.
For this is how we put ourselves back together.
This is how we become whole.
We gather the pieces we abandoned, and place them inside us where they always belonged.
Find courage, dear one, and tread upon the path. Pick up the broken pieces and hold them close. Remember the way they once cut your hands, yet no longer do, for now your hands are stronger and your skin is thicker and though scarred, you no longer bleed.
Feel the weight of the pieces in your hands and notice you are strong enough to carry that weight now. Turn them over, adjust them, move them, line them up. Make sense of them. Place them side by side. Repair them. Restore them. See the way they come together with cracks and lines and faults and imperfect edges that will never fit like they used to.
But see how they are once more made whole.
This is how broken things mend.
How broken people mend.
In flawed perfection.
You turn away from the world because you believe the mistakes you have made are tattooed all over your body and that is all the world can see; marks of shame you cannot wipe clean no matter how many years you scrub your skin until no more blood can seep from your pores still stained with filth and sin.
You turn away from the world because you believe you are defined by your past, by the choices you made when there were no other choices; that you are bound to the girl you once were by the invisible ropes still tied around your hands and feet, held in place by words of shame that will never deliver you from their grasp.
You turn away from the world because you believe you are not deserving to hold your head high and look it in the eye; that you carry a scarlet letter upon your forehead that will blind those who dare to look your way, and you cannot stand to see the way they turn their face from your tainted humanity.
You forget, foolish girl.
You forget what you have survived.
You forget you fought alone against the world when your hands were too small to defeat the weight of it, and so you took it on as your own even though it almost crushed you.
You forget you were betrayed by those who should have protected you and so you barricaded yourself behind hard edges and sharp corners and promised to never trust or need another again.
You forget the way love was shown as abuse and abuse was shown as love and the shame you were forced to carry because of the way you longed to be loved even when that looked like abuse.
You forget you sat alone in a room filled with despair as your hands shook and blood trailed down your wrist and in that moment when you could have chosen death, you chose life.
The woman who has been to hell and back is not easy to love.
Many have tried. Most have failed.
The weak need not attempt, for it will take more strength than you even know you possess; more patience, more resilience, more tenacity, more resolve. It requires a relentless love, one that is determined and not easily defeated.
For the woman who has been to hell and back will push you away. She will test you in her desire to know what you are made of, whether you have what it takes to weather her storm. Because she is unpredictable—at times a hurricane, a force of nature that rides on the fury of her suffering; other times a gentle rain, calm, still and quiet.
When she is the gentle rain that falls in time to her silent tears, love her.
When she is the thunder and lightning and ferocious winds that wreak havoc, love her harder.
She is a contradiction, a pendulum that will forever swing between fear of suffocation and fear of abandonment, and even she will not know how to find the balance between the two. Because today, although she will never tell you, she will feel insecure. She will want you to stay close, to tuck her hair behind her ear and kiss her on her forehead and hold her in the strength of your arms. But tomorrow she will crave her independence, her space, her solitude.
For while you have slept, she has been awake, unable to slow her thoughts, watching clocks and chasing time, trying to make the broken pieces fit, to make sense of it all—of where and how she fits. She fights her demons and slays her dragons, afraid if she goes to sleep they will gain the upper hand, afraid if she goes to sleep she will no longer be in control. Tomorrow she will be tired, and your presence will smother her. She will need only herself.
When she reaches out to you, love her.
When she pushes you away, lover her harder.