On Surrender

It is difficult to live a full life if we haven’t grieved our losses.”
Miriam Greenspan


My mother is worried that I am depressed. She is a very loving fixer. She wants to fix things for me, so if I’m depressed, I think that weighs more on her than it does on me.


She wants me to only be happy.


I am not only happy.


But I am also not depressed.


I know what depression looks like. I’ve been depressed. When Reed was about a year old, and Caleb’s secrets had started trickling out, I was beginning to see Caleb’s other side. That was when he was backing me into corners, throwing things. He was intimidating me, and I didn’t yet understand we were settling into a pattern, but I fell into a kind of hopelessness that I had never felt before. I had no gumption.


I thought, Well, this is just my life now.


I found myself at the Student Health Center taking a quiz on depression. I aced that quiz. The doctor came back in the room with concern in her eyes, and she said, “We cannot let you go on in this way.” I left her office with a prescription for Prozac, but everything else in my life was just the same as it had been when I had opened those glass doors an hour earlier.


When I think back on that period of time, what I remember most is the light. It was October, and the light had this quality of intensity and dimness at the same time. I was trying to be not-depressedI took the baby for long walks, and the light was almost painful. The light was a razor’s edge. On one side of that edge was beauty, and on the other side of that edge was despair. I was teetering along on the blade, unable to collapse myself into either.


Eventually, I settled into a certain comfort. I became more comfortable with despair, and I stopped being depressed, I was able to stop taking Prozac (which hadn’t really helped me anyway), and I haven’t needed it since.


My mom worried that I’m depressed now, because I’m open about my struggles with sadness. After my discussion with my mom, I had lunch with a good friend, and she said to me, “I would never think you’re depressed. You don’t act depressed at all.”


So I reassured my mom that I’m not depressed, and I think she believed me. What else could I do?


And I’ll just say to anyone else who might be concerned about me, that I am okay. I am okay. 


Today, a writer, Vanessa Martir posted this interview on Facebook, “Through a Glass Darkly: On Moving from Grief to Gratitude” with Miriam Greenspan. Greenspan is a psychotherapist who believes that we need to pay attention to our emotions, but especially the dark emotions. I’ve written about this before, but I think we live in a culture that is so obsessed with positivity that we’ve become pain avoidant. Avoiding our pain manifests in other, uglier ways. Avoiding our pain manifests in shame, addiction, and abuse.


Greenspan posits that we should surrender to the dark emotions, “Surrendering to suffering is usually the last thing we want to do, but surrender is what brings the unexpected gifts of wisdom, compassion, and courage.”


Greenspan also says that those who surrender to their suffering rather than avoiding it are less likely to act out of that suffering in destructive ways.


Here is the tricky part for abuse survivors. We’re often terrified of surrendering to our suffering. Our abusers punished us for our suffering. I know that I’m not the only woman who was punished by my abuser for crying. He mocked me for my tears. He beat me for my tears. He screamed, “Stop crying!” at me as he wailed on me with his fists.


So, do you think it is easy for me to surrender to my suffering now?


No.


And because I’ve struggled with surrendering to my suffering, I have, at times, let myself become overwhelmed by it, become angry, lashed out at people in ways that were only going to perpetuate my suffering rather than ease it. I’ve also caused suffering to others, and that regret lives in my chest with all of my other regrets.


But part of surrendering is forgiveness, is accepting that I am not perfect. Caleb was not the perfect abuser, nor am I the perfect victim. I am no martyr. I am only human.


I am complex.


And I surrender to that. I surrender to the fact that there will be good days, and there will be bad days. I surrender to the fact that I can’t change what happened to me. I surrender to the fact that I can’t fix Caleb, and I might not even be able to fix myself. I surrender to the fact that I will always have complicated feelings towards Caleb, that the love I held inside of me for so many years will never allow me to truly hate him.


I surrender to the fact that there is nothing outside of me that can fix me.


I surrender to the heartbreak. I surrender to the lost friendships. I surrender to the loss of my dear, sweet sister-in-law. I surrender to the loss of the home I raised my child in. I surrender to the lost years of writing productivity. I surrender to fact that I will never have the life my parents wanted for their daughter. I surrender to the fact that my son will never have the life I wanted for him.


And I forgive myself. I accept what the world offers me in return.


And what the world offers me is vast. The world offers me new friendships. The world offers me opportunities with my writing. The world offers me a chance to have a new relationship with my parents where I don’t feel that I have to pretend to be something I’m not. The world offers me the chance to raise my son alone. The world offers me a companionship and intimacy with my son that we never could have had with Caleb in our home.


The world offers me the same October light, but this time, I surrender to it. I’m no longer teetering on the edge of the blade.


I surrender to the despair.


I surrender to the beauty.


4 thoughts on “On Surrender

  1. I needed this so badly. I feel that way about so many of your posts and marvelous essays, but this one right here? I sometimes think we're conditioned to believe any surrendering is bad. This kind of surrender, though, is necessary for moving on, and is as much about opening doors to new possibilities as it is shutting doors on what's been lost. May I, just one, because I've struggled with it so much? I surrender to the loss of the scrapbook I started for Jax, with preemie items I collected from his three months in neonatal intensive care, because I left that hellhole of a house in a hurry and took only what I could carry. Phew. That felt good, thank you.

    Like

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