Saturday, August 7, 2010

"Facing the Fear"

Continued from my previous post: "The Journey Home"

When my thoughts would wander back to that small town in Pictou County, a myriad of images would flood my mind.

Having left my childhood friends at the age of 10 to move to this foreign place called New Glasgow, I went from being popular and 'the life of the party', to being the new girl and an outsider.
I was teased and tormented mercilessly over any one of a number of perceived imperfections. Everything from looks, to clothes to wearing a bra were issues to be publicly and privately pointed out and made fun of. Adding to that, the fact that Pictou County in 1979 was rampant with racism and the fact that my younger brother & older sister had a knack for getting into fights, (for which I was constantly coming to their aid...or simply being thrashed for being a Patey); school became an absolute torture to attend.
If it wasn't fights to be avoided, it was being cornered by groups of adolescent boys who's hormones were way out of whack and seemed to think my existence and physical maturing was for their toying.

I have to laugh, looking back at one boy.
As I left school one day, I came across my brother being beaten up by a boy from my class...a full 3 years older. I had to help my baby brother and got involved. It wasn't long before the fight between the boy and my brother turned into a fight between me and a different boy all together, who was also from my class.
What boggled the mind of that then 12 year old girl was the fact that the very next day, this boy got up from his desk, walked over to mine and kissed me in front of the whole class.
I laugh at the immaturity of that boy and his hormones now, but I won't say I understand this male species a whole lot more than that young and very confused girl did.

School was painful but home was a different sort of torture.
Our family was full of secrets because we had been taught early and thoroughly that "blood was thicker than water".
We learned to maintain and protect at all costs the facade of perfection.
Nothing was wrong....nothing ever would be.
Maybe we thought if we protected that image long and hard enough, it would become a reality.
More than likely, shame and fear kept that mask in place.
While the whole world looked at us as something to admire, as a pillar in the church and community...there were abuses of every kind taking place behind closed doors.
Those abuses, some of which were secrets kept from all other members of this household, coupled with the pain of school, led me to become a very withdrawn and self protective young girl.
If I kept you at arm's length, you could not hurt me...who I was inside and who I was outside became very separate and almost completely disconnected.
Therefore, even if you happened to hurt my body, you could not really hurt me because I would never let you find the real me.
Burying who I really was became a coping mechanism, the mask of perfection became so much a part of me that even I could no longer separate the mask from reality.
I learned to keep my head down, my mouth shut, my emotions completely in check and a smile painted on my face.
I loathed who I was and assumed everyone else did too so I slowly but surely took on a level of perfectionism. Perfecting my surroundings and my perceived short comings brought a level of control in a world which afforded me very little control.

The stress of maintaining this unblemished exterior, the self hatred and the shame began to manifest in my prayers and fantasies.
Initially, I would think about any number of a multitude of accidents that would bring me harm but would free me from the prison within. Not long after, I began to pray nightly....for years, that I would be taken to Heaven in my sleep. As a young girl, I saw no escape, no way out...death would be a welcome reprieve.

By the age of 14, the pressure of it all became more than I could bare and my world was threatening to unravel completely. The secret had become larger than life and was no longer something I could control and push aside. The pressure was becoming so great that I could literally feel myself beginning to snap. I was being crushed under it's weight.
I could keep the secrets to myself no longer but even in the telling there was a need to preserve the family unit and to protect others more than myself. I selected my confidants with great care and my only goal was to relieve the pressure...yet keep the air of perfection firmly in place.

My sense of loyalty had become so warped that when the person to whom I first confided reacted in anger and an absolute, consuming need to protect me; I in turn became furious toward this confidant who simply wanted to help me.
It took me decades but I have since come to understand that this knight's initial reaction was one of only a very few truly appropriate reactions to date.

The circumstances that were causing me the greatest pressure and turmoil did come to an end and life returned to normal in every other aspect...the facade was firmly established and had barely been disturbed. At the time, that is exactly what I wanted.


This was the New Glasgow I knew, these were the images that kept a firm grip on my heart and mind for two full decades after I left that place one last time.
I never looked back nor had any desire to.
The people and events of that chapter of my life were pushed to the very back corners of my mind, some forgotten...seemingly forever.

As time moved on and the years flew by, God brought much healing and blessing into my life. I began to let my guard down little by little. I learned to first trust my Heavenly Father who had preserved me through all of it and eventually to trust others. It took a lot of years to come to a place where I was willing to let a select few catch a glimpse of who was behind the mask and many more to learn to set the masks aside.
As mentioned in my previous post, I am now at a place in my life where I believe transparency is of tremendous value to myself and to others around me.
If I were to be completely truthful, (and really, what would be the point of holding back at this point?), I get quite a kick out of seeing the reactions when I say or do something that does not fit with the contrived image of the girl who wore the masks.
I've even been known to say or do some things purely for their shock value.
Maybe in another decade or two, I won't find this such an enjoyable pass time!

Though my life had become full and happy, there was a deeper healing to take place and greater chains to be broken.
When I joined Face book, I was not looking for anything deeper than a venue to stay connected to my firstborn child...but I see now that God had other plans.
As the friends of my youth became friends of my present and my heart was knit together with a few in particular, the need to go go home, became glaringly apparent.
I hadn't thought of New Glasgow as home in the 22 years I'd been gone...until my friend, (who was very much a big brother image to me), made the statement in passing...
"we'll get you home kid".
He has no idea the impact those five little words had on me.

The plans to "go home" became more and more solidified until about three weeks before I was due to leave.
I'd had a conversation with one friend, that led to a conversation with another friend which stirred up the paralyzing fear that had held me captive for so very many years.
One thing I'd had to deal very little with concerning my years in New Glasgow, was nightmares but that night a dream so real I could physically feel it, gripped my mind and heart in it's talons of fear.
I was instantly reverted to that helpless young girl of so many years ago and remained captive as such for a full day and 1/2.
My reasoning was gone, what I knew to be truth was gone, I was that frightened child and I was ready to bolt.

I knew I was in trouble and reached out to a friend from those Pictou County Days who had become like a sister to me.
I shared with her my absolute panic...she spoke words of truth to me.
I cried with the pent up emotion of that child from a life time before....she encouraged.
I argued all my fears and reasons for not making this trip and she prayed.
I could not reason or be reasoned with, but over a period of time I was able to calm down enough to know that if for no other reason, I had to make this trip to see my friend in person.
In fact, had it not been for the way our hearts had been knit together, I would have cancelled all plans of ever seeing that town again.
By the next day, the chain that bound me was broken. At the time, I thought it had only lost it's grip temporarily but I was relieved to be able to think straight and to be free from the panic for however long it might last.
I recruited a few more friends to be in prayer, as I knew the strength of that battle was an indicator of the freedom that I was meant to experience through this trip.

As one day led to another, the fear became increasingly displaced by the excitement and anticipation of the re connections and the fun that I knew were in store for me.
I began to dare to believe that the good would outweigh and ultimately redeem the pain and fear that was New Glasgow to me.
Always in the back of my mind though, was the question of how I would actually react once I was there...when I went to certain places, when I saw particular people. Would that strangle hold of panic take over once again?


dgyounker said...

Jenny my dear... you are one of the bravest girls I know.
You have the heart and face of sweetness that even those dark memories can not take away. I know now, why it was not my place to be there this summer. This was a time for a peace to find you. This stirs in me a restlessness that may have clouded you.
When we next go to the Merb... it may be my turn to find something.
You remain now... who you are meant to be.
Love to you always,
Debbie Y.

Jen said...

Debbie, your words and your heart always make me smile...and feel at peace. Thank You for seeing me as you do and for being there for me all these years later.
I do believe we are meant to make a voyage home together and if there is any part of you that needs peace to come...than I pray yours is equally as Divine an appointment with absolutely unfathomable results.
You are the one piece of the puzzle I know for sure I must see...
Loads of love and hugs

dgyounker said...

We can go Jenny... we'll just claim it. I'd love to spend a few days 'bakc home'... doing just what you did... nothing, all or something in between.
Women are such amazing creatures... just aren't we? So many of us with so much to carry and not making time to actually bear it.
You must have partnered with an good man... to have brought you safely to this point without scarring your bairns.
Love to you,
Debbie Y.

Jen said...

I did partner with a very good man Debbie, he doesn't always understand, having walked a very different path from me, but he trusts me and he gives me the freedom to follow what I know in my heart I must.
Next Summer it is then...but I still think you and the girls should meet at my home in ON sometime this fall....oh how I would enjoy pampering you all and having you meet my family.