Sunday, August 15, 2010

The House That Built Me

The third writing in my series "The Journey Home"
(click the link above if you would like to read the first and second parts)

After having spent a couple of days reacquainting with a few of my friends from a life time ago and with this county that was once my home, a peace began to settle in.
There had been no episodes of panic, no fear or nightmares clouding my nights. In fact, I was laughing over old memories as my friends and I caught up. We talked and talked about the good times that had drawn us all together as teens. There was a tear or two at the absolute disbelief that we were actually all together after so many years...and really, it was as if a single day had never passed.

We caught up on most of what had transpired in the 22 years since and we made wonderful new memories which were more and more over shadowing the old.
Together, we visited some of our favorite places...Melmerby Beach at Midnight was pure perfection. We walked the down town streets during a street fair
complete with East Coast music.
I was completely taken by surprise at the many positive changes that had occurred in this town in the years since I had left.
George Street Bridge that crossed the East River, connecting East and West New Glasgow had a new sign erected over top and to me it was a powerful declaration:
"New Glasgow
... truly she had and was.

The town I remembered as struggling and sleepy was alive, vibrant and full of places and events to attract visitors and to encourage her residents to come out and celebrate all that she had become.
My heart felt full knowing that a place I had once known as home was not becoming a ghost town or a retirement town as I had anticipated...she had become more alive and more beautiful and prosperous with each year that had passed.

Having initially driven by some of the places that were once a part of my daily life and having faced some of the darkness that I had thought might still have a hold on me, it was time to venture out alone to walk the streets, to photograph some memories and to just stand on my own seeing and feeling whatever might come.

I knew I wanted pictures of my schools, of the streets, the beautiful East River that as teens we crossed via a train bridge to go and hang out at the mall.
Many a day saw screaming, running girls flying across that thing sure they would have to jump into the river to be saved from the impending trains that we always our imaginations more often than in reality. To be honest...there were a few close calls, but they could never create a barrier between us,
the mall and friendship!

There were so many places I wanted to visit and to photograph but I had still not reconciled in my mind if my old house would be one of them.
In my mind, that house held more darkness, fear and trauma than it did happiness...and it was one of the places for which I did not wholly trust my emotions. I suppose the emotions themselves were not the greatest fear by this point, it was the pain that I might feel which would bring on the emotions.

As I'd mentioned in previous posts concerning that time of my life, I had learned to push down pain and to stifle emotion...yet, I had come to learn that pushing them deep down inside and ignoring them, does not cause them to magically disappear. Pain and emotion are not to be feared and silenced, they are to be felt and released...there in lies the freedom from their grip.
This I know intellectually and had even experienced concerning other areas of my life....yet old patterns are difficult to break and there was still a tendency to equate pain with something that was bad or wrong.

I began to liken it to being a mother of a young child with a deep sliver in their hand.
That child will hide and refuse to even tell you that the sliver exists in order to avoid the inevitable pain of having the sliver removed. I know as a mom, I have on more than one occasion, been party to holding tightly to a screaming child in order to have a large sliver extracted.
I never once did this so that my child would experience more pain, in fact, I soooo wished I could do it without hurting them at all...but never the less, leaving that thing in place was likely to cause infection and even greater pain than if I became the source of temporary pain now but got rid of that foreign object that should never have found it's way into my child's flesh.
I began to realize there is pain from injury or infection and there is also pain with a purpose.
Sometimes, even willingly, we have to endure a level of discomfort or even pain, in order to be free from something that does not belong or as in childbearing, to receive something that is an absolute joy and gift.

I was unsure of my own reactions but had decided my house was something that needed facing. I had determined that I would in all likelihood take some pictures of it and would decide later if I wanted to keep or delete them.

As I drove down my old street, photographing street signs, I remembered walking by certain houses daily on the way to and from school. I saw the house that always gave out pop to the earliest trick or treaters at Halloween. A stain glass window, long forgotten, now taking me right back to those days of having been a part of this world. The house where my Youth Pastor and his wife had once lived.

Then as I approached my old house, I noticed an elderly lady picking berries from the property. I was concerned a stranger taking pictures of her home might be quite a fearsome thing to this little lady so I decided to stop and ask permission.
I asked her if she lived there and explained that I had lived in the house many years ago. She began to recollect the family she'd heard had been the previous owners and after some brief confusion it was clear that it was indeed the Pateys she was remembering.
Her name, she told me was Marie and she had read my mother's obituary in the Halifax paper 11 1/2 years previous. My mother's name was Donna-Marie....interesting "coincidence" I thought.

Marie informed me she had no problem with me taking pictures of the house and went so far as to invite me to come in. I had not at all expected this and was taken aback a bit. though I had prepared myself for many scenarios and emotions...actually being in the house was never one of them. I felt safe enough at that moment and after double checking that this dear old lady was sure she wanted to invite a stranger into her home, I followed her inside. I met Marie's 90 year old husband George, who didn't seem to so much as blink
at his wife bringing this unknown woman
into their home.
My eyes scanned the kitchen which had been redecorated but was laid out with table and chairs exactly as my mom had arranged hers. I followed Sweet Marie into the living room which was brighter now and whose walls were lined with the memories of this dear lady's life.
Memories that she began to share with me one by one.

How they had lived many years in Ontario but had decided in their 40's that it was time to come home to NS.
Then, with the wisdom that can only be learned after living an entire lifetime, this 85 year old stranger spoke my heart right back to me.

"There is just something about the Sea you know, once you have lived near her, she becomes a part of you and eventually calls you home"

As Marie shared with me her life's memories, I looked around and remembered some of my own from what seemed like a life time ago. Simple things like an unchanged light switch cover or the window reminded me of the many sparkling decorations my mom used to prepare this room for Christmas. I remembered the sectional couch that once sat where Marie's own chesterfield now was and the many, many friends who had once sat there with me and my siblings, laughing and visiting.

After I heard about Marie and George's love for music, their band that eventually had to stop playing as George could no longer hear the music, of how Marie at 85, still went down to the Seniors' home periodically to play for the residents...I thought of my own mom and how she would be so happy to know that music was such an important part of the lives of this couple who now called this house "home".
Marie took me on a tour of the upstairs.
She showed me the bathroom whose panelling she had never changed because she really liked what my parents had done. I remembered wrestling with my siblings, my pregnant Aunt Karen and my dad who won by piling us all on top of each other in the bath tub...with Karen on top to keep the baby safe.

The rooms seemed so much smaller than I had remembered them, the decorating had been changed and many of their uses had changed as well. My bedroom was now an office and was really the only room that gave me a hint of the emotion I had feared. Truthfully, it was not even that bad...I simply had a knot in my stomach and decided I did not want to be in that room.

Having faced not only the house of my youth, but even the rooms, seeing the changes and hearing the stories that now belonged here...I was able to say good bye to Sweet Marie and my house with the full realization that this place did not and never would have a hold on me again.
I walked out that door just a little bit freer than I had walked in and I was very, very thankful to my God.
I could never have orchestrated or anticipated the events that transpired that day and in all honesty, I don't believe there is another possible scenario of people who could have been living in that home, that would have made it feel like such a very safe place to be. This was no longer my house with all of the negative memories, this was Marie and George's house. A house I once lived in....a house where a lot of good times were had as well.
It was just that...a house.
I am in awe of the depth of healing and freedom that took place in that one day...yet it was the most gentle of surgeries I could ever have imagined.

My heart was so very full as I drove away...another giant had been slain and I was indeed,
"so much stronger than I knew"

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?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Journey Home...Part 1 "A History"

I really am not sure just how many of or how long these posts will be.
They, (like me) are a work in progress.
When my Heart is very, very full and God is orchestrating a detailed renovation in my heart/life, I process by writing. This Blog is my venue and though I am very aware that it is public and open for all to read; I am truly writing for me.
One of the reasons that I pour my heart out in a public blog is that I spent much of my life hiding behind masks. Masks of perfection, of aloofness and of all being well when all was anything but well.
Now, I value transparency, both in myself and in others. Blogging publicly is part of that journey in transparency
for me.

If you had asked me a very few months ago, "Jen, where is your home?" I would have answered that it is ultimately wherever my immediate family is. This is still true, but if you were to take it farther and ask me, "but where is the home from which you grew up?"; I would have paused a moment and then told you that I was born in Halifax NS. I would go on to say that I spent my teen and adolescent years in New Glasgow, NS....but would never once have referred to it as home.

Though I spent the greater part of my most formative years in that was not home.
"Home" to me is a place of safety and security, of love and of happy memories.
New Glasgow, in my mind, held little of those; in fact, it held each of the respective opposites.
For me, it was a dark place full of pain, heart ache, abuse and trauma.
Though I remembered each of the traumatic events that occurred in that place with great accuracy I had learned to block out the pain.
I have learned an unwelcome truth in that....when you block out the pain and the emotion that goes with it, you end up blocking out all emotion and most feeling. You tend to become somewhat numb.
It is a survival technique that many of us use to cope. It works to get you through....unfortunately, it is rarely a switch to be turned on and off like a light. Once turned off, it is very difficult to even locate that switch, let alone to turn it back on.

Over the years, God has orchestrated much healing in me...and I don't mind saying so myself:
"I've come a long way Baby".
It's a life long journey for me and I have learned to be just fine with my imperfections and even gaping wounds...yet ever leaving my heart open to whatever the Lord wants to put His finger on next.
One of the things I get such a kick out of, is the oh so unique ways God will choose to bring another level of healing in my life.

For a number of years as friends and family were introduced to and came to love Face book, they would in turn invite me to join this world wide phenomenon. I was already a Blogger and knew my addictive tendencies, therefore one by one, I turned down the invitations.
That all changed a few short months ago as the realization hit me that one of the most important men in my life was soon heading out of province to University.
Having raised and worked in High Schools with teens for a number of years now, I knew that I would be sadly disappointed if I thought I would be receiving the number of phone calls that this Mother's heart would feel was adequate.
If I was to stay in touch with the daily goings ons of this child who made me a mother, I would have to do it by joining him in his world...Face book.

Little did I know as I began that journey with fear and trepidation, that it would lead to some of the most incredible connections and reconnections of my life.
One by one, friends from a time and place I had taken such care to leave behind, became endearing parts of my present.
Some caused me to remember long forgotten events with great laughter. Some reminded me of others I'd all but forgotten and some, I discovered were Kindred Spirits on a very deep heart level.

As the people from my youth in Pictou County became more and more dear to me, a revelation began to take hold.
Over the years I had learned to live without regrets, to understand that I am who I am today due to the full sum of all choices and events no matter how negative.
I would often say, there are many things I would never choose to relive, but I would, in the end still not change because they led me on a path that has led me to today.
Today, includes a family that I could not be more proud of and a level of peace and joy that I would not want to be without. So, if all of the chapters of my life have been written as a succession and result of the last....who would I be if I changed even one sentence of one chapter?
As much as I have embraced this philosophy of life for myself concerning the traumas, heart ache and hard decisions; there was a huge portion of the events that formed me that I had not embraced because I had forgotten.
When I pushed aside the pain of those New Glasgow years, I began to forget the laughter, fun and love that I also experienced in that place. One was as real as the other, unfortunately, one I could remember all too well and the other had been lost.

It soon became clear to me that it was time to take back that which had been stolen from me, to "face the demons" so to speak and to embrace all of the wonder and good of those adolescent years.
I knew I HAD to go back.
It became crystal clear to me that if I was to reach this new level of wholeness in my life, it would require facing the fears that held me today as if I was that young girl of so many years ago.
God used face book and my reconnection of a couple of friends in particular to bring about a desire and a need to visit this place I was beginning to think of as home.
It is a very good thing that He knit my heart with theirs because there was a battle yet to be faced and won in order for me to make this journey.