Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Moving On

I moved to Fort Collins from Chicago in 1997, desperate for a new life. I was 19 years old, had one year of college behind me, and a trunk full of baggage. Or rather, a trunk full of journals and letters. My plan was to find healing and a new me in the mountains. My plan was to forget that I had an eating disorder and to escape the pain of losing my mom.

The trunk was ancient and weighed at least 75 pounds empty. My uncle gave it to me in 1995, right after my mom died, because it was a gift to him when he was in college, painted by her. She had painted it a rustic, army green with his initials "WST" (for Wright Sutherland Travis) on it in beautiful calligraphy. I cherished this trunk and used it to store every keep sake I'd accumulated throughout my childhood, particularly all my old journals and letters. Leaving this trunk and everything in it back in Chicago was not an option. It moved to Colorado with me.

Funny, but my plans didn't exactly pan out the way I had hoped. I found it impossible to find this "new me" in the mountains. I didn't forget about my eating disorder, because it continued to control my life. I didn't escape the pain of losing my mom, because every now and then the anger deep in my heart would spurt out of me like vomit. But I continued to write about my demons - all of the anger, fears, hurts, loneliness, depression. Every thought and feeling I had was ravenously recorded in journals and letters to God over the years, and stored in that old, green trunk - locked up, out of sight, saved for a purpose.

I have moved 17 times in the 13 years that I've been living here in Fort Collins, which I view as typical for a single college student, and eventually a newly wed. And I'll tell ya, moving that damn trunk everywhere I've relocated has been a true pain in the ass. With the dozens of journals and other memorabilia hiding inside it, the thing weighs a ton. But it's the one thing I've refused to leave behind anywhere or let go of.

Last week, during my daughter's nap, I crept into our guest room, nerves attacking my stomach. I had this overwhelming urge to spend the time I had alone rereading these journals, in hopes of finding answers to why I am continuing to battle certain battles these days. And what I read was all so sad. It was just pages and pages of loneliness and crying out for freedom. They were like my own psalms. I sat on the floor of our guest room mourning for the girl I used to be. In all honesty, I was hoping to find suppressed memories of some sort - black and white excuses for what I still deal with in my life these days. But no such luck.

Today I went in to see my therapist and shared with her my little endeavor, as well as little blips from various journals. She was shocked that I had saved every one of them, trekking them around with me everywhere I relocated to. She asked me why I held onto them. I had never even questioned this myself. Getting rid of them has never once crossed my mind. But as I sat there thinking, my answer was, "Because Fiona will need to know who her mom was." And she replied, "But you can tell her yourself." That was a true revelation to me. Tell her myself? But won't I be dead? Aren't I going to die before she's 17? This lie that was planted in me 15 years ago has, unbeknownst to me, completely controlled my subconscious. My mom didn't leave me anything that told me what she struggled with, or even who she was. I didn't think to ask her, at age 17, what her fears were growing up, or even what her dreams were. I never asked her what her pregnancy with me was like, how long she breast fed me, or how old I was when I started using the potty. So many things I will never know about her, and I have feared that Fiona would one day also be left without answers as to whom her mom was. But maybe that won't be true after all. Maybe, just maybe, I will have all the time in the world to share with my daughter everything about me over endless cups of coffee in the future.

At the end of our session, my therapist asked what I would think of getting rid of my journals once and for all.... Even making it into a celebration of some sort. At first this thought terrified me... But then it was like the most amazing idea I'd ever heard! It occurred to me then that to burn every old hurt and fear I'd recorded throughout my life might just be a huge step towards letting go and finding that true freedom that I've hungered for so long. When I walked out of that office today I felt like a feather. I felt like I was floating! I was giddy with excitement!

I'm plannin a party, and it's going to have a big bonfire!


Elisabeth said...

Em, this is so very honest and real and makes so much sense. Because you are seeking out the truth and in therapy I hope you will be around to talk to your daughter so that she will know who you are. My mom died when I was 40, but despite all the time I had with her I still feel that I never knew her and that pain I can relate to. Letting go is hard! I am proud of you for sharing this (and for posting on time!).

www.theevolvinghomemaker.com said...

Your honesty is amazing Em, true strength.


one girl creative said...

Bravo to you for revealing your heart and your true thoughts. It takes bravery to do what you did and I commend you for it.

Don't forget to invite the "writing ladies" to your bonfire. ;)


Peg said...

Em, I enjoyed your piece very much. You are an amazing lady..and we all want to attend your bonfire!

Em said...

Oh wow, your support and encouragement is most what I've desired out of this group, so thank you gals so, so much!!! I seriously do love you all! And hell yeah, you're all invited to my bonfire! It's gotta be soon, though, because now that I've made this decision to destroy all the baggage, my home feels toxic. Maybe I'll just box it all up and keep it outside until the fire happens. :)

Kristina Lim said...

Wow Emily. Courageous. Thanks for sharing. You know we are behind you all the way!

Kristin said...

I did the same thing with my childhood journals when Bill and I were engaged. We went to a park together and burned them in the BBQ fire pit. I sobbed as I watched the pages crumple and go up in flames, mostly because I knew that I'd never remember what happened from there on out.

And I don't.

And I suppose I don't need to. What happened isn't really supposed to be remembered regularly so I can move on, move forward, without being stuck in the pain of the past. Life isn't supposed to haunt you on a daily basis, I guess.

I'll be there for sure. And I'm sure I'll sob right along with you.

Em said...

Kristin... Wow, thanks for sharing your VERY similar experience!!! That is super comforting to know someone who also has let go of evidence of the past!

I'm thinking it'll be a Saturday night bonfire. I'll keep ya all updated! :)

Anonymous said...

I lost my father at seventeen and struggled with an eating disorder until age 29. One of the therapists who helped me in an intensive outpatient treatment program has now opened two locations in Colorado. One is right in Fort Collins and is called La Luna Center. For me, group therapy was what worked, finally so that my thirties did not have to be like my twenties, at least where food was concerned. I wish you the best.