Closer to Free

finding finding freedom: woman floating down a river

“Finding Freedom To Be”

I remember the day I became a slave to my face.    old polaroid christine finding freedom

I was nine and taking some visiting kids on a tour of my elementary school. I don’t remember the occasion. All I know is that a teacher chose responsible me to lead and I was up for the job. At the end of the quick trip around the school, I stopped the small group of kids about my age outside the cafeteria.

“Any questions,” I asked.

“Yeah,” said the closest boy, “are you a boy or a girl?”

I was mortified. His question knocked me off-balance, challenging how I saw myself. And how others saw me. So began my journey of asking mirrors to tell me who I was and who I should be.

Old Polaroids

To solidify my new bondage to image, the series of shocking photos came next:

  • school pictures featuring my incongruous teeth and hair which reared their ugly heads year after year
  • the snapshot of my belly bulging in its bikini sandwich
  • the polaroid my dad took where I felt so beautiful in my pink night gown, only to disappoint again as my image materialized as not-so-pretty me

I struggled with my complexion for most of my life. Hormones and stress were my enemies. Even in my thirties and forties I leaned into mirrors, picking at the blemishes embedded in my skin. “Not better, only redder” was my ineffective mantra.

Getting older has its advantages: fifty-something skin and less stress have freed me from some of my mirror-gazing slavery.

Deeper Than the Skin

But the freedom I’m seeking is deeper than the skin. It’s farther in where heart meets soul.

Freedom from judgements: my own and those of others.

Freedom to be the real me is the center I seek.

I taste that freedom whenever I’m untethered to my image or my productivity or my critics. No lackey to fashion, no vassal of shame. No bondage to beauty as defined by me and my culture.

To me, real freedom feels like sliding along a river, body buoyant, no friction in the flow. Crank the self-conscious volume knob back to zero, I’m on a roll.

Recreation

Have you ever tried to recreate yourself? I tried once in college.

In the fall of 1982, I drove to Carnegie-Mellon University, 5 hours away from home for the first time in my life. I thought about becoming whomever I wanted to be. No one in this college town would know if I was naturally sassy or sweet, gregarious or aloof. I could present myself as the person I chose to be.

Trouble is, it is hard to stray from who we are at heart. I tried to gather my energies and garner new friends by behaving like a party girl, carefree and easy. But I didn’t have her in me. I couldn’t stick to the part and stay late in my party clothes. I just wanted to go home.

Free People

I recently wrote a song called, “Closer to Free.” The initial inspiration came as I perused the Free People clothing catalogue. At first, I thought it funny that a company would make such a statement about a line of clothing. Those hippie-esque styles in strange layers and pairings said, “be adventurous and creative and don’t worry if it doesn’t match.” The wispy indifferent models propped in languid poses declared, “we wear what we want wherever we dare.”

closer to free

They began to draw me in, these Free People. I’ve never had much sense of style. I have always admired girls and women who seemed to throw on any old thing and make it look good. Sometimes it was their sheer confidence and caution-to-the-wind that made them so attractive. Freedom from caring about what others would think seemed to set them free to flow in their clothing and throughout their lives. Like a river.

I was hooked. Sold! to the woman in earth tones and sneakers. Maybe now my inner critic will nap because I’m wrapped in these fabulous fabrics. Oh, the glorious freedom of not giving a crap.

The Catch

But there’s a catch. It’s there, squeezed between the freeze-frames. If we stretch it out to see the real-life spaces where we live our lives, it gets a little messy. Suddenly we see the props and pins that keep it all in place for the shot. A make-up artist and a clothing wrangler rush in to fix the blemishes and slips. These clips and vignettes, I sometimes forget, are only old polaroids of curated unconcern. We are all truly, sadly, very concerned.

The Thirst

We are a thirsty people and there’s no sating. We are hungry for love and acceptance. We hide our shame and insecurity behind snapshots and complicated layers. We buy the lie of self-re-creation.

Yes, we can dress for success and wear our truth to some extent. But freedom, true freedom from what we don’t want to be, implies a freedom toward something. If I am free from my naturally fearful, insecure and angry self, than what am I free to become?

Becoming

Back to center. In pulling focus, I discover a door to another room: a place called Acceptance.

What if I believed God loves me and accepts me as I am? What if I accepted myself ‘as is’?

We are told that’s what Jesus does: “Come to me and I’ll give you rest. Yoke yourself to me.”

If I am tied side by side to Jesus, I’m free from any other slaveries. I suddenly become free to be who I am, the girl He made me to be. Being tied to Him is a burden but it’s easy and light compared to all those other slave-drivers out there. I am Becoming, what I once was, the girl in the mirror of His love. I am becoming. His love becomes me.

Every once in a while, I see through the facades of photos and mirror images. Like floating down a river, these moments of clarity, of sweet release, are the times when I know I am closer to free 

Listen to this song here!

You say you’re one of the free people

Nobody tells you how to live

You splash your face across the page

And spread yourself so thin

 

Yeah, you look like one of those free people

Embrace the world and make it spin

But even you can only take so much

Til something’s got to give

 

Come closer to free

Come know your poverty

Feel your thirst and recognize your need

Come closer to free

 

Your clothes don’t cover up the heart of you

And freedom’s deeper than the skin

You think you’re shining like a star

But we see the shape you’re in

 

Yeah you could be one of the free people

No need to re-create yourself

The beauty you want to so much comes

From being loved so well

 

Come closer to free

Come know a sweet release

Can you feel your thirst and recognize your need

Come closer to free

 

Come closer to free

Come know the love you really need

When you feel the hunger and it grows you know

You’re closer to free     You could be one of the free people

 

Every Day the Dust Comes Back

dust cover
woman in frustration at dust
Every day the dust comes back. I see it first thing in a slant of sunlight. The dust has returned despite yesterday’s efforts.
Grabbing my cleaning supplies, I begin again to remove the thin film on furniture and floors. The hood over the stove is the worst. Grease mixed with the stuff of dust makes paste. It would rather smear than disappear.
I think about Sisyphus pushing boulders that in the end will crush him if he doesn’t get out of the way. Live to find futility another day. Why do I bother, knowing that the clean won’t stay

Beaten by the Peanut Butter

It’s like being beaten by peanut butter.

Once, when full swing into raising kids, I was making the PBJ sandwiches with that organic stuff. You know, the jar of peanut paste which has a layer of grease on top. Evidently, healthful eating means you’re going to have to work for your food. Thanks a lot, Eve and Adam.

 

So I began to wrestle the all-natural peanut butter into submission. First, I tried stirring in the oil which immediately heaved itself out of the jar like a rolling ocean displaced by a giant rudder. Undeterred, I slashed my knife deep into the unwieldy bog of organic matter, coaxing some of the oil to sink and soften the clay. Alternately stabbing deep then pulling up, I started to lose my grip. The jar slipped with the force of my efforts and shot to the floor. Of course, the oily mess went everywhere.

 

After some cursing, I reached to salvage what was left in the jar and dug out a chunk. I transported it to the slices of bread lying open and expectant like a hungry bird on the plate. Only this was no ordinary bread. It was organic whole wheat with a few other grains thrown in for mom satisfaction. Most likely the kids would complain about the grit but I refused to acknowledge it.

 

I began spreading the semi-greased peanut silt. I saw that even this hearty bread possibly made by peasants from another era was going to disintegrate with the force required for spreading. Like paste, the peanut butter grabbed the bread and held on, lifting and digging holes as it went.

 

I surrendered, cursing my first ancestors again.‘You win,’ I muttered and I found the hidden jar of Jif. I sighed as I spread its sugary smoothness across the bread. I had tried to do right, being choosy and fighting the good fight. But the wider world of disarray and futility had beaten me. Utility won the day.

Ground Hog Day

Think about entropy and the second law of thermodynamics. A gradual decline into disorder is the house rule. Increasing disintegration runs the universe. Why do I try to sweep up the pieces and put them back together again and again?
Because of the movie starring Bill Murray in which each morning takes him in an endless time-loop of the day before Ground Hog Day.
After freaking out at first, he begins to use his new time-prison to express the worst parts of his nature. As each new day dawns, the same scenes repeat and he is mean, lustful, and gluttonous.
He eventually works within his confines to improve himself. Piano lessons and poetry reading begin to win him the woman he wants. Shockingly, even these cosmetic changes are not enough to fix his bad character which confronts him at the end of the day.
Still, as the days roll out in monotony, our anti-hero begins to try simple kindnesses for their own sake. Caring for others has a transformative effect on him. True love wins the day and breaks the spell. Time moves on and we recognize the grace of these recurring days in which the Patience of the Universe gives him space and time to become our hero.

Mercy in the Morning

dawn on a beachThere are Bible verses in which Saint Peter reminds his antsy flock that the Lord is not slow in keeping His promises. With Him, one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like one day. God’s not slow, He’s patient, wanting us all to turn and head His direction.

 

We get a new chance every morning. For most of us, it will probably take a lifetime of repeats until we get a clue.

 

Every day the dust comes back. But so does the dawn. And I begin to see it in a different light.

“Animal House”: A chapter from my book, Lifelines

lifelines tell your story

“Lifelines: Tracing My Journey in Story and Song  “

I recently published a book for those wanting to know more of my story and the story behind some of my songs! These stories trace the lifelines of God’s healing and grace in my life.

Here is an excerpt:

Animal HouseAmish farmer and mules pulling plow

I grew up in a house on Horseshoe Road in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In the midst of Amish and Mennonite farms, that drafty rental formed the backdrop of my playing days.

An Amish family, the Kings, lived across the road, and their kids sometimes invited us to run around in the barn or whisper through the house. I’ll never forget the smell of that natural-gas-heated kitchen or the smooth, simple surfaces in that dimly lit Amish home. Or the fact that the cats and kittens lived in the barn and were only there for the mice and rats.

It made me wonder and worry at the practicality of their lives. The horses’ main purpose was pulling their black buggies. The dog that hung around the gravel lane was less a pet and more a second thought. The scraggly cat with the oozing eye would never see a veterinarian for her ills. Even the mules seemed to be just tools for fieldwork.

Dogs and Cats and Mice, Oh My!

In my house, the animals were everything. They formed the basis of love in my early years. My cats and dogs were there for touching and hugging. Had I a mule, I’d have coddled him and kept him in my room. What would the Kings have thought if they knew I had a mouse in a cage in my house? I can’t remember her name, but I can still picture her fresh litter of wriggling pink babies.

My hamsters were a staple and scores must have scurried through my childhood. Added to their naturally short lifespan came the playful but deadly tosses from cats and kids alike. I remember coming home one evening to a dark bedroom where Spooky, my Siamese, was batting something around on the bed. I flicked the light to find my Sophie mostly dead beneath his playful paw. I have no idea how the poor thing got out of her cage.

The Birds and the Bugs            

Many damaged birds found their way into my living room infirmary. There was a sparrow with a tumor that would have died peacefully had Spooky not followed his feline instincts when no one was watching.

I even had a pet praying mantis named Herman. Each day I fed him freshly whacked flies. With lovely circumspection, he’d examine the squashed insect I dangled before him, then, swift as a whip, those spiky forearms grabbed that fly from my fingertips. Herman ate with relish and refinement, keeping those black-dotted orbs on his dinner and me simultaneously.

A few weeks later I discovered that he was a she, as I found my lovely green friend dead in the jar with an egg sack snugly glued to her twig. Her babies by the hundreds eventually hatched, and, like Wilbur keeping his piggy promise to Charlotte, I set Herman’s brood free to carry on her legacy.

Spooky

Spooky the Siamese catSpooky was my best cat and had stayed on with me through my high school years. He made the move with us when my parents split up and we left the house on Horseshoe Road. After a few years in a mobile home, we moved again twice, and he came along. Osteoarthritis and old age had hobbled him by the time my turn for college arrived. I had to put my childhood constant to sleep and bury him in the yard a few days before saying good-bye.

I still dream about Spooky and some of my other cats. Something about the way they smelled and felt in my young, unsteady world. I could count on their warmth, their love and acceptance.

They needed me, and I needed them. 

Puppy, Puppy, Puppy

Of all the pets we had, the family dogs were beyond compare. My sister Ginny and brother David and I had three dogs across the years that we named “Puppy.”

Puppy #1 actually was a puppy that never lived to see her doggy days. I remember the accident like it was yesterday. It was a Saturday morning and David and I were playing in mud puddles in a low strip of grass that bordered Horseshoe Road.

Our backs to the macadam, we hadn’t thought to leash our wandering Puppy. Duh-blunk. I heard the thud of what could have been a brown paper grocery bag run over by a car. I straightened and spun to look. There was my puppy on the road and a shock-faced woman coming from the side of her car.

I ran screaming into the house where my dad rushed downstairs from deep sleep. He met the apologetic driver at the door in his underwear, so afraid it was one of his kids who had been hit. Realizing what had happened, Dad left to dress. A minute later, I followed as he went to see what was left of our Puppy. She was alive for a few more moments as we cried there in the middle of Horseshoe Road. My eyes still fill up when I retell the story.

Puppy #2 was the love of my life when I was 9 years old. He sang for joy every time the family returned to the house, always ecstatic that we had come back. His acceptance and availability was exactly what we all needed.  I was crushed when we had to give him away because my parents separated and we weren’t allowed to have a big dog in the trailer. Losing him seemed the saddest part of my parents’ leaving each other. 

small dog in the grass
Puppy #3

Puppy #3 came from the shelter and was small enough to fit with us in the mobile home. She lived with our family for 14 years. We walked many roads together. She also went boating, swimming, river-rafting and jogging—wherever her people were! She died long after we three kids had grown and gone away to college.

Signposts and Symbols of Healing and Grace

Who can account for the impact of these pets? Their lives seem to be signposts and symbols of a sort.

My first Puppy died early, as did my innocence, marking a time of loss and death that probably prepared me for some losses ahead.

My second Puppy could be a symbol of grief and heartache that eventually healed.

And my last Puppy lived to tell of life’s longevity, normality, and dependability even when it begins in disruption and confusion.

Spooky, like the dogs, showed me unconditional love for all of his years by my side.

Maybe I am reading too much into it. But maybe not.

Whether insects and rodents or cats and dogs, these wonderful creatures mark the cycles of life and death on a small scale, which were, for a little girl like me, exactly what I needed.

If you want to read more, find Lifelines on Amazon or an autographed copy at my store.

More like this: I Wanted My Dog Dead, Making Pretend

 

Making Pretend

making pretend

I grew up pretending and performing.

As a little girl, I made pretend by trying on my grandmother’s old dresses. These garments from her younger days made me feel older and beautiful. Even though most of the fabric draped disproportionately on my frame and settled in piles on the floor, I would still stand on tiptoe admiring myself in the mirror, hoping to someday grow into her clothes.

In high school, I overcame adolescent insecurity by trying out for all sorts of roles too big for me: cheerleading, plays, talent shows, marching band, and other popularity contests. I got good at exuding confidence 3 sizes bigger than I felt. Making pretend on many stages, I began to grow into the parts I played.

I arrived at music college largely self-assured and full of ambition. My singing and performing talents increased with the training and the experience that came with the classes and the shows we put on.

For my new acquaintances, I also played the good little girl from Small Town, USA, who’d had a great childhood and didn’t have a care in the world. I didn’t know I was kidding myself. Thankfully, my act did not fool everyone and some new friends began to tug at the loose threads of my story.

Making Believe

I call it coming out of denial.

The costumes I had grown into began to fray in my twenties. I was bearing false witness against myself, refusing to look deep and admit to the small and broken parts of my character. For sure, the story I lived in high school was the one that kept me tethered in my fragmented family life. My dad’s alcoholism and my parents’ divorce had been a devastating part of my growing up.

New college friends helped me to recognize this as they began questioning my happy narrative. The “me” I wore on my sleeve was actually a plastic jacket everyone could see right through. Other hard truths and feelings about childhood and about myself began emerging.  I started to shed some of the dress-up and become more grown-up than I had ever been.

Keeping Up Appearances

I have been a singer, songwriter and performer for several decades and have learned to put on the person I want to be when I take the stage. There is a lot to be said for keeping up appearances when putting on a show. The audience expects competence and engagement so I make eye-contact even when my self-confidence is flagging and my voice feels weak. Sometimes the best advice is  ‘fake it ’til you make it.’

However, the pretense can get out of hand and we can lose our true selves by hiding behind ‘false selves,’ projections of what we want others to believe about us. We also grow out of some of our roles and can confidently let them go. I am now 53 years old and recognize that I must let go at last some of my personae from the past. There’s a thrill and a qualm in moving on.

Making Metaphors

My story might go something like this:

In the afternoon of my life, I decided to disband my circle of loyal ladies. I was in no rush, wanting to slowly let go of my cadre of steady companions. But go they must.

So I stood to face each one in turn. I thanked Competence for her good service, shook her hand and let her go, surprised by the weakness I felt without her by my side.

Control was the next one to step forward. She’d kept me in a lovely blind spot for many good years. But now her veil was lifted and must list to the wind, leaving me quite vulnerable. Goodbye, my dear friend.

Her closest kin, Self-control, came out of the shadows and reminded me that she was more a phantom than a friend over the years. We waved as she slipped down the road behind me.

I looked ahead, greeting Beauty and Talent, my leading ladies. They’d always preceded me on the road and now they too must say goodbye. I thanked them for their good service and moved past them, grieving the journey ahead without them. Who else is here, I asked, that I must bid farewell?

Miss Good Health and Mrs. Good Mother have been quite faithful friends. Yet even they must take their place in the line behind me. They kissed my hands with tears in their eyes and bowed into the background.

The path ahead looks desolate. A lonely place. Space has been made for a Truer Companion. I stand on tiptoe to see who might be strolling down the road towards me.

 

I have been making music with my husband Scott since we met at Berklee College of Music in 1985. Known as Out of the Grey, we spent many years in the studio and on the road, making music and raising our 3 children. Read more of my story in my book, Lifelines: Tracing My Journey in Story and Song.

Hear our latest CD, A Little Light Left

Follow me on MEDIUM.com / Christine Dente

“The Only Moment”: The Story Behind the Song

Out of the Grey CD cover

Muggy Mid-July State of Mind

Oh, my muggy mid-July state of mind!  Can’t seem to focus my thoughts on anything productive. The air is heavy on my shoulders and drapes itself in a shiny layer onto my skin. I feel stuck and can’t find the energy to make a move. My musings take a turn for the worse as my wondering and worrying settle in.  To be sure, I do like the moist warmth of summer with my bare feet on a mossy lawn, wearing shorts and t-shirts all day long. But this mid-summer ennui muddles my head. I am not bored exactly.  “Bored” is a four-letter word in our house. I am just at a still point in my experience of time and meaning. It reminds me of a another July from years gone by:

 

Was wishing my head was as clear as this midnight sky

Spread across my muggy mid-July state of mind

Was wanting my heart to be free like this summer breeze

Singing through your fingers on the guitar strings…

 

Under the Weather

In my family, we often blame bodily afflictions and bad moods on the weather patterns. Feeling head-achey today? Could be a low-pressure system coming in. Feeling lethargic or sad? Maybe all of this rain is getting to you, stirring up mildew and mold allergies. Honestlythe seasons affect the way I see the world. I would not be surprised if the sultry atmosphere literally clouds my vision and clogs up my body and soul.  Maybe mid-July is a natural time for looking back over my shoulder, wondering where spring has gone and for stretching my neck ahead, worrying about fall coming on:

 

But I’m looking back, wondering where the time we spent went

I’m looking ahead, worrying about time that hasn’t been yet

 

The Only Moment

I wrote this lyric many a mid-summer’s night ago. Like a dream, 27 years have passed since that moment in my life. Before kids and current concerns, I was young and wrestling with my experience of time and meaning. Some things never change.  Scott and I were sitting on that tiny slab of patio behind our one-bedroom apartment in Nashville. We were newlyweds and newly-moved, wondering what was to come as we worked on our music together. I remember that particular July night in which Scott was relaxed and playing his guitar while I was anxious and struggling to be in the moment.  We were about to record our first CD and make our way in the music world. As usual, my heart was off kilter, tilting backwards in wonder at the time gone by and also leaning forward in worry about what was to come.  However, I knew where I wanted my head and heart to be:

 

The only moment I can see is here as clear as your love for me

The only moment I should be living is this one we’re in, this one

 

Back-Patio Peace

In this moment in 2017, another summer swelters and Scott and I sit on the back patio of our home with so much to be grateful for. The kids and the music have come and gone in sweet succession.  I can look back and ahead with lots of evidence against speculation and fretting. Some things do change and I realize I am saturated in back-patio peace. In spite of the weather, my head and heart are clear. As I revel in the pleasure of where we are, I can treasure the time–this time– and let the music and the days take my heart where they will. I can’t live the moments all at once. The only moment in which I can live is this one we’re in, this one.

If you’d like to hear the song and the rest of the lyric, it’s on the Out of the Grey CD in iTunes. For more stories behind the songs, check out my book, Lifelines: Tracing My Journey in Story and song.

The Voice: You Are Your Instrument!


graphic of singer music notes coming out of her mouth

I will never forget that ONE concert in college where I sang that ONE song with that ONE unforgettable note!

No, not the thrilling Whitney Houston/Carrie Underwood/Beyoncé kind of note:

as high as the heavens, long as the day and loud as a train.

 No, this note–my note–was quite the opposite.

The VOICE: the Instrument

It took me a long time to realize that as a singer, I really am my own instrument. It can be a help or a hindrance to contain in our bodies the means of the music. We singers possess a lot of intimate control and awareness of the subtleties of sound. A good singer knows no separation from the flow of breath, pitch, volume, rhythm and emotion coming through the throat and lifting from the lips. Unlike, say, a cello player, the vocalist has not even a synaptic nano-second between impulse and sound. No fingers on strings or hands on hardwood, the singer glides effortlessly on a melodic whim. From the shape of the voice box, throat, nasal cavities, facial bone structures, tongue, mouth and lips comes the uniqueness that is the voice, my voice, your voice, our instrument.

 

The VOICE: the Hindrance

Many conditions are a hindrance to singing. Fatigue and vocal cord weakness are the worst. Add phlegm and tension and dehydration to the mix and we are in trouble. Also, the hidden flaws of the vocal cords contribute to singing struggles and even failure. These days, voice specialists can see what is happening in the larynx using cameras that reveal cord inflammation and even scar tissue called nodulesNodules can resolve on their own if the voice can rest and heal from overuse. A disruption in the connective vibration of the vocal folds either from phlegm or inflammation or scarring can cause huge problems for those who regularly rely on their singing.

The VOICE: the Incident

I didn’t know about any of this that evening as the band began playing my favorite Linda Ronstadt ballad. I sang the first verse and felt the fatigue of the previous hour of singing setting in. My wobbly sound was not the worst of it, though. My biggest mistake was wanting to sound like the soulful belter that Linda was. At the climax of the chorus when the big payoff arrived, I held out that note. That note. It started out strong, but, to my horror, my clear tone suddenly distorted and split into an awful gargling kind of cacophony. My instrument had found a mind of its own. What was it thinking?

To this day, I do not know exactly what happened to make my voice get so out of control that night. It was probably a combination of fatigue, dehydration, nerves and perhaps even nodules. Also, I didn’t know the limits of my instrument. I was trying to sound like Linda Ronstadt instead of finding my own vocal style. I was not, and am not, a belter with the power to pull it off.

photo girl with guitar belting her song

The VOICE: the Help

My voice students hear me talk about vocal health a lot.

Our instruments need what our bodies need:

  • lots of rest
  • plenty of water
  • healthful food
  • exercise

Our voices do not need:

  • stress and tension
  • coughing
  • shouting
  • over-singing

Adhering to these helpful lifestyle choices, we can then build vocal strength and other vocal techniques on that solid foundation. Most of all, we need to know our limits and try to find the God-given voice that is ours alone. Then our strengths and singularities can find their way to the song and our very being becomes part of the performance.

 

If you want to know more about the voice, singing technique and lots of helpful exercises and applications to singing, check out my handbook/workbook, The Singer and the Songwriter, which has an entire section devoted to singing. If you’d like the piano cover, you’ll find it here.   See below a sample of what’s inside.     ~Christine

the singer and the songwriter handbook cafe cover christine dente      the singer and the songwriter handbook piano cover christine dentethe singer and the songwriter handbook sample voice technique christine dente

 

Out of Denial: How I Found Life in the Bigger Story

coming out of denial

Two Men and a Gun

When I was twenty, I got mugged by two thugs in Boston.

I was walking home alone from a friend’s apartment when I noticed two guys approaching me on the dark sidewalk. One of them had a gun in his hand. Before I could think, they grabbed me and shoved me into an apartment building doorway, took my purse, then pulled me back down along the sidewalk.

I realized they were moving me toward the top of a stairway that led down into a dark passage between two buildings.

In shock, I began singing the 23rd Psalm. They called me nasty names and told me to shut up. Soon, we reached the top of the steps, but, before they could drag me down, I threw myself back on the concrete sidewalk and began to shake as if having a seizure.

“My medicine, my medicine, I need my medicine,” I cried, clinging to the stair rail as one of them smacked me in the head with the gun and the other yanked my feet toward the stairs.

Just then, a taxi cab came swinging by with its headlights sweeping. The two guys decided I wasn’t worth it, and they disappeared into the dark place to which they’d meant to drag me. Honestly, God gets all the credit, no question. I jumped up, pumped my fist in the air, and shouted, “We won!”

Now, where did that victory fist come from? Like the singing and the feigned seizure, the answer is a mystery to me. All I knew was that God had saved me!

In Denial

That’s the version of the story I have been telling for thirty years. However, my memory of that night is like the memory of a photograph rather than the memory of the event itself. Some details are missing, and there’s a sheen of unreality on the face of it.

When my old college friend Bob contacted me recently, I asked him his recollection of that time period. He happens to have an amazing memory, and he told me things I had forgotten about that night and about myself.

Here’s how the story should go:

When I was twenty, I was assaulted and robbed at gunpoint and came close to being raped and murdered. I had left a friend’s house in the heart of a dangerous city at 11 PM, refusing his pleas to let him walk me home. I told him, “God will take care of me.” How naive I was, full of pride and risking so much for nothing.

Certainly, the parts about singing, pretending to have a seizure, and then jumping up in victory when my attackers ran are true. They happened without forethought. And I believe God did save me.

Nevertheless, after the fact, I failed to face the weight of what actually had happened, could have happened.

In the following days, with my black eye and bloody chin and scalp, I did not–would not–absorb the impact. I held on to the parts of the story that suited me. A few weeks after the incident, as Bob reminded me, I began walking alone again at night.

Here’s the weirdest part: I forgot most of the second story’s details. I did not remember my refusals of help, my pride and stupidity, or the black eye. Also, Bob informed me about some of our friends who thought I must have been crazy before and after because of my behavior and attitude.

I was shocked by how little of myself I recognized. Truthfully, it was over 30 years ago, but there are some things you just don’t forget. And yet, I do. I did. A lot. It sounds like someone in denial.

Out of Denial

Did I know I was in denial?
Of course not! How can you know you’re in denial if you’re in denial?

What is it exactly?

According to one definition: Denial is a coping mechanism that gives you time to adjust to distressing situations — but staying in denial can interfere with … your ability to tackle challenges.*

The Mayo clinic online staff says: “If you’re in denial, you’re trying to protect yourself by refusing to accept the truth about something that’s happening in your life.” **

My definition is: “Bearing false witness against yourself; being unable or unwilling to acknowledge an unacceptable truth or emotion.”

The shoe fit. I began to wear it.
Even so, how does one begin to come out of denial? How did I move in that direction?

Signs of Denial

Obviously, it’s taken me a long time to face facts about that attack in Boston and about myself as a young woman, to get a true picture of the person I was before I began to come out of denial.

As I look back again at what should have been a pivotal point in my life, I recognize some signs of my denial:

  • I didn’t want to burden others with my problems, wanted independence
  • I isolated myself, preferring aloneness to interaction
  • My isolation created in me a lack of perspective and outward objectivity
  • I thought I had to display a perfect, pure picture of myself to be a good Christian, not comprehending that my honesty and authentic brokenness would draw people to me and to God
  • The pedestal suited me because, at a distance, I could control people’s perceptions
  • I had a lot of answers and not enough questions
  • I had a secret, destructive habit which NO-ONE knew about

Defining Moments

My first step in facing the truth about myself was telling a secret which no-one knew:

When I was in my twenties, I had an eating disorder called bulimia. It was a destructive habit of bingeing and purging but I told myself it was my way of managing my weight. In fact, it was my way of managing emotions and memories too painful to let surface.

In retrospect, I wonder at how much of my story I kept stuffed inside, rarely sharing the hidden parts of myself. Fresh out of childhood, my feelings were trying to surface, but I didn’t have an escape hatch for them. This disorder kept me from dealing with the story of my past.

Then I met Scott, who later became my husband. He helped me take an honest look at my life and begin to tell my story. When I told him about my bingeing and purging, it was as though a tiny shaft of light broke into my cellar. My heart felt less heavy and I began to let the truth about my childhood come out. I began to let go of damaging emotions roiling around inside my gut.

We Write Our Own Medicine

Telling the truth has been an essential element in my spiritual and emotional health and recovery. Actually, it’s essential for physical and mental health, too. When my heart and mind were clogged, my body felt sick and looked for relief.

To keep the flow of freedom going, I began to write songs and stories. When I let my thoughts and feelings escape the jumbled places inside me, they’d untangle on the way out and take shape in creativity.

I also began to say out loud in safe places things I had never voiced. Over these many decades of my life, I have been part of recovery groups, prayer groups, and sharing groups. Counseling and all kinds of therapy have helped in my healing.

The Process

The hardest part of finding life for me has been the slowness of the pace.
The saying goes, “Don’t push the river,” but all I want to do is push.
Get with the program, River, and show me some results!
Problem is, the program is all about trusting the process, no matter how meandering and slow it feels.

Take my physical pain, for example. The list of methods I’ve used to relieve my chronic back, hip, shoulder, and neck pain is too long to share. My saying became, ”nothing works.”

Currently, I’m trying a new kind of yoga which is all about letting go. Instead of finding the balance between effort and surrender like my other yoga practices, this one is all about zero effort and 100% surrender.

Gravity does all the work as I lie on the floor breathing. And paying attention to how my muscles slowly let go of tension. While I do NOTHING. The poses are supposed to do the protracted work of releasing and easing the pain.

So far, I have noticed only a little bit of change. I’m tempted to go negative and declare that this process is not working. But those are old thought patterns.

Instead, I’ve decided to stick with it and trust that the long haul could be the ticket. This may take years of practice in letting go. I’m hoping for the best.

Three Tiers for Life!

What is life in the bigger story?

It’s like a puzzle. We admire the beauty of the cover on the box before we dump the contents and begin the sorting of the pieces. The pile of tiny, jumbled shapes is daunting, but we know there’s a big picture in there somewhere. We just have to begin with one connection, two pieces that make a perfect fit. From there, with diligence and patience, we begin to see small patches of the picture take shape.

Sometimes we swear the designer of this thing left out important pieces. Or someone has lost a few border pieces before us. Or we have dropped a few under the table without knowing, never to be recovered. And yet, we persevere, and the puzzle begins to make sense and emerge as a thing of beauty.

My “formula for finding life,” in a nutshell:

First, Come Out of Denial

You must look for signs of denial. Then you can begin to come out of that dank and dark cave.
Ask yourself: Are you, deep down, a wreck in some way?
In some hidden corner of your life, is there a bruised and broken part of you about to explode from the conflict?

What conflict?
The conflict between what should be and what actually is.
Is there a destructive habit or addiction in your life, even a damaging thought process, that keeps you from facing fears, feelings, or memories?

Here are a few helpful articles: 7 Signs ,  

Ask Yourself These Questions

Second, Tell Your Story

We are wonderfully made creatures. Our parts are all connected and meant to flow together freely. When we turn our insides out, we connect to others’ stories, which reminds us of the big picture, the thing bigger than us. The whole that is much more than the sum of its parts.

When you tell your truths, be as honest as you can. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen if I face the truth about this?” You will probably find that your answer is manageable. Then, do the next right thing to move in a healthy direction.

Here’s a related article I wrote:​ Get Out of Your Head and Into Health.​

I thought no one could handle all my deep secrets. My worst fear was to be abandoned.

But I found someone who could handle my reality.

As I began to share my hardest facts with Scott, some weight began to lift off of my chest. He heard my confession about the bingeing and purging, which I’d done since my senior year of high school, and he didn’t run for the nearest exit. He stayed and carried some of the weight and has been doing so for over 30 years.

Third, Trust the Process

There are many ways to process the pain and suffering of our lives.
You can find safe places, people, and programs that will help you on your journey.

As I came out of denial and started facing and telling the truth about myself, I looked around for more help. The resources I found included a community of friends who were telling their truths, too. I was part of formal and informal groups of women and men intentionally working on their life stories. One of these groups was a 12-step recovery meeting called Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA). Here was a safe place to say hard things about myself and my life. We listened to one another without comment or judgment. We began to trust the slow process of healing and recovery.

Have compassion for yourself as you would with someone else you love.
Remember, Jesus said the second greatest commandment was to love others as you love yourself. This implies that YOU SHOULD LOVE YOURSELF.

If you do not love yourself, how will you be able to love others?
So grab the oxygen mask dangling in front of your face and breathe deeply! Let the life-giving flow do its work. Trust the process.

Those are my three essentials for finding life in the bigger story.

The beautiful scene on the front of the puzzle box reminds me that each annoying little piece really does connect somewhere and can somehow add to my life.

Therefore, I will keep sorting through the pile and finding parts that fit the bigger picture. I will keep sharing my thoughts and discoveries in my bigger story blog.
Thanks for reading, and happy journeying!

Christine

*h​ttps://www.cbsnews.com/news/10-signs-youre-in-denial/


** ​https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/denial/art-20047926

 

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