I’m an Alien.

“Sensitive people are the most genuine and honest people you will ever meet. There is nothing they won’t tell you about themselves if they trust your kindness. However, the moment you betray them, reject them or devalue them, they become the worse type of person. Unfortunately, they end up hurting themselves in the long run. They don’t want to hurt other people. It is against their very nature. They want to make amends and undo the wrong they did. Their life is a wave of highs and lows. They live with guilt and constant pain over unresolved situations and misunderstandings. They are tortured souls that are not able to live with hatred or being hated. This type of person needs the most love anyone can give them because their soul has been constantly bruised by others. However, despite the tragedy of what they have to go through in life, they remain the most compassionate people worth knowing, and the ones that often become activists for the broken hearted, forgotten and the misunderstood. They are angels with broken wings that only fly when loved.”
Shannon L. Alder

For the majority of my life, I have felt alienated.

I can recall moments on the playground, unable to navigate complicated friendships and instead seeking solace in my books. I attempted to trick myself into thinking this was my choice – to stick out like a thumb tack, alone and propped against the brick wall of my elementary school; re-reading the same sentences over and over again to maintain composure and grasp a semblance of invisibility. The truth was that I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to spend time with me. I tried to maintain a friendship in which I only saw the friend during the summer. By the school year’s start, she seemed to forget I existed. Every single year. I became tired of pretending I didn’t know the girl who I’d shared midnight laughs and Dollar Store candy with. Words on a page were safer than any human contact.

Before I understood that normality wasn’t a necessity, I used my preteen fingers to claw around, searching for stability, acceptance, and understanding. My own mother was strapped with stress that couldn’t be added to, so I often suffered in silence. My mother did the only thing she knew to do in response to a sensitive child…she left me alone. I was allowed to ride my bike to and from the library of my tiny town in Illinois. Sometimes, if it was a special day, I could stop at the DQ after retrieving my freshly-ordered literature. I learned sugary foods triggered the feeling of love, and for that, I went through a chubby phase for several years. The other pleasure chemicals were released while reading books. Subsequently, many summers were spent inside, reading at Speedy Gonzalez frequency ( a Goosebumps book a day) and checking the back of the book for other titles I could order. I moved onto Fear Street a year later. I had a fixation for darkness, for I couldn’t verbalize or connect that I had my own darkness inside of me yet to be released. I learned to cry until my throat ached, a flood of peace following thereafter. I did not learn to regulate my emotions.

In 8th grade, I found momentary acceptance in a crowd I didn’t belong to. These people had parents who were addicted to drugs. The peers learned the coping mechanisms of their parents, and were participating in things too mature for their age. I finally had a place to release this darkness. I threw myself into macabre literature and poetry. Anything below the status quo spoke to me in a way as if to say “you are not alone.” I could never measure up to the demands that normalcy placed onto me, so I rebelled instead. I learned my emotions were burdens to those who didn’t understand (which were the mass majority), so I repressed through cutting and solitary crying spells.

I remember feeling a comfort in my alien nature when I became a Christian. I’m not so sure now that Christianity was what made me feel better, but the fact that I finally found friendship that gave back. Christianity always created an emotional conflict inside of me — for one moment, I could feel I was god’s daughter, perfect in his sight. However, a convicting Sunday morning message would leave me feeling like chewed up bubble gum on the bottom of a shoe. I could never regulate the two. So I seesawed between loving and hating myself, sometimes simultaneously. Most people didn’t even know I was going through this, for to confess it would alienate me further. I also thought feeling perpetual guilt was a healthy symptom of heavy conviction, so I didn’t think to try and correct these cognitive distortions. If I was ever aloof as a child while apologizing or meeting consequences for my actions, my mother would often unintentionally use a certain tone or words to manipulate my emotions and give her the reaction she thought I should have: shame and guilt. I learned through this that every negative experience was associated with these same two traits. This made it difficult for me to bounce back after a personal defeat.

Adulthood has a way of bringing on certainty, or at least the illusion of it. Things finally seemed to be falling into place by my early 20s – a stable job, a husband who appeared to be good for me, and minimal financial struggle. Following my heart into foreign missions put a major strain on my finances. Though I felt connected to Thailand and Asian culture more than my own country of the United States, I couldn’t linger there for as long as I’d like due to income. I returned to the states, and the alienation seemed to return as well. Marital issues in the midst of intense involvement with my church was enough to make me feel like that little girl with the bookmarked Goosebumps again. I did just enough to “fit in,” but I never felt connected.

Shortly thereafter, alienation by stillbirth joined my many foes.

Some of this alienation I pursue by myself — not having energy to exist in a world without my daughter, staying up all night watching Netflix on the couch, unable to go to sleep in a bed that once held my pregnant body. Isolation was also placed on me by society and PTSD — expectations for me to return to work before I was ready, flippant sentimental quotations and half-hearted advice, pressure from my husband to have sex when I couldn’t even think of getting out of bed, guilt for my rage toward god and anything to do with that belief, anger for the abandonment I felt, nauseated any time I walked into my bathroom and remembered all the blood on the floor, haunted with images of her paper skin ripping as the stress of her tiny, formed bones poked through its barrier, the moment of  giving her back to the nurse for the last time echoing over and over until I was driven to insanity by my grief. I wanted to die, and I’m still not sure that’s gone away. I think when you lose something so precious to you, death is always a welcoming thought. My alienation continues — a mother with PTSD returning from the battlefield of loss. I lost a significant piece of my innocence, which I will never regain. I can’t pursue anything significant in my life without the echo of it possibly failing.

The next phase of alienation is a time I still linger in. I was abandoned by my husband, and left to deal with my grief alone. The fear I clutched in childhood was now made a reality with his absence. No one is permanent. While object permanence is something we learn as children, I always understood this didn’t carry over to relationships. However, being an idealist, I always hoped for more. The rise and fall of expectations verses reality was debilitating.

My belief system no longer brought me comfort. It tormented me instead. Each time I couldn’t agree or believe what I was reading in the Bible or hearing in church, I felt the voice underneath it all telling me what a horrible Christian I was. When I could no longer connect to what I felt was god, the voices in my head from Christians expecting me to persevere were deafening. I would be tortured with the thoughts of Christians who went through far worse, and could somehow bounce back. Why wasn’t I that strong? Why was there yet another thing wrong with me that couldn’t be fixed? Why couldn’t I pull it together?

Friends lessened the frequency of interaction while I went through this time. I don’t blame them, and not all of them disappeared. Their absence is understood to me. It is difficult to comfort a hurting soul when there aren’t words or actions to make things better. I myself am guilty of this. And I’m sure I pushed others away, for I knew my own burden would curl its adult fingers around the neck of the comforting friend and pull them under with me. I didn’t wish this pain on anyone else. I had grown comfortable in my alien nature, so it wasn’t anything I didn’t expect. The choices I made might’ve sped up this isolation as well. I’d grown so used to harboring these feelings and emotions inside of me, that I didn’t tremble at the thought of being alone. Not for a little while, anyway.

I’m reaching a new age of alienation. This is the alienation of living in the South and no longer believing in god as a being. If Christian friends ask me to explain this, I’m left fumbling for words and looking like a cult-following idiot. I’m still in the beginnings of this transition, but it has been just as difficult as the others. It’s difficult for me to accept invitations to talk or hang out if I know the person will use that time as a way to witness to me, as the person who has “fallen away” or is “back sliding” from god. I also develop social anxiety at the thought of explaining, as when I became a Christian at 15, I didn’t have all the answers — and yet I’m expected to have all the answers if I’m leaving the Christian faith. I don’t. Not at all. There are times where I even doubt if this is the right thing to do. Though meditation and healing crystals offer me more comfort than any organized religion, I am left alone in this journey. Christianity has the wonderful appeal of immediately connecting you with a support system. Not so when you are exiting the Church. I had someone in my life who kept pursuing me and checking on me until I told him I wouldn’t be attending a Bible study anymore; a Bible study he held at his house. Suddenly, I never heard from this friend again. I suppose I was checked off of the list of ‘people to pray for’ and introduced into the pile of ‘ will revisit when she reaches out for help again.’ There is no built-in support system when you say you don’t believe in god as a being. If anything, there is a wall of opposition waiting on the other side.

I have never felt more alone, in many ways. I’m an alien belonging to the highly sensitive, young divorcee, bereaved mother, and former Christian mothership. I know this place is not my home. I understand that I am a starseed, which makes things more challenging. I feel as if I have been tossed with the waves of this life — constantly searching for the shore of stability, yet never quite finding it. For this, I find myself increasingly tired and homesick for a place I long to return.

Above all, I desire, without any doubt or misconception, to be understood to my eternal core.

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Milestones.

[The absence I miss the most is captured milestones].


 Year one – 11.2013

 First birthday.

I am empty and poured to entirety. I compromise values to ease the pain of uneaten, baby-pink cake and silent nurseries.

I befriend demons.

They take,

and take

and take. I am kidnapped from sanity. I teeter in the waves of grief amidst a pirated ship.

I still haven’t gained my sea legs for such a zealous voyage.

Year two – 11.2014

Left or right handed?

Thirty pounds of body shed –

I wish for the addition of your weight instead.

Sometimes, lightness is captured like Christmas morning’s unwrapping.

And other moments, I still correct my footing;

Knees akimbo – hoping the deep arches of my ballerina feet attach in strength and poise.


For every experience, I wish to take yours instead.

Because I know my greatest adventure will always be you.

Bubble Gum Cigar

A bubble gum cigar left on my desk today.

Taunting me; baby-pink with bold letters:

It’s a girl.

II

I never understood cigars as celebration for new life;

The men with their smug grins, patting each other on the back

As if they were responsible for anything other than spitting their seed into a womb.

As if they have control over things like babies dying or mothers grieving

The pride of predictability reeling to snatch up their hopes and dreams

for their unborn carbon-copy.

III

It’s a girl.

Her Kermit-legs flopping from the sugar of Sunny Delight

Kicking her way into our hearts; she is no longer a blob on a screen.

I am unable to possess the self-control to keep it a surprise.

It’s a daughter.

Later that day, I accidentally refer to the ultrasound pictures as “her”

And my family bursts into laughs and exclamations of joy

All of us mapping the future for this long-awaited miracle.

IV

You never understand the life you willed for someone

Until that life is taken.

Who was I to have plans from the start?

Who am I to assume the better in this worse world?

V

Baby pink balloons

kissing the sky where you rest.

I was never able to be showered with celebration for your arrival

VI

I chew up the bubble gum;

it tastes like powder and envy

Expectations vs. Reality

“I was supposed to be having the time of my life.”

– Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

 

What I would tell elementary school Ashley:

Kick every boy who makes you feel ugly. Hard. Don’t feel like you have to be girly. You are a tomboy for a reason. Embrace it.

 

What I would tell middle school Ashley:

Read as many books as you can get your hands on. (I know you do this already, but branch outside of the RL Stine category). Don’t let the other kids make you feel like you run funny. You’re athletic, even if you don’t know it. Enjoy games, regardless of whether you win or not. Stop obsessing about boys. You won’t marry a single one of them. Take this time to develop your own hobbies, interests, and passions, without having a boy in the equation. You are not a spoiled brat. You’re just sensitive. It’s often misunderstood. That’s okay.

What I would tell high school Ashley:

I wouldn’t change a thing about your goth phase. You’re beautiful. Realize that nice guys are good to date, if you’re going to date. I would prefer that you didn’t, but I know you won’t listen. Just because a guy teases you to show affection doesn’t mean that’s a good match. You’re too sensitive to have someone critiquing while claiming it is for comedic purposes. The first guy that tells you he loves you? Hold on to him longer. He will probably love you the hardest you’ve ever been loved. YOU ARE NOT FAT. Even though you don’t believe anything your mom says, she’s right: you have a woman’s body. Embrace it. Start working on your daddy issues. Now. Yes, you have them. Don’t put all your value in a single person. You will always feel mediocre if you place your worth in others. Above all, realize that your heavenly Father loves you more than a man ever will.

What I would tell college Ashley:

You are enough. You’ve gotten this far. Branch out; be fearless! Don’t spend your freshman year holed up in your dorm room. You are worthy of company, and you add to the lives of others with your presence. Take relationships slow. Snail’s pace. I know you have an issue with this, but trust me, it will be for the best. Decide on relationships with your head first, then your heart. Go ahead and break off your relationship with A.J. Long distance relationships never last long-term. Take a daily vitamin. Exercise as much as you can. Switch your major if you feel led to. There’s nothing wrong with changing your mind. Stop being so judgemental! Create a new relationship with God out of love, not obligation. You may be cut from a different cloth (after all, you’re no Southern Belle) but God made you just that way: fiesty and passionate. Do not bend on your stance concerning premartial sex. Do not put yourself in a situation where you have the ability to compromise. Learn that saying “no” is perfectly acceptable, and required, to not be hurt very badly.

What I would tell married Ashley:

To date, I have not found a man that exists who has eyes for only you. Get over it, somehow (and if you figure out how, let me know). It is not a reflection on you or your sexy meter. You are desirable. You are worthy. Do not let your partner manipulate you into thinking you’re crazy because you have intense emotions. Do not isolate. Run to a friend’s house, if you need to. Your identity is not in being a wife. If you’re not a natural at cooking, this does not make you less of a woman. Exercise, exercise, exercise. Make spontaneous decisions, but make sure you have the financial backbone to successfully execute them. Listen to me: I have to believe that one day you will be a mother. It’s the absolute frame of your existence. Take better care of yourself when you get pregnant. This includes both spiritually and emotionally. No matter what, you will think it was your fault. I still don’t know the answer to this, but I know that if you have a closer relationship with God, you will have no choice but to accept it as being His will. Don’t isolate. Breathe. Do not feel embarassed for continuing to grieve. You take all the time you need, because in reality, you will need every day of your life until you die. It never goes away. I won’t even say it gets better. But you learn to deal with the grief, somehow.

What I would tell future Ashley:

  I’m so happy you’re actually here. I know some days there for awhile, you weren’t sure if you would make it to today. You are stronger than you thought. You are doing wonderful things. You’re living the dream. I’m so proud of you.

What I tell Ashley:

I don’t really know. Take it one day at a time. You know what you need to do to be happy again. Don’t question it. It’s your intuition talking. It will get easier.

Be the hippy you’ve always wanted to be. 

Chemical Dependence

ZOLOFT® (sertraline HCl) is approved by the FDA to treat the following conditions in adults:

  • –Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)
  • –Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • –Panic Disorder
  • –Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • –Social Anxiety Disorder
  • –Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)

-taken from official Zoloft website

I’ve always been prone to Depression. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I feel so deeply, in full-blown colors and chaotic senses, but I remember first struggling with suicidal thoughts at age 13. Self-mutilation was my only therapy. I began a relationship with Christ at age 16. I remember the moment I truly gave my heart to the Lord, years of pain and anguish seemed to release from my pores and tear ducts. From then on, it got better. Though my immediate family members were on antidepressants and it was considered an inherited mental illness, I thought I had conquered it by putting my faith in Christ. Ashamedly, I carried a certain pride inside of me that I was simply relying on the Lord, and didn’t need modern medicine to cure my blues. I could pray, and everything was better, right?

Then came college, Freshman year. I felt inadequate and misplaced. The depression returned. I didn’t tell anyone, really. I vented thoughts on Xanga (the most popular blogosphere at the time) but outside of that, I felt admitting my sadness would only condemn me further. I was at a Christian college, where everyone was supposed to possess the joy of the Lord. I did, for the most part.

But I’m realizing more and more the only thing that prevented me from previous crippling depression were my life circumstances.

College included some of best years of my life. Stressful, yes. Terrifying? Sometimes. But epic memories replaced the negative. First came a degree, then came a professional job, then came marriage to the love of my life, then came a baby in a baby carriage…. or not. Struggling with infertility for five years wasn’t fun. It did a huge number on my self-esteem and identity as a woman. My body couldn’t do the one thing it was created to do. I had always felt my one true calling was to be a mother, and I couldn’t even manage to do that!  I threw myself into work, and then we spent five months overseas doing missions. We came back, intertwined ourselves into church, and I was happy. Then came the slow decay of the naive world I had built around me. The shatter of trust in a marriage, the resuming of self-mutilation, the deafening thoughts that told me I was better off dead. I was diagnosed with Depressive Disorder soon after. I took one pill of my antidepressant prescribed to me before I found out I was pregnant. I never took another, until after she was gone.

I’ve been on Zoloft, Xanax, and Ambien for a year and a half. The craziness of this month had me forgetting to get a refill on my Zoloft, then looking at the bottle and realizing I didn’t have a refill. Then remembering I missed my appointment with my psychiatrist last month. I spent a week without my medicine, and I cannot tell you how crazy I went. Crying all through the night, irritable beyond belief, panic attacks, paranoia… and I loathe that I am now dependent upon this artificial serotonin to make me semi-sane. I never wanted to be. I’m wondering if my lack of warm and fuzzies and my flat affect is partly to do with this as well. I don’t feel joy much anymore. It’s like a flicker of emotion, then it’s gone. Without taking my medication regularly, it’s an explosion of a million different emotions, as if I’m Bipolar. There is no in between. Numbness, or despair. These are what I teeter between.

I would love to one day wean myself from taking medication. I’m terrified that day may never come.

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

“I’m sorry.”

The look on the face of the doctor as she responded to the lifeless chamber of my daughter’s heart will forever be etched in my memory.

The rest of the events would be a chaotic blur – tainted by cruel decisions… “Would you like to birth your dead child tonight, or tomorrow morning? Would you like pain reliever? What are your burial plans?” Amongst the swirl of devastating questions, a name of an organization mixed into them. I had never heard of Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, and at the time, the idea of inviting a stranger into the sacred time I’d have with my daughter’s motionless body seemed invasive and assaulting. Luckily, divine intervention placed a nurse in my path that had been through the same thing not two months before. She talked about how she regretted being unable to obtain professional photos of her son after his birth. She softened the sting of shock by showing me some photos of her beautiful Benjamin that she’d taken on her cell phone. I needed to provide an answer soon. The on-call photographer had to be notified as soon as I was expected to deliver. With a reply that didn’t yet feel firm, I agreed to allow a NILMDTS photographer to come into my hospital room and document all the tiny features of my precious Carlie Wren.

Brandy entered my room with sensitivity and utmost respect. I remember not even sensing she was there. She moved around the room as if she were an extension of it; like she’d been there through the whole labor as a silent support.  I can’t explain to you the comradery I felt immediately. She was careful and intentional as she gently took my Carlie Wren’s body and looked her over. Carlie was my child, perfect in my sight. However, I knew to others, she might be a shock to look at. My stomach twisted as I wondered what she was thinking, her gaze whispering across my baby girl.  I’ll never forget the words that came out of Brandy’s mouth, like a breath of fresh air over this solemn occasion.

“She’s has such pretty features!”

Those words were a salve to my wounded Mother heart. I felt my heart swell with pride that should’ve come months later; the pride I expected to flood over me as I gave a squirming baby to relatives, wrapped in a hospital blanket. Still, Brandy validated my daughter as beautiful, and for a moment, I forgot my pain.

Brandy gave me a preview of her photos mere days later. I remember my heart catching in my throat, gasping at both the beauty and raw grief captured in a single photo. I cannot tell you if I’d ever forget Carlie Wren’s face or every aspect of her tiny body. But I do know that the photos Brandy captured were a time capsule I desperately needed. Photos are meant to freeze-frame moments in time. Though many aspects of her birth were traumatic and gut-wrenching, I never wanted to forget how she looked. As Mary Poppins says, she was “Practically perfect in every way.” Brandy preserved vulnerable, precious moments with dignity and respect. For that I will be forever grateful.

– Guest post I wrote for Brandy Smith Kemp documenting my experience with Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.