i realized today that i have entered a new place in the mind numbing journey that is grief. i don’t think it has a name. i guess if you look at the different stages of grief, this one loops into pain and loneliness. it’s weird. but all i know is that where i am right now is a heavy body dysmorphic place. there are moments where sometimes all i think about is my old body. trying to remember how it felt to get dressed. reminiscing how it felt to be held and loved in that frame. sometimes, it’s all i think about. in the late nights or early sleepless mornings. feeling disconnected from the body i hold now and longing for the warmth and security of the body that’s been gone for ten months. and sometimes, it aches because the memories of my old body are starting to slip. i can’t remember what i looked like without scars and trauma. my mind has wrapped itself in this one and is working on building a connection. and in that, it’s slowly pulling away from the body we lost. and yeah, i am still struggling. ten months into remission. and yeah, it still pulls me into full sobs. because acceptance of something that wasn’t a choice is often a part of grief that i struggle with and never visit only once. my reflection has been with me this whole time, since i graced the earth with my presence. but now it’s different. and with a broken heart, we stare at each other with a mouth full of toothpaste. and it just doesn’t feel like home. the reflection feels foreign. this body feels empty and cold. my true shape and form are a fading memory and it brings fresh tears to my eyes. because my whole existence was snatched from me just over a year ago. when my life just took a rapid hard left and brought me to this exact place. one where sometimes all i think about is those days before it all changed. sometimes it feels like a fever dream. like this can’t possibly be real. and believe me, i want it to be different. i want to be in that place of gratitude without the grief. i want to love this chance at life again while fondly remembering my former self in such a subtle way. but i find myself awake at two in the morning, crying. wanting nothing more from the universe than a chance to be who i was again; just for a moment or two. it’s a weird place in this grief journey. honestly, the waves and ebbs and tides and hurricanes of grief that still flow in and out of my life are a little tumultuous at times. i thought by now it would be different. that the grief would be different. that the period of mourning would have subsided. but it just kinda moves in and out at its own pace. sometimes shifting me on the shore so much that i can’t find my original place in all of it.
and lately, my focus has been on how my grief looks to others. which doesn’t pass the vibe check. i shouldn’t care about what comfort level other people are on with my trauma and my grief. right now, everything just feels a little off. like there is a little cloud passing in front of the sun. i find myself in both places- surrounded by sunshine and the beautiful parts of survivorship but also in the tunnels of grief and sadness without a flashlight. it’s pure chaos in my heart and in my brain. it feels broken and messy and sometimes, it feels like i haven’t moved an inch towards healed at all. grief just kinda tumbles you into these strange passageways. suddenly and blindly. and right now, i find myself clinging to anything and everything that will hold me close to the person i once was. but i am being pushed towards this new self. like the universe is shoving me from one place to the next. but secretly, i laid glue here. so that i could stay awhile. because this new version- well, she and i just don’t vibe. it’s the massive battle between the old and the new. there isn’t enough space for both.
and today, i met with my trauma therapist. the one i found in june of twenty twenty just weeks after making it out alive from a covid intensive care unit. one where i fought for my life alone for eight days. amidst a forty two day isolation period. in the middle of a growing pandemic. that one. she’s still here. as my trauma therapist. because well, trauma just kept showing up. and here we are. eighteen months later, still navigating through the ugliest parts of my life. the things that keep me up. the things that pop into my dreams. the things that make me sob on a tuesday afternoon. the things that still matter. they still matter even ten months after successfully beating cancer. they still matter nearly twenty months after beating a raging infectious disease that has killed nearly eight hundred thousand people. they still matter. because they are still here. circling the drain. fueling the trauma that lives in my core. and it’s not like i have been sitting on my ass this whole time. waiting for the right time to heal. i literally have been working through it since i exited state mandated isolation. and i have been diligent about putting in the work and the hours. to heal from it all. to ask all the trauma to leave. the trauma that’s been here for years and the trauma that just joined the party in the last eighteen months. it’s a big ask. and today was the start of yet another part of healing. where my brain and my body get to begin regulating. something that can’t happen until your body feels safe. and i no longer count the days til cancer reappears. i don’t stress over scans or appointments. if it does, okay. if it doesn’t, even better. i certainly won’t hang my hat on never. we know how that looks. but anyways, back to what i was saying. new work has begun. new trauma work. and maybe you can hear my eye rolls from wherever you are reading this but nonetheless, i really am not excited about it. because trauma work, regulating, healing- whatever you wanna call it; it’s hard. it feels like staring at the top of everest and you haven’t even finished lacing up the hiking boots. and it feels big. to begin this leg of the very, very long journey. and it feels like it should be over. it feels like the sadness and the loneliness and the grief should have been swallowed up in the remission drain. but we are still here. and in both places too. a place of immense gratitude to be here. alive and well after so many months of waiting and working towards remission. but also, in a trauma space. where my brain and my body are really not regulating outside of active trauma. and in meditation this week with my therapist, i reached a point where i could hold my sadness. i could pick up my sad part and hold onto it. like a suitcase. and all my body and brain could do is shift me into wondering how to be loved. how to be loved in a version that feels unlovable. in a version that feels unfinished and incomplete. maybe it’s me. maybe i am the problem. maybe it’s me. but i keep reminding myself that this place that i am in right now is ugly. and lonely. and weird. and often clashes with absolutely everything around. and it’s hard being in this immense season of gratitude. with so much to be thankful for. and it’s not that the gratitude is not there. believe me, it’s thicker than anything else. but it’s also really hard right now. my cancer group leader once compared cancer patients to towers. built in such a way that even the harshest winds and wildest storms couldn’t knock a tower down. but towers always feel this pressure to stand straight and remain mighty. and maybe it’s easier when you are made of bricks or stone. but i am just flesh and bone. and strength takes a lot out of a person. it’s hard to be strong all the time. it’s hard not to sway in the wind or falter in a storm. it’s not always a tower kinda day. sometimes, i just wanna collapse. because it takes a lot of energy to be grateful and strong and tower over the adversities of my life. it takes a lot to stand in line at the grocery store in this body. or to rinse this hair under the faucet. it takes a lot to push through the chemo brain or force the chemo flashbacks out of my brain. it takes a lot to pretend it’s okay on the hard days. it’s tough work towering over. straight and tall and built to last. sometimes it really takes every ounce to not completely shed the bricks and collapse onto the sand. and sometimes, the moments between gratitude and grief are just a matter of minutes. i can be present and minutes later, a trigger sweeps me into a place of grief and trauma. it’s not intentional. it’s not a choice. it takes a lot to stand tall in the moments with hurricane force winds. in moments that quake the ground. in moments where the earth is shaking. in the moments where the last eighteen months of life just don’t seem real. that it all seems like it was a life that belonged to someone else. and some days, most of the hours feel good. and some days, sadness is super present. sometimes it doesn’t loop through my brain and other days, it’s on repeat. because the experiences and moments in that place in life; where i was clinging to stay alive. those experiences and moments are part of me. they are what built me. and sometimes they are what try to tear me down.
a tower. that’s what we look like. tall and strong. resilient and fearless. taking on whatever is thrown. weathering the storms. it’s hard to stay like that all the time. sometimes i want to sag at the moments that have broken my heart. sometimes it feels easier to set it all down and rest for a while. sometimes it feels like there are bigger towers; stronger towers; mightier towers. and that i am just here. in survivorship. navigating it. and lemme just tell you that sometimes the winds shift and the whole tower rattles and shakes. me. the tower. life. the wind. and right now, i am shaken by what has broken me. rattled by the circumstances that have brought me to this exact moment in time. and last night, i cried myself to sleep. after crying for over an hour. because the trauma that lives inside of me; the trauma that exists inside this tower; it’s exhausting to live with. one wrong move. one strong breeze. one small comment. one look in the mirror. and i can feel my bricks quake and shift. and last night was a pivotal moment in all of this. parts of the tower broke and crumbled. me. in my bed. full shoulder shaking sobs. because i refuse to stay upright through this. it’s too much sometimes. the battle to remain this incredibly fierce and inspirational warrior has me shaking at my foundation. because i have been strong when there was nothing else to be. i have stood tall when there was no other way to stand. but now, i am in the biggest, most intense identity crisis of my life. one where i feel immensely lost. one where i feel incredibly sad. one where the connections to my past self and my present self are unrecognizable. and last night, i sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. for the loss of myself. for the loss of my precious body. for the loss of what she felt like to hold and be held. in my teens. in my twenties. in my marriage. i sobbed for the moments of rejection my body has felt in the last ten months. from me. from my brain. from the place in my heart that is broken and bruised. i sobbed because there is not a single place that i feel i belong right now. i feel like i am floating between all the spaces i used to fit. trying to squeeze into the cracks and crevices that feel familiar and safe. trying to find connection. but it all feels off. it all feels different. i cried for hours last night. til my body shook from the cold air on my tear soaked pajamas. til my lungs were begging for oxygen. oxygen that wasn’t laced with salty tears. til my raspy, choked sobs rocked me to sleep. on a damp pillowcase. and i woke again a few hours later, with a migraine and an overall numbness. as if my whole body had experienced the fall of the tower. the one that i have been since i drove myself to a covid unit nearly two years ago. the one that i have been since i listened to a doctor tell me i needed six rounds of chemo on a tuesday in august with my mother on speakerphone. the one i have been since having my breasts amputated ten months ago and my abdomen stitched in jagged lines. to give me what exists now. a foreign place. an empty tower. a fallen person. the shell. all that’s left.
and last night left me numb. it left me feeling powerless to the trauma inside me. it left me feeling defeated in a battle that i supposedly won. and sure, i have shed buckets of tears in the last two years. in the ugly moments. in the healing moments. even in the moments that changed my life. as a tower, hiding my brim filled eyes in the clouds. but there’s something wild and different about being the tower. being strong when it’s basically impossible. and knowing that everyone is cheering you on; cheering for you to hold steady through the uncomfortable parts of the storm. and right now, i am in this place where the tower part of me is screaming, absolutely dying for people to recognize how hard this is. wanting the approval to let the shoulders sag and to rest. to not be a tower all the time. to fall apart every once in a while. because it’s hard to hold steady and strong all the time. and sometimes it leads to a full meltdown where i cry myself to sleep. because in this life, on this side of survivorship, i am so fearful of never finding myself. of never being able to love myself or be loved by anyone else. i am so fearful that this new version of myself will be so different from the original that no one will want to love it. and i did not put my blood, sweat and tears into survival mode just to make it here to this side and of it all and be unlovable. and i am not over here suggesting that anyone has done anything to make me feel otherwise. no, that’s not it at all. it’s me. the trauma and the pain of the last two years combined with the setbacks and the emotions and the stress. it’s created this sea of clouds. blocking my view from the tower i have become.
but perhaps it’s time to demolish said tower. break it apart brick by brick. because if i stop standing so rigid and tall in these clouds that are dampening my spirit and darkening my healing; maybe i can see what’s really here. maybe i can see healing for what it really is. maybe i can see what is already so wonderful about this person that i am. a survivor. a person who was strong when it was all that could be done.
maybe it’s time to loosen the cement and tumble the bricks. i can still be strong; even if i am not towering over all the time. i can be a tower any day i choose. but today, i am choosing to find my next move.