You are not your suffering

When I was 14 years old, and a freshman in high school, my favorite uncle was murdered. He wasn’t just my favorite uncle because he hid chips in my birthday cake or snuck into the backyard at my Halloween party to pound on the windows and scare us half to death (he didn’t earn his nickname “Uncle Rotten” for nothing). He was my favorite uncle because, at the time, my father was divorcing my step-mother in a very ugly end to their marriage and had just started to spiral into a deep depression that would, in just a few years, leave him almost completely debilitated and confined to his bed. My uncle filled that space for me. He wasn’t just like a father. He was a father. He was there to make me laugh and distract me from what was going on at home. He looked out for me and watched over me. He reminded me not to take life too seriously. His presence in my life meant the world.
He was also really, really cool. He bought and sold cars for a living–really cool old cars– drove a Harley and wore leather jackets (this was the early 90s, it was hip back then). The man who murdered him owed him a lot of money and didn’t want to pay it back. So he invited my uncle to his home, shot him a bunch of times in the basement, rolled him in a carpet and left him there. For two agonizing days, all we knew was that we couldn’t find him.
When I think back to that time, the memory I have is of me sitting on the floor of my bedroom, listening to music on my boom box (again, early 90s) which sat atop a short bookcase next to my bed. I remember having been told the news–that they finally found him and he had been killed–but I don’t remember crying. I just sat there for a long time. That’s pretty much how I went through the rest of my teenage years. Sitting on the floor of my life, ignoring the pain, and doing whatever it took to escape it.
……….
I pursued a career in therapy because I personally understood the depths of pain that existed in the world and I wanted to play a role–however small–in healing some of it. The death of my uncle happened during a time when I was trying to find my way and figure out who I was. It also happened in the midst of a whole bunch of other chaos and confusion so, naturally, when I lost him, I lost myself. It took many years to find myself again.
I will never pretend or act like life isn’t hard. I know it is. Sometimes life serves you up a shit sandwich. Seriously. Ages 13-18 for me were a big ol’ shit sandwich (and many of the years before that if I’m being honest). I know what it’s like to grow up in the midst of pain and brokenness. I know what it means to experience loss. And I know how difficult that makes things sometimes.
But I also know that I am not defined by my past. I am not loss or trauma or hardship. I am not my suffering. I have been shaped by those things–of course I have. They have made me into who I am today, both the good and the bad. I am more compassionate and empathic because of them but also more anxious and sensitive to loss. But even that doesn’t dictate who I am. I just have to work around those sensitivities and be conscious of when they’re triggered.
So here’s what I want you to know this Monday morning:
You are not your tragedy, your struggles, or your pain.
Don’t let those things determine who you are or what you will become. Learn from them, feel from them, but don’t let them drive your life. And if you find that they are–if you realize that you’re allowing your past to sit in the driver’s seat–seek help. If it weren’t for the time I spent in therapy, I’m not sure I would have been able to leave my past where it belonged and move forward unburdened by it (thanks, Paige). Maybe your past includes trauma and loss, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe your past is full of disappointment or unfulfilled expectations. No matter what has happened, you are not defined by it. Take time to understand its effect and then move forward. Get up off that floor. You are worth a future unencumbered by the past. You are worth living the life you were meant to live.

8 thoughts on “You are not your suffering

  1. Wow, thank you for sharing and being vulnerable! I’m sorry those things happened to you. I’m also glad to see how strong you are now and how you’ve learned from these experiences and how you help others! Hugs!

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  2. Well said and thank you for opening up;)
    As I get older I realize how much my childhood was not what I thought it was back then. It’s like I was always hiding and pretending to keep people out from knowing who I truly was.
    Keep up this amazing writing ✍🏼

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    1. Thank you, Monique!! It’s crazy how we knew each other back then, as scared little girls pretending to be brave, putting on makeup and cute clothes to cover up how self-conscious and lost we felt (or at least how I felt!). It comes with the territory, of course. Adolescence is no joke. But it was certainly complicated by all the chaos. Thanks so much for sharing. xo

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  3. Your sharing touches my heart today and I appreciate the vulnerability of your post.

    You’ll do great at this new journey, Kristine. I’m so happy to see you taking these steps to get the life you deserve to have

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  4. I appreciate your sharing your story to show those of us who experienced more chaos than stability during our childhoods the possibilities of a fresh start. I’m rooting for you in your new endeavor!

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    1. Thank you so much, Laura! I so appreciated our long conversations when you visited Tracy at our apartment in Chicago. Your support and encouragement means so much to me!

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