By Shontael Elward
A lot of shit that has happened in my life. (A. Lot.) I like to think that, even though I’m young, I’m experienced. I’ve gotten a lot of mileage. I like to think that if I prepared a CV of all the amazing successes, accomplishments, and feel good moments of my life it would be impressive. I would be impressive. But then I consider the “list of crap” — which would include neglect, abuse, drug use, divorce, grief, and some espically bad decisions — and that would be equally long. Maybe longer.
On both lists you would find things I’ve done, things done to — and for me. On both lists you would find things out of my control. But today I want to tell you a story about a revelation I once had that has turned into a guiding principle for my life.
When I was in my early 20’s (I’m 38 now), I was fervently dealing with a lot of wounds from a broken childhood. I had this vision of lying on a cold, damp, dark, cement basement floor curled in the fetal position silently weeping, and I was alone. Completely ALONE. The despair, shame, loneliness, and abandonment I felt was so big I don’t know how to do it justice here.
Why? How? No really, why had that horror been my life? Did no one see? Did no one care? Was I not worth the effort?
When I was at my lowest during that vision, the “camera” that had been on a close-up of me began to pan out to a larger picture and I saw many, many people around me. All them curled up and weeping, just as I was. All of them thinking they were alone, just as I had. It was then I realized my aloneness was an illusion. It was only my fear of looking up, of speaking up, of turning on the light. The shame of all that was done to me, and all I had done, kept me cradled on the floor unable to see those around me. I decided I would never be afraid or ashamed to share the real me — all of me — again. And while I can’t say I haven’t struggled with this challenge, it changed my life.
Fast-forward a bit.
A little over a year ago, my 16 year old son committed suicide. He hung himself in his bedroom while we were going about our regular evening rituals. My life has been something of the twilight zone since that night.
I have been a zombie. (Not quite the same as the girl crying all alone in the basement full of shame and fear, but in some ways more paralyzed.)
Slowly, very slowly, the blood is coming back to my limbs and I am beginning to stretch. Willing myself to get up and move. But then something happened yesterday; something that reminded me of all that I am now sharing with you now.
A friend, not even a “central” friend but a Facebook acquaintance, posted about the death of a teenage girl. She was asking for support, sharing her world as many of us do on social media. This girl was a friend of her children.
I asked on Facebook how the girl died. (Before I asked online, I tried to find a news story or other way of finding out — trying to be polite.) No answer. Many other people, including my friend, posted on the feed. Still no answer.
You can imagine what I was thinking. Maybe it was an overdose? Maybe she committed suicide?
Hours after I posted my question one of the teen friend’s of this girl posted a response to my question: “you don’t ask that…it is common courtesy. Like fr (for real?) you’re an adult you should know this.” I don’t know the tone of her words, and I am sorry if I caused this girl pain. Perhaps I should have been more careful, but perhaps not. Here’s my point:
We cannot sit in the dark afraid to talk about things, ashamed of what is happening within ourselves and our families! If this poor girl had cancer, or was hit by a car, or any other number of tragedies the answer to my question would have been simple. My post would not have been rude or inappropriate. Why oh why do we let the stigma of addiction, mental illness or other things keep us separated from those who love us, or services and people who can help? Why?
So I am here today, shouting at the top of my lungs: I am a hot mess. I have been a victim of awful terrible abuse and neglect. I have been an asshole and done terrible things to others and myself. In spite of the messes in my life, I am a wonderful person. I get better everyday — or at least many days. None of these things are the complete picture of who I am or my value.
I am not asking you to speak out if you are not ready or if you don’t want to. If you like to be private, be private. I am not judging anyone’s journey. I just want to tell you that I used to keep quiet. Pretending it was “all fine” because of deep shame and fear. That shame and fear made me believe lies about who I was and my place in the world. It kept me from healing. Today I say loudly, boldly and with fierceness, I am not alone.
You are not alone.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shontael Elward is a suicide survivor, mother of six, graduate student, amateur organic farmer and in desperate need of a nap. She will gladly accept gifts of chocolate or hugs.