Monday, September 30, 2013

I Have Been Letting Motherhood Defeat Me. No More.

I have been down in a hole with parenting lately. By "lately" I mean for years, but especially the past year. Totally on edge, constantly losing my mind over stupid shit like cupcake crumbs on the floor, blood from nosebleeds on the brand-new carpet, constant demands, whining, screaming, anything, everything, all of it. I have hardly been feeling any joy in parenthood.

My patience has taken a hike. It's off somewhere, drinking on a beach, laughing. Frustration and anger, near rage, have moved in and are consuming me, every single day. I've barely been in control of myself; I'm sliding down a slope, desperately grasping at anything to get a grip, and missing. These past months, I have hit bottom. 

It feels like shit, I feel like shit. I am not in control of myself. I am not being strong. I am not being the parent I know I am capable of being. She is lost somewhere, and as much as I've fought, begged, to get her back, she has been evading me.

I hate feeling this way about motherhood, like I'm failing at the most important job of my life. It makes me feel like I am failing my children. I read about true human depravity and what people have suffered through and I feel like a fuckface for being such a wimp over my children.

I can just imagine a Holocaust survivor standing in front of me with utter contempt on their face, telling me - accurately - that I have not even begun to understand what suffering is. 

I have been letting motherhood defeat me.

I am stronger than this.

All throughout my childhood, I had nightmares about drowning, of sinking deeper and deeper into the dark, watery abyss while I desperately looked up toward the surface. I was afraid of the ocean, of being drug out to sea, of what was underwater, and - whether in the water or on land - of the dark.

In college, to confront my fears, I obtained my Open Water Diver certification, then went for the Advanced Diver certification. The Advanced Diver cert involved completing six dives in roughly 30 hours, which is A LOT, in the brutally cold Puget Sound in Washington State. These were not easy, mellow dives; they were deep water dives, current dives, a night dive, and they all involved us having to swim from the beach out to our dive point, with pounds and pounds of gear on our backs, waists, and ankles.

Scuba diving is physically exhausting, especially with grueling back-to-back dives like that, and emotionally draining because it's dangerous. There is no room for error when you're 30 or 90 feet underwater. I was diving through thick beds of seaweed, terrified of getting caught in it and drowning before I could be saved. I was diving in ocean currents, terrified of getting ripped away in a current and carried out to the vast and scary ocean. The night dive was especially terrifying because it combined two of my biggest fears, underwater and the dark. 

Diving was a lot of mastering my fear and stretching my physical limits, and it was taking its toll on me. 

After the fourth dive, I was done. As we were gearing up for the fifth dive, I looked at my cold, wet, sand-filled wet suit and the thought of pulling it on once again, freezing and abrading my skin and getting into the cold ocean to feel more fear was too much. There was nothing left in me. My chest was tight and my throat was clogged with exhausted, utterly defeated tears that I didn't even have the energy to spill. I just wanted to get in my car and drive away. 

I sat on a rock and the instructor could see it in my face. He squatted next to me and I told him I was done. I was going home.

He said in so many words, "You've done four dives, you have only two left. You've come this far. I know you're exhausted, but if you get in your car and drive away, how are you going to feel about yourself?"

He let that sink in.

"Elizabeth, you are not a quitter. If you give up now, you're always going to regret it. And, you'll set yourself up for being a quitter because if you start giving up now when things get tough, that's what you'll always do. You need to find your inner strength. It's there."

I was 20 years old. I was learning not only about scuba diving but about who I was and what I was made of. I knew that the satisfaction of driving away and not having to do those last two dives wouldn't last for even the three hours it would take me to drive home. 

I knew I was strong, not just physically but mentally, and that I was not a quitter.

I finished the last two dives and got my Advanced Diver certification. Obtaining it is one of the hardest things I have ever done, and one of the accomplishments I am most proud of in my life because of what I went through to get it. I am especially proud of it because it was not easy to get. When I was ready to quit, when I thought I had bottomed out and had nothing left in me, I dug in and found more. 

The nightmares about drowning stopped.

I've been thinking about that weekend a lot lately.

I am being challenged again, but on a much, much larger scale. Like scuba diving, parenting is physically and emotionally exhausting. I'm once again confronting my deepest fears: My child getting sick and/or dying. That I will mess them up. That I will fail, not just myself but more importantly, them. 

There are days that I am sitting not on a rock with the ocean lapping my ankles, exhausted and emotionally spent, but in my house with children at my feet, and I want to get in my car and drive, not towards home, but away from it. 

There are days where it's all I can do to hold myself together until their bedtime. One more scream from my kids, one more whine, is as abrasive to my psyche as the sand was to my raw skin. 

Once again, I am letting weakness take a hold of me. I am not reaching inside of myself for the deep well of strength that I know I possess.

I am forgetting what I am made of.

I've been thinking a lot about that weekend because I am trying to remind myself that I can do this. I am trying to remind myself that the 20-year-old me mastered her deepest fears, mastered herself. After a moment of burying her face in her hands, she stood up and jumped in and she fucking did it.

In the week that I have been writing, rewriting, and rewriting again this post, in admitting my darkest feelings and that I am letting myself and especially my boys down, I feel myself getting stronger. Some of the frustration and anger has left me. I have been feeling more patient and more calm. I've been enjoying my kids more, instead of wishing I was anywhere but with them. In the face of some of their worse moments, I have even been unflappable. That is amazing. I didn't know I could do that.

I've finally tapped into my deep well of strength, and for once, I feel like I can do this. I know I'll have moments where I will slide back, but I hope I move forward again, instead of getting stuck in a pit of despair. I am scared to go back to where I have just come from, because I was losing my fucking mind. I hope that what I've been feeling this year was me bottoming out, and now there is nowhere to go but up.

Either that, or Nate started secretly drugging me to calm me the fuck down.

While diving, those swims against the waves to get to the dive point were brutal, and some of the actual dives were even more brutal. But in doing them, I got to drop below the surface of the water to another world and see interesting, fascinating, and beautiful things that had I not pushed myself, I never would have gotten to see.

There was reward for my hard work; beautiful, satisfying reward- just like there is in parenting. I didn't love every second of becoming an advanced diver, but once it was done, I loved that I did it.

And one day, when the boys are off on their own, I will look back and remember that I didn't love every minute or even day of parenting, but I will love that I did it. I will be proud of what I accomplished, especially because it was not easy to do.

I just need to not let myself fall apart before I get there.

I can handle these fools.

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