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Never the Same
Without My Mother
Becoming Me
Joyce Wakefield

The hum of the airplane did not drown out the sound of my little brother crying in the bassinet. My mother was across the aisle, a big lump under the green army blanket and did not move, even when Jim's cries overcame the airplane noise. I fumbled with my seatbelt and leaned over him. The pacifier quieted him and I tucked the blanket around his little legs. The stewardess watching called the other lady over to us.

"Isn't that cute? She's taking care of her brother."

An electric tingle went through me. I was three years old and not yet able to put into words the feeling that I had found the way to being loved - caring for someone else! My childhood years were more of the same - cooking, cleaning, and caring for the babies - always the babies. When I was twelve, the neighbors next door assumed I was the mother and my mother was the grandmother. When she went to the hospital to have my last brother, Jerry, they discovered the truth! In every way but one, I was the caretaker of the family. My worth came from this role - from feeding, cleaning, and disciplining my brothers and sisters. It was my mother's role to sleep with Dad and have the babies. My sense of worth and self took a powerful beating when first one brother, then a sister, then another brother, died. In my young mind, I thought that if I'd been better, loved them more, they would not have been dead. The guilt and shame were buried for many years. In counseling, I learned the truth. I lived a childhood of emotional incest and, as a result of the deaths and near deaths of my siblings, I had a condition called Post Traumatic Shock Syndrome. PTSD.

Torro I'd heard of that in connection with my friends who'd been to Viet Nam, but not from an ordinary girl from Oklahoma! But, I learned that the wars of humanity often do not have a foreign country for a setting. Sometimes, they happen in a single family where death and desperation come so often and so severe that there is not time for recovery. Just a bit for covering up, for burying the dead, but never the time or the knowledge for healing. Such a simple word with such simple steps. Heal. In my childhood, it was get over it, go on, put it behind you, and the awful - don't talk about it ever again. I didn't talk about it through two marriages, the death of another brother, losing my father, and finally, the cruelest blow of all, the loss of a child that was only weeks away from full term.

My solution, my survival became alcohol. For eight years, I lived in a world that was numb and icy cold to my soul. I raised my sons through these years with a minimal involvement, loving them too much to get too close. After all, most everyone I loved was gone. I could not bear the thought that they would be taken and I could not let go of that fear either.

Five and a half years ago, I hit a bottom that involved all the areas of my life - emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental. It was the beginning of a journey to me. I had to look into my heart and my soul and come to terms with all that I found there. To love the me I was - right at that moment - exactly as I was -- became the doorway to a path that has led me into life. For most of my life, I lived as though I would be better "when". Life would be okay as soon as this happened or I obtained this thing, that person. It was this focus on the events and peoples outside that kept me in darkness for so very long.

The most valuable lesson I have ever learned is that I alone am responsible for my life no matter what is going on around me. No matter what! I always have a choice. It may not be a choice I particularly like, but the choice is always there! The first step for me is to surrender into the give it a name and let it be. I alone can do little with things, so I need to ask for help. That's hard! It means I have to trust you. I have to let you know me. I have to be willing to look inside and consider that if a certain thing in my life isn't working, what am I willing to do to change it? Sometimes, the comfort of the familiar is a powerful stop to progress! Change, even when it is for the better, is scary. What now? How will I feel? Where will I be?

When the pain is great enough, I change. I become willing to risk the familiar for the unknown. I've heard it said that fear and faith cannot live in the same house. Poppycock! Faith for me is being willing to try something new even when the fear is choking me. To pry the claws of the beast off my throat and step out into the unknown believing the answer will be there is faith. Every time I am able to do this, a bit more of the old patterns of destruction and fear are forever neutralized. A bit more of me is born. I have gone from working at a convenience store to working for an eye surgeon; from scribbling unintelligible words in a drunken rage to publishing a small book of my poems; from being totally isolated from others to having friends I cherish and that love and support me. I am able to say yes when I mean yes and no when I mean no. I can celebrate your victories and honor my own. It is a journey that has had many side paths and potholes, all of them teaching me, prodding me to seek and to reach, to laugh and to cry.

I know now the past was a part of the future, but a needed part. Never something to hide or be ashamed of, but to use to further the vision of me born one untimely morning. That morning the Creator stretched out and looked into my soul's face and said, "Ah, Joyce! Good to see you. Now go and be you!"

Artwork "Torro" by Claire Posthumus
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