12.07.2010 “…happy birthday dear McCall. Happy birthday to you.”
As the birthday song ended, I leaned over and blew out the candles teetering atop the chocolate cake. I smiled and made a wish just like a good girl should. But on this particular birthday five years ago, my wish was drastically different than previous years.
I wished to disappear. I was dying inside and just days away from entering treatment. But instead of running, I continued to expend my limited energy to make everyone believe I was okay. I couldn’t bear to hurt my family.
I come from good Cajun genes, which means any birthday (or Flag Day) calls for a reason to eat, drink and celebrate. My family was and is still a very close family, but the one thing we lacked was communication.
Remember birthdays when you were younger? You would countdown and wake up giddy. That giddiness vanished for me during my early adolescent years.
Each year I became less and less excited about my birthday. I did not remind friends and family or ask for specific presents or even birthday meals. I took whatever meal my mom suggested or whatever restaurant my friends wanted. I said thank you and waited for the day to pass.
I never wanted anyone to go out of their way for me because I did not feel worthy. But on the other hand, I also did not want to set expectations that people would remember and do something nice only to be let down. My friends and family were really fighting a losing battle when it came to me and my birthday.
So there I was 29-years old and unable to tell my family not just how I felt, but that I had no desire to celebrate. In one week I would be entering treatment. I had just quit my job and I honestly thought my life was over. I wanted it to be over. I wanted to crawl under the covers until it was time to be admitted to the Carolina House. The last thing I wanted or felt like I deserved was to be celebrated on my birthday.
But instead, I showered and got dressed like a good girl. I ate lobster, drank wine and yes, even ate cake. Chocolate doberge to be exact. For years, I said this was my favorite cake, but actually, it is not. Recovery not only uncovers who you are as a person, but your likes and dislikes as well. Turns out, I’m not as much of a sweet tooth as I once thought I was. I prefer a good bag of Zapp’s chips over a slice of cake any day.
In years past, it has been difficult to reflect back on this time of year. The memories, the pain and the painted on smiles. This year, however, brings up a completely different feeling…
After years (and a lot of therapy and tears), I have made peace with that woman who was so sick, but silenced with a fake smile. There is no animosity towards my family’s lack of communication and emotional empathy. In fact, I feel a large sense of pride in my family.
One of the most important and applicable lessons Mary, my therapist, ever told me in regards to processing the past was that I was doing the best I could back then. We were ALL doing the best we could.
Yes, my family sucked at communicating. And yes, I have felt (and processed) quite a bit of anger in grieving my past and the ‘what could have beens’ in my life. But it all circles back to this:
I was doing the best I could. They were doing the best they could.
We often reflect on our past and criticize decisions and mistakes we’ve made. Sometimes we even hold grudges at others for the negative roles they played in our lives. While honoring and processing through our anger and grief is an important part of one’s journey to health and peace, we must also forgive ourselves and others. Reframing the past and knowing that we were all doing the best we could, helps bring peace and healing to our lives.
I genuinely believe and know that my family didn’t know any better and I certainly did not have the words to tell them. We were all doing the best we could with the limited tools we had.
But here’s where my massive pride comes in: my family has not been afraid to step up to the plate and acknowledge the scars of the past. We all did (and are doing) the really tough work, individually and together, to strengthen not just our communication skills, but our family bond as well.
So tomorrow on my birthday, I am not afraid to say, “Yep. It’s my birthday. I want to go out (sans children) and celebrate.” Technically, my hubby is taking me out tonight so I get to celebrate two days. And why not?! I deserve it!
We all get one day a year and we all deserve to celebrate it – even me. This year, the last thing I wish for is to disappear. I am so grateful to my family and friends who celebrated me all those years even when I wished otherwise.
My birthday wish five years ago did not come true and thank goodness it did not. What a fantastic life I would be missing out on. Today, I am fully present in my messy, imperfect life and I can’t imagine not being here.
I guess there’s nothing left to say, except happy birthday to me! Cheers!
(Special thank you to the extraordinarily talented Jeannie Frey Rhodes for the amazing photos of my babies – all my babies.)