I felt it building in my body - the panic - I felt it welling up inside of me, till my breathing became ragged and my hands wouldn't stop shaking and I was curled up in a ball sobbing, knees pulled tight to my chest as I gasped for air.
It wasn't always like this.
I remember, if only in bits and pieces, a time when the fear wasn't paralyzing, when living wasn't quite this difficult.
But that feels like an eternity past.
"Everything hurts," I used tell her, when she would ask me what I was feeling.
I had no words for that place, couldn't articulate the inner workings of my emotional state; I only knew the aching emanating from my bones, the unbearable weight pressing on my chest, the pain that was packed so tightly into each cell in my body.
When I was fifteen and eighteen and twenty-two, I tried to starve It out of me, as though existing in a smaller frame would leave less room for the Pain to exist. When I found that my malnourished body still carried the trauma, I tried to force it out of me, overflowing the pain onto my skin, in scars and scratches, burn marks and bruises. But still, it remained.
When I lay in a cold white hospital room after an overdose, they asked me the one question that I could not answer: WHY?
It seemed innocent enough, a perfectly logical question on the surface: Why would a seemingly normal twenty-something try to end her own life?
I couldn't articulate that answer, the deep BECAUSE, the words getting stuck in my throat, unable to escape.
They say the body keeps the score, and if that's true, my body is a bullet-riddled map of all the places I have been, battlegrounds written across my skin, a geography of wars waged against myself.
I have tried to escape it / numb it / outrun / shrink it / starve it / purge it / bleed it out of me.
And here I am still, gasping for air, curled up in a ball in the hallway.
I was once told that I needed to let go of the past and move on, forgive and forget. But the Old Ghosts that haunt me are not so easily dissuaded from lingering. They do not give up their cold grip on me with trite sayings about forgiveness, they do not stop whispering / whispering in my ears because I tell myself that "today I am not looking back!"
"How do I make this go away? How do I fix it?" I ask her.
"Healing takes time, Lindsay. It doesn't happen overnight. This isn't a math problem to be solved, it's your life."
I don't like her response. I want a tangible, practical solution to make the memories and fear and panic attacks go away. I want to rid myself of the ghosts, but I don't know how.
I went through my old journals the other day and read through my writings from times past. I seemed fragile and delicate in the sickness, as thought I would shatter to pieces if one more burden was placed on my back.
"Everything hurts," I wrote.
But everything does not hurt, not anymore. The Fear is still strong and the trauma very present, but I am not breaking.
It's almost as though she was right, although difficult to admit, almost as though healing happens slowly and almost imperceptibly. But it happens.
I wondered at the girl in those pages, who felt so lost and fragmented and unsure of who she was.
And I realize I've stopped trying to rid myself of the Pain; maybe that's the difference between me and that lost girl. I am not running away anymore, but facing it head on. Maybe, somehow, as I've stared down my demons, looking straight into their soulless eyes, I have mended, just a little, realizing that they aren't quite as scary when dragged out into the light.
I am impatient when it comes to recovery and wholeness, which is apparently the antithesis of how any of this works. Apparently, healing requires time and self-compassion and feeling things you've buried away for ages. Apparently healing isn't a one-stop-shop.
But I'm learning to be okay with that - not in some cliche way where I learn to trust the process and everything is suddenly rainbows and sunshine. But where I am deeply afraid and I am choosing to feel the pain anyways, trying to face my demons even while they haunt my days.
I don't know when I'll reach the mythical "other side," or if such a place even exists. But I do know this: even on the days when I am curled up in a ball post-panick attack, even on the days when I wake up from another nightmare, even on the days when I want to crawl out of my skin - something inside of me refuses to be undone. The Old Tapes still play through my mind every day, but I can hear Me with a Capital M, pushing back now.