Have you ever felt like your life was tied in an emotional knot? That if you had to unravel it, you wouldn’t know where to begin? Every strand is interwoven so intricately that pulling one part to loosen it only tightens it in another.
I’ve spent the last year untangling a life sized knot that has been holding me back in the present. In its intricate threads are anger, resentment, and guilt that have been tightly wound way down to its center since I was in my early teens. I was pretending to be fine all along with a giggle and a smile. Partying in my teens and 20’s lead to self medicating with alcohol in my 30’s. Yet, I raised children, provided for my family while my husband was dealing with health issues, and from the outside appeared normal. I was still smiling.
In the midst of pushing away my old issues, I was dealing with new ones. My husband suffered a back injury which lead to two surgeries, and left him with a debilitating condition that ultimately caused him to lose his job. With the loss of his job came the loss of our house, bankruptcy, and several moves. We were stressed, depressed and feeling pretty out of control. At that time, I wasn’t even trying to untie the knot. It was firmly in place and as long as I didn’t have to look at it, it didn’t bother me that much.
When not facing the knot I was able to improve things on the surface. I secured a good job and worked my way up to a higher paying position. We were able to buy another house and, with support from our family, we got back on our feet. In spite of this, there was still a seething pain underneath. A clenching tightness. My past was catching up to me. The knot was woven so tight, I couldn’t ignore it anymore. It was at that point that I turned my attention to it and started to pull at the many strands.
As expected, it was not easy. It required taking a really good look at myself. I didn’t like what I saw. I didn’t recognize her. In fact, I began to wonder if I had ever really known her. She was wound in the knot to the point of suffocation. I had to unravel it if I was going to bring her back to life.
At the center of the knot were issues in my past surrounding my father’s mental illness and eventual death when I was in my teens. I learned of my father’s battle with manic depression, or bipolar disorder, when I was 12 or 13. I was confused by the changes in his personality, because he was always jovial and fun to be around. He was a joker who loved to make people laugh. He was always laughing himself. He had a big heart. He was the kind of man who even as he struggled to keep his business afloat, would help someone else get on their feet again. He practiced random acts of kindness by going out of his way to buy lunch for homeless people when he came across them. He played the saxophone to old records. He sang silly songs with me and made up games we’d play together. I was his only child and he doted on me. So, when I found myself forcing him into a vehicle while my mom was trying to drive him to the hospital, it was disorienting and scary. He wasn’t acting like himself, he didn’t even look like himself. This was the first time I had witnessed him being out of control.
In the years leading up to his death, it was a constant stream of ups and downs for him. He had outbursts of emotion in public places. He paced the hallway of our house at night with insomnia. At times he was completely unresponsive. Instead of having compassion for what he was going through, I was embarrassed and treated him with disrespect. To save face, I went about my life at school acting as if nothing was wrong at home. I spent a lot of time with friends. If I didn’t have to be at home, I didn’t have to face the problems there. I acted out with my black clothes and purple hair. I stole his cigarettes and snuck out at night to meet up with friends and get drunk or high. All typical teen behavior, except I know it affected him. It hurt him to see me like that, and I didn’t care. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was doing to him exactly what I felt he was doing to me. Becoming unrecognizable.
He died suddenly of a heart attack when I was 17. I had managed to have one promising conversation with him prior to this, but in his passing, I was left with guilt that was too painful to fully look at. The first layer of the knot was in place.
From that point on the knot continued to grow. I was convinced I would be fine and rejected the idea of counseling. I managed to graduate from college, get married and have a family. I piled on the responsibility as fast as I could, doing all of those heavy life changing things in quick succession. I was too busy to recognize the pain. When I had free time, my husband and I would go out with friends and drink. It was the perfect way to ignore the growing knot. By the time we were going through the financial struggles in my 30’s, the knot was dragging heavily behind me slowing my pace to sluggish limp.
I found myself staring into an abyss. I no longer knew where my life was heading. Nothing was satisfying, not even being with my children, which always kept me going even through the hardest times. The good paying job was unsatisfying and stressful. I had no clear career path. Writing had always been a way for me to release stress, but I had no energy to focus on it. Anxiety crept in and I felt like I was losing my grip on reality. I managed to go through the motions of work and caring for my children, but I was a shell. I imagined I might have an inkling of what my dad had felt through his battles with depression.
We had made it through all that struggle, and we were in a good place financially. It was as if that new found stability gave me the foundation to allow myself to fall apart, even just a little. It was in letting myself feel that instability that the knot started to loosen.
I got myself into counseling and brought the knot along with me. It was time to dissect the knot. The strand that was tightest had to do with the guilt and self loathing I felt from the way I treated my father. I had to forgive myself. From there I needed to accept myself and the choices I had made which brought me to this point. The choices were not all bad, and finding gratitude in the best parts of my life was a healing process. Some of those strands were releasing and dissolving through that gratitude and acceptance.
The knot is still there. It still tightens from time to time in those areas that involve self love and taking responsibility for my emotions and how I express them. It is my intention to unravel the knot as best as I can. To keep working at those strands and feeling the release as they dissolve. It is my hope that in doing that, that I find the lost version of myself who is locked in the middle. I want to release her and allow her to reach her full potential. To be the model for my children to do the same. That they may not create their own knots by looking up to mine.