This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!
I’ll preface this by saying that I’m honored to be joining Glennon and all the other Monkees in introducing our real selves to the world. It’s scary putting something out there that you’ve really never discussed with anyone, but maybe my story will help and inspire someone else. Just be kind, because it’s my whole heart on paper.
When I was fifteen years old, my dad got sick. All of a sudden he was feeling terrible with a sinus infection that wouldn’t go away, and he was vomiting. They admitted him to the hospital for some tests. Those days are sort of a blur, I think that my mind has blocked a lot of it out to protect me, but I do remember some things. They tested him for tuberculosis, which came back negative. Then, cat scratch fever. I remember coming home from the hospital one day after running the tests for cat scratch fever, but before we got the results. I laid in bed, scared, and knew that my dad would never make it home from the hospital. I don’t know how I knew, but I did. I cried, a lot, and thought about how my mom and I would make it. My dad was an executive, and my mom had recently went back to school. She was almost done, but I wondered how we’d do it. The next few days are really a blur, but I can still see it in my mind when we got his diagnosis. Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and there was nothing they could do. It had spread to his liver and they gave him 24 hours or so to live. I had to leave, I just couldn’t be there. I regret that now, but I was fifteen years-old and scared. I thought that by somehow knowing just how sick he was, it was my fault. My grandparents brought me to my cousin’s house, who is more a sister to me than anything else, and we cried and cried. The next morning I went back to the hospital, and one by one we went in to say goodbye. Shortly after I said all that I needed to say, my mom came out and he was gone. I’d like to believe he waited for me, in fact I always have.
I spent the next year adjusting, and being grateful and annoyed for the pity I saw in everyone’s eyes. I was horrified that life just has to go on, even when a loss is too great to bear. I was thankful that my mom was able to keep it all together, and upset that it was harder for me to do that (I know now that my mom kept it together because she had to, and it was more difficult than I’ll ever know). I felt guilty moving on with my life without my dad in it, and even more guilty that it was somehow my fault. It’s a pivotal time in any teenager’s life. I got my driver’s license and should have been thinking about where I would go to college. I had the grades and test scores to go nearly anywhere I wanted, but I didn’t want to think about any of that stuff.
I ended up going to our local college, and I spent the next ten years self-destructing. I took numerous “semesters off” and eventually quit going all together. I had no direction, no sense of self or what I wanted to do with my future. I didn’t really feel like I had a future. I didn’t want to get married or have children, because I refused to leave a husband and kids behind with a mess when I died. And I certainly wasn’t going to risk building my life around someone else to just have them die or leave me alone (selfish, I know). I remember researching a ton in the year or so after my dad died about the genetic link to cancer, and thinking that I was going to get cancer young and there was nothing I could do about it. I figured if I was going to die young, I’d make it as painless for everyone else as I could. If I didn’t let myself form any lasting relationships, and pushed the people who I was close to away it would be better for everyone. So that’s what I spent the first half of my twenties doing. I had a few friends that were a constant in my life and a job that I loved, and that was enough for me. I didn’t think to the future mostly because I didn’t think that I had one and a little because I didn’t care. I smoked, drank, wore designer clothes, and never saved a penny for my future. I was immature and even though deep down I cared what people thought of me, I didn’t do anything to change. I hated myself for the way I was living, and even if I had wanted to change, I didn’t think I was worthy of it anymore.
Then I met my husband. I don’t know how he saw through the person I was to find the real me underneath. I’ll never understand how he put up with me in those first years, but he saw the real me in hiding and knew he could coax it out. It took time, patience, and a baby for me to realize that he wasn’t going to leave me, not then and not ever. It took time and patience for me to realize that my life is what I make of it, and that my dad would not have wanted me to live my life the way I was.
So I slowly started making my way back, really searching for the person I was supposed to become. I embraced my faith and all the LOVE I could absorb and give. I went back to school when Luke was only a few months old and finished my bachelor’s. I repaired my relationships with my family, and we moved away from where it all began and started anew. When I had the twins I went back to school for my master’s and now I’m on my way to being a CPA. It’s what I always wanted deep down, even if I thought I could never do it.
The amount that I have changed over the past 8 years is hard to describe. I’ve always been the person I am today, I was just tormenting myself by believing that I didn’t deserve to live this life. Becoming a mother and wife is what I was meant to do, I fully believe that. It’s the one thing in life that I know I’m doing right. I’m not saying that I’m a perfect mom or wife, far from it, but I know I give them as much love as anyone could. And finally, after all of these years, I’m able to love myself. I eat well and exercise, and though I may still get cancer, I’m doing my best to prevent it. I plan on living a long, healthy life with my family.
Life is hard, if it was easy it wouldn’t be nearly as wonderful. Do I have regrets from those years gone by? Sure, but I also know that they made me better able to love and be loved, to appreciate what I have and work hard for what I want. I’ll be able to pass those things on to my children, and that makes it worth the shame I still feel.
Now, I’m just carrying on. Wiping butts, mediating hair-pulling fights, and teaching that kindness, love, hope, faith, and bravery are the way to live.