Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Feelings are the language of the heart so allow yourself to feel.

Do you allow yourself to feel? It was a language I spoke freely in my youth. It is one I haven’t used often for the last three decades. During these 30 years I feel as if I have been running on a path littered with chaos, trying to balance the always present needs of my family and work and my own needs. My family consists of three children, two of whom are girls and one boy. The boy, who is a twin has the diagnoses of Down syndrome, mood disorder, type 1 diabetes, autism, the girls have labels including attention deficit disorder, life-threatening allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, and pain issues. My husband, who passed away last year, was a good man and an alcoholic.

Allowing myself to really, deeply feel what I was feeling felt frivolous at times, like a luxury I couldn’t afford. At other times it felt scary. If I felt my authentic emotions, I believe I would have wanted to run away. Not feeling everything kept me comfortable, hidden in the heavy cloak of chaos. Running a race of familiarity that felt never ending. If I allowed myself to accept my emotions every time Katy was in the emergency room, or every time Alex got violent and we had to restrain him as he tried to bite or head butt Katy, Alli, Fred or me, whoever was around at the time, as we waited for the ‘switch’ is his head to be turned allowing “happy boy” to return, I would have been exhausted. The girls and I would hold a space of love during those intense times while Fred would call for the police to come. We couldn’t feel the physical pain if we had been hurt while it was happening, there was too much adrenalin coursing through us. The pain would come when things calmed down.

When the police arrived, they would ask if we were hurt. I would always refuse care, except one time when Alex had punched me in the face, they made me go to the hospital to be checked out. I was fine. There were two times when Alex was taken to the emergency room because he was just not able to get himself under control and bring back “happy boy.”

These behaviors taught me to not value material things too much. He had a way of destroying the things that had meant the most to me, like an antique water pitcher and bowl, a necklace, pictures, and plants. I learned to keep the material things that I still loved out of certain parts of the house.

After these outbursts, Alex would say he was a monster. That was heartbreaking. Fred used to say that it hurt his heart. It was so hard to accept if Alex had hurt his sisters in the process. It didn’t seem fair to have them get hurt.

One time Alex had a behavior at the high school where he played unified basketball after a game. The police were called. One of the responding officers was about 6’5” tall who weighed well over 200 pounds. Alex pushed him. The police officer was shocked that the push had actually moved him! Another time Alex, a friend of mine, and I went to the movie theater. As we were leaving the theater, Alex asked a young girl to marry him. She ignored him which sent him into a rage. The police were called. Alex was not calming down. He kept asking people passing by to help him beat up the cops. This was one of the times he had to be taken to the emergency room where it still took him a few hours and medicine to calm him down.

I wonder what effect this had on my daughters. I have asked them this question. They say there were some good things it did, they can both handle any emergency situation they run into. They say otherwise they are okay. I feel I am okay too. It taught me lessons like how to love someone when it is not easy. To let go of expectations as much as possible and let the moment flow. There were times when anytime Alex would move, we all feared a behavior coming on. I have learned to not live in that fear, to let it go.

These behaviors happened at least once a month from about age 10 until 22, and then reduced each year until now maybe they occur once or twice a year. We have gotten smarter about avoiding triggering situations, like going to movies when there are not many people in the theater. Fred had the helpful idea of creating business cards with a picture of roses and Alex’s contact information on them. When Alex sees a pretty girl, he can give her the card. This lets Alex stay in control of the situation by giving it to them, and then he will leave, (most of the time).

Katy started having life-threatening allergic reactions her freshmen year of high school. They were triggered by fish, (any type including shrimp and lobster), and marijuana. A reaction would be triggered even if she just smelled the allergen that would usually be severe enough to send her to the emergency room. I felt fear, fear for her health, fear for how it would affect her mentally and physically, and how we would pay for it. I saw how courageous she became. She didn’t let it stop her, even though she described her anxiety like thinking everyone around her might have a loaded gun that they might take out and shoot her with at any time.

The scariest reaction happened when she was a freshman in college and ingested fish that had cross contaminated some chicken she ate. She knew she was having a problem, so she began to walk to the campus clinic. Her friend, Amanda, saw her struggling and helped her get to the clinic. As soon as she got through the door of the clinic, they took one look at her and called the ambulance to take her to the hospital. Amanda called me and I drove up to Greeley from Denver as fast as possible, it is about an hour and a half drive.

The swelling in Katy’s throat was not going down so they intubated her, which is when they put a breathing tube down her throat allowing her to breathe. This lasted for three days. It was one of the scariest things I have been through. On the third night, I got on my knees and surrendered it to God praying to save her or that whatever was in her highest good would happen. A few hours later she was finally able to breathe on her own. I was so relieved and grateful!

The fear of the financial side of these reactions was also scary, although I knew we would all live through how much it would cost. Ambulance rides are at least $3000, emergency room visits ranged from $5-10,000. With insurance our out-of-pocket costs were $10 – 15,000 per year for three years, until we found a service dog, Justice, who would smell the allergens and keep Katy away from them. After she got her dog her emergency room visits went down to one or two a year instead of monthly. It also really helped Katy with the anxiety I mentioned before.

Alli had her own issues. When she was 12, she had to start watching the twins after school until I got home. This was not easy for her, and at that point we couldn’t afford to pay her. When she was 18 she began dating a man, we will call him Eduardo. About a year into their relationship, she moved in with him and stayed there for nine years. It was not a healthy relationship. During that time, she became  bulimic, and a cutter. I was unaware of either of these behaviors until years later when she moved back home. I felt such guilt that I had not seen how much she was struggling. She stopped the bulimia and the cutting when she found the Wiccan religion. One of their main beliefs is to harm none, and she realized that meant she should not harm herself either.

Then there was Fred. I remember the day he told me he was an alcoholic; he was about 42 years old at the time. My first thought was I would have to divorce him if he didn’t get help. I didn’t think anyone stayed married to an alcoholic that wasn’t in recovery. The thought of leaving him felt too scary. I didn’t feel I could parent our kids alone. I would have to make staying together work.

He did begin seeing a counselor, which he kept doing for many years. This helped some but didn’t stop the drinking. Fred wasn’t mean when he was drunk, but he wasn’t helpful either. I hated it when he drank hard liquor, it felt like it would suck out his brain and he would just act stupid. Fred would fall asleep by 7 or 8 o’clock each night. I would take care of getting the kids snack and getting them to bed.

As I write all this down, which was a great deal, but not all of what was going on in my life, I see why I stuffed my feelings as much as I did. I had to maintain some level of numbness to survive. To allow me to complete all that needed to get done each day. Does that happen to you? When there is just too much going on that you don’t allow yourself to feel?

Now, with the luxury of time, Alex’s behaviors being better, Katy’s reactions lessoning, Alli being home again away from Eduardo, Fred having passed away, and with the guidance of my best friend Rocky, my therapist, and the Al-anon group I go to, I am re-learning the language of my heart. I can feel my emotions again. I can listen to what I need and do it. Every moment of my life with Fred and my children I would do over again, just as it was. It was my entire journey, the path I have walked that has gotten me here, where I am, letting down the walls that for so long had kept me safe. I can now be ME! Beautiful, wise, strong, loving, vulnerable ME! I am now accepting that I can love myself right here, just as I am. I am grateful for my journey and all I have learned. May my story give you the courage to look at your life through loving eyes, so you can truly open your heart and allow yourself to feel again!

Sending love and blessings! Lynda Drake

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