I am hosting an end-of-winter series featuring stories from the trenches of pain. My hope is that in sharing these breaking points, we will feel less alone. Thank you all for your bravery. You are helping the world to heal. To participate and for more info go here.
Submitted by: Elin Stebbins Waldal
What started it was the picture I drew of myself. I decided to draw a
self-portrait, after I literally stared at my reflection for almost thirty
I pulled the mirror off the wall and put it down on the ground and without
really examining myself I just started to draw. It’s when I finished that I was
startled enough to stop, put the paper to the side, and stare.
I hardly recognized myself.
Last fall I checked out one of the cameras from school to try taking
pictures. The one thing I noticed back then was looking through a lens is
really different from just looking. The lens is so small that it forces the one
eye to choose what it sees. Then, with precision, the hand needs to focus the
lens so that the camera actually snaps what you want it to. This is what it was
like for me today looking in the mirror. While I was drawing I was just part of
the reflection but once I put my pencil down and looked at the drawing, then
the captured image all came into focus.
The girl I drew…I don’t know her. She is worn like leather, joyless, spent,
ancient. I forced myself to look at the mirror. The thing of it is…it’s not as
if I am frowning and angry. What is scary is I look vacant, gone, dead.
And that’s when it crept into me…he really can’t kill me…well, he could, but
that’s not what I mean. What I mean is, he actually already has, because he’s
killed my spirit. This is what it means to be alone, really alone…because there
is not a living soul who I can tell.
I hardly tell myself. He must feel me slipping because he has asked me a
million and one times if I really understand he won’t live without me.
Now that I know I am dead, how can I care about his life? After all, he is
the creator of what I see staring vacantly back at me.
I had to stop. I found a small blanket in the hall closet and covered the
mirror. Then I had to leave my room. I was trembling. I walked to the kitchen
and grabbed a snack, then I mechanically went into the living room and sat down
by the huge window that looks down the Mianus River. I drank in the view…all
the deciduous trees are bare naked. And that’s when it hit me with full force.
All those beautiful trees, they shed everything that makes them gorgeous and
they endure the long harsh New England winter and then just when people almost
give up hope, they sprout their tiny little buds. A month or so later they have
leaves; some have flowers too.
I am 19 and I am the tree. I am almost unrecognizable, yet underneath the
twigs and sticks and bark there is a strength. I can feel this strength. I
don’t want to be dead among the living. That tree would no sooner refuse to
sprout then fall over if I pushed it. Maybe….at the core….maybe I am still
So I got up and went back to my room, pulled away the blanket, and sat back
down and again gazed into the mirror. My eyes are green…somewhere in the pool
of black squarely centered in all that green is a path back to me. If I stare
at it long enough maybe just maybe I can see deep inside and find my core, my
strength, my light, my spirit. It’s winter but sure as day will turn to night,
spring will come.
“I am alive….I am alive…I am me and I am alive.”
“New questions skip through my bloodstream like a pebble on still water. Do we really “get over” wrongs that have been done to us? How do we know we are healed? The diameter of the rings created by the stone grows wider in my blood lake. I can almost see the ripple beneath my skin. Maybe “healed” isn’t the objective. What if it is “healing”—as in ongoing, like the ocean in a constant ebb and flow? The rolling of the waves begins to settle over me, giving way to a more lucid view of the past that has shaped me. It is as if introspection serves as a ceremonial ablution and through that ritual the choke hold of shame is rinsed clean and makes room for me to see that I am not a victim. I am a survivor but there is more. I need to thrive, share, prevent. I can no longer stay quiet in this world. I have a voice and I feel it reverberate off my internal walls, making its slow climb upward until its melody can be heard all around.”