I was watching a pretty horrible rom-com movie the other night that had one redeeming moment. It was when the female told her heartbroken friend that he was ‘broken apart like a puzzle and needed to search for the blue pieces.’
Now this seemed like pretty bad advice. Putting together a puzzle involves seeking and creating distinct subject matter piles: the farm house, the feathers, the tractor. The blue ‘filler’ pieces, like the sky and the ocean, are chosen last. (Why would you eschew the obvious for the nebulous?) Clearly the puzzle comment was a metaphor; but was she actually advising her friend to find himself by looking outside himself?
I thought of my daughter. In recovery she has found success looking outside herself for stability. She has learned that arranging and re-arranging, ruminating and re-assessing the pieces of self is not always productive. Turning her attention to something bigger, something out there – like the sky – can be the best anchor there is. It becomes an intangible you can neither wrangle with nor second guess. You can rest in its remote vastness.
She often sends me pictures of the mountains she climbs. And the rivers she runs beside. And I download these photos to my iPhone. I look at them occasionally – they have become my blue pieces. I feel this is both wrong, and right.
We spend a lot of time as mature adults concentrating on the subject matter of our lives; paying for and tidying the concrete spaces we have built. When we find time to consider the blue pieces – how often do we notice if they are truly our own?
This is when I am supposed to reference Webster’s dictionary. I can picture the bulleted item list that has been carefully compiled by doctors and psychiatrists, and craftily winnowed down by editors.
Yet words are bound to fail. PTSD creates a feeling that can not be contained by bullets or paragraphs. If forced to use words they would be: “sense of dread.”
A sense of dread accompanied by unwelcome imagery. Imagery that is not imaginary. Dread that is not unjustified.
The ring of the phone makes me ill. Physically ill.
A knock on the door? Visions of a police officer.
An envelope without a return address? Bad news.
My daughter not texting for a few days? Relapse.
Sad song on the radio? Message of doom.
Bitter snow? Frostbitten child.
Cheap motels off the highway? Sadness, loneliness, death.
My list could be longer. But it hurts to write it. If I suffer from PTSD, how badly must my daughter suffer? I have seen the results of her use, but have not lived through the experience of it.
“Conquer your fears” is written everywhere nowadays – from business journals to self help magazines. But the kind of fear they often refer to is that of financial risk. (Or a lifestyle change: try that new vegan diet! get a new partner! make a career switch!) I am talking about a different kind of fear. A primal fear. The fear of losing your stormy green eyed child to something so unpredictable, so misunderstood, so maddeningly unacceptable. I have written my daughter’s obituary in my head. I have actually looked in my closet to see if I have an acceptable black dress. These were my attempts to conquer my fear. My attempts to claim and manage the unacceptable.
Nelson Mandela says that “courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” That the “brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
I am not there yet. But my daughter is. She is putting one step in front of the other…. steady and straight. Even with those swirling thoughts that must exist in her head. If I had to provide a picture of bravery for Webster’s dictionary it would be of my stubborn green eyed child making her way across a tight rope.
And I am waiting on the other side.