There are those among us who have seen things – things we wish we had not seen – and we will never be the same.
We walk around like everyone else. We go to work, buy our groceries, and wash our cars. But there is a pain that would glare as brightly as a neon sign in Vegas if we ever dared to let it out.
We have seen our children hurt – by substances, by circumstances, even by their own hand – and we have wondered how we could help, but we have tried everything and read everything, yet the answers still elude us.
Our children struggle with unseen demons that leave them lonely, confused, and afraid. Some turn to a dealer or a diet or some other form of self-destruction. They may be angry and not know why. They may be sad and not know why. They may feel unloved and not know why – no one knows why – because God only knows we have loved them from their first breath and will until our last.
Their struggles are unseen, but they are real.
You better believe they are real.
And we did not cause them.
When we met our children, their eyes were wide and trusting. Their tiny hearts beat in delicate pitter-patters under their soft, smooth skin.
They were strong and healthy, but we vowed to protect them anyway.
They were content to stay in our arms, but we promised them the world anyway.
The first few years were filled with the wild joy of watching our tiny humans take shape. There were sleepless nights, Disney movies, and temper tantrums. Birthday parties, skinned knees, and best friends.
The usual stuff.
Then there were science projects, ball games, and best friends moving away. First loves growing distant and mirrors telling lies. Tweets offering more, while reality provided less. Danger drawing them away with nightmares dressed as fairytales.
The years evaporated into memories, but they didn’t leave empty-handed.
They carried our children’s innocence away with them.
We watched our children suffer, and we wondered how that could be. Didn’t we give all we had, love all we could, and dream more than we dared? How could our children not see that love and feel those dreams? How could they throw it away, or lose their way, or finally give way, and not know how much more was in store?
We wrung our hands as we watched our children bleed or starve or cry behind closed doors; and we cried, ached, begged, and prayed.
We prayed and we ached, but they took another drink.
We cried and we begged, but they left another scar.
And still they suffered.
If only we could show them what we see in them, what we believe of them, what we want for them.
How we want for them, how we believe in them, how we would do anything to take away the pain if they would only let us, if they could only let us,
if we could only . . .
But they are their own. The breath their lungs breathe, the beats their hearts beat, the thoughts their minds think – these things belong to them and them alone. They have to live this life that we gave them. They have to live that life and no other. They have to extract the delicate goodness and withstand the draining coldness.
We know this because we have felt it ourselves.
It is impossible to feed off the breath of life and not inhale the toxins. It does something to us, this thing called living, and none of us leave here unscathed.
If you’re one of the fortunate ones who’ve never had to welcome this kind of pain into your hearts, then be thankful, and I’ll be thankful with you.
I think you might be a rare find these days.
But if you’re one of us, and you’ve had to learn how to steer a course through trial and error, fighting and surrender, defeat and victory, then you know how much pain one life can hold.
How much exquisite beauty one life can bring.
You may feel it now, resonating in your gut, all the pain no one sees as you go to work, buy your groceries, and wash your car.
But we know.
We know what it means to have tried and failed. We have learned to live with worry and doubt. We have learned – or maybe we’re still learning – how to forgive ourselves for not being better, stronger, and wiser. For not being whole, and for passing that on.
We are not normal, nor do we aspire to be. We gave up that notion years ago. We have long since realized we are so much more than that. We are not defined and restricted by the boundaries of normal. We have overcome, and we have carved out a new normal for ourselves and for our children.
We have been broken, bruised, and battered.
We have experimented with counselors and medicines and new ways of relating until our heads are spinning and we’re not sure how we got here.
We have been rebuilt, remade, and restored.
We may not have found what works, but we have definitely found what doesn’t work, and that is a goal we doubted we would reach. So give us that victory, and maybe some applause, because you really have no idea how long we’ve trained just to get this far.
We have wrestled with life, sometimes with death, and still we’ve pressed on.
We have learned to find beauty in the midst of defeat, to hold onto happiness in all of its forms. We have become athletes and warriors and superheroes. We have learned to become what our children desperately need, or harder still, to acknowledge when what they need is not us.
We are survivors of the healthy hearts,
and we would not trade our lives for yours.