Sunday, February 3, 2013

Crying at Camp

This weekend I took four of the teenagers from my church to a middle school retreat. The retreat itself was good - they learned something, they made new friends and I had the opportunity to hang out with some of my fellow youth ministers. All in all, it should have been a weekend without much emotional turmoil.

Except, of course, All the Evil has a way of intruding into every last aspect of my life. STILL.

Three years ago, when I was 8 months pregnant with Gareth and waddling awkwardly around Chi Rho midwinter with my kiddos, Cliff was carrying on the affair that would shatter our lives. I haven't been back to this particular retreat since, and that is partially because I didn't want to deal with the inevitable triggers that I would encounter.

But my girls wanted to go and I needed to be there with them and I hoped that somehow, someway, I could keep it all together despite the looming anniversary. I managed to keep my demons at bay till right before dinner time on Saturday night, when they reached down deep into my chest and clenched tightly around my heart. I scurried away from the crowds, and after dodging some of the other counselors, I sat down on the cold hard ground and cried.

I haven't cried that long or that hard in months, but the juxtaposition of time, place and memory overcame the steep mental boundaries I had put around my grief. It was too much - once I had been there knowing nothing and now I was there knowing EVERYTHING. I almost hated the old me for her ignorant bliss, but mostly I cried for both of us: tears for what she was about to undergo and tears for myself and the violently upended life I was living in the midst of. The retreat center was unchanged, but I was so different. It was an affront, that placid calm could exist in tandem with the maelstrom of alteration that I was and continue to be.

Confession: I'm a bad cryer. My grief, even 15mn past the last tears, is palpably read on my face. I blotch red and the skin around my eyes puff up and the whites of my eyes become bloodshot and even my voice becomes swollen with spent misery. But I couldn't avoid all human company, and I needed to eat, so I tried to mitigate the physical evidence of my emotional collapse. It wasn't very effective, but I greatly appreciated the privacy that my fellow counselors provided to me by feigning ignorance.

Eventually I wrestled my pain back into its dark inner cave and I was able to carry on as before, to play the part of the FUN AND SILLY YOUTH MINISTER who writes on t-shirts with markers and dances without care to "Don't Stop Believing." Today has been better, less fraught with memories soaked in horror. But I am home now and pondering how to keep the introspective moments of solitude from becoming slippery slopes that lead only to mental movies that replay terrible scenes of betrayal.

Pray with me today? Pray that I can live through this anniversary and find strength - not brittleness - on the other side.

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