How I Became a Better Person: An Interview, Part Three
Skyler spent a year and six months in an inpatient facility recovering from her gunshot wound and getting clean from her addictions. In that time, she lost contact with her old friends and was put into therapy. She smiles at me as she tells me how little it resembled 28 Days with Sandra Bullock. She says she had no freedom whatsoever and didn't even get to go outside until a month before she was released.
"Movies are a crock fro reality," she laughs. I shake my head, knowing how different reality usually is from the romanticized Hollywood view.
"Recovery was hard. The gun shot really screwed with things. I couldn't ever seem to catch my breath. Some of that was anxiety but there was a lot of damage to the area. I managed to miss my lungs and heart. The muscles were shredded though. I pretty much couldn't move my arms or even my head without feeling pain shooting out everywhere. All I wanted to do was be helpless in my bed."
But, she says, it wasn't how it worked. She was made to get out of bed at seven in the morning and go to breakfast. She got help sponge bathing while she had stitches but that didn't last as she started to heal. She was forced to participate in group therapy and in private therapy. She had to keep a journal and talk about her feelings. She had to do these things or else she lost what little freedom she had - TV time.
Skyler shrugs as she tells me about how she felt at that time. "It's really hard to explain. It's so far from where I am now. I wasn't suicidal after I got out of the hospital. I knew I wanted to be better. I hated how much pain I was causing my mother and father. I wanted to change that, wanted them to be happy again. I still felt like everything was caving in. I still felt sort of empty. Like all of the desire left me. But it wasn't really empty. Lost, maybe?" I nod. That sounds like the right word.
"I had to talk a lot about doing drugs. That was hard because I still felt like I wanted to do them. But when I thought about it, really thought about it, I realized that I didn't really miss the molly or the beer. I didn't really miss my friends either. Is that weird? I mean, they were my friends. We did stuff. We hung out. I wrote them letters a few times when I was in the center. I never sent them though. As I got healthier, I realized I didn't really have anything in common with them besides the partying. It's not that they were bad people. But I needed to be better."
Forgiving The Secret
As Skyler detoxed from the alcohol and drugs, she felt more open to emotions. It took almost the entire six months for her to tell her therapist about the baby she had lost. She tells me that was a rough week. Her therapist had to prescribe anti-anxiety and sleeping pills for her that week. Skyler's heart bled and her world was filled with oceans of her pain.
She pauses her story for a moment. I have to lean in to hear her words. "It was the first time that I told someone about my miscarriage and how I buried my baby in a field near my house one night. It was such a tiny little thing. There wasn't any way it would have lived even if I had gone to a hospital when I started bleeding. Its little hands could have fit on a quarter, they were so small. After I got out of the center, we contacted the police about what I'd done and we were able to properly bury the blankets I'd wrapped the baby in. The baby had decomposed down to these tiny little bones. There wasn't much left to bury but the blankets. My parents paid for the headstone. It doesn't have a name. I didn't get in trouble with the police because of the circumstances. They said it was better that I told them now so that if the grave I'd dug were discovered in the future, it wouldn't start a whole investigation. Then I would have been responsible. It was nice of them to understand."
Emotions Are Okay
While in the center, Skyler talked to her therapist about how she hated herself. In group sessions, she was praised for being honest about not knowing why she felt the way she did. She was given medications to help her stop feeling empty. The thing that really changed her though was the day her therapist shared her own story with Skyler. Her therapist was a suicidal child who had slit her own wrists and was found near death one day. She had been put into a mental health facility once she recovered. It hadn't really helped but once she got out she saw a therapist who changed her life. Her therapist made her realize that she was responsible for her own happiness. This is the lesson Skyler learned too.
Slowly, some of the things the therapist said to Skyler started to make sense. Maybe losing her brother made Skyler feel her own mortality. At such a young age, maybe she didn't know how to handle it and lashed out. Her sadness manifested as anger at the world and that led her to the drugs and alcohol. Those, of course, didn't help but further depressed her emotions. Skyler was in a whirlpool of cause and effect. Eventually she was just sucked down into the center and began to drown. That was what led her to the park with the gun.
Skyler learned how to better identify her emotions and how to talk about them. She learned it was okay to say "I'm feeling upset" or "I'm feeling good today". When she was upset, or angry, or hurt, she learned to talk with her parents and those who she had group therapy with. She figured out that it was okay to feel these emotions without them being wrong and without having to act on them. Eventually, Skyler learned how to take pleasure in things. She began to draw and became good at it. She learned how to enjoy watching birds that fluttered about outside of the window at the bird bath and feeder set in the courtyard. She soon started naming and drawing her favorites.
As it neared eighteen months of recovering in the center, Skyler discovered she was starting to have dreams like she did as a kid. She remembered the games she played with her brother and how they talked about the things they'd grow up to be. Her therapist had her making lists at this point. A bucket list of things she wanted to do in life, a list of things she liked about herself, a list of things she wishes she could change about herself, a list of things she needed to forgive herself for. It was the second list that made the most impact on her. What did she like about herself?
Skyler stops again and pulls a folder from the bag she brought with her. She passes a stapled stack to me. I look down.
Things I Like About Myself - March 2010
The page is blank. So are the next three for April, May, and June of that year. Then, the fourth page, July 2010, has one entry - It's not my fault. I read through the pages, which go from one a month until December and then more frequently until there is one every day from December 2010 to yesterday. The lists start out with one or two entries and by the time I read the list Skyler wrote yesterday, there are over a hundred items on the list. Some are deep in meaning. Others are small daily joys.
- It's not my fault.
- I'm alive.
- My brother.
- My mother and father.
- My art.
- The birds I draw.
- I enjoyed the sun today.
- My smile.
- I can cook now.
I smile at the simplicity of some of her items. As the list goes on, I can tell that she doesn't struggle to find things she likes about herself. Her handwriting indicates that she didn't have to hesitate to fill in a number. I look up at her and know that each item on each list is a true joy she has found in herself. We smile at each other as I hand her back her lists.
"I make one every day. I make one every day for things I wish I could change too. That one is harder. I've changed so much and I don't hate myself anymore. I still have lists of what I need to forgive myself for. But those lists are getting shorter too. My bucket list, however, seems to keep the same number of items. I do one thing only to add one or two more. I'll have to live to be a thousand to do it all," she laughs.
So what changed exactly I wonder? What was that one thing that just switched it all for the better? Skyler doesn't really have an answer at first. Then she flashes that grin of hers again and says, "I've got the answer."
© 2017 Anne Ryefield