Strength Doesn’t Always Feel Like Strength

If there is one thing I’ve learned about strength,  it’s that you can’t always feel it.  In fact, most of the time, when things are really bad, you feel like strength couldn’t be further from your reach.  You feel like you’re drowning or suffocating or like you’re stuck at the bottom of a pit so deep that you can’t even see a pinprick of light at the surface.  But those are the moments when you learn just how strong you are.   In those moments  of darkness, in the midst of those storms that feel like they will quite literally rip you to shreds before they release you,  you learn about that of which you are truly capable.  
I have spent much of my life in therapy, and most of my therapists run together like streaky paint, but I had one who taught me more about myself in one sentence than all the rest put together.  She was very good at using simple thoughts to shake me to my core and change my view of myself and of life. Shortly after we began meeting, we had a particularly difficult session in which I educated her in very unlovely terms about my life up to that point.  As I sat with a damp ball of tissue clutched in my hand, silently trying to recover myself, she looked at me without saying a word.  After a moment, our eyes met, and she said something I will never forget.  She opened her lips and spoke one sentence:  You are a survivor.  She said it with such conviction that she made me believe it for the first time in my life.   And for the first time in my life, I began to see myself as more than a doormat, more than perpetually flawed person just struggling from one moment of life to the next and always fucking up.  I walked out of her office that day feeling as though I had accomplished something simply by making it to that point in my life.  And I had no idea at the time that my worst days, my most gut-wrenchingly painful moments, were yet to come.
I’m glad my therapist gave me those words when she did because,  shortly afterwards, things got much worse.  Her voice has echoed that sentence in my mind at my worst moments.  When I was going through a horrible divorce that I was convinced would literally kill me, I heard those words.   When I locked myself in the bathroom and curled into the fetal position on the floor, ripping at my own hair until blood ran down my face, I heard those words.  When I walked into my mother’s house where she had lain dead for three days, I heard those words.  When my children were with their father and I missed important moments of their lives and felt like the most horrible mother on the planet, I heard her words. 
What I have learned is that being a survivor does not often feel like anymore than that—surviving.   Breathing in and out when you’re praying for your heart to stop.  Putting one foot in front of the other when all you want to do is collapse.  Forcing a smile onto your face at work as you go through your day when it’s taking every bit of your self-control not to collapse in tears.  That is surviving.   That is strength.   It’s finding the will to keep going,  one moment at a time, when it takes every last bit of energy you have left.  It’s refusing to lay down and die when living hurts beyond what you think you can bear.  And it’s learning that those moments that drain you and beat you and shred you to bits are just that—moments.   They are temporary.  They will pass. 
Being strong, being a survivor, means knowing that the really awful parts, the unimaginably agonizing times, will go away, and you will walk out the other side.  It’s also taking the hand of someone else who is suffering and hurting and reminding them that they are strong too.  It’s being strong for someone else who may not have your courage.  It’s helping people who are hurting to survive their hurt, as you survived yours.


9 thoughts on “Strength Doesn’t Always Feel Like Strength

  1. And you ARE a survivor, Bobbie. You ARE a tough, intelligent, beautiful survivor. I recognize you because, although I have not suffered as you have, I have suffered too, and I have survived. I was told that I was a tough dame and that I would be OK, by a close friend, and this has turned out to be true. I am proud to know you!


  2. Oh, Bobbie. I love you so freaking much, and have loved you from the moment we met in high school, when you thought my name was Karl. I can relate, and I’m so happy that you are proving to the world what a survivor you are. I can’t wait until the next time I get to see you!


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