I had a doctor's appointment last week. It wasn't for any medical issue. I was just setting up "care" under a doctor out here so that if I do get sick, I can get in to see someone. We did the usual "intake" interview where I list past issues (not many) and current concerns (also not many). But as I left I realized that it was the first time in the last 4 1/2 years that during a "care" conversation I didn't share anything about what my family has experienced in these last few years. And I will admit, it felt ... different.
I found myself thinking about some of the conversations I've had with the male people in my life lately who have shown me with great pride the physical scars they carry, some from surgeries, some from injuries, some from great adventures, ALL of them marks of having endured, having survived, having gone through something and come out the other side. My son, but others I know as well, wear their physical scars like medals. Those scars show the person to have really lived, to have really suffered life in some way, and to have sustained some kind of hardship intact. The scar is a sign of strength as well as a sign of being a person who has met life head on, participated in it, and become better because of it. At some level those scars have become, not just part of their history, but part of their identity. "Sam" is the person who survived that injury. "George" is the person who experienced this physical trauma. Both are the persons of strength (again) and character, who made it through.
I realized that at some level, I have carried my scars, my emotional traumas and experiences in the same way. I am the person who lived through hell. I am the person who carried my family while going through my own personal nightmare. I am the person who continued to pastor a church and work a job and a half and raise my kids as a solo mom while enduring the unthinkable in terms of public scandal, shame, shock, disappointment, judgment, rejection, loss and trauma. I've worn these scars tentatively because I am all too aware that, first of all, everyone experiences hardships of one kind or another, and second, what I've gone through is still nothing compared to what some survive - war, hunger, chronic pain, torture, assault, etc. I've worn my scars tentatively, but I have worn them. They, too, have marked me in a way that I've not only worn, but which have helped define me over these last few years.
To have left that doctor interview without sharing these stories marked a change for me. And as I walked away, I realized that this was momentous in many ways. To not only have declined to tell my story, but frankly, to not even have thought about it until I was leaving marked a significant change. It put that story squarely in the past, no longer as something that defines me now, no longer as a part of my current experience. Are there still scars? No doubt. But they are smaller now, and they have moved to less obvious places. They no longer take up a large part of my exposed visage, of my front, of my being. I am much more than my past, and even than my experiences, both then and now. The kids and I have survived, but more than that, we've chosen to live as people who are today free from the restraints of a past that might have defined us a few years ago.
It no longer does.
And for that I am grateful.