When I write, it’s mainly in the moment of the feelings I am experiencing. You see, I have lived most of my life in prison. Sometimes the prison was self-inflicted, other times it was outside of my control. Over the past ten years, by the grace of God, I have had more freedom than I’ve ever had in my entire life. But in 2010, I once again found myself in the black abyss of prison, the dark prison of grief.
For those of us who have known prison virtually our whole life, you can’t use all the nice, beautiful tools people offer to heal heartache. I would have loved to, if I could have. I believe that many of us with deep heartache would free ourselves with a key if we could.
I tried all sorts of things I learned over the years to lessen the blow of my young mothers drug overdose. I read many books, prayed, and begged. I walked, exercised, spoke to ministers, and anyone else that would listen. If it was suggested, I did it: take this, don’t take that, do this, don’t do that. When you’re in desperation, you’re just about willing to do anything.
The sad part is that when it doesn’t work, you become hopeless. And if you’re already hopeless to begin with, then you become done. Just done. You shut down, and find yourself contemplating dark thoughts such as suicide. Your mind closes down from all hope. You find yourself thinking, why? What’s the use anyway?
This writing isn’t about the one key that will take you away from all your pain. Rather, it’s about the truth. The truth is this: Grief and heartbreak are messy, overwhelming. There are no short cuts, and definitely no quick fixes. I wish there was. But I will say to you, my grieving friend, that there are many keys.
The key necklace my daughter gave me was cheap. I wore it during that one trip several months ago. Since then, as cheap metal does, it began to discolor. Some areas looked rusted, while other areas remained shiny.
The next time I packed for a speaking engagement, I really looked at the necklace. It looked old and used. My ego wanted to leave it behind and go buy a new, pretty necklace. But by leaving it, I was ignoring my true self, who I am, and what my journey had been. I had to stay true to myself. I had to pack the cheap, discolored necklace.
I wore that key necklace during the entire speaking engagement, all weekend long. I remember I would hold them, and count them at times when I was nervous or scared. I didn’t fully understand my connection to that key necklace until recently, when I came across a simple quote I had once written. "I felt like a prisoner in my own grief. Breaking free is a journey. Thank God there are many keys." Suddenly I was lost in the memory of when I wrote that quote, and the emotions flowing through me at the time once again bubbled to the surface.
Since my mom’s passing four years ago, I had tried pretty much anything and everything. Some things worked and others, well let’s just say I can’t believe some of the things people will suggest.
I have experienced a good day, a real belly laugh, and I have hope. Was I done grieving my mother? No. Was there more pain coming? Of course. But when you live in the prison of heartbreak, the good days feel like miracles.
Looking back, I realize that I just needed to try to seek out keys, understanding that some will work and some won’t. What may work for me may not work for you. That is perfectly okay. I also learned that the actions we take today may not immediately alleviate the pain from my old, destroyed foundation. Rather, my actions are now part of a new foundation I’m building for my future.
I now collect keys, keys that represent who and what I am, and the unique journey I have been on. Many of my keys appear rusted and old, with lots of wear and tear on them. But I honor myself when I wear those keys. I also honor those who gifted me with those keys: my friends, my family, grievers, mentors, teachers, and nameless ministering souls who I have never even met. My keys came from many.
My keys continue to change. Sometimes I lose them and need others to help me find them. The keys stand for many things, including hope, pain, searching, forgiveness, love, honesty, humility, being human, remembering where I came from , self-esteem, not living for approval from others. Most of all, they represent my understanding that sometimes the keys don’t always work.
I can’t force pain to feel better. If we could, we would. But those keys are my reminder that one day the doors will open, and no matter what the key looks like, it just may be the one that sets me free.
All my love,