I walked back through the front door of Holly Oak and everything seemed different, almost hollow, quieter than it had ever been. I’d been immersed in the book for so long, I had to learn how to live again. ~ Susan Branch, Martha’s Vineyard, Isle of Dreams
I had come to near the end of Isle of Dreams, to the author emerging from a long journey of writing and working on getting her first book published. To the line, I had to learn how to live again. And my eyes were placed squarely on it.
Therein lay the unvarnished reality of much of my problems – living so much of life trying to scrub myself clean of failure, I am finding it difficult to function on my terms alone.
Like so many adult survivors of narcissistic abuse, much of my life has been built on the jagged rocks of condescension; I was raised to internalize that I was nothing and would have amounted to nothing had it not been for the intervention of others. Thus, I grew up and grew older having a keener awareness of my weaknesses and failings than of anything else. However much I learned otherwise about myself, the inner voice that always had my ear was the one that sniggered at my efforts. So, even as I walked further and further away from my old cage, one hand always remained on its door.
Even with the grace of awareness and strength to break away and start anew, one shadow has followed me all the way – that of guilt. In my life, there has always been only 2 ways to beat guilt down.
Break away from the source.
Or appease it to the point of silence.
Appeasing was the main option when guilt attacked at work. No matter how much I did, how hard I worked, I was never good enough. Not for the many suspicious people around me. Certainly not for the hidden past that was somehow always present.
And so, I just worked harder.
More than 2 decades passed in this fashion. As work pressure built up over the years, I had another load on me that no one saw – a hidden demon that goaded me to the darkest depths of professional overreach.
Then, the pandemic came. After the initial euphoria of working from home, with the heady happiness that comes from the freedom to feed my spirit with the wine of home and all its loveliness in the midst of official work, that gnarled hand returned and silkenly lured me back to the path I swore to leave. Quietly and compellingly telling me people needed me. That much more was needed to prove myself since it was WFH.
And I let myself be led by it. What ensued were two major mistakes made as a result of exhaustion from working till the wee hours.
Stumbling to bed, desperate for sleep, I suddenly realised that the need that drove me was mostly a mirage. There was genuine need – but I had not been called to every layer of its depth.
Lesson learned – but I feared, for a time only – because what many NPD parents bequeath their children is the curse of lifelong guilt that nothing will ever be enough.
I’m sorry, Lord, I whispered as I fell into exhausted sleep. Never again, Lord.
I awakened scant hours later, with a strange energy coursing through me. I knew immediately that something had happened in the night as I slept.
Someone had heard me.
Later in the morning, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque paid me a brief visit.
God has shown you His lights. You know what to do.
But a later search for the exact quote came up empty. I could find no trace of it. And yet, on and on it echoed through the hours,
You know what to do
You know what to do
You know what to do
All through that sun~scented Thursday, the robins and sunbirds sang, their lilting hymns piercingly clear. I leaned in and listened. Something had changed even here. I was hearing them differently now. Every time, it brought a smile to my heart.
And all through that Thursday,
You know what to do.
No, I don’t, I countered each time. I couldn’t understand. How could St. Margaret not know that I had no idea how to escape this shadow called guilt.
God has shown you His lights, she insisted.
What lights? I wanted to ask, but that wouldn’t have been completely honest of me. I understood some things. Last year, through a dream, God had shown me I was headed for a major burnout. I took immediate steps to break the fall. But with WFH, I figured that I was having sufficient rest and since I had been cut a huge break from unnecessary work commitments, I could afford to work a little harder in other areas.
But then came those 2 back-to-back mistakes and the searing epiphany.
God has shown you His lights
Night brought the needed clarity. After night Rosary, waiting for the house to fall silent, I reached for Martha’s Vineyard, Isle of Dreams.
In one of those final pages, someone put a finger under the words,
I had to learn how to live again.