“Get it together, DeLoe!”
That’s what I used to tell myself. A lot. I’ve thought it in my head, whispered it quietly, yelled it out in anger, mumbled it through tears, cried it out in frustration. Whenever I had an overwhelming emotion, that was my mantra. Fear, anger, anxiety, sadness, grief. They all got the same response. Just get it together, DeLoe. You see, I thought that the best thing to do with those types of feelings was to stuff them down so far that I could appear to have it together. If I could get it together on the outside, then no one would have to know how messed up I was on the inside. If I could just “act right,” like my mother used to say, then everything would be alright. Feeling those negative emotions would serve no purpose. It does no good to cry over something, it’s not going to change the outcome. There’s no use being mad, you’re going to get over it anyway. If you’re frustrated with something, just quit trying. I heard those types of things all the time growing up. I was always ‘getting it together.’ What I realize now, that I didn’t know then, is that I was being taught that I had to keep it together on the outside – act right – to get the love and happiness I so desperately wanted. Whatever was happening on the inside didn’t matter. I could get what I wanted if my actions were acceptable.
Over time, I became pretty adept at stuffing my emotions. If it was something that was unbearable, unpleasant, or even just a little bit uncomfortable, it got stuffed away. Nope, not gonna feel that right now. I would put on my game face, and suck it up. I used to think that meant I was just going with the flow; that I was handling things and moving forward. What I learned is that when you stuff, avoid, or shrug off your true feelings, they have a way of rearing up again later. There comes a point at which there is no more room for stuffing. The maximum capacity has been reached. For me, that happened when I was in my mid thirties. I found that I could no longer get it together, no matter how hard I tried. Old feelings, for things that had happened long ago, started to bubble up. And this time, I couldn’t just swallow them back down. They were back, and they meant business. Stuffing and ignoring them was, clearly, no longer an option. I had physical reactions to the feelings – anxiety, panic, crying jags. My old way of coping was failing. Enter booze. I might not be able to stuff emotions away anymore, but I sure could I drink them away! And drink them away I did. For years. Alcohol was my solution for a long time. It kept those bad feelings trapped in a place where I didn’t have to deal with them. If they started to surface, I would have a drink, or two, or ten. And then, at least for a while, I could be free of the emotional pain. But then that stopped working too.
What resulted was no longer just the bubbling up of emotions, it was a full-on volcano eruption of my unfelt, unprocessed feelings. I was angry, sad, depressed, needy, and crazy, sometimes all at the same time. I was losing control, and I didn’t know what to do. I had always been able to keep it together, no matter how hard it was. But I just couldn’t do it. I was sinking and I knew it. I drank more and more. When I had moments of actual clarity, or some form thereof, I would wonder to myself how I would ever have any happiness, serenity, or peace, if I couldn’t get it together. I mean, how could I have any of those things when I was such a huge mess?!? Looking back, I can see that at the time, I thought that good things (like happiness, serenity and peace) were only for “good” people, and I most definitely was not “good.”
From there, my life spiraled downward. My alcoholism became full-blown, I was either drunk or hungover most of the time. I was depressed and cried all the time. I had nothing to contribute to relationships with family and friends. I still had a job, but I was regularly screwing up. I was just struggling to make it through each day alive. Though there were many days that I hoped the opposite would happen. I honestly thought that I was destined, or doomed, to live the rest of my life in that condition. I didn’t see how things could ever get better, because I couldn’t get it together. I didn’t deserve for things to get better, I was so broken, I wasn’t worth it.
And then, after thirty plus years of getting it together, trying to do good to get good, wearing a game face and sucking it up even when it felt impossible, something miraculous and life changing happened. I gave up. I gave up trying to control every emotion, every situation, every person I met. I knew that I couldn’t do it anymore. I was finally waving the white flag.
I found myself in treatment for my drinking. I was terrified and hopeful, worried and relieved. My emotions were all over the place and I felt like a bigger mess than ever.
And that’s when I first heard about grace.
I went to a Christian treatment facility and after the first week I attended a bible study each evening. I had only been to church on a few rare occasions in the past. I didn’t know what to expect, or how I would respond to what was talked about, but I knew that I couldn’t continue living the way I had been. I knew that I was missing something in my life that I had tried to find from other things – attention, men, booze, etc. I was looking for something that would make me feel worthy of love, happiness and peace; something that I didn’t have to ‘get it together’ to enjoy. It was there, in treatment, that I was first exposed to this message of grace. I didn’t quite know what to make of it, but I knew it sounded good.
Grace, I learned, is the love and mercy than God bestows on us just because He wants to, not because we have earned it. It is a free gift given without expectation of good works. Wow. I don’t know about you, but I never had that before, from anyone. And here I was learning that not only did I get to partake in God’s grace, but I didn’t have to do anything to get it! I didn’t have to ‘get it together’ or ‘act right’ for God to love and accept me. He loved me where I was, as I was.
It is by God’s grace that I have had so many wonderful things happen in the last two years. I fell in love with the perfect man for me, and he loves me back. I have been able to stay sober for coming up on nine months. I have stronger, more meaningful relationships with friends than I ever had before. I am able to feel happiness and peace, even when life is challenging. Those are not things that I could’ve done by myself. They are not things that I could have ever earned by doing what I used to – getting it together. They are all things that have been given to me freely by God. No strings attached. How awesome is that? I’m still broken, still a mess at times, and not someone who has it all together (even on a good day!), but despite that, I am loved and accepted, and I feel peace and joy. I have Someone in my corner who loves me unconditionally, even with all of my jagged edges.
Are there still times that I slip into the ‘get it together’ mentality? Or times when I try to stuff an emotion that I don’t want to feel? Of course. But the truth is, it is far less often than I used to, and it is no longer my answer to every situation. My husband is always quick to catch me when I’m trying to put on my game face, and he reminds me that I’m a real girl, with real feelings. That helps me so much to know that it’s okay to feel angry, sad, or depressed. And we have a new saying in our house. It’s no longer “Get it together, DeLoe,” (that’s my maiden name, by the way). We now use my married name:
“Live in grace, Olive!”