The Prisoner in My Mind
By R. J. Heim
Memories, Sweet Memories. We love to think about the sweetest times of our lives. One thing I remember well as a child, was gathering together at my grandmother’s house on Sundays and holidays. I had oodles of cousins, and so many happy memories invade my thoughts of times we spent together, often thinking of “the way it used to be.” We used to walk up the hill together to watch for a train to go by. One time we encountered a racer rattlesnake that terrified me, but even that memory brings an automatic smile to my face. Sometimes the thoughts of our playing then are evoked to my mind suddenly, caused by the smell of an oncoming train, of fresh cut grass, or the smell of green beans and steaming cornbread being set out on the table. Ah, those were the days!
Those were the days, before being a growing up, paying bills and having responsibilities. That was when summer was fun, and anxiety of going back to school in the fall was my worst problem. When my seemingly endless summer days could be spent playing outdoors, riding bikes and skating. Time seemed to last forever then. As time moved on, though, getting a little older seemed to make time go a little quicker, even though it was hard to wait to get to the good stuff of life – once I arrived, time passed so quickly. Being a kid, too young for this and that, it was hard to wait — getting to high school, turning 16 and getting the all-important driving license, then prom, and graduation – the exciting stuff. I was in such a hurry for all that. Now, I wonder why?
Looking back on my life now, I often think, ‘Why was it that I was in a hurry?’ And as so many of us, as adults say, ‘If only I had known then, what I know now …’ I would have done things differently! Many times I hear people say they’d wished a time machine could really be invented. Well, I wouldn’t go that far, because my children wouldn’t be who they are – and I really like those people!
But I was in a hurry to grow up, move up, move out, and get on with my life. I meant to do a lot of things along the way to where I was going. Like some random flip through a rolodex of cards, time flashed by much too fast. And as it did, it seemed that the ‘stuff’ of life would carry me away like the wind, and chances for the things I wanted were forever lost in the wind. I married too young. I became a mother too soon. I forgot my dreams along the way, and before long, the things that I had wanted were forever gone in wasted chances. I was sure to pass along this lesson to my children … Yes, I wanted a better life for them than I had. But isn’t it odd how kids never seem to want their parents’ lessons?
The life that we choose for ourselves seldom turns out as we plan or hope. Even when we do end up with what we wanted, it’s often ‘different’ than what we’d thought it would be. Like the old saying, ‘the grass always seems greener on the other side.’ Life teaches us that that sure is true!
That was true for me. As a very young woman, I knew that I really wanted to be a wife and mother. I had also wanted to be a nurse … an army nurse, specifically. Then I wanted to stay home during my child-rearing years to be a full-time mom. I dreamt of the ballgames, the music lessons, being the room mother, the Cub Scout mom … I wanted it all.
But as relationships come and go in life, we tend to let people and circumstances change the way we think and act, or react … and those are the things that change who we ultimately become. So I skipped ahead and just settled for the wife and mother roles, which I dearly loved. But when as a young wife, I encountered some of the unexpected things of life that followed, and some of those that forever destroyed my perfect little family. A downward spiral of events would cause more tragedy to carry me away into a place that I never wanted to be. It felt like raw wounds and it would never heal.
So much of what ensued, left me a damaged and scarred person. I had always heard that anyone can go after what they want, but I learned that that is not always what you get, no matter how hard you pursue it. I never believed in divorce, but I became a believer. When emotions get tangled in webs of the other person’s lies and deceit, sicknesses and infidelities, we can become emotionally handicapped in a way that leaves us with painful memories and depression. Sometimes these last for the rest of our lives, and mine did.
Learning to live with the scars felt like I was chained to a boulder that I’d drag around. There were callouses left by my scars, and produced a tough exterior. In some places, I no longer felt pain, and in some ways, I had built up a shell to cover the hurts that I could, which only served to created more mistakes in my life. Suddenly I became aware that my life was nothing like what I had hoped and dreamed about. The things that I went through during those years crushed my spirit, drastically affected my health and, for a while at least, my will to live. I only existed from one day to the next – to care for my children. It was a dark place in my life, my home, and everything that I touched. I knew I had to have change, or I was not going to live through this!
Drastic change is what pulled me out of the ugly place that I was in; it was the only way that I could fight my way back toward any kind of a normal life. Thank God, I never had any problems with addictions, or I would’ve lost myself, probably forever, after all I had been through. But I knew that no matter what my decisions were, the life that I found myself stuck in had to be changed. No matter which direction I headed into, it was going to cause pain for me, and for my little ones. To this day, the hurts that I’ve experienced during my dark times, haunt my mind, my dreams at night, and have reared up to cause difficulties along the way for the rest of my life. For more than 30 years now, I have lived with these things that have kept my mind prisoner to memories that threaten my sanity.
There is life after mistakes and pain, for sure! God forgives freely, and we have to learn to forgive also, both ourselves AND those who hurt us, because it’s the only true path to freedom. I was able to get turned around, and I found the love of my life, my path to becoming a nurse, and even served a short time in the military – not in that order, but I became determined to stop letting my life beat me up. I did manage to do most of the things I’d always wanted to do, but being the mom that I wanted to be was limited by my ability to be there for my kids, and their childhood was marked by the traumas of divorce. Praise God, they all turned out to be fantastic adults by the grace of God, who brought us all through it. But even when we get past the major troubles in life and all is forgiven, and we are lucky enough to survive intact, there will still be resulting consequences from the past that will crop up and mar our ‘happily ever after.’ Those are unpleasant side effects that we have to learn to live with, but when we learn from mistakes, we gain wisdom in life, hopefully! The horrid pain will never be forgotten, and really can make us a prisoner of our own mind by the awful burden of memories that we bare, and the consequences of the past, but we don’t have to be held captive and stay under the spell. So I write to send out my little bit of wisdom and encouragement to others who are, or have struggled with life:
Slow down and enjoy where you are now, because you may never pass this way again. Enjoy every step of the life you live. Set goals, and try to make it to each one. But, if you don’t like your life, you are probably living in a way that is not meant for you… make a change! You have so many other places that you could be, so many chances to change. Every day is a new opportunity to change something. You may feel like I did, and go for a sudden, big change because of dangerous situations – or you may only want or need ‘baby steps.’ But either way, you have only one earthly life to live, so make it count, make it what you want or at least as great as possible. One goal I want to share is this: Live your life to have the fewest regrets that you possibly can, and make as many happy memories as you can. And my prayer for all who read my writings: May the Lord bless you and keep you, may He make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you; may He lift up His countenance and give you Peace.