• Heather Hildenbrand

An update: real talk

I have an MRI on Friday.

And I am so sad about that fact because somewhere deep down inside me, I’ve realized that what it means is that I wandered off course. For over a year now, I’ve pulled back from sharing with you. When I first started publishing, I was very open. I blogged frequently and mostly about topics that were raw and vulnerable to me at the time. I was real and honest and it was really cathartic for me—not to mention how many of you I connected with simply through sharing what was in my heart.

I went through stuff that should have been labeled “hardest thing ever.” Many of you—and many times, even I—DID label those things that way. So, I don’t know why what began happening eighteen months ago really shook me so hard. Or why it shook me in a way that made me pull back inside myself and stop sharing and stop being brave and stop facing my own stuff. But that’s what happened.

Maybe it’s not the tidal wave of trauma that we have to worry about. Maybe the real threat is in the quiet chipping away of what we think about ourselves.

A year ago, I stood on a stage at UtopiaCon in Nashville and talked about radical self-love. The person in that room who needed it most was me. I’ve been searching it out viciously every day since.

If you read my blogs or my social media posts or you know me, you know that a few years ago, I divorced and have since remarried. That’s the black and white version. The messy details that exist inside that reality is this: When I separated from and divorced my husband—that was me ripping off the shackles of a life that felt like a prison. No, my ex hadn’t been the sole person responsible for erecting that prison. He was a contributor, sure, but the only one who had allowed it and lived in it willingly was me. And when I had enough, that was it.

I stood up.

In a single instant, I stepped out of the person I’d become and into a new sense of self. I know that sounds drastic. And truth be told, it was YEARS coming. Slowly. Like molasses slow. But then, when I’d reached my limit it was like BOOM. It really did happen that instantly.

And as this new person, I had new beliefs. New priorities. New courage. I was brave enough to put myself in a position of importance in my own life. That was a first and it was really fucking liberating, let me tell you. Like a drug. Once I began, I definitely didn’t want the ride to end. Choices led to liberation led to choices.

When I made the decision to become serious with my now-husband, it required me making a commitment in terms of living arrangements. He lived in Guam. My children did not.

I love my kids with every breath in my body, but I don’t believe sacrificing my own well-being in order to remain geographically attached to them 24/7 is the end-all-be-all of parenting. I talked to them, loved them, talked some more. And we compromised. I spent half my time in Guam and half with the kids in Virginia. More than half with the kids that first year, actually.

But remember the people I’d left behind when I stepped into this new me? They all inherently disagree with everything underlined above. And they told me so every chance they got.

“You’re abandoning your children.”

“You’re a horrible mother.”

“Look at what you’re doing to them.”

“You’re so selfish.”

I heard these words and others like them over and over and over again.

And you know, when someone says something that hurts you, usually it’s because you recognize a kernel of truth to it. Not REAL truth. But truth as in: you already kind of believe that about yourself. So, I began to doubt and feel bad about me and it didn’t take long before their words really, deeply wounded me.

And worse: wounded my children.

Yes, those words were repeated to them. About me.

When I was in the States, my ex would cut my visits with my son short, try to keep me from seeing him—all to “punish” me for being a “bad influence” on him now.

I cancelled my next trip to see my husband. Tried sticking it out in Virginia in order to “prove” somehow that I was a good parent and find a compromise with my ex. (as if physical distance proves anything about a person’s heart or should be a basis for good or bad parenting.)

When that didn’t work, I hired a lawyer.

It was going to be expensive. Money I honestly didn’t have. In order to get the time with my kids that was rightfully mine. I was lonely. And I was a mess from struggling to keep the lies from penetrating.

I spiraled.

And when I look back now, I am so sad for that version of me. She didn’t know how to stop feeling bad or shut out the words. She was hurting. Trying to please everyone in an impossible situation. And once again, she put herself last.

I stopped sharing with you all because all I had to share was heartbreak. And because, sometimes, when you’re in it, you can’t be a light. You can’t be brave. Or vulnerable. You can just go through the motions. Survive.

There are a thousand small details I could tell you about that fight—there’s no other word for it. Every day felt like a battle—but the bottom line is that I lived in a constant state of stress. I had no idea at the time the effect it was having on my body, nor could I have cared honestly. Not then.

And somehow I got through it. I filed for a court hearing. We went to mediation, hammered out a new custody agreement. My ex stopped trying to take away my time. I constructed new, harder-to-break boundaries. Against them and, more importantly, against the small voice in my own head that wanted me to believe everything they’d said.

But even though the “fight” portion resolved itself, it’s taken me the past year to stop letting the lies pull at me. To love myself again. To not care what others think of me. To have anything uplifting to say to you.

About three months ago, I got sick of the physical symptoms I was having and finally went to the doctor. After blood work, I’ve been told that I have a hormonal imbalance. The MRI is to rule out a mass in my adrenals (which I don’t think I have but I guess we’ll all feel better when we know, won’t we?) And through all the reading and research I‘ve done in the past few months, I believe this imbalance is a result of the imbalance I’ve had for almost two years now. The stress, the heartache, the worry, the loss of priorities where I stopped letting my needs matter.

I’ll have the MRI and in the meantime, I share this with you because I realized vulnerability is one of the things I came to treasure about the new me. And it’s one of the things I lost through this last trial. Part of that was probably healthy. I really needed to go to a place where I didn’t care what people thought of me. We all need to be solid in how we see ourselves. Whether someone’s opinion of me is good or bad, I don’t need it. I don’t need value or validation from it (although having a tribe at my back does make me feel good.) The people that hurt me were those closest to me and a wall of protection was right. But healing myself—which I fully intend to do—includes finding myself again. It means being vulnerable about things like stress because don’t we ALL feel like this sometimes??

Before, back when I shared regularly about things like my divorce and the loss of my baby a few years before that, I was so touched and rewarded because every time I shared, I got it back a thousand fold. And the thing I always heard back over and over was that vulnerability and sharing like this is VITAL. It lets us know we’re not alone.

I want you to know you’re not alone. I want me to know that too.

© 2020 by Heather Hildenbrand

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