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I’ve hardly dared say this, never mind believe it, but for the first time ever my life has reached a stable plateau. While there are the inevitable struggles, I am not constantly struggling. My life isn’t an endless uphill journey anymore. This realization is astounding.
Of course, every situation is relative. I am still ill, although slowly improving. I still encounter difficulties with my autistic son and these will almost certainly increase as he gets older and myself and his father begin to consider long term accommodation and care for him. My relationship with his father will never be wonderful. Not least, the pain of the past, my childhood, will never leave me, particularly as it re-lives itself over and over in the present, through the struggles with my son and the unfulfilled wishes I have owned.
It may seem to the outsider that my life is still full of ongoing struggles and perhaps in some sense it is. What has changed is my state of mind. I accept that the past has gone and I can’t change it. I can only do the best I can with what I have in this moment. My son was never the medicine to cure a painful past. His disability reinforced my awareness of this very obvious and yet frequently under-recognized fact. No child is a substitute for the loss of a childhood. There are subtle ways in which a son or daughter can help heal our wounds if the focus remains on them, but the child can never be expected to heal us. Experience tells me how damaging this expectation is.
I have to accept my son for who he is. Don’t get me wrong, there are days when I struggle with this even now. Yesterday I was very poorly and watched my son destroy my bird-table because I was physically too weak to stop him, that is, before I managed to get him back inside the house. It hurts to know he has little empathy, for me or anyone or thing else. At times something has clicked when I try to explain, such as ‘the birds will be sad without their table’ but more often he reacts in the moment, apparently without much thought or awareness.
My pain is very self-focussed, however, for it stems from the belief of not mattering. What is conjured up, time and time again, is that it doesn’t matter what I say to my boy, or said to my family in the past. Just like it doesn’t matter how many treatments I tried, or how positively I thought about my illness, it did not go away. My words, my existence, my good intentions, my emotions, make no difference. This is what hurts so much. And this is the key to my freedom.
My desire to matter has taken me on a long inner journey where I have had to come to terms with endless turmoil as I attempted to ‘prove’ myself to others. I have since learnt that this is futile because the outside world will never present me with all the validation I crave. I might be the most loving and attentive mother in the world but my child, disabled or not, has his own path to lead. I might be the most considerate and understanding ex-wife only for my ex husband to be lost in his own issues and negative perception of me. And I might confront my family about how painful my childhood was, only to be met with denial.
All that is left is me. My inner journey has included psychotherapy, where I was beyond blessed to work with wonderful counsellors who believed in me and helped me on my way. In many ways they gave me what my childhood family could not; self-belief, positive reinforcement, and strength to carry on. I worked through a lot of trauma and grief, as well as continuing my endless struggle to beat my illness and lead the life I wanted. As my understanding of the past increased, so did my awareness of clinging to certain identities or assumptions about life, such as ‘it will always be a struggle’ or ‘I need to work through this some more.’ As necessary as it is to work through past pain, it becomes more important to be able to let the process go, to shed the metaphorical skin.
And this is where I am now. I am letting go. I accept that my life has not been as I’d have chosen it. My external choices are limited now due to age, illness and pure emotional exhaustion. But my internal choice is strong and it is here that I remain blessed. I have always done the best I can, even if others don’t see that. I can accept what has happened to me and move forward. My health is improving. I have a kind and understanding boyfriend with whom I am looking forward to spending a good future. I get to see my son once a week and it is (mostly!) quality time. I am studying for a second degree. I am able to travel again, within reason. I am not in constant pain and anguish anymore.
It can a tough decision to give up past identities, particularly when there are secondary gains from hanging onto them. I could remain angry, bitter and sad for the rest of my life, with therapy a constant companion. My pain would become my identity, enslaved to my anger and loss. But as I look out on this beautiful autumnal day, watching golden leaves loosen their hold on the claw-like branches of my horse chestnut tree and gently sway in the wind, I know acceptance is the right choice. I have set myself free.