Adverse Childhood Experiences and the path towards healing. You are not alone.
I share my trials, my victories, and my stories with you in hopes that if any of you were ever touched by childhood abuse or neglect, as I was, you will see yourselves in my experiences and feel strengthened to voice what you had not been able to before. I hope we can learn together why we respond to life through a particular lens, and that there are ways to climb out of this prison of pain, silence, and shame.
My name is Bess Hilpert

Its Not About Me

Open-Hearted Awareness…

My lost feet found their way inside the large heavy wooden doors. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, my hand intuitively reached for the small vessel hanging on the wall. Two fingers dipped themselves into the holy water; and, wet with moisture, I instinctively made the sign of the cross beginning at my forehead and crossing my chest. A habit, from what seems like a lifetime ago, still lives and breathes deep within me.

Weary from emotion, I pushed the interior doors open to the sanctuary. My arm held the door open as I assessed its emptiness while breathing in its stunning beauty. Light streamed through the stained-glass windows, stories high. The lonely pews stood a football field deep. At what would be the goal line, the altar stood draped in welcoming light.

As I quietly made my way towards this light, I felt my heart beat more gently in my chest. My breathing slowed to match the reverent pace of my gait. I had a sense of a welcoming homecoming where I was being held without judgement.

This invitation found me once again acting out of memory as I genuflected, crossed myself, and knelt in the empty pew. Staring at the cross hanging above the altar I noticed that Jesus, arms stretched wide nailed to the cross, had two fingers held together on one arm and the other arm the hand gently reached out. I wondered if this was universal on all crosses or if this Jesus was, without words, wishing me shalom with the one hand and embracing me in love with the other. As I contemplated this mystery, I felt bathed in a much-needed peace and ease.

Sitting back into the pew, I closed my eyes and began my process of surrendering into a deep contemplation. Irish poet, John O’Donohue, describes prayer as “The voice of longing. It reaches outward and inward to unearth our ancient belonging.” I was looking for that bridge between longing and belonging.

My lost feet, that found their way into this sanctuary, were attached to a very splintered being. I had lost sight of my deepest truest self in the emotional and physical exercise of helping one of my sons move. I did not disassociate, like we talked about last week, rather parts of me kept incrementally breaking until there was no whole.

The stress of driving a rented van 18 hours, of beginning a new job, of moving into a new house with roommates and encountering to a whole different state, city and environment triggered my son, and he took it all out on me. Little words made me small. Little acts made me feel incompetent. Little looks made me feel worthless. A turned back made me feel not good enough. When we encountered challenges, nothing I suggested dented the problem, convincing me I was incapable of fixing anything. These maybe-not-so-little things added up and I needed to shut down. Shut down and shut the world out.

Have you ever experienced this pinball machine “tilt”? Where everything just goes dead.

As a person having faced adversity throughout my childhood and young adult life, I have a need to feel safe. In order to feel safe, I like to control my environment. When I cannot control my environment or “fix things,” I tend to melt down into a puddle of unworthiness. So, one small look or act can start a cascade of stress responses dysregulating my nervous system. This is where I was when those lost feet found their way into this church.

How I wish I could encounter these challenges without turning it all back onto/into me. Even with all I’ve peeled back, uprooted, and re-experienced in hopes of finding firmer ground, I too often feel the earth crumble beneath my feet at the first breeze.

Sitting in the pew, in that deep space of quiet contemplation, beyond the chorus of chattering voices that swarm the surface of my thoughts, I allowed tears to bathe my cheeks. With the release of the dam came a sense of surrender; a giving over to that which is the softness that surrounds us all.

A prayer formed in my heart admitting my need, asking for help, pleading for comfort. Spiritual thought leader and poet, Mark Nepo beautifully expressed: “There is a quiet courage in allowing our vulnerabilities to be seen. For as water fills a hole, and as light fills the dark, kindness wraps around what is soft.” I was taking refuge in my prayer.

Slowly, I brought myself forward from this deep state of prayer breathing in the Presence I felt all around me. Staring once again at this Jesus hanging on a cross through eyes still glistening with tears, I felt the peace of being held by those arms stretched wide. I gave it all back to Him. I gave Him my pain. I gave Him my wounds. I gave Him my wants to never want again.

When I returned home, deeply tired and unwilling to open myself up to talking with Ed about my ordeal, I found it hard to truly unwind. This week’s post was still unwritten. I fitfully slept a bit, rose, and swam, returning with a somewhat better demeanor.

I believe that my prayers received an answer overnight. I remembered the words of American psychologist, Tara Brach PhD, who writes about an “open-hearted awareness” to be able to recognize when someone else’s issues and circumstances cause them to lash out at you. The barrage of unkindness from my son had nothing to do with me. I just happened to be in the blast radius during his detonation. If I’d been able to realize it at the time, compassionately, I could have reached into my bright green toolkit and pulled out my “it’s not about me” protective robe and wrapped it around my entire being. Maybe a better “Mom” could have emerged, to help his distress.

My feet no longer were lost.

And, yet, when they are lost going forward, perhaps they will find their way into another church in another city, or onto a mountain top, or by a waterfall, or deep in a canyon in the New Mexico desert where the flow of softness will once again embrace me, reminding me of who I really am and that I am loved, deeply and completely.

I leave you with these words from this morning’s Mark Nepo meditation:

“Like a bird gliding on the current of air it cannot see, or a fish swimming with the tide of deep it cannot see, or a note being sung as part of a song it cannot see, we are all left with the necessary risk to starve the ego-that in us which believes it can control the world-so that the unseeable music of being may rise and carry us. In recurring humility, our momentary oneness with the energy of the Universe, is the sound of God moving through the harp of the soul.”

Until next time, friends.

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