Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Visible and Validated

Have you ever stood in the middle of a crowd, and yelled at the top of your lungs, only to realize that no one can hear you?

Have you ever looked at a toddler in a store, throwing a kicking, screaming, wailing tantrum, and felt like that was exactly what you have looked like for ten straight years, to no avail?

For ten years, I have felt invisible. Not invisible to everyone, not invisible in every circumstance or in my daily routine with the people I love, but invisible, unheard, and completely invalidated in several very vital scenarios.

At one point about ten years ago, and I don't know exactly when, but at some point when I was in my late 'teens or early twenties, my Uncle Mike was diagnosed with cancer. It was the first time someone in my close family had been given this diagnosis, and I was scared. But I was also wounded from a fight taking place in my family, and this put the fight in me to do my part to mend it. I reached out, expressing my feelings, my mom's feelings, the way that cancer can scare the fucking shit out of you and make you rethink all of the bull shit fights you're involved in. All I wanted was for the fighting to end and everyone to move on together, because together, we are big enough to kick cancer out and get past it.

I screamed, but nobody really heard me. Or they heard me and chose not to listen.

Not too long after, when I was a senior in college, my own daddy got a cancer diagnosis. I was broken. Scared. No, terrified. I have never been such a wreck, nor have I ever been so in need of being loved and embraced by everyone in my world. The only thing I wanted was everyone to take care of us, to make it better, to help get to the end of each day.

I continued to scream, but they didn't hear me. They were busy fighting and yelling; they were busy being hateful.

In 2009, Grandma and Grandpa Stacey both died, just a few months apart. I was devastated. I thought the way to mend my broken heart would be to make a better effort to bond with my Grandma W, who was now my last living grandparent. And I did. I picked her up and together we went to visit her old house - the house that holds all of my childhood memories - when it was for sale. I asked her for her old recipes and she gave them to me on handwritten cards, in her shaky cursive script. I went to her house to bake holiday cookies with her, and tried really hard to not feel broken when I left in tears after a few hours.

I was screaming for the tight knit loving chaos that I had been missing. But I was screaming to myself, and no one really heard it but me.

There have been moments in my adult life where all I wanted was the chaos - those days where all of us under 18 had to sit on the floor because there weren't enough chairs, the days where we had to cook all week long to make enough food to serve everyone, the meals where we were physically unable to sit together at one table. Big, loud, and crazy is what I crave on holidays and birthdays. Having to sit on the floor is normal and it's what I miss, what I continue to grieve the loss of, what we will never get back. Being able to sit around one table feels like silent screaming. Feels like I am the only one who still misses the normalcy of the chaos.

It has only been recently that I have begun to let it go. No matter how angry or sad or hurt or invalidated I have found myself in the past ten years, I have continued to hope for normalcy, for repair and rebuild, for forgiveness and peace. I have wanted my childhood and all it's traditions and innocent ignorant bliss back, where everything was happy and fun, where no one was this full of anger. I am only very recently moving on, saying goodbye to the old normal and embracing the new normal. Finding a way to enjoy what's here instead of focusing on what's not. The people who have heard me yelling, are the only ones I need anyway.

But, no matter how able I am to move forward, to forget and let go, it is really hard to not be heard. Think back to that toddler throwing a temper tantrum in the store. Picture the kicking, the screaming, the punching...picture all of it in silence. That is how it feels to go about your life thinking that nobody is validating, or even listening to, what you're saying. My feelings are big. They're powerful. They're raw. And until today, I have felt like they were silent.

Last night I got a message that surely my cousin didn't think was much of a big deal. Letting me know she'd had a conversation in which my ten years of feelings were validated: someone heard me. My hurt feelings were understood and accepted, my sadness was not ignored. We did this; we hurt her, and we should be sorry for that. I felt like I won the lottery tonight. Not because I was finally right, not because I intend any forgiveness to take place now, not because I think anything will be any different than it has been for ten years. But because someone finally fucking heard me. And listened. And empathized. And felt remorse.

Because, to be quite blunt, I had no part in what happened. I was a bystander. I have been drug through the mud, the whole time yelling for someone to fix it. This will never be fixed, and I know that. But someone heard me. And listened to me. And validated me.

People need validation of their feelings. Whether we agree or disagree, a person's feelings are always valid. That toddler, throwing a fit in the store, is experiencing valid emotion, albeit inappropriately. But that doesn't mean the kid is wrong or bad; it simply means he needs someone to pick him up and listen, and validate his needs. You don't have to agree. Hell you may wildly disagree. But the way someone feels is valid. The way someone expresses their feelings is valid. The way someone interprets their version of reality, is valid. We are deserving of validity. We deserve to be heard and accepted, and nobody deserves to be ignored.

Don't let the people in your life become invisible. Validate their feelings. When they are kicking and screaming, don't let them feel like their screams are silent. Hear them.

We all deserve to be visible and validated.