Monday, 27 November 2017

The Darkness We Fear

"To be overjoyed when an occasion dictates it, seems directly contradictory in nature, considering the emotion is sorely lacking in your current state of affairs, and putting it on will do nothing to change them." 

This last weekend it was my birthday. As the day approached, I found myself wishing I could put it off, because I was in no mood to celebrate. I didn't want to be happy for a reason so wonderful as my birthday, when in all actuality, I felt lost in a shroud of grief as though I'd kissed the love of my life for the last time and watched him die before my eyes. 
All I wanted to do was cry & be comforted, having the pain of my grief taken away for just a day. 
You're probably wondering exactly what has propelled me into what I know to be the most intense season of grief I've ever experienced. Although I've chosen not to share those details on here, as they are deeply personal and not what I'd like to share in a public forum, I will say it is not one person or situation or death that has brought me to where I am today. It is many. 

In the last while, I've found myself smack-dab in the middle of this tempest of grief, wondering how people deal with their grief and how others see them, chose to or not to help them.
And I've found that, for the most part, no one talks about grief. No. One.
And, seeing as that I have had a very intimate look into the eye of the storm, I know how overwhelming it can be, especially if no one talks about it- and in turn, no one knows how to handle a grieving person or be a help to them.
And in this season, I have witnessed an incredible amount of ignorance in society regarding the topic of grief. Really, hardly a soul knows how to deal with it, and I know I've already said that, but it bears repeating. Not only is grief a very isolating thing to experience, it's even more isolating if no one understands it and won't touch it (or you) with a ten-foot pole.
So, that is why I am here, and I am going to crack open this treasure chest, here and now, because over the last year I have grown increasingly antsy about this topic. Antsy because it is clearly very misrepresented and people do not give it the time of day. Whenever I turn to write something of a non-fiction variety, I am brought back to the subject of grief.
Even when I write fiction, I write largely about different characters processing their grief and healing through it. So, I guess you could say that I have learned a lot about grief in this last season, and I would very much like to share it with those of you who want to know more about it and how you can help people walking through it.

I hope you will bear with me if my thoughts are not entirely concise or clear as day- this is a rather complex topic and it is at times hard to express what is in my heart and put into words. I know, I'm a writer and I find expressing myself easier than a lot of people do, but I'm still human.

I am an extremely happy person, both naturally and by choice. 
It is not easy for me to get stuck in a rut of unpleasant feelings. If I get knocked down, I jump back up. If I get knocked down, say fifty times, it doesn't really matter.
I'm pretty much like an elastic rubber band, but given the events that played out over the last four years, but especially the last year, my elasticity was syphoned and bottled somewhere- God knows where, but I do not.
Try as I might, to jump back in regular Ashley fashion, my resolve was gone. My ability to cope, trust, believe and hope, went poof. I couldn't force myself to be happy, couldn't force myself to believe in a happy, good future because it was good for me- I couldn't do it.
I was walking along one day and smacked into this wall called hope deferred and depression and...grief. And it wouldn't budge. 
And after some time, I realised this darkness I'd found myself in, was called grief. I'd been through so much trauma, everything about me- including my body, emotions and soul, was shutting down and going into preservation mode.
I entered a season where the battle caught up with me and I realized just how badly I'd been beaten and torn up, inside and out.
And then, when it didn't go away after a week, even a year or two, I realized with somewhat of a shuddering, terrified kind of shock, that I had to go down there, get dirty, stop trying to push the sadness away to be happy, and grieve. Not just on the surface, but I had to grieve so deeply I couldn't quite comprehend it until quite recently.
As I learned to grieve in this deep, gut-wrenchingly honest place, I learned that pat answers wouldn't help me. "Yes" friends, wouldn't help. Bible verses wouldn't take away the pain gushing from my soul or give me hope because my hope had been, quite thoroughly destroyed.

A lot of people won't understand where I'm coming from, because in talking to, and listening to a lot of people talk, I've found that few people have the guts to face their deepest, darkest fears, insecurities and feelings, and come to the conclusion that they have a whole lot of questions, not a lot of answers and a hell of a lot of pain.
But, to the ones who have had pain rock them to their very core, shaking up your world and removing your ability to give and take pat answers...and this resounds in your soul...this is for you.

I know good things have happened, don't misunderstand an expression of pain for a lack of thankfulness. 
I am overwhelmed with a bloody, soul-crushing anguish. 
It's not that I don't laugh. I do. Often. 
It's not that I don't see the beauty around me & thank God for it. I do. 
It's just this pain that I don't quite know how to navigate- or truer still- I know how to navigate it, I just don't want for it to exist a second longer. I've cried too many tears. I've said goodbye to far too many people.
My body is riddled with scars that cause people to stare & criticize & mock & assume. 
I mistook a river of fire for one of safe, cool refreshing waters. 
My soul isn't the same. I am grounded by grief. It is a weighty thing indeed. 
I have learned to sit with it & not push it away because it was inconvenient & I didn't want to feel pain. 
I sat & pondered what grief truly is & how to walk through its complex, often murky depths. 
I wanted to ask questions & have answers- have someone tell me what to do, but I discovered it was something I had to learn for myself because no one talks about it besides "cry for a day after something traumatic happens" or "seriously? Just soldier on. Crying gets you nowhere in life so why sit & get to know grief? What even is grief but moping around your house with a box of tissues feeling sorry for yourself & willingly falling into a gaping, black void & surrendering your life?" 
After all, grief is that third wheel friend no one wants on their date. It's the friend you shun, making excuses that you don't have time for or that you just don't wanna get complicated or go deep. 

Why do I refer to grief as a friend? 
It's because when something traumatic or particularly painful happens, there is nothing that heals the wound, better than grief. 
Grief is an asset to our lives. 
It helps us bridge the gap between normal & the new normal following a break in life, be that physical, spiritual or emotional. 
If you express grief & it scares someone, understand it is because they likely haven't come to an understanding that grief is not going to snuff out their life like a flickering candle if they get too close. 
They see it as dangerous, & that's where they're at. 
But it remains painful, when it seems no one is equipped to handle the vast sea that is mourning, that is loss. 
Especially if the situation(s) that caused it are not clean cut. 
There is no blanket answer for how to walk through grief. 
Crap. I know.🤦🏻‍♀️😐
But I think it is so important to not rush the process of grief- & I do not mean moping & wallowing. There's a difference, & often the three get mixed into the same cake & presented as- SELFISH (& often times self-inflicted) AGONY. 
Not the same thing. 
Don't rush your grief. Don't. It will bite you in the butt later on if it's not dealt with. I am serious. 
Cry as much as you need to. Don't feel obliged to be happy. It will come. And when it does- don't fight it & think you need to stay sad. Be happy. 
Then, when the next tidal wave of grief washes over you, sort it out. Write out your feelings, cry it out. Talk to a friend who understands, not someone who is so preoccupied with whats going on in their life that they have never heard of certain four-letter words that can upend your carefully constructed life in seconds. 

One thing I must say is that, again, grief is different for everyone & every situation. Is it clean cut? Is it particularly traumatic? Do you have a strong support network of friends, family, church or other close people? 
If you do, lean on those who prove themselves trustworthy of safekeeping your heart. 
If you don't have an extended support network
 or are in a season of isolation, you might be roughing it out in the sticks with just you & God, for a short or long period of time. 
Don't worry about the people that tell you it's dangerous being with "just you & God". Sometimes there are seasons of isolation where God is all you have & you learn invaluable lessons. 
Some people will never, not once in their life go through a season where God is the only answer- so don't be shocked if you become a hot item of ridicule for your journey, to people who have never walked it or can even imagine what you're going through. Trust me, I know what it's like to have that happen. 
Don't feel guilty or be hard on yourself if you just can't seem to make your grief go away. It's not a light- you can't flip a switch & make it come or go when you wish. 
It may stay with you for a week, it may stay with you for years- until that pain is fully healed. That process looks different for everybody. 

There are supernatural seasons 
that cannot be solved with physical solutions. 
It's okay to have fewer answers than you have questions. Be kind to yourself. You will find answers. Maybe not today, maybe not next week or even this year & that makes your heart bleed. 
Mine is a bloody mess. 
A few years ago I would've run screaming from being so vulnerable, on the internet of all places- goodness gracious. But I've discovered that people don't talk about grief, & seeing as though I have come to know it like the back of my hand, you can bet your boots I'm gonna talk about it, because someone- like me, needs to hear another someone be raw, open, vulnerable & honest about their pain without turning into a gong show of a pity party

So I will say those of you who are grieving for one reason or another- I am more sorry than I can say, for the pain you are going through. 
I truly am, & I hope you can understand that. 
I have a deep well of pain, myself, that I am figuring out as I go. I'm not all healed up & shouting "YOU'RE GONNA BE OKAY" from the mountain tops while I party with my successes hanging off my arm, jingling like bracelets. 
I am in the trenches as we speak, slogging some tough stuff that I weep over. A lot.  
I could remind you how grateful you will be once this is over, or how refined you will be, or how strong you will emerge from this season- but I won't. 
All that matters is that you are in pain & you probably feel like you're dying- or better yet, you died inside a year ago & feel like you're trapped inside a prison that is called life. Am I right? 

Sustained, complicated grief is hard- & yes, potentially dangerous- 
ANYTHING worthwhile in life holds a certain measure of risk to it- and friends who tell you grief is dangerous & caution you to short track your process- don't even get me started on that cop-out of a mentality. 
"Yes" friends are the unsafe ones, YEEE-IKESSS. Avoid them like the plague. 
Face your process head on and figure out your relationship status with your G-Friend- & I don't mean girlfriend. 
Grief is there to help us connect the islands, as it were, of our life. Without it, when something happens, we become wounded, detached & don't heal. We walk around with a gimp thinking we are stronger for ignoring that pesky, four-letter word of a third wheel friend. 

I don't have it all sorted. 
I can't give you a link to healing 101 or a bible verse that will fix your pain. 
I have questions & I know there are answers I've not been clued into yet. 
But, one thing I do know is that given the choice between feeling nothing & feeling pain, I would choose pain, because it is real. 
And no, I'm not one of those "suffer forever because nothing but suffering is righteous" advocates. No way, dude. No. Way. 
Pain only shows us we've lost something that was intimately involved in our lives. Why on earth would we do anything other than grieve, when something that was apart of us, is ripped away? 

Grief is an unsettling, beautiful, crushing & incredibly bittersweet experience that propels us into living our lives as fully as they can be. 
Give it a chance- don't run away when it shows up at your door. It won't show up without due provocation. 
And I can tell you from personal experience- it is there to help, not hinder you. 


Monday, 20 November 2017

When they come back...

There's a wonderful relationship, platonic or romantic. It's the most amazing, wonderful thing you have ever experienced, then something happens. For one or many reasons, these two go from being "two people" to "one person" and "one person". 
In circumstances where one party is abusive and the other has done nothing to provoke/create or deserve this malevolence- either physically, spiritually or emotionally, usually, all you have is a gaping void of pain. 
Oftentimes there is no reconciliation, no "I was wrong and caused you unimaginable pain and I am sorry". The abuser remains a danger to you and they don't right the wrongs they have caused. Sad as it is, that is oftentimes the reality of relationships gone south. 
If you've experienced the pain of someone you once loved (or do love) very deeply, you know how painful it is when a good thing turns into a very bad, harmful thing. 

However, I wanted to depict in one of my books how it would look to have a relationship that was beyond messed up, become whole and healthy once again. 
In one of the books I'm currently working on, (no title as of yet. It is a Contemporary Romantic Suspense) my MC Devri Harper finds herself in need of a bodyguard and unbeknownst to her, her ex-husband is sent to protect her. 
Throughout the book, Devri works through her relationship with her ex-husband, Jonathan (yes, I will most likely be changing his name, cause hello Jonathan Dreggs from Present History- but bear with me, haha) & the mark that his substance abuse- and at times, physical abuse, had on her during their marriage that still affects her, even now. (and no, he's not the love interest in this book. Val Arden gets that privilege.)
I wanted to show what it looks like to have the once-abusive party actually come back to the one they hurt, stick it out with them through the ugliness that their actions caused and rebuild the bridge of trust, not simply expecting the other party to "get over it". 
It's a beautiful thing, seeing someone rebuild a bridge they destroyed. Truly. I don't see it happen often, but wow- it is incredibly bittersweet and healing. 

So I decided I'd share a scene with Devri & Jonathan for those of you eager to read something new before Phantom's Daughter is released this coming Summer! 

Devri Harper | Untitled | Coming Winter 2019

Harper didn’t know what brought her out of the dream until she could feel someone watching her. She opened her eyes and saw Jonathan standing over her, face stricken. Although the old feeling of terror crawled over her skin, it left swiftly as it came. Jonathan wasn’t drugged out of his mind. He wasn’t going to hurt her, but it seemed that her very existence caused him pain. He blinked and stepped back. “Sorry, I-“ 
“It’s okay.” She moved to sit up, but a cramp forced her back down with a wince. Jonathan lurched forward, then stepped back, clearly wanting to help but knowing it wouldn’t be received well. 
“Would you…sit with me for a minute?” she asked.
Surprise flickered across his face before he nodded and pulled up a footstool. 
“How are you feeling?” he asked, his tone oddly stilted. Interactions were awkward for both of them, and rightly so. 
“I’ve had better days,” she admitted. “How’s your ankle?” 
“Strained, they tell me, and swollen to the size of a baseball- but with some icing I should be fine.” 
Harper moved to sit up, but Jonathan held her shoulder’s in place against the pillows. “I can get the ice, darlin’.” Soon as the last word escaped his mouth, he paled ever so slightly. “I’m sorry. Force of habit.” He sighed. 
To her surprise, Harper wasn’t frustrated at the slip. It was strange, how in the space of twenty-four hours, her feelings about someone could change so drastically. 
“It’s not as though you can snap your fingers and change the fact that we were married,” she said, feeling the grief coming off him in waves. 
“They say it takes time,” she whispered, not sure why she was so dang emotional. Until she’d met Val, she couldn’t even remember the last time she’d cried. Or maybe that was why- she was used to being the only person to look out for herself, and when someone else started to- her reserves started to show. As did her brokenness. Because, for seemingly the first time in her life, she didn’t have to be the strong one. 
“I truly am sorry, Harper. For all the pain I caused you,” Jonathan said, tears filling his eyes. 
It took her aback, seeing him cry. Somehow, it didn’t look strange on Val, even though she’d only seen him cry once. Jonathan liked to keep everything locked away. He didn’t do messy. 
Or, maybe like her, he’d changed significantly in the last few years. 
Harper reached over and brushed away his tears with her thumb, then took his hand in hers. 
“I forgive you,” she whispered. 
Not in her wildest dreams could she have imagined Jonathan coming to her and asking her forgiveness. Not once, but twice. 
“Let it go, Jonathan.” She squeezed his hand, wishing he would look her in the eye, but knowing his dignity wavered.
“I can’t let it go,” he said, voice tight. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forgive myself for what I did to you. I was so messed up I don’t even remember most of it. 
Doesn’t mean I didn’t do it. It doesn’t mean you didn’t suffer at my hands,” he whispered, his tears falling onto their hands. 
It was the strangest thing, but she didn’t want to hurt him anymore. She certainly had, at one point. She’d been mad enough that she’d wanted to murder her husband for what he’d done to her. 
But now…after seeing how his actions had not only affected her, but him…the anger was gone. Maybe it would return, but for the moment, she felt nothing but…love. Not in a romantic sense, but in a way she couldn’t quite describe. 
She sat up and scooted closer, her knees brushing against his thigh, his doing the same with hers. He still wouldn’t look at her, his shame so tangible in the air. 
“Jonathan.” She gently worked her fingers through his hair, then lifted his chin with her other hand. The regret in his eyes stole her breath and brought tears to her eyes. 
“A year ago if you had’ve put a gun in my hands with you in front of it, I might have killed you. I certainly wanted to.” Her brows pinched together. “I’m not in denial. I worked through my feelings, deadly as they were…but I don’t want to punish you, and…” Her voice caught. “I don’t want you to punish yourself. Not for my sake.” Their foreheads pressed together and she was brought back to the time, just before they’d divorced, when, for a few hours, everything had seemed like it was heaven. 
She’d never wished that she could go back and change what happened between them, only that she had never met Jonathan. 
Now, she wished that somehow things could have been different. But there was no undoing the past, no going back. Only forward. 
A deep yearning struck her, for Jonathan? For their marriage? It wasn’t desire, rather something more bittersweet, something she knew existed, not to be fulfilled, but to be acknowledged. 
One look into Jonathan’s eyes and she knew he felt the yearning, but also desire. Desire that he loathed himself for feeling. 
“We can’t go back and undo anything, we have to move forward.” 
“I don’t think that’s going to work, Dev,” Jonathan said, jaw clenched tight. 
“Why won’t you look at me?” 
His eyes met hers, fire burning there. “Because if I look at you, I’ll smother with guilt that I can do nothing to absolve-“ 
“I told you-“ 
“I’ll never be able to punish myself enough, for my sake. Let alone yours. And while your feelings towards me have clearly and, might I add- rightfully changed, my feelings towards you are…” He motioned to himself, then her, disgust lacing his words. “Not at all platonic.” He shoved to his feet, looking all the caged tiger ready to run. 
“Jonathan-“ She stood. 
“No, please-“ He held a hand out. “I’m leaving, because if I don’t…I’ll do something I’ll very much regret.” 
“Regret?” She stepped toward him. 
“Yes!” he shouted, chest heaving. 
“I’m sorry.” He closed the distance between them, pulled her against his chest and planted a kiss on the crown of her head, then stepped back, looking anywhere but at her. “I’m trying to be good, Dev.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Please don’t tempt me,” he said hoarsely, then fled the room. 


It's a tricky thing, addressing the issue of abused relationships being mended. 
Of course, each different relationship is different- not all things can be healed without a literal creative miracle. 
But I so desperately wanted to (and still do) want to depict a relationship that was very broken, beyond dead and was resurrected and made whole. 
In the case of Devri and her ex-husband Jonathan, they couldn't go back and remarry and "pick up where they left off" which is challenging because there is irrevecable loss. But, despite the bittersweet pains of the loss, there might...or might not be healing to be had for both of them. 

We'll have to wait and see until Harper's book is released in a year or so! 


If you're looking for something to read in the meantime, be sure to add Present History to your TBR list on Goodreads
If you're looking to buy a copy, they are now available on Amazon in Paperback and Kindle. For those of you subscribed to Kindle Unlimited or Kindle Owners Lending Library for those of you who have Prime