There’s a story I tell often. I can tell it in a self-deprecating manner that makes people laugh. But the story under the surface — the one that represents my hidden pain — is so much harder to tell.
Once, I decided I wanted a kitten. For months, I researched how to be a good cat owner. I threw myself into this idea. I called kitten foster moms, I read online forums, I researched the best litter boxes, I asked my cat-owning friends for advice. I believed I could do this, and I believed I could be good at it.
The only problem was: I’d forgotten I don’t like cats.
Instead of buying one kitten, I bought two. (Go big or go home, right?) I’d read on some cat blog that kittens are better in pairs because they take care of each other. Terrible advice.
At eight-weeks-old, they resembled fluffy, hyper balls of fur. I drove them back home, took them up to my apartment, and let them free from their cage. And then, as I watched them scamper across my floor, it dawned on me with fresh horror: I don’t like cats. I actually don’t care for pets at all. And I had just bought two of them.
My friend, Michelle, came by a few hours later to visit the kittens. She found me curled up on my apartment floor, crying.
“Aliza,” she asked when she opened the door. “What’s wrong?”
The kittens were jumping on my couch. My eyes were rimmed from crying. “I forgot I hate cats,” I cried to her. “And I just bought two of them! I’m going to be stuck with them for at least twenty years!”
It was never about the cats. The cats were just a covering for the pain I was feeling. There was something much deeper happening within me.
I was in the midst of grieving my friend’s death and smack-dab in the center of my pain from a sexual assault a few years earlier. The grief over both was too much for me. I just wanted to do something that would take my mind off of it for a while. I wanted to feel tangible love — to love something and have it love me in return.
I stared at the kittens ransacking my apartment. I realized afresh — sharply, pointedly — that nothing else was going to help me get over my pain.
I couldn’t move past it. I had to move through it instead. The thought of that felt like my chest was splitting in half.
We do this often. We use alcohol or scrolling Instagram or pornography or bingeing Netflix or buying cats as our way of trying to forget the stories sitting just under the surface of our hearts. But the distractions never heal us like we want them to. We don’t think we can tell these stories — they feel too vulnerable, too tender to share. We treat our symptoms with distractions instead of tenderly uprooting the cause.
We think we can mask our pain, but the only way out is through.
I gave the kittens back the next day. When I was back and alone in my quiet apartment once again, I took a deep breath. I got down on my floor. I looked up at my ceiling, and tears poured down my face.
“I can’t do this anymore, Jesus. The cats didn’t help me. Netflix doesn’t help me. I think I have to feel all of my pain instead. I’m terrified. I need you.”
Over time, I decided to speak my story — the real story of pain and sexual assault and grief — out loud. It took me so long to gather the courage. It started quietly, on a summer evening in a living room with a friend. Then I took it to a counselor’s office. Slowly, I dug it out from under the surface, painfully and tenderly.
We have stories we try to keep under the surface, but those stories are begging to be set free. Give them breath. Show them the light of day. Tell them to someone — just one person. You can start quiet and slow. Choose to take just one step into the light.
The truth — slowly, carefully, and over time — will set you free.
And every single step you take towards the truth — every single time you dig your story out from under the surface — Jesus will be walking right beside you.Leave a Comment