Turning my "what ifs" into "why nots"... How processing the trauma of my baby getting attacked by a dog changed my life, for the better.
Fear is a tricky emotion. It's a necessary response in "fight or flight"... like, if a bear is ever rollin' your way you kinda want it to kick in. Ain't nobody fightin' off a grizzly without some adrenaline and a healthy dose of fear. That kind of fear? Good. The other kind? The emotional one that tends to rob us of joy, peace, adventure, and growth? No bueno.
I did a live video on instagram yesterday and shared one example of fear that I had to process and let go of this past year. It's taken me a long time to talk about it because 1. I thought I was over it, and 2. I don't like talking about things that are painful. But I've realized talking about the painful things releases me from its suffocating grip.
When my daughter, now 4, was only 17 months old, she was bitten by a dog. I don't mean a little bite. I mean in the face, lacerated from the corner of her mouth almost two inches up her cheek. Our babysitter was watching her at the time and our new neighbor's dog came barreling out of the woods while my sweet baby was eating a popsicle on the front porch. The picture above is of Ellie a week after the surgery took place.
That day was a nightmare. I still remember getting the call from our babysitter and having to turn around the van from picking the girls up from school and return home.
"There was an accident. You need to come home." she spoke through broken screams in the background.
My van turned into a freakin' sports car as I drove home. My heart was beating through my chest. My breaths were even faster. I barely came to a full stop before jumping out and running toward the already opened front door to my home. I still remember, like it was yesterday, passing by the blood stained steps. I stopped. I knew before I entered the house I would have to prepare myself for seeing what only I thought I'd ever see in my worst nightmares.
I stepped in, my baby screaming my name from the kitchen. As I turned the corner of the dining room, I saw her. Her blood soaked cheeks, her tear filled eyes, and her outstretched arms were all it took for me to want to crumble into ash, right there on my kitchen floor. I couldn't, she needed me.
I quickly turned my emotions off, like a light switch. When my nurse brain turns on, my emotions are all turned off. Years in the medical field taught me to avoid my emotional response when faced with traumatizing situations. This serves a purpose for first responders, nurses, doctors, and other hospital staff. It's not only helpful, but necessary in those situations and for that profession.
The problem came when I never flipped the switch back. I held my baby's hand while she went under surgery with a team of pediatric plastic surgeons. I watched her scream and cry for me as she came out of anesthesia. I watched as a nurse tried to stick her for an I.V. not once, but twice... digging around in her little arm like that needle was a garden trowel. I stayed silent. I stayed calm. But everything inside of me wanted to scream. I wanted to be angry. I wanted to yell. 22 stitches later, we went home with an emotionally traumatized little girl.
At the core of me, I wanted to collapse on the floor of my bedroom and cry when I got home that night. I felt like a failure. Hopeless, unequipped and unworthy of being her mother. I failed at protecting her. I failed.... but I couldn't. I couldn't feel anything. I was emotionless.
Life after that day was cautious, at best. There wasn't a slide safe enough, puppy safe enough to pet, babysitter trustworthy enough to watch my daughter. I helicoptered around that little girl like I had nothing else to do in life. My mind would flood with the worst case scenario in everyday circumstances. "What if" kept her and I from doing a lot of fun things. I was filled with the fear of something ever happening to her again.
Until I started therapy this past year. I learned that I was living in complete fear. I was parenting her out of fear. She didn't deserve that, in fact, she deserved to experience life to its fullest. She deserved to go to playgrounds, run free in our yard, be babysat by responsible adults (and my marriage deserved that too, Lord Jesus...).
I made a really hard decision last year guys. I traded my "what if" mentality in for a "Why Not?". And it was haaaaaard. But as I learned to loosen the reigns one tiny bit at a time, I recognized how much of an impact it had on her. She started to do the same thing. I had to let emotion back in. There was a lot of ugly crying. A. Lot. There was a lot of anger, not towards the dog or the babysitter, who I love dearly, still to this day. It was toward myself. I had to learn to let myself feel again so I could process that trauma and put it where it belonged, in my past. Until I did, it would continue to seep out into my life, affecting everything around me with its poison.
My little four year old is now one of my most fearless of all four kids. She is still timid around dogs (as she should be), but she traded her hesitation for bravery, her timidity with assertiveness, and her own fears for freedom. She explores, seeks adventures, and lives like a little four year old should.
If I wouldn't have processed the trauma I went through that day, I wouldn't be parented her the way I am today. I would've held her back. I would've taught her to fear instead of risk. My fear of failing her kept me from allowing her to experience life. Heck, it kept ME from experiencing life.
After speaking out the FEARS and LIES to my husband and my therapist, God bless him, I realized how oppressive they were. It wasn't until I spoke them out into the light that I was able to recognize how they were impacting my life.
"He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings utter darkness into light" Job 12:22, NIV.
Guys, speaking about that day brought the darkness in my mind into the LIGHT... . It shined a light on them for what those thoughts truly were, LIES that were keeping me from the TRUTH, which was this: I am NOT a failure. I am WORTHY of being my daughter's mother. I did NOT fail her and I am charged with raising her without FEAR...
This is one of MANY fears that were brought to light in 2018. This is one of many fears that I talk about in my upcoming book. Thank you all for following along in this journey. I can't wait to share more.
Cast fear aside by first bringing them into the light. Talk to someone about something that you feel is holding you back. Take a step in putting that fear where it belongs, in the past....
Here's my little pumpkin now. Just as strong, beautiful, and full of life as ever. The journey we have been on in the last two years has been difficult but it's been worth every bit of work she and I have put in. I praise God every day for the little miracle that she is, for the resiliancy she has, and the life she breaths into everyone that knows her.