Pain Will Leave, When You Let Go

In June of 2018, I was smack-dab in the middle of promoting my first children’s book when I had to stop everything to deal with what turned out to be pretty extensive damage from black mold in my kitchen. I had just come home from Denver Comicon and we had 48 hours to pack up and get out of our house. We came home briefly a couple of times but all in all, the mold clean-up and repairs took 8 weeks so basically, the entire summer.

Yes, the mold thing sucked, but there was something much, much worse that we were dealing with that slowly began about a year and half prior to this “forced vacation” which all came to the surface just one month before the black mold discovery, and it was in our family. My son had spent all of 2017 and the first half of 2018 feeling like he was on the edge of remembering something traumatic that happened to him as a child but just couldn’t access the memories and in May of 2018, with the help of a lot of therapy and a lot of meditation to calm his brain, he finally remembered and it was bad. Real bad. (He is okay now and figuring out positive ways to help himself cope.) His memories are not my story to tell, but what happened to me as a result of it is something I would like to share.

The first thing that happened to me following Denver Comic Con and temporarily moving out of our house was getting an awful sinus infection (unrelated to the black mold, thank jeebus.) We stayed in one home after another (thanks to our generous friends) while we waited for the black mold to be cleaned out of our house, and through it all, I continued to reel from the memories my son shared with me, still sick, and unable to sleep. Then one night out of total exhaustion, I fell asleep and woke up 8 hours later. I felt so rested for the first time in weeks! But when I went to move, I discovered I’d slept those 8 solid hours only on my left side, with my shoulder shrugged up, and all the muscles around it were in total spasm.

I had spent that summer having countless long talks with my son, sorting through his awful memories that are old, yet new, while I also dealt with contractors, plumbers, painters, and electricians (Wil helped as much as he could but I tend to do this thing where I think I can handle it all and then I collapse when it’s over. So dumb, I know.) Eventually, my sinus infection went away (thank you antibiotics, and swimming in the ocean where I got hit in the face with a wave that literally launched whatever was left in my sinuses right out of there) and when we were able to move back into our house a few weeks later, I got several massages that focused on my shoulder to try and calm the freaked out muscles. I finally saw my own therapist in September to help me deal with the memories my son shared because I had developed such bad anxiety from it that I couldn’t sleep. Plus, I had lost ALL of my creativity and I knew it was because I hadn’t dealt with this stuff myself since I had focused all of my energy in helping my son those past few months.

I began the session by telling my therapist how we spent the entire summer dealing with this black mold in our house which was bad in itself, and then told her about the memories my son shared which to me, was way, way worse. Both situations are things I know I am not to blame, and I certainly had no control over, even though I wished I could have known to prevent it. At one point she said “It’s interesting to me that you had no choice but to drop everything and deal with this toxic thing that had been building up for years in your home, while essentially doing the same thing with your son.”

Damn metaphors.

I saw my therapist a few more times after that, and also got my shoulder worked on a few more times. And as my son seemed to be doing better, my shoulder pain slowly improved as well. But like any traumatic thing that can happen, you may have moments where you think you’re on the path to healing and then something completely derails you and you feel like you’re back to square one. This happened for me emotionally as well as physically, in January of this year. The pain of both sent me into an anxiety tailspin I didn’t think I could get out of. I finally saw a doctor for my shoulder and was diagnosed with acute tendinitis, which I then made worse by lifting a 20 pound box not just up from the ground, but up above my head and out in front of me, three days after that doctor said not to lift anything heavy. Genius. I spent several days icing my shoulder and neck and having anxiety so bad that at one point, I had a full-on panic attack. I needed help, badly. I scheduled physical therapy for my shoulder, and emotional therapy for my brain.

I realized (thanks to my therapist and those damn metaphors again) that I was literally carrying a burden on my shoulders that I couldn’t figure out how to let go of, and I had no idea how to be free from it. She suggested I write a letter to the person who hurt my child, not to be sent, just to say what I wanted to say and move on. Turns out that was easier to hear than to do because I still carried those burdens for two more months. So much pain, physically and emotionally. She had also suggested downloading a meditation app to use and since my husband has one that he loves, I got the one he uses (Headspace) and started that part right away. After two little 3-minute sessions, I found myself looking forward to it because it was this brief moment in the day where I literally thought about nothing except my own breathing. I had no idea I was capable of controlling my brain from going down the rabbit hole of “what-ifs” or wanting to face the person who sought out my son all those years ago to traumatize him so badly that those memories were locked away, like a dark room in part of his mind, and he couldn’t find the light switch to see in there for over two decades. As I felt like I was getting my anxiety under control, my shoulder…got worse. I had been doing physical therapy for it but it was so slow to progress because something was holding it back. My chiropractor suggested I see this doctor who specializes in active release stretching and since I felt like I couldn’t stretch much of my shoulder, neck or arm, I thought I’d give it a try. I saw him nearly two weeks ago.

In my mind, I envisioned active release stretching as maybe applying pressure to the connective tissue, sort of like, I don’t know, a deep tissue massage. Boy, was I wrong. The doctor said I have frozen shoulder (scar tissue adhesions within the joint) and an impingement. He called an assistant in to help move my arm in several different ways while he held down spots in my trapezius muscle, my neck, and my rotator cuff. It was the most excruciating pain and after who knows how long (because time seems to not exist when you’re in such intense pain) I finally had to ask him to stop. As I walked out to my car with my dead arm hanging next to me, tears streamed down my face. I sobbed on and off for nearly two hours after that as I laid on my sofa at home with an ice pack on my shoulder and anti-inflammatory drugs in my system. I went to bed early that night and slept for 11 hours and when I woke up, I was sore as hell but I felt surprisingly better.

Since I was feeling better, I thought maybe I would try to sit down to my laptop and get back to work on my next book, but my brain had a different plan. Instead of working on my book, I spent that entire day in my pajamas, at my laptop, typing out a single-spaced five page letter to the person who hurt my child and by extension, hurt me. I said all the things I thought I would just hold on to until hopefully, one day, I’d get to say it to his face. I felt unbelievable anger and upset, occasionally getting up to ice my shoulder and move it around a bit, and wipe the tears from my eyes. After a couple of hours of writing, I began to realize I had carried this burden on my shoulder to the point that it was literally locked inside of me, frozen, causing so much pain I didn’t think it was possible to ever get back to normal again.

The following day, I tested out the mobility in my shoulder and I had so much more movement than I’d had in months, that it made me laugh and cry at the same time. At the end of that week, I went back to physical therapy, where they routinely test my progress and then do some massage, some exercises, and then ice it. Before we started, I explained what that doctor had done with my shoulder earlier that week, unsure if I had made the right choice to do that or not, so we tested my mobility again. While it isn’t quite 100%, it is very close. (I’m going back to that doctor one more time this week to work out the rest of it.) My physical therapist was amazed, saying she’d never seen such a huge change like this. I was about to tell her about the letter I wrote the day after seeing that doctor but decided not to, and that’s when she said “Sounds like you just had to endure that intense pain in order to get yourself back on track .”

Damn metaphors.

Yesterday, Wil and I went to WonderCon in Anaheim so he could moderate a panel, and then we headed back up to L.A. in time to meet friends for a birthday dinner before going to the Kings game together. After the game (Kings won!) we walked out of Staples Center and I commented on the warmth that’s finally in the air. We drove home and as we pulled in to our driveway and walked up to our house, I could smell orange blossoms filling the warm night air in our neighborhood and got excited for this welcome change. As I climbed into bed, I realized this was the first day in close to a year that I didn’t think about the past, the what-ifs, the pain and trauma, or the words I had been holding inside me that became a poison, that I had finally let go. I turned off the lamp on my nightstand and laid down on my left side, the one I haven’t been able to sleep on in months, and fell fast asleep.

19 thoughts on “Pain Will Leave, When You Let Go

  1. Back when I first started therapy, I was shocked when my anxiety led me to being physically ill during a session. My wonderful therapist pointed out I have a strong mind/body connection. Now, almost a decade later, I am struggling to focus, and feeling physically not great. I know I need to refine my brain. Thank you for sharing. I am so sorry for what your son, and you by extension, are having to face. But thank you for the reminder. Damn metaphors.

  2. Today is the first day I have been on your site, and I am astounded by the year you have endured. I’m glad to hear you have come out the other side. This past September I published a memoir titled Tornado Dreams that recounts my journey from trauma to healing. My healing occurred several years ago now, but I have been amazed over the last several months how much I have let go of all the stories and scenes that are now recounted in my memoir. Writing is such a wonderful process, and it truly does free the mind. I heard once on NPR that what moves a person from PTSD into PTSD recovery is the ability to narrate one’s trauma. I so believe that is true. I hope, if he hasn’t already, that someday your son is able to as well.

    1. My son is really good at drawing so I know he’s done a lot of that and he has done some writing but I will encourage him to write more because it does seem to help. Thank you.

  3. Anne, I feel you.

    I keep wanting to type, ā€œI was lucky,ā€ but when someone hurts your child can you really say that? Anyway, my kiddo shared her trauma with me whike it was happening, though it had gone on for years. The family member who was hurting her never groomed her not to tell. She was four when she told me, purely out of her innocence. I remember that moment, 17 years ago, like it was yesterday. I remember how it felt to stay calm on the outside and ask her non-leading questions to clarify while my brain was screaming and there was a spear of ice in my gut.

    I guess what Iā€™m trying to say is that you are not alone and that he told you shows what a great momma you are. Next time you guys are in Denver, I have a big hug for you if you want it. Injured momma to injured momma.

    1. I completely understand what you mean, Val. No one ever wants to hear their child has been hurt but honestly, knowing at the time would have helped tremendously in helping him heal early on. Unfortunately this man said a lot of scary, traumatizing things to him that only added to the fear of what was happening, and it happened multiple times so it was real bad. I’m so glad your daughter had your support and if I ever make it back to Denver, I will absolutely take you up on that hug.

  4. As a child who went through trauma, I understand the weight that is carried around when you know something awful had happened to you. I know how it physically takes a toll, and how your mind tried to protect itself by creating defense mechanisms.

    I’m so, so glad to see your family is working towards health. Anyone can choose to be strong during moments like these, but not everyone chooses to be healthy. Thank you for showing the world that health is always the best route to take when dealing with hardship.

  5. I love you guys so much and I’m so sorry for all the pain you’ve been going through. I’m always here if you need to reach out, and even if you don’t, I’m cheering you on from far away.

  6. Anne, I’m so sorry, I had no idea of what you were going through! I just knew that you were in pain and I wanted to make it go away. I am relieved to hear that things are getting better for you and your son. I’m glad I got a chance to give you a hug last month and the next time I see you you will get a double hug! Unless you aren’t in the mood. šŸ™‚


  7. I’m glad to hear you’re getting things sorted out and feeling better. Your description of leaving the hockey game and recognizing the relief you were feeling after so long reminds me of a story Wil has shared about going for a walk with you not long after he started medication for his depression and realizing he felt good for the first time in quite a while.
    Wil’s candidness about dealing with depression has helped me help others and more recently get myself help in dealing with my own (fortunately less severe) issues.
    Just as writing that letter helped you, I don’t doubt that sharing this experience will help others face something they need to deal with.
    Thank you for sharing, and I know that your son couldn’t ask for better support than what you and Wil can give him.

  8. Hey, I think you are an amazing mom. It hurts so bad when someone hurts your child. Just to let you know if your son wants to explore it, EMDR helped me enormously with moving past childhood trauma. I’m sure the love and support you are showing him means the world

  9. My sister and I endured childhood trauma, only keeping it a secret for a few years, until it was time to travel for a family visit, and we finally decided we didn’t want to go. Once Mommy knew what had been happening, she was able to Make It Stop. Forever. I’m sure all of us, including her, held onto the emotional pain for innumerable years afterward, but I’m so grateful that my sister had the courage to say something, and that Mommy did what was necessary to end it. I’m very much healed at this point in my life, and I can retell that trauma whenever needed, without falling back into the pit of despair.

    I’m sorry this happened to your son, and that his defense mechanism was to just block it all that time. But it’s good that it’s finally out and that you’re ALL healing. You’ve got such a great support system, and you ARE a great one, as well! You’ve obviously been a great Mommy, just like mine was.

    btw, I went ahead and recorded myself reading “Piggy and Pug” aloud, to send to my nieces and nephews to coincide with the shipments of their copies of the book. I included in my reading “turn the page” whispered at each turning, but I neglected to edit out my own page-turnings, so the oldest nieces got frustrated with me taking SO LONG to read with them! It’s not anything like a professional audiobook, but it got me started with recording kid lit, just for them, and it also got my sister to self-publish a story for them, as well! I’ve since been recording kid lit I find at the library, to up my own “game” and maybe get a connection with a publisher, sometime down the line? So THANK YOU for writing “Piggy and Pug” in the first place, and for promoting it on tour, and for signing those bookplates so I could send them to the niblings! You’re an inspiration to so many!

  10. I feel your pain, (literally), with the shoulder injury. I’ve been dealing with almost exactly the same thing for the last few months and I’m _finally_ dragging myself to a doctor to do something about it. I’ll remember your story when the physical therapy makes me feel like my arm is being wrenched off šŸ™‚

  11. I went through a variation on this a couple of years ago and the anxiety and insomnia was absolutely awful. It’s hard when you’re so used to being the strong one and the person who deals with stuff to find that you’ve finally come to a point where you just can’t anymore and you have to ask for help. I really leaned on my husband a lot during that period, in the end I think it made our marriage stronger and maybe a little more balanced.
    I am so so sorry that someone was hurting your baby. As mothers we blame ourselves for everything and I’m sure you’ve run that period in time over and over in your mind, looking for the signs you missed, I know that I would be. That’s a hard thing thing because that feeling of blame makes us feel ashamed that someone hurt our child, and then we have to make sure that we don’t pass those feelings of shame and self blame onto our kids. We worry that if we talk then people will judge us, or judge our children.
    I know someone who went through something like your son did, and she said that her mother’s reaction made it so much worse. Because when she finally found the courage to speak, her mother made her keep it quiet. It’s brave of you to be open about this. It’s healthy for you and for your son. As mothers (or parents I suppose) we need to have more conversations like this.
    For the record, what happened was not your fault Anne. You’re a good mom and the proof is in the fact that your son came to you to share what happened to him and you were there for him. None of us are infallible and a lot of those signs we’re supposed to see could just as easily be a phase, or a little boy who needs an earlier bedtime. The only person who should feel ashamed is the person who hurt your baby. I know you wrote him that letter but if for some reason should find yourself in need of an alibi…
    Anyway, you’re doing a good job Mama.

  12. When I read your writing, and Wil’s for that matter, I am amazed at how grounded and together you both are. For all the battles you both routinely face with depression, fame, the collected trauma of your families past, you both handle it all with such logic and grace. It is inspiring to read. I struggle to confront uncomfortable parts of myself, or to tackle the goals that seem impossible in my life. While I am still the same flawed human I was before reading your post about your son, and you shoulder I now have a bit more hope than I did before. Thank you.

    Alternate post title, “Shudder then Sun”. I should mention I love puns and double entendre.

  13. I wrote one of those letters once, in three parts, and it was such a relief. I still have one to write but the words won’t come. It’s amazing how our body holds onto trauma. I’ve been working with an amazing woman to recognize my traumas & get through them & move on with my life.

    Thank you for showing the world that it’s ok to feel down & show us ways to pick ourselves back up. Both you & Wil inspire me to keep trying, keep doing the work to become a better person.

  14. oh, anne. i feel so relieved for you and proud that you wrote what you needed to. after years of amazing emdr therapy to assist with grief surrounding the early death of my mother, my therapist kept seeing a very young me in my face whenever i looked at her and discovered i locked away horrific memories of childhood sexual abuse and coped by parts of me splitting away (dissociative identity disorder) and hiding the secret from my young mind to keep me safe. it’s been a long, painful, fascinating journey recovering my lost selves and learning to be a mother to all of them (i’m flying blind because i chose not to have children so i’m going by what i think mama would do). thank you for telling your story and thank you for being you. with admiration and compassion, kimberly

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