I was a pretty adventurous kid.
I also got hurt a lot.
There’s a correlation there, I’m sure. But no matter the scenario—falling out of a tree or getting hit in the face with a rock: my default reaction was to curl into a ball. To protect myself. To make myself as small as possible so I couldn’t get hurt even more.
I haven’t fallen out of any trees lately, but my immediate reaction to pain is the same. I want to shut down. I want to barricade the parts of me that are the most vulnerable and mitigate the risk as quickly as I can.
That’s exactly how I felt when someone hurt me recently. I chose to trust them, but then they were dishonest and mean. Their cowardice shattered a piece of me, and I so badly wanted to curl into a ball. To turn inward. To disengage the parts of me that love and trust and give and feel. It hurt so much it was hard to see beyond the immediacy of the pain, and I wanted to withdraw under the guise of letting the wound heal.
But I didn’t do that.
Because even more than I wanted the pain to stop, I wanted to grow.
So, I left myself open; I left the wound exposed.
Which meant I was honest. I told the people I love the most how much it hurt. I trusted them to hold me together when I couldn’t hold myself. No matter how many times they asked how I was doing, my answer didn’t change: I wasn’t okay, and I wasn’t going to pretend to be. Which isn’t easy to do. I had to fight to convince myself I wasn’t a burden. I had to fight to stay open. I had to choose to be vulnerable over and over again.
And, of course, my people kept showing up and holding every single piece of me in place.
Which is how P came into my life.
It was in that season of raw, open pain that the agency asked me about a 15-year-old. “She’s sassy,” they said, “but sweet.” The fact that her 3-month-old daughter was part of the deal was complicated, for sure. But I still decided to say yes.
So now I’m knee deep in diapers and teen angst. I’m arguing about cell phone rules and playing a lot of flying baby. I’m sitting up until way too late negotiating boundaries and laughing so hard I cry. I’m wading through court dates and caseworkers while sorting out medical histories and tracking down school records. More nights than I care to admit I’m trying desperately not to watch the clock as curfew approaches, doing my best to act chill but feeling palpable relief when I hear the deadbolt turn and know they’re home—safely within a world I can curate and control.
That’s not my end game, obviously. I want P to know exactly how much she’s worth and to have the confidence and security to explore endless possibilities for her life—possibilities she’s never even dared to imagine. I want that circle of safety to grow as she learns to trust me. And I’m willing to do the work to make sure she does, which is tough in the face of years of compounded trauma and pain.
But I think that’s part of the beauty of accepting the things that hurt us instead of shutting them out. When we choose to do the work of incorporating the parts of life that, in the moment, feel impossibly heavy and hard, we make room. With some work, our wounds can grow us and offer us new levels of compassion and understanding.
When we choose to stay open, we simply create more space, which, in my case, has meant a little less sleep and a whole lot more joy.