one million words

find your voice. tell your story.

VII: When your soul bears a scar

You can certainly get through life without understanding what helped create your vulnerabilities. Perhaps you will never feel desperate enough to want to explore the paper thin places of your soul for fear of falling apart. A few years ago I was tired of banging my head against the brick wall of infertility and ended up in therapy. A friend practically pushed me through the door. I felt almost guilty being there, like someone truly in need and lower functioning would be worthier of attention. What would I even complain about? My parents are loving and supportive.

I was mad at God though, for not offering tangible help in the baby department. It seemed he always checked out when I truly needed help, leaving me to fend for myself. I felt powerless and defeated, alone, even abandoned. My therapist wanted to know when I first felt that way. I told her this story:

I was nearly six when diagnosed with dysentery. (contagious intestinal infection) In East Germany this meant mandatory, hospital based isolation. I was stripped of personal belongings and stuck in a room with three other kids until we would ‘be better’.

We’d wake up in the morning, waiting for the day to end, hoping the next time darkness fell we’d be better, back home in our beds. Our crib style beds felt more like cages with the sides drawn up most of the day. Everyday I asked if my favorite stuffed animal had passed quarantine to join me.  I couldn’t understand or believe what took so long, why I was even there.

Once a week, on Fridays, our parents were allowed to visit. A visit consisted of watching your folks wave from behind a small window near the door. We could neither hear nor touch each other. Sometimes a nurse would free us from our bed and carry us over near the window. It was the worst time really, seeing old familiar faces, love without power. So hard to swallow the tears. We didn’t cry in front of each other. Crying was for babies and crying annoyed the nurses.

The nurses seemed stressed enough caring for us. We needed to behave, not make life harder for them. My hair was long but I no longer felt beautiful. Long hair now added to the workload, taking more time to wash and brush. Once a nurse fixed another girl’s hair, making her a side ponytail. I’ve always thought side ponytails look a little goofy. I don’t want you to fix my hair this way, I told her. Thinking I was rude or obnoxious, she immediately made me a side ponytail. I learned to silence my wishes, not wanting to upset people. 

At night we were woken up for mandatory potty breaks. I wasn’t accustomed to going to the bathroom at night but hospital care centered around schedule and routine, not bodily functions. Peeing on command is tricky when you’re sleepy. One night I sat on the porcelain pot in my bed so long it got stuck on my butt. When I finally stood, it fell off, spilling pee onto the bed. The night nurse got agitated, scolding me while I stood in the corner. I swallowed every word, actually believing this was my fault, blaming myself for not being more careful. I needed to become better at reading people, always assessing and placing their needs above my own.

I wanted God to get me out of there. I figured he could if he wanted to. God felt distant though, not unlike my own parents, showing up once a week behind glass. My case of dysentery was mild, with symptoms lasting for only a few days. Nevertheless I spend five weeks in that room. Five weeks feels like forever when you’re five and nobody tells you what’s going on.

At last, that dreaded door opened and I was allowed to leave. It was nearly Christmas and leaving felt like a gift, as fresh and invigorating as the cold winter air. Candles flickered in the darkness that night, it smelled like Christmas and music played softly. It’s so nice to have you back at home, my parents said. And it was.

We didn’t say anything else about the hospital after that. I nearly forgot it even happened. Sometimes our silent stories refuse to be silent though. We may end up quietly living out the agreements we made. I am living this story when I don’t expect God to show up for me, to act on my behalf, to offer tangible help. And I am living this story when I hide behind self sufficiency, not asking for help or allowing friends to care for me. I am living this story each time I silence my own needs and wishes for fear they’ll be too much because I am just a burden.

Healing begins by telling your silent story to someone who listens without judgement. Our silent stories don’t have to remain gaping wounds. We can heal, grow and love. Our silent stories define us no longer. Sometimes I visit my silent story. It’s been stripped of it’s power. A small scar remains on my soul and I am learning to live with soul scarred courage.

This is part VII  “Behind the Wall & Under the Steeple”, a collection of personal essays and reflections of growing up Christian in former East Germany. Part VIII will continue next week. Subscribe via email to my blog or bookmark this page. If you are receiving this post by email, any reply goes straight to my inbox.  Thanks for reading! 

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6 Replies

  1. Fascinating story. Brutal and painful. I can relate. Before the age of 13 I had multiple surgeries and multiple hospitalizations – but nothing like this. Brutal.

    PS: I like the revised bio! Nice job Ms. Encourager!

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks, friend. It would be great to hear more about how your medical journey has affected who you have become. Yes- East German medical care was….special. We didn’t think much of it though -it’s really my therapist who pointed out that this was not “normal”.

  2. Lynne Wetterlin

    Astrid, I am having trouble finding the words to write in response to your vulnerability. I am so deeply touched. Just thank you for sharing. I have now read all of this series (even the extras)and it is around midnight. LOL looking forward to your next installment.
    Your stories are a gentle reminder that my story, and all other stories, have value. I will just hug you tighter the next time I see you.

    1. Astrid Melton

      Sweet. Can’t wait for my next hug. Yes-every story matters and you can’t really compare. Sometimes I think, well, my story could be a million times worse but I think it’s less about assigning a specific weight to what happened to us and more about making peace with your own story if that makes sense.

  3. Astrid, your ability to write with understatement makes these times of sharing even stronger.
    Five weeks??? Dear Lord!!!

    And you got me thinking … I, too, have always put my wishes last… some thinking to do … I’m better than I was, but why was I that way?

    Keep writing, Astrid. Praying for you.


    1. Astrid Melton

      Yes- five weeks was complete overkill- obviously insurance was not involved

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