hurt is not betrayal


I don’t why this moment should feel any different. From the outside at least, it’s identical to countless others.

We’re in a booth, tucked into a back corner of the Ninety-Nine, one in a chain of family restaurants that dot the map here in Massachusetts. We’re in the corner because we’ve requested, as we always do, to sit where the hostess thinks it will be quietest – where we will have the best chance of success.

We’re tired – all of us. We’ve just come from a day at the fair; we’ve been in the car for an hour (with another hour to go); and less than twenty-four hours ago, Brooke and I were headlong into a sleepless, tumultuous night trying to make sense of whirling, swirling emotions that had simply become too big for her little body to contain.

Brooke is doing what she does in restaurants – playing a game on her iPad. She’s engrossed in whatever it may be – Toca Boca? Toontastic? Nick Jr Draw and Play? I can’t see the screen from where I sit, just its silver glow reflected on her face.

Her face. That beautiful face. That breathtaking, ethereal, other-worldly face. That face that’s now covered with the physical manifestation of her anxiety – small, livid cuts where her restless fingers have broken the skin, then her nails have picked away until blood stained her hands and her clothes and her sheets. Chicken Pox, I think in a moment of detachment. That’s what it looks like. Chicken Pox.

I don’t know why this moment should feel any different. From the outside at least, it’s identical to countless others.

But it does.

The walls close in. The air is gone. I can see nothing but Brooke and her beautiful face in the silver light.

A word begins to form. It looms larger and larger above our table until it is so big and so close that there is nothing else.


Why my girl?

Suddenly I’m screaming. It’s all in my head but I’m screaming. WHY? Why does every God damned thing have to be so hard for MY beautiful baby girl?

And then, like a quick-change artist, Why is HOW.

How did this happen? How did it come to this – to iPads at dinner tables and corner booths as safe havens and a face – that gorgeous face – dotted with livid cuts and the scars of her very own making? HOW?

How is dangerous. I CAN’T do How. How is a rabbit hole that threads its way through my DNA and then climbs up a family tree whose limbs and leaves are soaked in Anxiety and Alzheimer’s and Bipolar disorder and every other mind and manner of mental illness and whose vines reach down and suffocate me every time I ask How.

So screw How.

But WHY? Why is going nowhere.

And then just like that, the air is gone and my eyes are full and I’m gasping for breath and Katie is scared and saying, “Mama, Mama, are you ok?” and I’m waving her away, which doesn’t work because no matter how desperately I may wish to be invisible I’m still there and she’s not letting up. “Mama, I hate when you cry and you won’t tell me why. Talk to me, Mama. It’s ok” but it’s not ok and damn it, I don’t want to talk and Luau looks up from his plate and I can see the concern on his face as he says, “Do we need to get you out of here?” and God, what the hell is happening and why am I the one we’d have to get out of here and where did all the air go; I know it was here a minute ago. And I shake my head, “No, I’m fine.” and I turn to Katie and I try to smile but I know it’s not working and meanwhile Brooke is playing her game because that’s what she does in restaurants and her beautiful face with the small livid cuts is still reflected in that silver light and I just want to know WHY.

I will get through it. I will thrust my arms out into the air to find my balance. I will make my way to the air just above the surface and I will breathe again. I will reassure Katie and nod at Luau. I will reach out to Brooke and tell her how very much I love her.

And later I will think about that moment. Later, I will let my heart sink into the guilt that I’ve been told is what I should feel because it’s not ok to ask How or to let How be eclipsed by Why or To Hurt. And I will sink into that place where I believe that it’s Not ok to Hurt even if the hurt is for my girl because SHE hurts. And later I will allow myself to believe that Hurt is Betrayal and Hurt is Not Acceptance and Hurt is Not Loving Enough.

And then I will know. In a moment of clarity that will come later I will know.

That none of that is true.

In that moment of clarity I will understand that questioning Why my girl has to hurt, asking Why things have to be hard for her, even shaking an angry fist at God and demanding to know Why the demons get so big that she HURTS HERSELF — that NONE OF THAT can ever, EVER compromise my love for her or should make me doubt my acceptance of her and every last bit of who she is. In that moment, I will know that it can’t.

I will know to my core that I accept my child – the whole of my child – with every fiber of my being. I will know that I love her so utterly and so completely that no other mother on the planet could ever rightly claim to love or accept her child more. And in that moment of believing, I will know that Hurt is not Betrayal; it’s simply part of Love.


I don’t know why this moment should feel any different. From the outside at least, it’s identical to countless others.

But it does.

42 thoughts on “hurt is not betrayal

  1. Hurt is human and How is real and This Whole Thing is really damned hard, no matter how much – because of how much – we love our children. Anyone who tells you that your feelings are invalid should be summarily dismissed. Keep feeling. Keep breathing. I love you all.

  2. I’ve done the WHY that (de)volved into the HOW for years. The air left when I did it too. Must be some sort of toxic chemical reaction that gobbles up every last oxygen molecule. And then his eyes, so very black and lidded with the lushest of lashes that they belong on the pages of a magazine, catch me and give me breath again. Don’t know the HOW of that either, but they do. I’ll take it, no matter the mechanism. Thank you for this today. It was beautiful.

  3. Thanks for being so painfully, brutally real. People need this. They need to know it’s okay to hurt. You don’t stay in that place…just visit, because you’re human. I’m not a hugger at all, but I wish I were there to give you a hug and just say over and over, “It’s okay…it’s okay…it’s okay.”

  4. I know that feeling. That ache you feel. I still have those “grieving” moments too. The guilt only makes it worse. I love Kylie to the moon and back but sometimes when I see those typical children her age chattering away with their friends and doing things my girl should be doing, my heart sinks a little. That should be her I think and then I feel that I am not accepting who she is. Then the tears and the guilt come again.

  5. I think there is a “grief” process that is not talked about enough in our community. It comes in waves. It can bring you to your knees. I have found myself camping on the couch under the heated blanket (a sure sign that I spend the morning howing and whying myself). I can now say I have done my best to only allow myself to indulge in these thoughts as little as possible. I do my best to redirect and not feed into my own anxiety. (My very own ABA…yes, I reward myself when I can make it long periods!) Much love to you!

  6. Thank you for being real. I go to the world of WHY often these days and it does feel like such a betrayal and that I don’t accept my child completely. Then comes the cycle of beating myself up for going to this world. Thank you for showing me I am on a “normal” path.

  7. You can only hurt so intensely for those who you love so much. Hurt is a feeling that you are allowed to own – that you are allowed to visit from time-to-time – because it is hard to look at your own child, see the scars of self-injury (at 3.5, my boy already bears them) and pain that comes from a world that bombards the and has them constantly on guard, and not feel hurt for them. It’s hard not to ask why.

    You’re human and hurting for someone you love very, very much. That isn’t a bad thing and it’s definitely not betrayal; it’s just being a mom – a very caring and loving mom who would move the world with her bare hands for her child if it would only help.

  8. Luckily I’m reading this in the morning before I have to wake lil boy and My David to put My David on the bus because the tears just roll and the air does seem to disappear for a moment. Most days we are having good days and then there is a day when My David comes home saying he had a bad day. He lost his piece of candy that had been his Friday treat and had been in his coat all weekend. Then there was something else, something he didn’t want to or didn’t know how to tell me, but it was a bad day. Then Little Pop Star ask me “Why do both of the boys have a have something that makes it hard for them to learn and I don’t?” Inside my head I’m thinking I wish I knew WHY. She bring up that it’s boys because she doesn’t know any girls with Autism. I remind her of Brooke, who she hasn’t met but knows of, unintentionally remind her that it could just as easily been her, she has the same genes as her brother we don’t really know Why. The Why has gone through my head countless time, but I’m not going to burden her with that, she’ll have her own as she gets older. I do remind her that My David has areas where it’s easier for him, he draws he did real people with eyelashes and everything at 2, math makes sense to him and computers are easy to use even though he’s just starting to read.

  9. I have had that same moment. In a restaurant. Where there were what seemed to be a million boys, all playing, smiling, and having fun. And we were just holding on, trying to get through the experience. Why? Yep, been there.

  10. I’ve been in a pretty good place lately. But it always seems to catch me, capture me, and devastate me all over again. Sending you hugs, love, and support Jess. We’re all there from time to time. Lack of sleep and stress will do that to you. The moments get fewer and farther between, but they never go away completely.
    My cloak is finally hung in the closet now, but I still try it on for size every now and then.

  11. And there are days and weeks and months when it can be nice to curl up on a couch and come to your blog and know I’m not alone in these things.

  12. Your sharing this with the world is so huge. At least to me. My son has Down syndrome and is not only non-verbal, but doesn’t really communicate fully either on any level. Those Why and How moments are brutal when they sneak up on me, and scare the heck out of me that I’m having them at all. I assume others feel similar moments, but reading about your experience with them personally and so eloquently put, has helped my weary heart this morning know I’m not alone, and it’s OK. Thank you for that.

  13. Jess – sometimes the emotional bucket of why or all the tough moments added up together inside my head just overflow and it needs to seep out. I think its just a part of a mother’s love to feel this way. Here is a piece of a post I wrote a few months ago when I was feeling exactly the same way:

    To describe childbirth is so difficult. Not the actual physical part of childbirth but the way giving birth changes the innermost part of you. No one had ever explained that to me before. Maybe I just wasn’t asking the right questions…. I thought about the sleepless nights, the diapers, the cribs and car seats…all the mechanics of it…..potty training and play dates. I knew I could do all that and I was ready. Knowing at times it would be really hard but that I would be able to handle it. I was so foolishly naive thinking that it would be easy to be a parent – I was never so wrong about anything in my entire life.

    For me it feels as though my heart transformed from a strong beating muscle into a delicate piece of glass. So fragile that it can shatter so easily. Every triumph you witness for your child shines through it like sparkling crystal – so beautiful. Every heartbreak or setback witnessed leaves you carefully picking up the shattered pieces – your fingers bloodied at trying to retrieve all the shards…….

  14. I am aching with you. I think we need to feel these emotions and we need to wrestle with them and allow ourselves to feel them. For me, these emotions push me to do more for my son…these emotions are real, raw, and a part of this life.

    Hugs for you.

  15. The power of your words has overcome me. I am in tears again. The hurt…especially when we watch them hurt…
    “Hurt is not Betrayal; it’s simply part of Love.” Yes. amen.

  16. and you wish that grieving and accepting were something you did once and moved on. Not something that suddenly jumped out from behind a tree and hit you full force. And your writing crushes me with its power, I see your beautiful girl with the scars of her battle and I cry for you both, because we moms can take on tigers but man does it hurt to the bone to see our children under fire, bleeding, hurting.

  17. Beautifully written. What could I possibly say that everyone else has not already? We would not be moms if we did not hurt when they hurt. I could never see betrayal in that kin of pain. xo

  18. You should feel no guilt about asking “Why” or “How”. Your precious child hurts, and you want to make sense of it. I believe that is natural. Quite frankly, I don’t understand how anyone wouldn’t have that response from time to time.

    Here’s what I think is the answer to that. It happened to you because you have a Power. A Gift. A way to touch people all over the world. You have the ability to help countless other families who aren’t as equiped. God gave you those precious children to bring out a part of you that benefits an entire community. To make you “the change” the world needs. What an awesome responsibility.

    And that beautiful child in front of you- no matter how “far” she goes, she will be happy. She will be loved. She will feel safe and understood. Your family has created that for her. Always remember that.


  19. I have so many of these moments….. I think we all have…. But what makes us stronger in the end is our clarity that we DO accept our children as they are, but it doesn’t make the hurt go away and it is NOT betrayal! You said it so perfectly,,,,AGAIN!

  20. Jess, My heart aches for you! My daughter suffers from anxiety and also scratches and picks at her skin. I’ve felt everything you’ve described. Please take comfort in our community and know that we’re all in this together. Hugs to you!

  21. I’ve been living in that place without light or air or WHY for weeks now. On the inside. It’s killing me. It isn’t stopping.

  22. Your honesty is so refreshing. The journsys we take in our minds on a daily basis are exhausting. I try to remain thankful and positive but then its the moments that you see other families having a “normal” night. They didnt have to bring the ipad, the special cup, the extra snacks. They didnt have to arrive early and get the back table. They didnt have to stress for an hour before and an hour afterwards afraid that we disturbed someone. I hate it sometimes but its OUR life and its the only one that we have so damnit we gotta make it work!!

  23. You deserve the same loving lens – for all its complexity and humanity – that you afford your daughters (and all of us). Peace to you, and some Herman Hesse (if it helps): “You know quite well, deep within you, that there is only a single magic, a single power, a single salvation…and that is called loving. Well, then, love your suffering. Do not resist it, do not flee from it. It is your aversion that hurts, nothing else.”

  24. I wonder why some times ARE different for moms and dads and caretakers. I can handle the situations one day and feel somewhat ok and there are other days one little thing happens (that probably happens every. single. day.) that will take me to places that are not the healthiest. But then we drag ourselves up, sit up, stand up, take a deep breath and know we love our kids and, well, keep on going….
    hugs to you mama.

  25. Wow! I need to stop reading these at work because it always makes me cry. Because you can put so beautifully into words the thoughts, worries, anxieties, stress, etc. that go through my head so often. Thanks so VERY much for making me realize that all these thoughts are okay (WHY does he have to be in so much pain, have so much angst? WHY can’t I figure out why he’s so upset? If I were a better mother, I would figure it out. WHY can’t he be given words to tell me what’s wrong?).. Thank you for taking that “I’m alone” feeling away sometimes. And just THANK YOU for doing what you do!! The world is a much better place because of you!

  26. Oh how I find myself feeling and thinking the exact same things. I feel like I’m stuck in a vicious never ending cycle of mourning and celebrating my girl’s. I just want the power to take away all the anxiety, sadness and hurt because isn’t that what moms are supposed to do? Why am I failing them? And when I’m feeling selfish joy why can’t it be without guilt? Hugs Jess.

  27. I have been right there with you too many times to count. The playground at school was most often my worst trigger place. But for what it’s worth, almost 12 years later, those extra difficult, painful moments seem to be getting fewer and far between. I guess that’s progress. Both my E’s and my own.

  28. I got a little behind reading yesterday, because it was an awful kind of day…the kind of day that made this post take my breath away, because it is so where I am today…hurting for my sweet boy. Thank you….

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