I’m giving this post as a belated birthday gift to my blogging soul-sister, Bethany. I hope this condensed, off the cuff version of my relationship with deer is successful. I’m sure it will be long, so I won’t hold it against everyone else for not reading it…
When I was a kid, my parents had a small painting of a deer in their bedroom. It was on the wall, just after you walked in the room. I never paid too much attention to it, but knew it was there. Their room was a place of comfort to me…a place I would sneak into at night to feel loved, snuggled against my mom, being quiet so I wouldn’t wake Dad.
One night, I had a dream. I’m not sure how old I was, but it had to be younger than nine, because nine is the age I was when my mom moved away, and I know she was living with me when I had it. Anyway, it was one of those dreams where you’re dreaming you’re in your own house and everything is the same as real life, so you aren’t sure it’s a dream, you know? So, in this dream, I’m sleeping in my parent’s bed. I wake up and I’m alone in the bed. I sit up, and see the deer from the painting is alive and in the room. I walk over to it and it bites me. There was no pain…I can’t say I was even aware of the bite as it happened. However, I was completely aware that the bite was going to kill me. I sat alone in the room, looking at the deer as it looked at me. We were both calm, and we both knew I was dying. I wasn’t scared, which looking back seems strange, for a little kid. I knew I was dying because I could feel my body being filled up with some sort of heavy sensation and I could taste it. I won’t try to describe it with words, but I can still remember that taste, and the sensation, to this day…and I’m 45 years old now. That dream has stuck with me this whole time.
Fast forward through life: My parents split and my mom moves half way across the country when I’m 9. My dad remarries when I’m 12 and I endure some pretty decent trauma…emotional neglect, sexual/emotional/physical abuse. I survive and go about what I think is my normal life…except there’s no such thing as a normal life after going through those kinds of things. I was just so good at stuffing things down and pretending I was normal, even I didn’t realize I was hiding anything.
So, I hit the age of 44 and it all bubbles to the surface. Like a volcano. A volcano that’s been simmering mostly unnoticed for almost 35 years. I started peeling off layers and it got real ugly around here. I was in a state of depression, to say the least. I spent so much time in therapy, I think I funded my therapist’s new car. Long story short, we kind of figured out that the way out of that dark hole was for me to find a way to forgive my inner child. The nine-year old me was pretty easy to forgive. She was just an innocent little bystander. It was the thirteen year old me that I was having a hard time forgiving. I hated her. The things that girl did…ugh. She was a gross, dirty loser who did bad, bad things. Of course, we all know children who suffer sexual abuse are not doing bad things. But when you grow up as one of those kids, you really do think that way. Even at 44 years old. It’s crazy, but that’s how the brain works. So, I sat under that black cloud for months, feeling hopeless. I just could not shake that heavy weight of guilt and shame, no matter how hard I tried. I intellectually understood it, but getting your soul to match up to your brain is not as easy as you think.
My therapist told me talking about it is how I would heal. I really could not imagine telling anyone other than her. What would people think of me? I knew if they knew, they would see I wasn’t the person I had been pretending to be, all of these years. They would know I was a fraud. But, as much as I didn’t want them to know, I knew I was going to tell. I finally mustered up the strength to tell one of my closest friends. I drove to her house one morning, last February. I was sweating as I neared her road and almost chickened out and turned around. As I approached her driveway, I thought I was imagining things…four deer walked out of her back yard and slowly crossed in front of my car. I couldn’t believe it. I’d seen deer before, maybe one a year…always late at night. I’d never seen one in the daytime before, and certainly not four of them, casually strolling in front of my car. They all looked my way as they passed.
I went in my friend’s house and spent the next few hours nervously pouring the contents of my damaged soul out on her counter. I shook and cried and felt things so uncomfortable, I still can’t believe I did it. I couldn’t look her in the eye. When I was done, I waited for her to judge me. Of course, she didn’t. She was great, like friends are. I ended up telling that story the same emotional way, over and over again, to different friends, until it gradually became less and less painful to tell. Just like my therapist told me would happen.
So, I go home that day and look up the spiritual meaning of the deer. Of course, there’s many opinions out there, and it all depends on what you believe in, but the first one I looked at was the ringer: “If a deer visits you, it symbolizes the innocence of your inner child”. Whoa! I felt something stir inside me, like when you are watching a scary movie and you get a suspenseful glimpse of some sort of clue. What are the chances that FOUR FREAKING DEER would happen to walk in front of me at ten in the morning, symbolizing the innocence of my inner child, as I’m about to tell the story of losing my childhood innocence? Meaningful? Yes. Enough to shake my depression? No.
I told my therapist about the deer and she gave me a book on spirit animals. I read that the deer attacking me in my dream was a test. It makes sense. I was about to go through some serious shit, and my spirit guide wanted to make sure I was going to survive. Nothing like a deer bite to toughen a kid up.
So, another few weeks of living under the dark cloud go by. I’m still fascinated by the encounter with the deer, but it’s not making me feel any better. At this point, the dark cloud has become my new normal. I remember thinking, “So, this is how people with depression live”…just matter of fact-like, as this was how things were going to be from now on. I was lying on the couch one afternoon, staring mindlessly at the television. My husband and youngest son came home. It was a few days shy of my son’s birthday. I sat up, because even though I was going through hell, I couldn’t let my kids see it. It was a full-time job acting normal for them, but I pulled it off. Anyway, they come in the door and I hear my husband say, “Did you tell Mom about what you saw this morning?” I sat up and looked at my son. His face was glowing with excitement. “I was getting ready for school this morning, and as I was looking in the mirror, I saw a deer in the reflection! It was standing in our back yard, right outside the window!” My eyes opened, real wide. Like I had been in a dream, and suddenly woke up. “You saw a deer?!”I’m sitting there, incredulously staring at my almost thirteen year old son, as he excitedly tells me about seeing a deer… an animal I’d been researching and relating to my life for weeks. An animal neither of us hardly ever see. And he’s really excited about it. He’s so young and innocent. The deer is young and innocent. My son…the deer…it clicks. He’s turning thirteen. I was thirteen when I was abused. If someone molested him right now, would he be dirty and gross and full of shame? No! He’s just a kid. It wouldn’t be his fault at all. Oh my God, I get it…it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t my fault.
And just like that, the dark cloud lifted…