Flying Solo with You: Collectivity Versus Competition

rock formation with sunset photo
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Could our way of competition and capitalism be leading us to isolation and depression? I search our city streets and I see a myriad of frenzied people often using tense and terse words, elbowing others for their tiny turf they’ve claimed. Horns are honking and the homeless are shouting expletives. Under the bridges of the bustling city, a plethora of tents form the silhouette of a starlit campground, “if only”! Humanity is in a hurry and  borders on depravity, definitely distracted. It is loud, busy, and not at all welcoming.

I don’t know if I’m that different than others, but the homeless always capture me, nearly grabbing me by the collar, choking my spirit. It cuts me to the core that we have fellow humans living alone, outside, in the harsh elements. This discomfort has been growing inside of me, spurred on by the numbers of homeless that spill onto the streets, which seem to be increasing daily. I can’t get past the growing numbers of disheveled people, holding signs in desperation, begging for a slice of the pie. No one wants to face the elements, often alone, for even one day, let alone in the dead of Winter. No matter if it is drugs, disability, mental illness, job loss, or any other unfortunate situation, having to be homeless seems inhumane.

This leads me to the space that inspired me to write this entry. Therapy was difficult today. I was given the task of thinking about the prospect of “flying solo”, without my family’s weight on my wings. I acknowledge in many respects that I have allowed the family stuff to stunt my own personal growth. I got wrapped up in a situation that I had little control over. Although my family dynamics will most likely remain unchanged, I can work to take control over my life and take better care of myself spiritually and physically. I accept the task of doing so. Still yet, there was something growing larger inside of me all day. Something that left me angry and inconsolable and, at one point, crumpled up on my bed, crying.

The world we are living in is hard and harsh. And honestly, more specifically, I feel it is our American culture that is causing a lot of the alienation that is leading to the pain that results in drug use and certain mental illness in the first place. And, so, I will have “fly solo” because in our culture it makes sense to do so. However, there is a larger part of me that is literally screaming in frustration that we are doing it ALL WRONG! I do believe self- care is important and that each individual is ultimately responsible for their own happiness, still yet, we are missing that our community needs its own form of “self care” and healing. Turning inward and healing oneself only can bring us so far. We have lost our sense of community and responsibility to one another. Connection to others is what brings us the greatest satisfaction.

My mind begins to spin thinking of all the aspects of community that has been eroding over the last several decades as greed related to unbridled capitalism has reigned. Less people are engaged in art, dance, writing, music, theatrical performances, etc. There are communities that lack employment opportunities while at the same time their school systems are lagging behind. Places where drug problems are more prevalent are paralleled with poverty and poor educational systems. Often these places have less parks, theaters, community centers, etc. Sadly, these places often have less treatment facilities available and transportation to and from treatment is non-existent. In certain rural areas, churches can be a source of refuge and connection, but often times are divisive and judgmental. People who long for connection feel uncomfortable seeking help from entities whose standards feel unattainable or foreign to them. Community often seems elusive and unattainable.

People outside of these situations feel that individuals in those areas need to just “seek help” if they are using. I can tell you from personal experiences with my family, they do not have access to transportation, most do not have a phone, and the hospitals and other treatment facilities are often too far for them to access. If you couple the logistics along with the fact that they have always lived chaotically with drugs in the picture (except when they were much younger), it becomes more apparent how difficult it is for many of these people to actually ask for help. Most people who are addicted deny having a problem and if they finally do decide to seek help, it is nearly impossible to attend treatment without a car (outpatient). The only rehabs nearby are waitlisted for several months. Access to treatment is very limited due to so many needing help. It is the same story for mental health treatment in certain areas. And sadly, I feel this is a common theme in many areas across the country.

So, again, this leads me to overwhelming frustration and sadness regarding the sad state of affairs our country is currently in related to treatment for both substance use and mental illness. We have a public health crisis on our hands and many of us have loved ones (or possible ourselves) that have been negatively impacted by the lack of care for so many struggling. This leads me back again to the homeless. Some of these beautiful people are lost in the system due not receiving care. They are recipients of trying too hard for too long and living in an area with higher unemployment rates. Some people get trapped into homelessness. Once you no longer have an address, a phone, access to showers, etc. employers “look over you” and you can no longer land a job. The saddest story related to unemployment that I can recall was one when I was filling out an application for a job at a fast food establishment long ago when I was in college. I knew they were still hiring at the time and I watched as a middle-aged man came in and asked if he could fill out an application. He was disheveled and looked “homeless”. They immediately turned him away. I remember watching him make a few statements in desperation, trying to convince him he was worthy to at least apply, but they turned him away based on his looks. Well, he might have been on the streets and was trying to get a job. I’m 46 and that exchange, with him walking out with his head down, defeated, was heartbreaking to watch. It crushes my spirit today telling it, as it did on the day I experienced it.

I just feel that we need to do better to invest in our community, not just ourselves. There is too much competition and not enough connection and collectivity. It may seem like a “pipe dream” to some, but I believe if we took care of each other, we would all benefit in the end.  The current model where everyone is exhausted from working harder, not smarter, to “get ahead”, has actually caused alienation and a host of other problems. I realize I am barely scratching the surface of what would actually have to change for this to be achieved. I only know that we are living in times where we are pulling away from each other, instead of bending towards each other and this, in time, will break us. I think we are seeing that already.

So, yes, I am flying solo away from the devastation that addiction caused for my family. I acknowledge I am powerless to help them. I have a heavy heart because I know too much has to change to have real impact in the lives of those I love. The area they live in is economically depressed, lacking services, transportation, etc. I hold this knowledge in my heart and it is heavy. I pass by the homeless and I see the faces of those I love in them. I see people who have tried and perhaps they did not get the right tools growing up, or they are disabled or mentally ill, or have an addiction that has never been adequately treated. I see people who have trouble competing in a system that is difficult for even healthy people, who often end up with physical diseases, a heart attack or stroke, from refusing to never taking a break. We are all tired and disconnected. I do not have the answers, I only know I hope one day to find some way to contribute. I only wish we could create a “softer place” to land when struggling occurs.

I am searching for community and connection. I will heal by flying solo, but I will soar when I finally connect to others in that freedom! I’ll continue to search for ways to connect. The potential and power to heal lies within us collectively, not in competition.

 

 

Advertisements

Let Me Be Light!: From Trauma to Snowflakes & Lighthouses

snow woman winter snowflakes
Photo by Kristin Vogt on Pexels.com

I’ve been stewing all day. Heck, actually, I’ve been stewing all week. It was at some point in the day when the snow outside began softly falling that I grinned, ear to ear, amused that I had been granted my little wish. Something as simple as a snowflake would provide the shift needed to escape my cage and cause me to contemplate taking a new path. Admittedly, I’ve been too tired and exhausted to push forward. I’ve been halfway hoping that someone would just carry me to the place I long to be.

The cold, dark days of dreary drizzle had blended together, blurry and boring. Restless, I sought stimulation and solace in the darkest of places where the sun doesn’t shine. I ran back to an unhealthy preoccupation where I clung tightly to the familiar misery of desperately trying to win a rush. Ah, how the simple act of gambling serves as the perfect parallel of my life, always waiting and wishing for the crumbs of love to fall, like waiting for the buzzer sound that means I’ve won a few free spins. I’m so starved that I was nearly picking crumbs off of the dirty floor, devouring them, and scouring the surface for more. If only I could get a bonus or two, I reassured myself, I’d be sure to be back on top! It comes and goes and I am never satiated. But, every now and again, I win just enough to distract me from the love that’s leaving me, always leaving me, as time slips away and I make no move to seize it. Looking back, perhaps the one who is leaving me the least of the crumbs, is myself.

As the snow continues to fall today and the ground became completely covered, I’m struck by its stark beauty. This blanket of white is accompanied by a bitterly cold wind and still, it seems so peaceful and serene. It is soft and new, changing the entire landscape with millions of snowflakes stacking up and sticking together, altering the reality of those experiencing it. We rarely get much lowland snow here in the Puget Sound region. A snow can lift you into anther realm, one of childlike joy, intrigue, and playfulness. My spirit easily becomes light, like the snowflakes drifting sweetly and slowly to the ground.

Those who have struggled with a trauma disorder know that life can be anything but light or carefree. Often, trauma binds you to maladaptive ways of coping that continue to keep you trapped. It’s difficult to let go of these coping mechanisms because in times of trauma, they have made you feel safe, so much so that releasing them feels an impossible and incomprehensible feat. At one time, these maladaptive ways meant our survival and therefore it makes sense that we struggle to let them go. Often, they are ingrained in us so deeply that we forget they are only a mechanisms, not a personality characteristics. These old patterns have little power over us except for the power we gave to them long ago.

On a personal level, I have been unwilling to “give up” my obsessive thoughts and compulsions relating to my trauma because it feels unsafe to do so, as if I were “letting down my guard”. What if I stopped fighting? I often have felt no one would care & in some cases this has been proven true, and yet, I’m slowly realizing that when I never leave the battle, the battle never leaves me. I have been sincerely trying to escape, but I often chain myself more tightly in the process, perpetuating a false sense of security that inevitably leads to my demise again and again. This downward spiral is going to take quite a bit of strength and perseverance to totally break free. I’m still not sure it will ever entirely happen, we’ll see.

Unfortunately, the maladaptive ways of coping will further trap you and re-traumatize you. It’s a cyclic beast that can render you depressed, anxious, exhausted, and even in physical chronic pain. And it does this so cunningly, without your awareness or permission. The cycle continues while you operate in very limited ways that “promise” you protection and safety. Some stay stuck and stagnate, others become increasingly more sick and will even be re-traumatized by engaging in patterns that unknowingly welcomes the trauma back into their lives.

Over the past couple of years, my trauma was recently triggered and intertwined with the trauma that my niece endured. I felt guilty during the times I remained silent when I could see her suffering so. Her trauma lead me to compulsively engage in desperate behaviors of continually checking up on her with the insistence that she receive the opportunity to get the help she needs. She now is nearly disabled from drug use, suffering from a mental illness, and is potentially facing time in jail. I spent the last two years trying to “save her” and it only resulted in me becoming more isolated from her and my family. Her nuclear family is very dysfunctional, and to be realistic, she probably does not have the best chance for recovery.

In the last two years, I sat with my hands tied behind my back, shouting from the sidelines, as others neglected to help her. I watched while the system failed her. The last few years have been particularly tough on me, watching a young individual whom I love struggle in so many ways knowing I could do little to help her. The invalidation and neglect she was receiving, painfully reminded me of the times I have felt invisible and abandoned. The fight to “save her” metaphorically became the fight to “save myself”. I launched war in my family and it was brutal and messy. At the end of the day, the dysfunction continued and little has truly changed in the family.

Through the chaos and drama, I came to identify myself as the scapegoat and certain historical patterns finally made more sense to me. I stepped back, not really wanting to see the unhealthy patterns of others, but determined to accept the brutal truth, even if it was painful. This process left me alone and abandoned in the storm, clinging to any semblance of sanity as I watched the devastation before me ensue and the denial others practiced in order to avoid the truth. In reality, certain members of my family had already abandoned themselves years ago by surrendering to an aggressive and ugly addiction that robbed them of so much. They’ve been tightly bound to their negative coping mechanisms of addiction and chaos to numb the pain away. Their lives are going in fast forward, often in a blur, without truly smelling, tasting, or seeing much of anything. I’ve been angry and ugly in my relentless quest to help them, but in my heart I know it’s time to truly ‘let go” and forgive. I’m searching for softness to return to me. I long to feel light, like the snowflakes floating freely to the ground.

Healing from trauma appears to come in waves. It seems that I get swept out to sea over and over again. Perhaps this desolate see is just too alluring, pulling me in over and over again, crashing upon the shore, leaving me weary. I know I am nearly ready to shed the lifeguard vest and let go. Perhaps, I’ll find a cliff high above the ocean where I can sit far away from the shore and listen to the waves crash in the distance. Feeling this vast and foreign space around me, I will be able to scan the horizon for incoming storms and will shelter myself, avoiding another shipwreck. And in time, I’d love to morph into a lighthouse, solid and full of hope. One that stands in strength, peacefully warning sailors of perilous waters, with its penetrating light, piercing the darkest of night.

 

 

 

Hug Me Tightly: Recovery Before Romance

man and woman hugging and sitting on a bench
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

Perhaps, I’m impenetrable.

I’d like to think that someday, someone out there will find me. Someone who is waiting and wondering where I am. I’ve nearly given up hope, but something tells me that maybe there is someone for me. I’m still not ready yet. Healing from a decade of desperation, darkness, and devastation has left me disoriented and distant.

I would love to be held tightly and hugged, leaving no doubt of my lover’s intentions. The next time I lose myself in someone’s embrace, I hope it’s with the one I will grow old with, finally feeling safe.

I’d love to find an artist who could be the harmony to my melody. Someone who could sing me to sleep.

My last love of ten years continually pulled me in and spit me out, dragging me out to his lonely sea. I was mesmerized by the beauty, but nearly drowned in the undertow, often left alone and vulnerable to dry out on the barren shore. I had memorized his face, his body, his scent. I pleaded with him for years to wake up because life in time will leave us. Time is finite. I was convinced that our sacred space which felt tender and raw, at times, was enough to sustain us. And yet, we fell apart, crumbling. All that is left now is dust, swirling in the wind. The shattered and separated particles that was once us, are now distant and dormant memories. There is nothing left to hold. The lover I had memorized has nearly faded from me. I only see him in my dreams. After ten tumultuous years, I look back, scanning the horizon for what was real and what was imagined. I’m only grateful in the present to stand on solid ground. With him, the sands were always shifting. I believe in hindsight our instability was intentional. I had become an ornament that was lost in his pain and I was an easy discard for him. He was secure in his possession of me. We were destined from the beginning to erode and decay, still, I held on for way too long, desperate and hopeful.

The years I where I was perpetually losing him, were the most painful. Hanging there alone, in that space, where I was always frantically searching for the evidence that he loved me and willing to take the crumbs that were haphazardly tossed at my feet. I’m no longer grieving the relationship, but am grieving the time I lost for myself when I was trying to find him. Over time I labeled him as someone struggling with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. My therapist continually called him a psychopath. I joined on-line support group and read familiar stories of others. Part of me was angry and hurt at him for the abuse I endured, both physical and psychological. Another part of me, was livid at the abusive environment that caused his impenetrable walls to develop, imprisoning him in a lifetime of no real intimacy. Oh God, how I grieved the lost little boy inside of him that needed to be hugged and loved. Still, I had to surrender and let go. Time and experiences had proven to me that I would never truly be able to reach him.

I’ve haven’t seen him in over two years and it has been over 5-6 months since our last contact. He contacted me through e-mail a few months ago, desiring to hear how I was doing. I did not respond.  I cannot run back chasing the millions of particles that was once us. They would only slip through my fingers. I was exhausted always trying to somehow hold us together. It became easier to deal with the loss than to stay, always running after him, trying to make sandcastles in the wind. It devastated me. I picked myself up off that desolate shore where I was left alone too many times, and decided once and for all that I would not return.

It will take time to love again. I have to learn to completely love myself before loving another. I will not get lost again in someone’s embrace without first knowing my value. I will build a strong castle above the desolate sea where I can still be mesmerized by its beauty, but safe from its undertow. My castle will be adorned with love and each brick will be placed by me. When I value myself in this way, I will know quickly what I am unable to compromise. I’m not ready for another romance yet, but when I am I’d like to find another vessel that has done the work inside that allows a passionate and present love. I want us to not only be in love with each other, but in love with our place in the world. I’d like to be in love with the beauty that surrounds us.

I miss having a romantic connection. I miss the intimacy of memorizing someone’s face and figure. I long for the companionship and warmth a relationship can bring. I want to laugh again and feel alive in the presence of a new love.

Perhaps he is out there. Maybe he even wonders where I am. I’m coming, I’m just not ready yet.

If I find him one day, I expect ordinary magic. I will be blessed to cherish the mystery and miracles that present themselves in the present moment when we are living without the hindrance of suffering. When we love ourselves first, we can completely love another. So, if he is out there I hope he is learning to love himself. If nothing else, this is the journey I am on and even on days when I would love to be hugged tightly and held, I know I have myself. And I am enough.