I am massaging the stillness that is ever present within my struggle. I am increasingly aware of its existence budding within me, no matter how much I distance myself from it when in pain or I dismiss its potential to heal me. The human mind, which is hard-wired for survival, is conditioned to attend to the habitual sound bites that often keep us contained in rituals of distraction and preoccupation. We continually get pulled into these weathered and worn spaces because familiarity feels safe. However, sometimes the hyper-vigilance and patterns that helped us survive in the past are the very patterns now responsible for denying us our freedom. Turning towards myself and sitting in the stillness, I am able to carefully untangle the knotted up yarn of my life that had once been seen as unmanageable.
Creating the space for the stillness to expand and evolve will more than likely be one of the greatest challenges of my life. And yet, I know that the gifts of doing so are beyond my current comprehension. Humility, self-love, forgiveness, compassion, peace, and joy are a few of the gifts that not only come from the release of attachment, but also offer emancipation from the self-imposed shackles that have limited my sense of freedom and my capacity to love. The realization that much of our suffering is “self-imposed” is what ultimately puts us in the driver’s seat and behind the steering wheel. The world will always offer displays of depravity and suffering, and yet, acceptance of that reality frees us from struggling against it. When you feel as if you are drowning, the best course of action is to acknowledge it, and surrender to the reality of “what is” by floating on top of the water saving your energy to tackle the next storm. Some waters are choppy and fierce. Your ability to submit to that reality by floating will be what empowers you in the end.
And, oh, how I have been struggling as of late, embracing the sorrows of the world! I’ve been fighting the waves, expending all my energy , swimming against the undertow. I cannot count the amount of times I’ve been washed up along the shore completely disoriented, humiliated, and in despair. And many times, I have been alone in the madness, often fighting with myself. I was doing anything and everything but floating!
The past few years of my life I fought tirelessly against several waves of loss that left me feeling broken and in despair. I had a life-long, good friend take her life, an entire family lost to addiction, and a loss of independence and employment due to struggling with a mental illness. Because I am stuck currently on Medicaid, I have struggled to get adequate medical care under a system that is incompetent and is ill-equipped to deal with the demands placed on it. On a larger scale, I am watching my divided country “duke it out” on social media while homeless people sleep on the cold, concrete streets of Los Angeles. It seems that the world is crumbling before me as people turn away from each other with professions of progressivism and purity. Humanity has its depravity, despite its immense capacity to heal itself. The reality that many turn away from one another instead of bending towards each other in times of crisis, intensifies the despair I feel on a daily basis.
Some people would suggest gratitude, distraction, or any other endeavor to cope with feelings of hopelessness. I am trying acceptance and acknowledgement. I do, however, feel grateful for what this struggle is teaching me. Here, in the midst of chaos, I will share how my struggle has blessed me, in certain ways. I wish life had dealt me a different hand, but I know things could have been much worse. Life is difficult by nature. I will put my faith in floating. I am 47 and despite everything lost, it is time to “settle in” to this lifetime. It is passing and time waits for no one.
What my struggle has gifted to me:
There was a time in my life when depression had swallowed me whole. I remember a time not too long ago when I was in an abusive relationship where my partner continually communicated to me that I wasn’t “good enough” to commit to “yet”. He wasn’t sure if I was “worth it”, he stated. I stayed on trying to prove my worth to him because I did not believe yet in my own worth. I was seeking his approval. Leaving him was one of the first steps I took towards myself. I wrote the poem below titled “The Desolate Sea” during the days when I was fighting to be “seen” by him .
Oddly enough, the losses I experienced forced me to turn inward and evaluate myself. In doing so, I began cultivating self-compassion for my flaws and celebrating the essence of myself: the things that made me “beam” with joy. Over the last year or so, I sought solace in nature, often marveling at the beautiful mess of the forest, its lush ferns and mossy limbs covering every inch before me in a frenzied and chaotic fashion. There were broken and decaying limbs on the forest floor where large evergreen trees towered over, hosting a few birds in their lovely branches. It was all of this new life coexisting with the old and decaying that helped me embrace my own beautiful mess. There was no organization to the forest and it was still absolutely inspiring. It made me feel okay to have all of those parts, the old and new, coexisting inside of me and yet still feel purposeful and whole.
The following poem, “The Desolate Sea”, stems from one of the “parts” of me where I felt unloved and even, broken. I am including it in this post because I do feel we all have parts of ourselves that, at times, can be self-loathing or even full of insecurity. I’ve grown a lot from that time in my life. The losses in my life have helped me to see the essence of myself from being stripped of so much. Life can be lonely and there may be periods where we isolate from others and feel that no one can relate to our struggle. Life is difficult for everyone by its very nature. My poem, written in the days when I was desperately seeking the validation from my ex, demonstrates that life eventually moves forward. Tough times often result in growth! It also reveals that what I accepted in the past, is not what I would ever accept today, or in the future. The struggle of life is real, while the embracing of the self can be a continual gift. I hope you enjoy the poem. Wishing you light along your path!
It’s difficult to say
No one loves me enough to stay
All wish to run away
Trouble finds me
I want nothing more
than to be set free
People misunderstand me
Hide from me
Chances taken away
With each passing storm
Now the one I love
The one who I say
Was sent from above
My angel, My Lover
May turn and leave
I’m too heavy
Life is too short
And when their passing through
It’s me they’ll abort
For many years
This brought anger, hurt, tears
Now understanding and sadness,
Relinquishes my fears
I understand His Woes
His love caught in the undertoe
The massive destruction
Coming, blow by blow
As the relentless ocean
Raises it floor
With Sand and grit
It snarls and spits
Foaming once more
Soaking and drowning
Day by Day
How could I ask anyone to stay?
Too much, Too much
My heavy heart
Can see the untold plan
Grief that is intolerable
Difficult to bear
I stand there
I stand there
Each day, Each dark night
The waves are crashing with delight
And when the storm settles down
I can hear another, begin to crown
I try to stop them
With all my might
With words, with love
I stay, firm and fight
In the aftermath
It’s usually me
In this desolate Sea
Pleading to be set free
Hoping this is not my eternity
If there is one recipe that I wish I could replicate with perfection, it would be my Grandma’s sugar cookies. Every year, when it comes time to “Hauling out the Holly”, I inevitably find myself thumbing through my Grandmother’s recipe box to retrieve the handwritten recipe of her infamous sugar cookies. Printed above, in shorthand, is the recipe, written in what seems to be haste, as she didn’t need the expanded instructions. This is a recipe that she could likely execute in her sleep. Years have gone by since my Grandmother’s passing and without the ability to ask her advice, I stumble along each year trying my best to recreate her “Christmas magic”. Some years I get closer than others in texture and flavor. It’s always fun trying and it keeps her memory alive and with me during the holiday season.
My Grandmother was a foster mother in the 70’s and 80’s and was known to many kids as “Mom”. When Christmas rolled around, my Grandmother often single handedly pulled off the magic and miracle of Christmas, not only the grandchildren in her life, but for her foster kids as well. Looking back now as an adult and remembering these special times, I get a little emotional at the love and work that was interwoven into each Christmas that passed at her home.
My Grandmother often had 15-17 foster kids in her care at one time. The regulations were very different back then and her home was always full of children from toddlers to teens. She lived in Florida and had a backyard with a pool and a small playground where hours were passed playing there. She also had a large playroom that was connected to the side of her home for when it stormed and we all needed to come inside for our safety. My sister and I lived behind her home until we moved when I was around six or seven years old. We stilled visited in the the Summers for an extended time, but Christmases were often spent in North Carolina after we moved away. The times spent at Grandmas were always a bit magical and my sister and I came to know many of the foster kids. Some were like cousins to us because they were with my grandmother for a few years and we had formed relationships with them. I still remember many of their names: Danny, Donna, Martha, Rosemary, Star, Kenny, Jimmy, Leroy, etc. Some of her foster children remained in contact with my grandmother even into their adult years.
When Christmas rolled around each year, I can vividly remember my Grandmother in her kitchen, forever baking, which was in the center of her home. Nearly every room lead to the kitchen and it had an opening where she could remain cooking, but still keep an eye on the kids in the living room. Every year my grandmother would fix 12 dozen, sugar cookies, and some years even more!! She would take up the space of the entire table and counters to place the cookies for cooling in preparation for icing and decorating them. And then she would sit down with her foster kids and many of her grandkids and decorate the cookies. It was a sight to be seen! What is even more amazing to me is after she moved to Tennessee to be closer to my mother and her great grandchildren, she continued the tradition of baking sugar cookies, ever single year for them. More than likely, she was decorating the sugar cookies for her great grandkids the year she passed away. The last Christmas I spent with her, I decorated a few cookies with her. If there is one space and time I could return to, it would be to sit with my grandmother once more and really be present in the magic she baked up with her sugar cookies. She probably never knew how much we loved her cookies and how they are part of her legacy of love. Inevitably every year, her sugar cookies are mentioned and someone laments how we can “never get them just like hers!”
Christmas morning was also a time of delight and magic at my grandmothers. She had a fenced in patio outside her home, and each year as my feet grew, I got a new pair of roller skates. So, did all the other kids! We also got dolls, art sets, coloring books, games, lite brights, slinkies, etc. Because she had so many kids in her home at one time, I kid you not, the presents were stacked as high as the Christmas tree and spilled out onto the floor. Everyone got gifts from Santa and the foster kids were shown the same love as her grandchildren. To all of us, it was pure magic! I regret never asking her as an adult how the heck she accomplished such a feat! Was it some of my Aunts, like Terri or Glena, who lived in the area, or my Mom, who assisted her in this yearly spectacular event? All the wrapping and stacking of the gifts? The elves were definitely busy at work, but who were the elves? Surely, it would be nearly impossible to pull off on her own! No less, every year she pulled off Christmas for a house full of nearly 20 kids and she was just the kind of person to not only “get the job done”, but revel in it. My heart swells thinking of the children she touched by giving them a normal and joyful Christmas.
And, so, today I will try again, Grandma, to make your sugar cookies. I will have in my hand the very recipe card that you one day sat down and so hurriedly wrote. And while I kneed the dough and roll it out, I will think of the work of your hands. I will remember you giving me instructions when I was a small young girl eager to help: “Let’s make the bells yellow! Use the red icing for Santa’s pants and here is black icing for his belt! The Stars can be yellow too and the Snowflakes, let’s do them in blue!”. And I wonder to myself now, how many people you have inspired to make sugar cookies! I’d give anything to sit down and decorate your cookies with you again. But, since I physically cannot, you will be with me today in thought and in spirit. I can’t wait to see how they turn out this year. God bless you Grandma for the special times and memories you have created. You are forever in my heart!
Hope your season is full of merriment and magic! Sometimes the greatest joy is felt in the smallest of things, like the simple goodness of a sugar cookie!
Step out into the open, my loved one.
Scan the horizon and accept the presence of this moment. Be acutely aware of the beauty of our natural world which inspires many to replicate its quiet and unassuming brilliance through art and letter. Let the environment satiate your senses, filling your soul with the sights, smells, and sounds of the space you occupy. Lean back, breath in deeply, and sigh effortlessly while half smiling, surrendering yourself to the simple joy of being alive. You are free to feel full, experiencing the fullness spilling over as it escapes through your eyes by the way of salty tears that you sometimes hide from the world.
Stay open because there is more beauty to come.
It’s okay to let go of the things in which you cling so tightly. Often these things are thoughts about yourself, the world, or others that no longer serve you. If it is weighing you down it might be time to stop carrying it. It is easy to trap yourself in the thought that perhaps you deserve the heaviness, somehow. Maybe you are carrying it in hopes that one day there will be closure or reconciliation. And yet, massaging old wounds does not lead to healing. It’s time to forgive yourself for the time spent on endeavors that lead you away from your authentic self. Please know that the way you have managed and coped due to trauma is not your identity. It’s time to draw a hot bath, rinse away the pain, fear, and sadness that has trapped you and let those things disappear through the drain. Allow the steam to open the pores that have been clogged with self-doubt to dissipate into the endless air that envelops you. Breathe. Clear the thoughts that cloud your day with confusion by taking a long, hot bath where you can marvel at the miracle of you while letting go of any thoughts that feel heavy or resistant. Thoughts come and go, you remain.
Open your eyes to the expressions of others around you. Embrace the connection by noticing the the curve of someone’s face or the way their nose wrinkles when they laugh. Don’t be afraid to be curious about those around you. Watch people with great interest and with all senses wide open. There is life all around you and it is passing. Don’t miss the opportunity to be present, if possible.
Don’t berate yourself for past mistakes. Don’t let the thoughts of self criticism cloud your conscience, taking you away from the present moment. It is not too uncommon for one’s well-intentioned thoughts to become the main stage and a terrific distraction from connecting to yourself and the present moment. You are fine just as you are, mistakes and all. Every mistake and heartache has taught you something. Often, honoring our pain and cultivating self compassion strips the tight hold it has on our life. Embrace your humanness and accept that the world is both beautiful and flawed. It is interesting to note that the deeper you love and connect to others, the more deeply you feel pain when loss presents itself. Your sadness, grief, and anger is often a sign that you are alive and you are open to love. When you notice that these things have taken you away from yourself and the present moment, it may be time to sit in the stillness again and draw from the well of love within you.
I hope your day is light today. I hope you smile freely and feel full from the beauty your eyes rest on from the world around you. I don’t know you, but I share this world with you. Collectively, we occupy this planet and it is “our time”. My wish for you today is that you “seize it”! Carpe Diem!
I have more than enough reasons to give up and resign myself to a life bound by fear, disappointments, and regrets. And yet, in the struggle, I am learning resiliency. I’ve peeled off nearly every layer of “skin” and have been left exposed and vulnerable. Interestingly enough, my heart beats on and my spirit longs for wholeness. In some ways, I feel closer to freedom and the endless discovery that results from it. I’m learning that so much of my suffering has resulted from a sense of separation from myself. This developed from years of drowning out my voice with the endless chatter of others and the belief that their perceptions of me held more weight than mine. I was drawn to anything that distracted me from the stillness and the truth truly needed to heal. And thus my life over the last decade grew nearly intolerable and as a result I lost a great deal. Some of the loss was necessary, while some was a direct result of suffering so long with a mental illness. It seems recently, that everything has culminated into a rather serious struggle that has demanded my full attention and energy.
Besides the recent move to Los Angeles which has been overwhelming and alienating, I’ve been battling dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) and have lost a little over 60 pounds in roughly four short months. I wasn’t really that worried until my fear restricted my diet further over the last month and the last ten pounds fell off so quickly, leaving me intimately aware of what true hunger feels like. It hurts. The fear of swallowing originated from a real place as I recently have been diagnosed with an esophageal motility disorder. I’m doing my best to be patient with a slow healthcare system and am waiting to receive treatment for both for the motility issues and now the fear surrounding my swallowing.
Besides, the physical struggle, I’ve been grieving so much loss over the years and a significant loss very recently. I lost a childhood best friend, Beth, to suicide on October 13th. I’ve known her over thirty years and her struggle of mental health was similar to mine. We had exchanged messages through messenger the night before she passed and although she shared that her medications were screwing with her, she never gave any indication that she was suicidal. In fact, the very last message I received from her she talked about researching treatment options. Her death came as a shock to everyone close to her. I am still processing it all. I literally just returned from a cross-country trip this past Sunday where I attended her “Celebration of Life” ceremony. It’s been disorienting to say the least.
The passing of my friend drummed up a lot of memories of others in my life of whom I have “lost” along the way for various reasons. Over time, I’ve been “shedding” certain people in my life that were weighing me down. I have had to cut ties with my sister and her kids because the addiction issues became too difficult for me to navigate. I wasn’t getting my needs met and I found that I was often raging and/or depressed. It was unhealthy for me and I did what was necessary to heal, which was to “let go”. I also went “No Contact” with my ex-fiance because of his lack of commitment and other confusing behavior patterns which always made me feel insecure in our relationship. This has left me somewhat isolated and alone, and yet, perhaps it has been needed not only for me to heal, but also to reconnect with myself so that I develop a stronger sense of self.
I actually thought that my mental illness couldn’t get much worse as the grief of losing people, jobs, independence, family, etc. seemed rather brutal. Then along comes a phobia of swallowing and it has pretty much paralyzed me for the moment. I can’t eat out and I’ve become very restricted in what I eat and drink. There are the moments where I have tried my best to get something down with no luck and I end up staring at my plate, tears inevitably rolling down my cheeks. I’ve always been able to hide somewhat behind an anxiety attack, even to where others may not even be aware that it is occurring. This is different. I can’t go and “fake it” at a restaurant as everyone would wonder or ask why I am not eating. It’s serious and potentially life-threatening. And I have recently reached the threshold where I really shouldn’t lose anymore weight. Not to mention the constant hunger pain and exhaustion I experience from not getting enough calories. I’ve been lucky to get 1000-1200 in on most days.
And so, all of the above should be enough to “give up”. But, I won’t. I am tired and scared, but I’m also hopeful. I have appointments coming up to address my concerns with both my therapist and psychiatrist. And I will soon see a motility specialist for my esophagus. I will fight and keep trying because that is who I am deep down inside. And I am determined to find the good in this struggle. For instance, had I not become fearful, I would have never pursued the esophageal testing and I probably would have not known about the issues of motility. This time of struggle could save my life or, at minimum, provide me with the tools to eat in a way that will not permanently harm my esophagus. My overwhelming fear of swallowing is an opportunity for me to address the fear and anxiety in my life that has had a hold on me my entire life. Because this is a fear that cannot be ignored, it gives me the time to discover why I am so fearful and the space to learn better coping skills.
Life is not without struggle. My task going forward will be to find ways to accept the struggle and neither cling to it or avoid it. I would like to understand what it is trying to teach me. The loss in my life has been significant, and yet, I am slowly regaining pieces of myself back. I am also continually sculpting and molding my true essence and am defining what it means to be me. I have shaved off what is not mine by letting go of the people and endeavors that have often kept me trapped in self-doubt and fear. As part of the human race, we all struggle from time to time. What seems alienating is often what unifies us in the end. I hope one day I will be free from suffering and my words can be a source of comfort to someone. I would be amiss in my process of healing to not shed light on the path along the way.
“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light”. – Aristotle
It feels as if this beautiful, old home has been closed up forever. The windows have been nailed shut, barely allowing sunlight to pierce through, shattering fractals of light on the sheets that were haphazardly thrown, in haste, on the furniture years ago. It has been easy for me to become wrapped up in the problems of today, burying the past with my sadness and grief. By buttoning things up tightly, I had become more rigid, allowing this stuffy and dark place within me to expand until it nearly engulfed me completely. Perhaps, I felt that by uncovering joy, I would somehow be “giving in” and surrendering to the hurt that “erased me” in the first place.
Wasn’t it here, in this old home, where I twirled effortlessly as a small child, giggling, as I dizzily dropped to the wooden floors? Stepping into this space, I can nearly smell the apple pies my Grandmother cooked each Thanksgiving when she visited. The faint smell of leaves burning outside comes to mind as does the feeling of donning a new, fuzzy sweater to wear outside in the cool, crisp Autumn air. There is no other time of year that pulls me back to the place of my childhood than the beginning of Fall. As I begin to embrace myself wholly, memories flood my being, filling me with a sense of home.
Healing the trauma in my life, in large part, has been a process of stripping the sheets from the furniture and taking the boards off of the windows to let the light flood in. Trauma will keep you trapped in one room, even crammed into the corner of it. I could tell you every tiny detail of the room I was caged in for so long, because I spent hours ruminating in that suffocating space. I was the master there, until I became a slave to the emotions that evolved as a result of being caged for so long. It was only in the desperation to free myself from the despair and stagnation, that I began chipping away at the cell, exposing light amid the crumbling structures I had so hastily built in an effort to protect myself.
For years, like many others, I did my best to avoid feeling pain by continuously distracting myself, often engaging with people or pursuits that were unhealthy, even damaging. I was creating chaos, or at minimum accepting it in my life, because I felt if I surrendered and sat still with the pain, it might just swallow me whole. There were times I believed if I gave the pain in my life the space it needed to breathe, I might end up endlessly sobbing. My pain felt, to me, like the water behind a dam, and I feared that the act of acknowledging it would mean an irreversible break, causing immense flooding. Perhaps, I would not recover. Thus, the untouched pain in my life continued to expand until it became intolerable.
I found myself in an insufferable space, locked up by my memories, pain, and fear for years. Only one room of my old home was accessible to me, and I remained there, justifying the paralysis and stagnation as years passed by. Even though there was definitely validity to the trauma I experienced, I admit now that I had developed a very narrow focus that ultimately was harming me the most. I was unwilling to “let go” of a space that paradoxically felt both “safe” and “deadly” at the same time. At one point in my life, this confining space kept me safe and my fears more manageable, while years later, it has served to suffocate me, stunting my growth as well. I took this shell of safety with me to work and also into relationships, which limited my ability to truly relate to others. It took years of suffering to learn that the light in my life was every bit as relevant as the darkness. Although there is still so much in life that troubles me, I’m now able to let in the light while “letting go” of the reigns that I’ve been holding so tightly. This flexibility is necessary to provide me with the balance needed not only grow, but also to experience more joy in my life.
As I heal, I find myself uncovering joy in a variety of areas in my life. Even with those individuals that I can no longer have in my life, I acknowledge the love and light we shared between one another. I feel grateful for our memories and feel tasked to not discount the love, joy, or light associated with them, even if certain of the memories are extremely painful. I want to recall the joy experienced in these now fractured relationships, not just the darkness. There have been too many memories that I devalued and brushed aside on the basis that they were heavy with pain. I no longer want to erase any part of my life, no matter how painful, because I have discovered that I have learned from each experience, even those where I have felt shame, embarrassment, or desperation. Time has taught me to appreciate the many layers of my life of which are complex, rich, and even fragrant. I feel compelled to rip the sheets off the furniture and strip the boards from the windows, breaking the seal to allow in the crisp, Autumn air. In doing so, the memories continue to flood in, filling me with the depth and beauty of the wondrous life I have lived that I have often ignored and buried. I now am finding myself ,more often than not, embracing the memories that are met with longing and a deep sense of appreciation.
Standing in this space, I feel one of life’s greatest accomplishment is the act of self love and forgiveness. We are bound to ourselves, unable to escape, and thus must learn to truly love and accept ourselves.
Opening the windows wider, there is so much to see and to feel. It is painful and beautiful, and yet, not one fraction of this life should be discounted. It all counts, even if you have lost people that you have loved along the way. I let so many pieces of myself “leave” when others went away, often valuing their existence over my own. At times, I felt the pain would consume me, and yet I am still here, not only opening the windows, but leaning out a bit more into the cold and damp air, breathing in the scent of wet leaves as if to say: “Give me more of this life”.
There are certain fractured relationships in my life that exist primarily because some people who I love, are not only caged in a room, but backed into a closet. I do not know what is in their mind or in their heart as I can only see the chaos surrounding them. There has been drug use, dishonesty, and withholding information. These people I had to walk away from because I no longer could “relate” to them. They seemed to have walked away from themselves and I honestly do not know who they are anymore. However, I have decided to honor their place in my life anyhow. Just because they are no longer with me does not mean they did not bring my light at some point along my journey. I’m hopeful one day they will heal, but because I love myself, I see the value in having strong boundaries until they are ready to connect in healthier ways..
I am, however, opening up and allowing the love and light back in to fill the spaces that sat in darkness for so long. I won’t define my worth any longer by someone who left me. Instead, I will honor the light that was once there and the memory of it. I am doing so in order to cultivate more compassion for myself. Often, I blamed myself for other leaving when perhaps it was their time to go. I clung to those who left, placing my worth and esteem with them. When they walked away, I felt myself leaving and there were years I left myself over and over again. I felt lost and abandoned. I was left alone in that small, suffocating room and these were the darkest days of my life.
I must have wanted to truly heal, because I began saying it out loud and often. I knew I had endured a lot of loss in my lifetime: never knowing my real father, never having children, a divorce due to my spouse “coming out”, a failed engagement from an abusive relationship, a loss of an entire family due to substance use (my sister and her kids), loss of employment, loss of my health (became disabled as of last year), and current loss of independence (living with someone). I am even struggling right now with a loss of fifty pounds due to difficulty swallowing both food and liquids. All of these losses were devastating and truly stripped me of so much and yet, I still desire self love and the possibility of healing. I look back at my life and I can see times of clarity where it is obvious that healing is an endeavor that I am destined to embrace.
I’ve learned throughout the process that cultivating compassion and allowing light in from both the past and present is instrumental to healing. This also involves a fair amount of self forgiveness. I became aware over time that the ineffective coping mechanisms that were caging me were not my identity, but were employed in effort to protect me from pain. Because pain is a process to “go through” and not to avoid, my attempt to escape it became messy. This, at times, caused confusion and self loathing because I identified with my coping mechanisms and felt “bound to them”. Now that I am a step or two away from that mindset, I can forgive myself for the suffering I endured.
As I let go of so much of which I was holding so tightly to me, there is room to remember the light and joy in my life. I also find myself being flooded with memories that were made with loved ones who still remain distant. I had pushed these memories away and had buried them in order to protect me from pain. But in my healing, I am able to embrace the memories as part of my experience of which I gained valuable experience. These memories, even if painful, at times, are now weaved into my very fiber and I wholly embrace them as they helped shape who I am today. I no longer look back at “my mess” and feel ashamed, instead I honor the hard work and pain I processed in order to become more whole.
I am just me, imperfect and full of flaws. I realize the more I cultivate compassion in my life, the more joy unfolds. I’m letting go of all the labels I have worn, placed by friends, family, co-workers, etc. and recreating myself with self compassion and love. This endeavor was always an option, I just chose to avoid the pain in my life that I had to acknowledge in order to arrive here. I’m glad I kept pushing. I still have so much more work ahead of me, but cultivating self compassion by allowing joy in my life may just be the “second wind” needed to travel onward!!
It’s my birthday. I haven’t been writing a lot lately because I have been going through a difficult time. Soon after making the move to California, I developed an interesting phobia, phagophobia, which is the fear of swallowing. I am still in the process of going through certain tests to “rule out” any physical reasons for my difficulty swallowing and I’ve been waiting weeks for my last test to be approved by my insurance company and then scheduled.
Meanwhile, I have lost a lot of weight as I struggle each day to meet my basic caloric needs in order to maintain. I’ve lost 47 pounds in roughly two and a half months to be exact. This sucks. It sucks because if someone had told me prior to this that I would develop a fear around eating, I would have laughed in their face, more than likely saying “I wish”. I have always struggled with being overweight and I love food. But, here I sit today on my birthday doing my best to force pancakes down as well as another ensure supplement as to not lose any more weight.
The reason I wanted to write about this today, on my birthday, is to honor not only my struggle with my mental health, but also to honor anyone else out there who is struggling as well. The reality is many of us suffer alone as others either are uncertain how to support us or they lack the understanding and sometimes the sensitivity to be helpful. In fact, many people, by being impatient and demanding, cause more damage and end up impeding the healing process.
I am 47 today. I look back at the years I’ve been on this earth and I acknowledge that I have always struggled. I was diagnosed ADHD in 1978 during a time when the diagnosis was uncommon. Following that diagnosis in my teen years were the diagnoses: OCD, Bipolar 1, GAD, Panic Disorder, Schizoaffective (at one point), BPD (at another point), PMDD, and replacing BPD later was the diagnosis C-PTSD (this occurred in the past 5 years or so). I would say out of the above, my greatest struggle is with fear and anxiety as it is pervasive. My OCD is primarily somatic and I go through periods where I ruminate about one thing for awhile, for instance my breathing or heartbeat, etc. and will eventually “wear it out” until some other fear takes it place. Most of my fears have some grounding in reality and that is why they seem so powerful, but the amount of attention and focus given to the fear is what makes it irrational. I will often have ways of managing those fears by compulsions that I feel make me safer on some level. Those close to me are often confused by my thoughts and behavior, and admittedly, I am as well. I personally cannot “think” my way out of the web I have trapped myself so tightly within and it is beyond frustrating. Oh my GOD! How I have tried! From praying to meditation… to exercise to therapy… I am 47 years old today and still suffering. Ugh! I often wonder if I will ever be completely free. I will not give up trying.
When I think of my current suffering, where I have lost nearly fifty pounds, I remind myself again to respect my illness. Often, people dismiss mental illness by saying, “it’s all in your head”. The medical field downplays mental health by nearly expressing relief when it is nothing “physical”. But, I know better. Sometimes, I actually long for a physical diagnosis. Not anything serious, of course not, but something I can manage with a pill or have corrected by a surgery. I know how dangerous my own mind can be and am often more afraid of it than some structural entity that can be fixed with a surgery or an illness that is relatively easy to manage. I expect my last test for the swallowing to be within normal range and although that brings a certain amount of relief, it also brings a certain amount of dread, as I know that it will be me fighting alone to feel comfortable eating again. I hope this one “wears out’ more quickly than the others. I really do not have too much more weight that I can lose.
And so for my birthday, I wanted to honor your struggle. If it is physical in nature, I honor it as well. For some of us, we are fighting a silent war. We might not be able to fully grasp why we are stuck right now. We might be paralyzed in fear or anger, unable to move forward and those around us are becoming impatient. It appears easy to those on the outside to just “get over it already”, but for whatever reason we simply can’t. Sometimes we are able to give ourselves the same rational reasons that others provide, and yet, we are still unable to move. It’s okay. Cry it out. Yet, accept the struggle. Make peace with it.
I have been struggling for nearly three months with the ability to comfortably swallow. I haven’t had my favorite foods and there have been times I have been really hungry. So much so, I hurt. I have literally sat alone in my room crying while I stare at a plate full of uneaten food. Still, I was unable to push through and make myself it. I would use all the reasons loved ones had given me and many more that they did not come up with and still, my fear was greater. And so I am choosing, on my birthday, to honor the struggle. To make friends with it. To talk to it. To see what it has to say.
Mostly, it tells me that I am sad. That I wish I were closer to my family. That I wish I were more successful and able to work. That I wish my past relationship had worked out as I had dreamed and that we were happily married. Or that I had children and a family of my own. It tells me that my fear and inability to swallow is just a metaphor of my grief that is screaming: “No More! I cannot ‘swallow’ anymore!”
And, perhaps it is telling me to change. Often, we become paralyzed, I believe, so that we can change course. I’ve not been laughing enough, nor have I been connecting with the people that I love or participating in the leisure I most enjoy enough. Fear and paralysis has taken hold during the grieving process and perhaps this final “wake-up call” is telling me that it is time to not only perceive differently, but to act differently. I admit, I was “stuck” and have been “stuck” trying to swallow the “bitter pill” that life had offered me. In ways, my grief more than likely caused a psychogenic dysphagia: a fear of swallowing.
I will continue to go forward, swallowing as much as I can, and pacing myself as I continually learn to better cope. For my birthday weekend, I will be camping at a nice beach here on the California Coast. I plan to try a little harder to listen to the rhythm of the ocean, reminding me that as each wave rises, crests, and falls it breaks and collapses back into the ocean, surrendering and releasing….. letting go. In this way, I won’t get so hung up on a single wave or “thought” and give it so much power. I look forward to the sun and sand as well as playing in the waves for awhile. Although, I probably won’t partake in any BBQs, I will do my best to relax and honor where I am at right now at this point in my lifetime. I am 47. For all the fear that I have lived in, I have made it this far and it is something to celebrate. I want to relax and just be happy that I am here, in the moment for now, taking in the sights, smells, and sounds of the ocean.
Some labels have such influence and power over us that they often dictate and predict our behavior from places deeply embedded within us. Labels that are donned upon us in our formative years are not easily shed. It takes not only a lot of work to free oneself from them, but it also takes the awareness of just how deeply rooted they have become and how pervasive they are in our thoughts and perceptions. Our thoughts have the ability to change us or to paralyze us with certain behavioral patterns which can further entrap us if we remain in one space for too long.
In scanning my inner spiritual landscape, I noticed that despite the work I had done to heal myself, I had underestimated the potential that words hold. I was taking for granted the power of language, both the spoken word and the inner dialogue running inside my head. I was aware of the critical incidents of my life that caged me in fear and anxiety, but I often times neglected the words surrounding these events that more than likely had an even greater impact in my life. The words had faded partly because the details over time had become less clear leaving only their imprints of how I felt about myself and the world in general . What took hold was how the language surrounding the event made me feel about myself. I carried shame, fear, and self-loathing from various events of my childhood and these feelings played out for years without me truly knowing why.
Perhaps I am just too “overly sensitive”, but as a child I ingested these words, wearing them tightly like a corset, even if they at times were squeezing the life from me. The words surrounding certain events held significance in my life and so I would lace up carefully, always trying to find the meaning behind the tightly tied corset that was denying me my freedom. I honestly was unaware that the words I donned without hesitation were slowly suffocating me. I just kept going, often completely oblivious of how small, in ways, my world had become.
Throughout my life, I have always felt that on some level I was inherently bad and at some point others will “find this out” about me. I was always waiting for “the shoe to drop” whereby I would be abandoned again because others had discovered my secret of being defective in some way. I used to casually joke in my adults years that I had a habit of disclosing too much too quickly as if to reveal my messy life, quickly pushing away people that I felt might leave anyway in time. I was aware of this behavioral pattern and at times even committed to changing it, but it is still something I struggle with to this day. It’s hard for me to let people truly in because I feel my life is too chaotic and it can be too overwhelming. I keep my circle extremely small because the stress and anxiety of navigating relationships is hard for me. Not to mention, I have been burned badly a few times by giving too much and getting little to nothing in return. As I heal from my past, I am developing better boundaries and am eager to rebuild my life around healthy people and hobbies that will help me maintain my peace and integrity.
I had a striking revelation the other day as I was struggling again with severe anxiety and depression. I have desperately wanted to be completely free from the chronic pain caused by being tensed up and hyper-vigilant. I was asking myself in desperation” “What more can I do”? What then came to the surface was this overwhelming fear and sadness that had caged me long ago at the tender age of four when my sister and I were molested by our next door neighbor. It was the fear that I was “bad” because I had messed up by telling which seemed so abominable at the time that it might of jeopardized the safety of my mother. Much of my molestation has been blocked out. What I do know is that while taking a bath with my older sister, I blurted out the unfathomable: “Wally (our next door neighbor) saw my butt today”. Of course, my sister recalls it differently and I guess I used a few swear words as well. We were in the bathtub and my Mom “dropped the soap”. In any case, this lead to my sister quickly shutting me down in fear, saying: “Be quiet, you will get Mom in trouble”. Our neighbor had threatened to harm our mother, who was a single mother at the time and she was also our only safety. This is ultimately, I believe, where my fear and mistrust began. We also had our home broken into around that time where a man entered, fixed a sandwich, and got into bed with my mother. I remember being awakened by a blood curling scream where my mother was shaking, but had called the police. This further reinforced that the world was not safe.
I had underestimated the power of the words surrounding the event which communicated to me that I was “bad” because I had placed our safety in jeopardy. I realize as an adult that the expressions of shock, horror, and rage were not directed towards me, but I couldn’t tell that to my four year old self who doesn’t have the reasoning of an adult. I was only able to see the body language and words from my mother and sister. I believe I must of felt a huge degree of fear and shame for telling and it was after this event that I began to wet the bed. I was often unintentionally made to feel inferior because of wetting the bed. I felt powerless to stop just as I assume I felt powerless when being molested. My innocence was shattered and I was no longer a happy go lucky child of four who played with dolls and fisher price toys, I was now a child who felt they had committed a crime. As an adult, I understand what happened, but as a child I assumed responsibility for what I couldn’t even understand or articulate. I carried the weight of this event in the way I felt about myself and the world. No one is to trusted, perhaps even myself.
That incident was followed in time by my Grandmother’s often simple, but often harsh ways of discipling us. Often, we stayed with our grandmother while my Mom worked. She had many foster kids and did a good job of keeping them in line and was loved, but she didn’t take the time when anyone got into trouble to explain the reason for the punishment. It was simply that I was “bad” child and therefore deserved a paddling or to sit in the corner for 15 minutes or so. I remember getting my mouth washed out with soap because I “took the Lord’s name in vain” when I really only said “Gah…”. Her discipline was stern and you were either “good” or “bad”. Years later when my mother remarried, my step-father not only was stern, but unpredictable and often times I did not even know why I got into trouble into much later. I spent my life trying to live in perfection to avoid punishment and I began to develop a lot of fears and phobias. Deep down, I just felt flawed. Not every child would feel as I do, but I absorbed a lot of the unresolved conflict of my caretakers and adults around me.
I was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 6, before the disorder was really known about, and would get into trouble often. Because of my poor impulse control, I got into trouble at school often and this reinforced to me that I was flawed in some way, a bad child. Back then there were no resource classes, I was often a target of teachers and they would embarrass me in front of my classmates, telling me “I had ants in my pants”. My cheeks would grow red in embarrassment as the room full of kids looked on. There were a lot of reasons, looking back, why I would develop the perception that I was a “bad” child and this lead to me being overly sensitive and anxious about myself. I still feel awkward to this day in social situations wondering when they will find out that I am flawed. I push people away or self isolate because I feel uncomfortable around others.
Having these revelations regarding my molestation and childhood has allowed me to reframe my feelings and to grieve for the time lost to the individual who stole my innocence at such a young age and colored my world in fear and anxiety as a result. It allows me the distance to separate myself from his actions. Many times, especially as children, we take on the unresolved pain of adults who harm us. It’s nearly impossible to escape pain, yet we can stop suffering when we accept the reality of “what is”, grieve, and reframe as needed. It is hard work and I often times feel like a sculptor chiseling away to reveal truth and integrity in the structure of my life.
I hope my writing is helpful on some level. I’m learning every day and I want to stay awake. I long to leave this branch I am perched on and spread my wings in flight, effortlessly. I want to embrace my struggle and my willingness to search deeply inside for answers. I feel in doing so I will be able to shed the negative self-talk that has reigned for much of my life and replace it with open awareness that is non-judgmental and free of past imprints. It’s possible I have been protecting myself a bit too much and holding on too tightly to the armor that I wore to keep me safe. I realize the tightness of it means it’s time to loosen it’s hold on me and let go more. It served it’s purpose for a time, but those threats are truly no longer there. And so, I will just keep chiseling away until I feel more comfortable in this new reality.
***Below is a poem I wrote probably more than a decade ago. If I had to guess, it was written around 2003 or 4. It’s untitled as most of mine are. I am posting it here because I find it interesting how it conveys the feeling of being stuck, but moving forward in courage and hope despite that reality. Hope you enjoy!
Watching one’s feet
As life circles by
A tiny little universe
A place where you can hide
If I ever left the comfort
A few seconds in my life
I would detract my head in like a turtle
My shell would suffice
Let me go back
I shiver with fear
The rain is upon me now
I have to shift gears
My eyes are opening
The sun, cutting sharply through the trees
The forest is growing
I physically am unable to leave
Toothpicks are prying my weary eyes open
Sunlight makes me squint
Everything has an outline
It’s shiny, the condition, mint
So, my legs drag on
Even in apathy or fear
I will keep the hope and courage
In the body that I wear.