The Novel Coronavirus and YOU: Let’s Spread LOVE

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It’s been only a few short weeks since I noticed a slight, then certain and sharp, “shift” in our mindset and optic. Two months ago, China’s outbreak seemed so distant to us. Somehow, we felt safe enough in our daily lives and routines to casually pass by or “tune out” the tragedy unfolding in what seemed, “worlds away”. For some of us, it captured our attention, but admittedly, it wasn’t necessarily on our daily phones or computer screens as it has become now, bookmarked, screen-shot, and often shared. In less than a month, we have become suspended in an unsafe and unstable space, collectively, turning to technology to connect us, to seek comfort, and to maintain some semblance of normalcy.

For me personally, I had just taken my first cruise on the Royal Princess to the Mexican Riviera just two short months ago in January. My ex-spouse and I, who both currently reside together in Los Angeles, joined his mom and sister, for a 7 day cruise, visiting three port cities. I certainly wasn’t thinking of a global pandemic then, as I milled about the ship, frequenting endless buffets, and betting into the wee hours in their casino. We crowded into elevators carrying over 20 people, easy: the old and young, with passengers representing all corners of the globe.

On the day of our return, mid-afternoon, Scott began to complain of not feeling well, we all assumed it might be the flu or a cold. I didn’t “shake or hug” his Mom or sister goodbye because they had spent time, earlier, closed up in a car, taking a scenic drive through Beverly Hills with him. I did not want to get sick. I had stayed home earlier, instead of joining them, because I was having “tummy troubles” and wanted to give Scott a few final hours to spend with his family before he dropped them off at the airport. Scott was fine earlier in the day when we disembarked from the ship, but when he came home from dropping them off at the airport, he headed straight to bed due to a fever so high that he later told me that he had hallucinated. His fever continued on and off for roughly three days and he developed a “barking” cough that he mentioned was not productive. I remember throwing him a pulse oximeter, keeping my distance, but wanting to make sure his oxygen levels weren’t dropping as he was coughing continually through the night. Although, he never complained of being “short of breath”, he did have high fevers, coughing, exhaustion, and towards the end, nausea and stomach issues. I  had stomach stuff on the day that we returned, but never came down with a fever or a cough. I remember feeling tired and “under the weather”, but nothing more. I had immediately implemented really strong “infection control” measures in the house, wiping everything down for about a week. Scott was never tested for the flu, and the virus had “not reached us yet”, but the symptoms he had resemble those of the new novel virus that we are facing today: Covid-19. Both his Mom and sister returned to TN and were sick with the same symptoms and, after it hanging on for awhile, it finally passed and they both recovered. His mother hung onto her cough for a long time. We all now wonder if we have in some way already experienced Covid-19, personally, in our lives. I guess, in time, they will be able to test people for exposure to see if the antibody is present in their blood. I have seen a lot of other posts from others on social media posing similar questions from an illness they had back in December or January. Could it be, this has been spreading for awhile now? So many unanswered questions.

In any case, so here we are, with many of us suspended in a state of uncertainty that is unsettling to most. There are always those who are young or who are not that concerned, but for most of us who have been watching the devastating scene play out in Italy, let’s face it, we are scared. I know that I am. I already live with C-PTSD, OCD, Bipolar 1, and anxiety/depression. The first few days of this were so surreal to me, I nearly thought that a recent medication change had brought on a delusional state. I had to ground myself by talking to others and reassure myself by again looking at social media and trusted news sources. Although, I can recall being briefed on a global pandemic back in the early 2000’s while working in healthcare, I had conveniently stuffed that scary possibility way back into the dark recesses of my mind. And now, as predicted long ago, here we are.

As most, I am feeling anxious and exhausted, concerned about the coming tough days ahead of us. My anxiety and body tension, as well as OCD, has escalated to the point that there have been moments I’ve had a tightened chest, body aches, and compulsions of checking my temperature. I try to take breaks from the news because my body tenses with the visual and auditory component as I easily absorb other people’s fear, sadness, and anxiety. Reading the news is easier than watching it or hearing it, for me. The sense of urgency and concern in people’s voices activates my PTSD and I want to “sound the alarms” and warn others of the inevitable reality that I feel will more than likely enfold over the coming days. Scott and I have just moved to the Los Angeles area and the news often makes me feel like “fleeing” the area as I feel the high density of people will mean an overburdened healthcare system and a deterioration of our “frontline” of responders and resources, all of which may lead to upended chaos in the city, even outbreaks of violence, I fear. Admittedly, I tend to catastrophize events and thus I am no stranger to the unsettling feeling of being upended by fear and panic. There have been many times that I have even tried to convince Scott that we should leave the area. I am hoping it doesn’t get “that bad”, but I am new to the area and we have no support here. It’s very hard, and at times, it terrifies me. We shall see what the coming days bring.

A crisis of this magnitude, surely brings us face to face with our own inevitable mortality, reminding us that our time here is brief and fleeting. We often hear that we should “live for today” and “cherish the moment” and yet it’s human nature to get easily distracted, wrapped up in our humanity of, sometimes, selfish behaviors that distance us from one another and even ourselves. Something as jarring and paralyzing as a global pandemic, has the potential to ground and connect us to the essence of life: connection to ourselves and to one another. In a very basic sense, we need one another. Right now, we need one another to practice “social distancing” so that we can “flatten the curve” sooner than later, slow the rate of infection, and allow the medical community to “catch up” and work to solve this global crisis. We’d like to think we are “alone”, but we are truly interdependent and the more of us that recognize that fact, the more successful we will be at lowering deaths and returning to a new normal. Hopefully a normal that is better in that we will be more “in tune” with the fact that we do all occupy the same space, planet earth, and we can collectively: “make a difference”.

People are dying and more will die from this epidemic, but we can slow the rate of death if we work together. Humanity, at its best, can be nearly miraculous! The capacity for humans to create and sustain order in the midst of what seems “chaotic”, demonstrates our collective power and potential. We honestly can change the course by adopting a “we” mentality, over a “me” one. The innovation that stems from humanity’s desire to survive and thrive knows no bounds. We are miraculous, beautiful, and amazing in our collective pursuit to persevere and protect LIFE. Take a moment right now to acknowledge the vast amount of newly acquired knowledge and routine that is being called on to preserve human life, the greatest gift we have. SIT, in the stillness that exists within yourself and draw upon the centuries of humanity that has given us so many gifts of art, music, architecture, science, etc. that which inspires us to celebrate the energy that resides within us. This love and need for love knows no bounds. We were born to care and to connect.

And so, when the fear and uncertainty of today leads you to paralysis, draw upon the life that exists within us, between us, outside of us, around us. Take a deep breath and acknowledge that humanity has always been challenged. It has always been a struggle and hard. Life has always included death and birth. Life is continual energy. If you don’t believe this, open your window for a day and listen to the energy “buzzing” that is created by humanity and the diverse biosphere that surrounds us, always. We are life. We are love. We are peace. We are the stillness that we seek. We are the comfort that shelters us. OUR potential is limitless and OUR energy boundless. And it exists in the present moment. None of us have ever known when our last breath might be. A global pandemic pulls us up and forces us to take notice, but the final destiny was predetermined as each life only takes so many breaths. We breathe in the same air, often unaware of it’s weightlessness and freedom. We take for granted ourselves and each other. That is part of the human experience and our imperfection. But, we have an opportunity to be renewed and awakened by this experience. We have a chance to act responsibly and save lives while doing so. These thoughts and longings to wake up and connect have always been there, perhaps this is mother earth’s way of nudging us.

I will tarry forward through the next few weeks and coming months in an uncertain haze. I will be fearful, and, at times, I will be brave. I’m praying for all of us to get through this and to come out on the other side of it changed for the better. It’s my hope anyway.

Stay safe, my friends. Stay healthy. And if the darkness comes, do not forget the light. This too shall pass. Love, comfort, and light to all.

I am love.

I am light.

I am peace.

I believe what we tell ourselves has the potential to expand in our lives, exponentially. Let’s spread LOVE.

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As I am Leaving, I Want You to Know…

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This is written for anyone who has left someone they love out of self-preservation. It is a letter from my bleeding heart to those I have left, expressing the emotional turmoil and grief of “letting go”. I recognize everyone involved has their own story to tell, this is mine.

This has been extremely hard on me. My decision to “walk away” has been years in the making; A culmination of events, both big and small, where the words emanating from these events left me feeling alienated, devalued, and lost. It has been years of using my voice to reach my family and always getting close, but never truly making contact. Many of my days, especially in the last few years, have been spent sounding the alarms while watching my nieces and nephews drown with no real willingness from others to come together and help them. Instead, I watched helplessly as my own sister blocked communication, often manipulating others which thwarted efforts of intervention. The addiction raged on, ravaging all five of her adult kids, rendering two permanently disabled and two others are both presently in positions where rehab was essentially forced due to a pregnancy with one and the threat of incarceration with another. The seeds of me separating and letting go were planted over two decades ago when addiction ravaged my sister’s life, causing significant neglect and trauma for all of her children. I knew instinctually years ago that I would one day not know my family. It has altered my family’s reality, and the damage, especially for some, is irreparable and irreversible. Two of my family members have suffered with years of hallucinations, delusions, and erratic behavior that has not been responsive to medication, even after years of multiple hospitalizations. Even with this amount of damage and destruction, I feel my voice is often muted in the storm. I recognize that my sister and others are sick and in the times of sobriety, I have acknowledged the deep pain this has caused her and her now adult kids. When addiction takes hold, I no longer recognize the people I love.

I have advocated, provided resources, and even moved home (across the entire country) to help and I have been pushed away and even abandoned during times of crisis. I was stonewalled by my sister after moving home to help and spent another Christmas alone, separated from my family, even though they were all within 20 miles of me. I made efforts to repair the relationship which were largely ignored, before I decided to move back across the country in order to heal and begin the process of grieving. And even though that should have been my exit, I hung in there for another 2 years fighting with and for my family to heal. Admittedly, my approach was not always peaceful and I often would lose my compass and become abusive and ugly. I regret those instances that I cannot “take back”.

I sacrificed my health trying to “save” my family, ending up disabled and in despair because I could not LET GO of them. And as time pressed on, I grew ugly, flying into rages, further damaging the ties completely in an effort to end the suffering that was killing me. I simply did not know how to let them go, while at the same time I did not know how to hang on while keeping my dignity intact. I began to loathe myself, the world, and I allowed the darkness to envelop me often spending hours trying to convince myself to just “end it already”. But, for whatever reason, even though I was shedding a huge part of myself… I hung on through the darkness, waiting for any light to “shine in”. I learned in this darkness, that my world which had become so small, was about to shatter. The shattering was in essence the formation of myself, the separation that had to happen for me to heal. The pain was immense and felt unsurvivable, at times. I’ve walked away to save myself and to prove to others in my family, that they too can walk away when ready, from the trauma and patterns that have caged them. I will continue to walk away from the destruction, with my head held high. I will no longer engage or get pulled in when I know from years of painful experience that it will only lead to a loss of self and dignity, while connection continues to be increasingly fractured. The time to let go is evident when holding on causes more pain then releasing those you love. To clarify, I do not blame my family for my loss of dignity. I fully blame myself. I had not learned yet how to safely disengage and develop boundaries with myself and others.

Here is my letter to loved ones (This is primarily written for myself as only one family member might read this, but maybe one day when we are all well, someone might find value in what I have written here).

As I am leaving, I want you to know… 

I want you to know, that I am here. I will be waiting on the “other side”, should any of you abandon that of which is dimming the light within you. I recognize now, as painful as it is to “let go”, that I cannot save any of you and it was never my responsibility to do so. I could barely save myself. I will be here, even if years pass, to accept you with open arms if you sincerely desire my connection and are working towards healing.  I realize this will take time for you and me as healing is not a quick or easy process. And I will respect your boundaries and level of desired connection even if it is no connection at all. I know my words might be perceived as condescending, and that is not my intention. I have been just as sick in my own way and have wrongfully forced connection when it was not desired. I do not know what is best for you, that can only come from you. I apologize for not respecting your boundaries and am leaving in part because I realize you are capable of recovering independently and feel that although my intentions were to help, my overbearing presence, at times, may have communicated otherwise. I acknowledge that I am no longer effective due to my own pain and that recovery is truly a solitary endeavor.

As I am leaving, I want you to know….

All of you will be in my thoughts constantly. I will routinely check certain social media sites and “mobile patrol” and I will fight the urge daily, even hourly, to reach out to you. You are my family. And I love you. But, I have learned that reaching out when people are not ready for change only leads to the excruciating pain of being devalued and often my words and actions are misinterpreted. Also, it places me at grave risk of becoming triggered and losing myself again to my own illness of Bipolar and PTSD. When I lose myself, I become ineffective, often pushing people away with raging and abusive behavior. I too have pushed friends away who have seen me in pain and have advised me to disengage and seek help. I hope one day some of you see that as the addiction has a “hold on you” causing you to lose yourself, it also had “a hold on me” causing me to react in often irrational and ineffective ways as I struggled not to lose you. I want you to know, that I have finally surrendered completely to the illness of addiction. I respect the illness fully and recognize what we have lost as a family as a result of its relentless grip on our family.

As I am leaving, I want you to know….

I see that we all are suffering in our own ways in response to the trauma we endured and to the addiction that has fractured our family tree. As I was raging in the storm, I see some were sheltering with denial while others were using weapons of defense to continue using because facing the pain perhaps seemed unsurvivable to you. Addiction has a way of lying to you, justifying any and all behaviors that enable continued use as using feels safer than risking being vulnerable enough to seek recovery. Shame and guilt has a way of lying to us,  keeping us bound to the historical cycles that created the comfort we feel in chaos.

As I am leaving, I want you to know…

I see all of you, not just the addiction or the rattled caged bird who no longer sings out of shame, fear, and perceived safety. I see your strengths and how hard you have worked to overcome adversity. I know that healing is a process with continual failures and relapses, and we learn each time we get up and try again. I also feel a lot of the devaluing is unintentional and you are unaware that it is occurring. I have tried to help you see it. I also have been abusive and devaluing of others myself as I raged in the storm. I can understand that might be all others can see of me in their own pain, fear, and disillusionment. Our family is sick and I too have been sick. My hope is that distance will bring clarity and that my exit will refocus the energy on the real problem of addiction, instead of on my rage, which has become the “scapegoat”. I am however fully accountable and aware that my approach in the last few years has at times, been ugly and abusive. I apologize for that.

As I am leaving, I want you to know…

I love you. And I am sorry. I am sorry that I have not been well enough to connect in healthier ways and to remain distant enough to perhaps be more effective, in the end. I do not feel I have any control or influence in the lives of my family. I wish I had distanced myself earlier and perhaps remained engaged in limited ways, accepting that my family is not well or ready to heal. I also have been very sick. I am just now learning to set boundaries with myself and those I love. Setting boundaries has been a foreign concept to me. I have been reacting to the illness of addiction which robbed me of connection for nearly a decade now with those I love. Forgive me, for not knowing how to manage this amount of grief. I tried in every way imaginable to communicate that our relationship was dissolving, but nothing truly changed and I had to walk away to save myself.

As I am leaving, I want you to know…

Please do not contact me, comment, or e-mail. I am still in immense pain, both physically and emotionally. I am not “out of the woods” yet. I know there will be continual disruption and crisis in our family due to the pervasive addiction that has touched everyone involved, but unless it is a death, I really need this time to heal. I am in continual chronic pain and I am not entirely stable yet. You all are in my thoughts, even if I am not in *some* of yours. I will worry, I will feel guilt, I will feel remorse. I will have deep, primal urges to reach out and connect, but I know on another level not to do so until I have rebuilt my life and feel safe doing so. If I cannot be there for myself, how can I be there for you. I hope if I am well again one day soon, some one there will understand that setting a strong boundary to heal and become whole is necessary and it will become an inspiration for them to follow. We are stronger than we feel. And this illness of addiction will only “break us” if we allow it. I do realize each one of us is sick and we are all coping in the best way we know how. I can forgive the devaluation, the gaslighting, the character smearing, etc., but I cannot subject myself to it any longer. And, when I become healthy I may be able to engage, knowing how to navigate those who choose to remain stuck. This is hard work. But, if I cannot do it, then how can I expect anyone else to? I have to stay the course this time, put myself first, and remain in the light. As I said, originally, I will be here to connect with those who are truly healing and desire a connection with me, but I am realistic about the time it takes to heal and I want both of us to have the space and time to do so.

As I am leaving, I want you to know…

I love you. I lost myself in a mad pursuit to connect to you. But, all is not lost. They always say you must love yourself before you can truly love others. The raising of my voice and demanding more from you came across as abusive at times, but it was truly an act of self love. I felt deep remorse for the ugliness that resulted from my deep pain, and yet, it lead me to the isolation I needed to confront my own “holes” and be accountable to the mess I had created in my own life through self neglect. The louder I screamed and raged, the more I retreated into myself finding the love I needed to persevere. As I was losing you, I was finding myself. And as the old saying goes, it is necessary in an airplane crash to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others. And so… that is my plan. I am “placing the oxygen mask on my face” and engaging in self care

***As someone who has been silenced a lot in life and made to hide certain truths, my trauma had lead to me feeling guilty for writing openly about certain details in MY life. Some may think I am trying to “shame” my sister and my family, but that is NOT my intention. My mother will more than likely read this post, but I doubt my sister follows any of my blog as she has not show interest, even after I have sent her some of my posts in the past. I feel sharing my story is a release for me and it hopefully will help others who are discouraged from telling their story out of shame or fear, to feel less alone. I do feel those affected by addiction directly or indirectly, have engaged often in ineffective coping mechanisms and get trapped in a true cycle of “shame” that often serves to perpetuate the cycle. My mother is a strong and capable individual who I admire, and yet, when it comes to the addiction we struggle greatly to agree. I love my sister and I want her and her adult kids to heal and be completely well. Although, I doubt they will read this post (or any of my blog), I want to make it clear that the intention of my post is for healing purposes only. My sister has endured significant trauma in her life and she and her kids have their own story to share. This is only MY side and perspective. I see their strength and despite their sometimes ineffective ways of coping, I know they hold the capacity to heal and to care for others. My own securities and guilt has me again justifying my actions. If I come to the conclusion that this post is not helpful for me or others, I will take it down as my intention is truly to spread light by providing examples of my struggle and growth. This more than likely will be my last post that is focused on the loss of my family.

My goal is to have a true shift in my blog where I am highlighting the journey of rebuilding my life. I am ready to “stop spinning” on the past and am ready to release myself from it. However, I would be amiss to not demonstrate the transition in my life by including a post as significant as letting go of my family in order to “focus on myself”. I am fully accountable for myself and my journey going forward. I am learning to separate myself from my family and to truly accept responsibility for MY life. I am empowered by this decision. I realize in the past, I was giving up my power by blaming others for the pain I was unwilling to process. In the post above, I try to accurately reflect the relationship dynamic with my family and what has caused me to “let go” for now. But, I truly want to be clear that even with all of the chaos and crisis, I was 100% responsible for my own behavior and for taking care of myself. My behavior was ineffective, hurtful, and harmful. Period. I regret the many times I lost myself and became abusive with those in my family. I will always be honest about my behavior as I am not proud of how I sometimes reacted in my pain. My blog is taking a shift towards personal accountability and further posts will be more “present moment” focused. I hope to write about my continued journey towards wholeness through the loving expression of walking forward alone in self love and resilience. I’ve lived in the past for “too long”. I am ready for the gift of the present moment where my thoughts are no longer trapped in past patterns.

I am a strong advocate for breaking the silence and talking about our pain. We should share with others our struggles. We should not be ashamed of our humanity or our flaws. When you walk today down the streets of your city, and you pass by people, remember that so many have endured trauma or have lived through atrocities or survived a battle with addiction. Life is not easy, it is often hard, and can even be brutal, at times. What makes it bearable is love. And it starts within you. The simple act of slowing down enough in your life to conquer your pain and fear, cultivates compassion and love. Often times we don’t know how to help someone who is struggling. I say that we can help by loving ourselves. It truly starts with you. Once you fall in love with yourself, you have made a difference. The love that comes from within, is pure and infinite and resides within all of us and it is what truly connects us to others. Heal yourself, heal the world. 

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Freedom From Trauma: Letting Go to Take Care of You!

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It is difficult, to sum up in words, what I have learned over the past few months. I feel these new discoveries have the potential to shape my healing process in dramatic and positive ways going forward.

The last decade of my life I became increasingly sick as I painstakingly etched out my self esteem through repeated battles of pointing out injustices, cutting ties, and cultivating compassion for myself. Little did I know that a seed had been planted and a garden had begun to grow among the neglected weeds of my life. I began to hear the desperation in my voice to be heard and validated. My voice became so loud with rage and insistence that it was rendered inaudible and often met with disdain and annoyance. And although I was not effective or influential on most occasions, resilience and strength began to grow inside of me. My garden was a mess of weeds, with buds peeking out among the brush. It wasn’t anything convincing to others, but it began to inspire me with its irrefutable evidence of life. Among the heavy layers of clothing I had donned to protect myself from life’s storm, was a steady beating heart that had survived it all. It dawned on me that this growing garden was uniquely mine, and although it had been watered and tended to very little, there was still enough love to make something beautiful of it.

As the storm raged on with my family, and we became more fractured, there was the budding reality that I had never learned the art of “focusing on myself”. I’ve been to many therapy sessions where I am lamenting the loss of my family and unknowingly clinging to their chaos simultaneously. It hit me like a ton of bricks last night that my lack of self care was tied to past trauma and that disengaging, figuratively, meant certain “death”.

Growing up, I lived for years with the fear that my step-father was going to hurt me or my sister. Every day I remained hyper vigilant, trying not to breathe wrong, or make any mistake to avoid accidentally awakening the “beast” that resided in my step-Dad. My days were spent “paying close attention” to the environment and reading the moods of those around me in order to ward off any potential situation that might provoke a violent reaction from him. I did reach out to adults in my life, but was told, in so many ways, that what I was seeing wasn’t really “true”. I wasn’t allowed to ever express anger, because in doing so, I felt it would place me in “grave danger”. Seeing my sister thrown to the floor once and feeling helpless and scared, scarred me. I learned to squelch my emotions and burry them deep within my body, bottling them up, often holding my breath through these times. Forty years later, I still have the habit of doing the same thing and it’s causes chronic pain and anxiety.

Fast forward to this week, I again faced another family drama where one of my nieces has ended up in jail and another in rehab due to meth use and a potential pregnancy. I quickly recognized the old patterns of devaluation and invalidation when I used my voice to confront the issues surrounding the crisis and felt silenced. I am an adult now and although I am away from the direct threat of physical assault (which was primarily hail pulling and shaking), the emotional damage of lies, gaslighting, devaluation, and abandonment actually has hit me harder than any past physical assault. I have spent many days this past week in significant pain, sobbing violently, feeling as if I were being repeatedly stabbed in the solar plexus. This lead to an instability with my mental illness of Bipolar 1 and I lost track of time for a few days and experienced suicidal ideation as well as rapid cycling. And yet, through the difficulty, my heart kept beating and my persistence to love and be loved remained.

I decided to walk away from the family that I love for now. I have tried walking away several times over the past couple of years, but I could sense that this time was different. I am not certain if it was the fact that I had reached my limit or if it was the budding acceptance that I had no real influence over those I desired connection with. In any case, I knew that this time, the hold that my family has had over me in the past few years, was beginning to loosen its grip.

I sat down with my therapist yesterday and due to my request, we limited the time spent on talking about what had occurred with my family as I knew it would re-open the fresh wound and I wanted to be able to drive home without being in a state of constant “panic”. Through broken tears, I shared that I knew my family had been sick and that because I was the one openly confronting it, I often was discouraged from doing so through gaslighting (acting as if I am “seeing or hearing it wrong”, or “overreacting”, or presenting inaccuracies in details), dismissal, and devaluation. The crisises that came up in our family were constantly being downplayed. This caused me immense pain because my nieces and nephews all have become extremely sick as a result. My sister, who I feel is the most sick in our family, will block communication, character smear, lie, stonewall, etc. This has been going on for years as their addiction issues have become worse and two of five of her children are now so sick they are disabled. I have known, in my heart, for some time now, that I had lost my family. I had begun the process of accepting that I had no influence or control to change the situation. I tried desperately to convince my mother of things, but ended up being gaslighted and devalued in the process. The only thing for me to do was to disengage so that I could stop drowning, due to thrashing about in the water, fighting it. I needed to “float” and begin “focusing on my life”.

I was talking with my ex-spouse, who is my main support, and in our brief exchange, another piece of the puzzle was handed to me. It hit me light a ton of bricks. As many people have told me over the years, he offhandedly says to me: “You need to focus on yourself”. Instantly, I felt a great deal of embarrassment and shame and I abruptly turned and went into my bedroom, shutting the door. I flopped myself on my bed, shielding myself with my blanket, and the tears quickly began to surface. I felt stupid and so ashamed. He was right, and yet it made me feel exposed and vulnerable in this instance. I’ve been on this earth for 47 years and I still have not learned yet how to “focus on myself”. Why is this? And then, it was as if the curtain in this dark room was ripped from the rod, allowing light to flood in, and the answer instantly came, along with the tears and frustration that I have been holding in for so many years. I have not been focusing on myself because I simply never learned how. In this instant, I felt exposed and timid, as if I were perhaps all of six years old. I felt small, insignificant, and not particularly safe. It dawned on me that I had learned to deny my own emotionally expressive self as well as continually remain “on high-alert” to keep myself and others “SAFE”.

The puzzle piece slid in perfectly, bringing the picture into more focus. I could see that when my niece fled to my house for safety three years ago, due to the drug use and her husband’s abuse, my C-PTSD was activated and I again became hyper-vigilant about their safety. It was nearly as if I, myself, were the one in crisis and in danger. I became am investigator and began focusing on the chaos erupting in the lives of my sister and her kids. As I regained contact with my sister’s now adult kids (as we had disengaged before because of the drug use), they would at times, although rarely, reach out during a crisis and it would re-traumatize me once again. Often, the trauma was exacerbated by my sister’s blocking of communication, stonewalling, lying, etc., and it was reinforced by my mother’s enabling of her behavior. This was both devaluing and dismissive for me, even if unintentionally so. It has been three years of this cycle and I would try very hard to disengage, but felt powerless to do so. However, in this last week, with the new awareness that the inability to “let go” was a “deeply rooted” coping mechanism that helped me “survive” in my youth, I may have stumbled across the single most important piece of the puzzle that will finally enable the healing process.

I can see now why I have not been able to “let go” and why I have not learned how to “focus on myself”. I had learned to always scan the horizon and look for potential dangers. My sister’s home situation, which has been in crisis for years, was the perfect scenario for the continuation of my ineffective coping mechanisms. I latched on so deeply to my older niece’s struggle because, she too, has spent so much of her life entrenched in the trauma of trying to keep her mother and others “safe” while often being invalidated and gaslighted in the process. It broke my heart when my niece shared with me that she constantly worried about her parents safety and well being and felt the need to “be there” to take care of both of them. Her focus on her parents lead her to abandon an opportunity of rehab that was presented to her, ultimately sacrificing her own health. She has since become disabled and very sick and is now sitting in jail as we speak. It is beyond heartbreaking and a lot of the problems in my family truly come down to surviving trauma, but not knowing how to cope with the aftermath of it.

I admit that my trauma has lead me right into the fire over and over again, and often times into a burning home that wasn’t even mine. I have no real influence anymore in my sister’s life, nor her kids. I do feel both my Mom and sister are struggling with their own level of sickness which often includes denial and devaluation of others because they wish to remain “status- quo”. I decided remaining engaged with my family and watching the ship sink, while pleading with someone, anyone, to take a raft, was not going to help me heal. In fact, it has made me so sick, I am not well enough to help myself. I am unable to work.

In any case, all of this is exhausting and my therapist has requested that I limit how much and how often I write because he wants me to heal and “focus on myself”. I left his office, half grinning in curiosity, saying “That sounds good. Focus on just me for awhile, Geez, I don’t feel I have ever done that”. Sure, I have had hobbies and have gotten involved with a job, etc. But, I have always been focused on tending to the emotions of others and trying to keep others “safe” or investing in them without considering myself, like I did with my husband and ex-fiancee. I placed their life before mine and often ended up hurting a great deal as a result. I take accountability for this life-long maladaptive coping mechanism, and am excited to begin a new endeavor of truly developing myself outside of the influence of anyone else. I will be grieving my family in their absence, but going back only serves to hurt them and me. It puts me in a position where I not only lose my dignity from fighting so much to be “seen and relevant”, but I also lose valuable healing time where I miss the opportunity to “water and tend” to my garden.

Sometimes, we need a storm, with a downpour of rain, to water the garden and to penetrate the stale and dense air that is keeping us trapped. I cannot change others, but I can change myself. I can protect myself and keep myself safe. I can heal and rebuild. All is not lost.

I did set my intentions on healing. I never knew I had this much to heal, nor did I realize that the path would lead me to walking away from my family. I do not know what the future holds, only that I have today and I want it to be peaceful. And so, I will start with myself. And, I will keep myself safe, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

It is impossible to know who I am or my true potential when I am in constant crisis, reacting to the pain of others. I can only begin the process of developing myself outside of the historical patterns of my family. I don’t believe we are ever meant to remain in the trauma that caged us. I didn’t foresee, long ago, when I timidly said out loud: “I want to heal, I want to be free”, that the journey would lead me here. But it has. And, despite the relapses and the complete mess of this process, the weeds are being pulled and my garden is starting to take shape! There are indeed plants budding.

I will always be boldly honest about my mistakes and my own abuses towards others while entrenched in my pain. I am deeply accountable to that and I regret so much of my own communication that was not only hurtful, but was potentially harmful. Addressing my own “ugliness” has been one of my motivations for change. Often trauma cages us, causing us to have a “chip on our shoulders”, it is the way we protect ourselves. But, what protects us early in childhood, is crushing, isolating, and debilitating later in life. I think the greatest thing we can do for ourselves and others is to be accountable for the messes we have made and to those we have hurt, no matter if they have hurt us as well. And then, go forward protecting the peace in your life by distancing from those people and situations who continually “activate” the trauma whether it is with intention or not. You can love people from a distance and not get too close to the flames to “catch fire”. I still love my family very much, but if I am going to have a garden that one day is mine, I have to remain engaged in it, not get swept away in something that isn’t even mine to begin with!

Peace everyone. I hope my journey and what I am learning helps others who are struggling. We are not our trauma or our negative ways of coping. And we all have amazing gardens to grow. I hope yours smells ever so sweet and you discover newfound joy and love in the process!

Mother Earth’s Nest

I have been going through quite a few boxes of mine lately that are a mishmash of old journal entries, poems, and other memorabilia. While searching through one of my boxes, I found the following poem that I must have written more than a decade ago. I used to never date or title my poetry until recently. My poetry has always just been an expression of my thoughts and feelings and I rarely would go back and work on them. I found this poem particularly interesting because I still spend a lot of time in thought about life and my purpose here on earth. If you are a person, like myself, who sometimes gets overwhelmed thinking about life and your existence, I recommend listening to the Indigo Girls, specifically the song: Closer to Fine. The song always makes me feel better as it stresses not to take life too seriously. I hope you enjoy the poem below! I am going to kick back, relax, and listen to some of the earlier songs of the Indigo Girls. I listened to them a lot during my college years in the 90’s. So much has changed, and yet, a lot has remained the same too. I hope your journey through this lifetime (and the next and next, if that is your belief), is one of wholeness and peace!

 

Mother Earth’s Nest

Sometimes, you are better off without yourself.

You leave this world to become someone else.

Through the birth tunnel, a light burning so bright,

A piercing cry, your eyes closed so tight.

 

Everything fades, a tabula rasa once again.

A journey of discovery, new life begins.

A forgotten self, except for the occasional déjà vu

A sneak peak of your old self, leaving you pleasantly confused.

 

You become grounded for a time, until aging appears,

With hesitation, you reluctantly welcome the fear.

Questions flood your mind, leaving you awake at night.

You float freely detached, mesmerized by the light.

 

The moment you leave, you quickly snap back.

You’re not ready just yet, you have to pack!

Things must be neatly secured in their place,

But, that’s just a mirage, we’re all displaced.

 

And thus, take flight my friend, the journey needs no words

Leap from the nest, be like the bird.

Each time around, will build upon the rest,

Keeping us safe in Mother Earth’s nest.

Amy Taylor (updated 2/10/2020)

nature animal cute sitting
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

 

 

“My Desolate Sea” and The Gifts it Gave To Me

grayscale photo of person standing on seashore
Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

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:

  1. My mental illness of: Bipolar 1, PTSD, ADHD, Hyperawareness OCD has gifted me insight, sensitivity, persistence, and tenacity. Living with this struggle, and with the stigma of it, I have often been misunderstood. I have had to work harder to refine my ability to communicate to others my reality and struggle. I also have had to deal and cope with a fair amount of invalidation and discrimination, as well as dismissiveness from others, including places of employment. The pain from this was immeasurable, but it has left me with a desire to inform and educate.
  2. My experience of receiving SSDI and relying on social programs, like Medicaid, has been an eye opening and gut wrenching experience that has renewed my commitment and passion to serve those in need. I have felt powerless and vulnerable trying to get my healthcare needs met in a system that is utterly broken and incompetent. My heart breaks for those who are unable to advocate for themselves or who lack the stamina or health to get their needs met. The system is BRUTAL. I know in time I will be able to speak from a place of truth and experience when addressing these issues. No matter how hard this struggle has been for me, I have been granted the gift of lived experience. I don’t want this gift to go to waste and I hope to help others in time.
  3. The loss of family due to addiction, has made me more aware of the illness and the variables that often perpetuate it. I’ve learned a lot about self-forgiveness, compassion, and patience. I have gained more knowledge about the limitations of our current healthcare system in addressing the epidemic of addiction and what approaches might be more successful if implemented. I have also learned to surrender to what I am unable to personally control or change. It has been a long and difficult road, but I am slowly letting go of the notion that I might be able to make a difference. It has been my experience year after year with my family, that little has changed. Surrendering to “what is” and recognizing the limitation of my influence is a gift that hopefully will free me and one day help others.
  4. The loss of employment, due to my illness. has taught me the valuable lesson that I am not defined by my vocation. Learning to find value and identity in other endeavors outside of employment has allowed me to recreate my life in ways where all parts of myself are honored. It has made me realize how much our society ties our worth to our careers and how most of our time is absorbed by our experiences in employment. This space in my life where I have been disabled has again afforded me with the lived experience of directly interacting with governmental programs. Often, the experience has been devaluing and difficult. Still yet, I am grateful to have experienced what many of our citizens face, a harsh and inefficient system that is anything but personal and caring. This experience has made me motivated to be vocal in hopes that change will one day be on the horizon.
  5. Collectively, all of my experiences of loss have made me a stronger individual. I would like to think they have been preparing me for something larger in the end. We will see. In any case, the last decade it rained relentlessly without much of a break. My life seemed to fold in on me and I feared it would nearly collapse. I was suicidal for nearly three years. I hung on even when I believed there was no point to do so. And although, the rain still comes, I have realized that I am still here. Blood is still pumping through my veins and I am still able to do so many of the things I value. Despite, the many stories of heartbreak that I could share, I am still here, standing. I have a lot to write because many of my stories are actually very similar to the heartbreak of others. Many of us have lived with the beast of addiction either personally or in our families, many have suffered with a mental illness or a disability, many have been devastated by a job loss, many have experienced abuse in their relationship with a partner, many have lived through poverty….. And, many of us have felt utterly alone in our experiences. We are not alone. My experiences of loss have gifted me with the strength and passion to share with others. Let us be the light for one another.

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!

My Desolate Sea

It’s difficult to say

No one loves me enough to stay

All wish to run away

 

Trouble finds me

Surrounds me

Binds me

 

I want nothing more

than to be set free

 

People misunderstand me

Loathe 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

I understand

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

Left alone

In this desolate Sea

 

Pleading to be set free

Hoping this is not my eternity

 

Grandma’s Sugar Cookies

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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! 

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Photo by Jonathan Meyer on Pexels.com

Love Letter to You

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Photo by Ravi Kant on Pexels.com

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!  

 

Seizing the Opportunity Through Struggle

silhouette of a man during sunset
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

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

 

 

 

 

Cultivating Compassion for the Self: My “Second Wind”

woman looking outside window
Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

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!!

 

Honoring 47 Years: The Struggle and the Strength

 

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.