The Stillness and Separation: The Bird is Nearly Ready for Flight!

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The last few years of my life have been messy and difficult. I did not realize it in the beginning, but I was in the process of separating myself and shaping my own identity. I set my intention on healing, but wasn’t able to articulate how that would occur. I only knew that I was in immense pain, both emotionally and physically, and was desperate to find a way to feel good again.

The process of healing lead me to myself. It was a lonely place to be at first and I did everything in the beginning to avoid sitting in the space that surrounded me. Being still was like sitting in a dark and damp dungeon, all alone, unable to stop the constant reverberations of words and labels that had harmed me through the years. More often than not, my thoughts were always spinning on the countless examples that had proved in some way: “I wasn’t good enough”. I wasn’t able to separate myself from the words and actions of others, even when many times I wasn’t to blame for their lack of commitment to me. I wore what people said about me, like layers of clothing in preparation for a cold, Winter’s storm. I was bundled up in other people’s problems, unable to breathe freely, not living a life of my own. It was constraining and suffocating, but I stayed on in many unhealthy relationships from family to work, holding on to the hope that someday someone would lead me to that “sweet spot”: my worth.

Over time and through multiple heartaches, my desperation to receive love from others grew ugly. Even so, my ability to hang on to nothingness was impressive. I lost time and myself to the endless occupation of “fixing” hopeless relationships. I eventually became fed up with feeling invisible and unloved and began to lash out, my shield of armor growing thicker with each passing day. My demands, and oftentimes negative behaviors, were feeble attempts at self love. I knew I needed more, I just did not realize that I needed to “let go” to receive it. All I could see was what I would be losing if did so and that was too devastating, especially after investing so much time and energy. Instead of letting go and moving on, I hunkered down and clung tightly, demanding my presence in the lives of people who were not only lost, but often unavailable in some way. One can see where this is leading.

It was during these types of relationships, that a familiar historical pattern emerged illustrating my learned attraction towards those who were unavailable and inaccessible to me. I had learned to fall in love with the feeling of uncertainty, rejection, and distance. My step-father who raised me created this environment, unknowingly (I now realize as an adult he was doing the best he knew how at the time). He wasn’t available emotionally for me growing up, and so I learned that love was not only having to continually seek approval, but it was also distant and unattainable. And the times I have felt “in love”, were with men who were unattainable and distant. I can even remember telling myself that if I could somehow make the relationship work, it would heal me from what I missed with my father growing up. These relationships, particularly the latter of the two, closely mirrored my life as a child growing up. The latter relationship was stormy and unpredictable and I often felt that I needed to behave perfectly to avoid abandonment. Although my step-father never threatened to leave me, I felt under constant pressure to avoid any commotion as to not upset him in any way. I could see, through the continual conflicts and eventual dissolve of my last relationship, that I was grieving much more than what I had just left. I was grieving what I never had, a father that made me feel safe, protected, and unconditionally loved. This is one of the reasons it became nearly impossible to leave my last significant relationship. Hanging on and waiting for the love I needed nearly destroyed me.

In the backdrop was another storyline that caused heartache and at times, despair. My sister’s struggle with addiction caused a fracture in my very small family. The story is fraught with tension and drama which left me isolated and unsupported by her or any of her now adults kids. It is a true tragedy and one of which I am still grieving over. It’s difficult to let go of romantic relationships, but even more so to let go of familial ones especially when certain members are still in danger and at risk. At this point, because of the drug use, no one is reaching out to me and often my messages of concern go unnoticed. Years of struggle has caused arguments and tension that often erupted into ugliness. Watching one person struggle is extremely difficult and hard enough; I have now seen a whole family walk down the same path. Unfortunately, I only have one sibling and whereas I have longed for her support and friendship during difficult times in life, the addiction has made that reality impossible. I have not entirely let go, but I am in the process because the chaos surrounding her and her children’s addiction is not only stressful, but consuming. And I have learned there is little I can do because my concerns, pleas, and confronting are met with silence, denial, or shift-blaming.

And so, I have been very sick the last couple of years and out of a pure place of necessity and desire, I began to heal, slowly. It has been messy and circuitous, but by getting up each time I fall (and that is many) and trying again, I prevail. I have discovered as of late that I am “separating” and becoming my truest self. This process has required me to not only depend on my own judgment and desires, but to cultivate more space between myself and others. This is difficult to do if you were raised in an environment where you had to question your reality and perform as perfectly as possible to avoid punishment. Let me explain what I mean by this. I grew up in an environment where it was normal to ignore certain obvious problems. Often, I would see the problems, even voice them, and those around me invalidated my experience causing me to question my reality. I often spoke out about how my step-father was treating me and my sister, but my concerns were readily dismissed and even denied. I became so used to questioning my reality that I lacked the confidence to interpret situations later on in life. For example, I continually questioned myself in relationships that were not good for me even if I had sufficient evidence that something was wrong. If I formed an attachment to someone, I gave their actions and words towards me too much influence and lost myself over and over again. All of this made separating difficult as, admittedly, I wasn’t always confident in my decisions. Looking back to my childhood, I can understand why I struggle and this has helped to cultivate self compassion instead of criticism.

The process of separating is painful and liberating at the same time. The old me is fighting with the new me. I have to remind myself that I am enough even while standing alone. No one person has the ability to define me. For far too long I have drank the foolish chatter of those that do not know me. I will always entertain the words of others, but I will no longer bundle up in their words for a Winter’s storm that will never precipitate. I will sit in the stillness and embrace the silence. I see great value in separating where I no longer hear the constant echoes of invalidation. I wish I had learned some of these things long ago, but I can only go forward with gratitude that I have the chance to soon be free. I was meant to soar, we all are. There should be no judgment about how or when we fly. I’m nearly ready to leave this old, rusty cage that actually did serve a purpose at one time in my life. I’m so lucky to have found this love after all these years of searching. It is this love that will lift and sustain me. And to think there were times I wanted to give up! This victory is the sweetest because there is absolutely no abandonment in self love. Love is never lost and what you share returns to you and expands in time.

I’ve decided to end this post by quoting the lyrics too one of my favorite songs by my favorite artist, Suzanne Vega. Hope you enjoyed my insights on separating to become whole! Let’s soar!

St. Clare

Suzanne Vega

Call on that saint
And the candle that burns
Keeping her safe
Until her return

Plaster and paint
Holding the fire
A poor woman’s saint
Holding all man’s desire

Bold little bird
Fly away home
Could I but ride herd
On the wind and the foam

All of the souls
That curl by the fire
They never know
All man’s desire

Watercress clings
To the banks of the stream
In the first grip of spring
When the snow melts to green

Barefoot and cold
And holding a lyre
By the side of the road
Holding all man’s desire

Call on the saint
When the white candle burns
Keeping her safe
Until her return

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A Slippery and Stigmatizing Slope: The Use of Recovery in Managing a Mental Illness

Can we please stop using the word, “Recovery” when talking about mental illness? The use of this word for those who struggle their entire life with a mental illness is damaging. This one small, seemingly insignificant word communicates to others that healing from a mental illness is possible if you only “try hard enough”. “Recovery” assumes that the one suffering has the possibility to completely “regain control” of their life if they only take accountability for their illness. It’s a very slippery and stigmatizing slope to place the burden of one’s illness on the individual who suffers to absolutely no fault of their own. While I can agree that the healing process requires an individual to come to terms with their illness and manage it, I do not agree with the sentiment that others who are struggling just haven’t “tried hard enough” to reach recovery. Some of those who struggle alongside of us will not recover, ever. Some will die due to this disease. And there are some, who actually will heal enough to remain in remission. We cannot assume that everyone that suffers is able to reach stability and insisting that they can do so only serves to shame them.

The definition of the word recovery implies that one is virtually cured: 

Recovery: “a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength”. OR

“The action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost”.

I understand why people are drawn to this word and use it instead of “coping or managing”. Healing is an individual process and it is something that cultivates pride and mastery. It takes immense time and work to heal oneself. I am engaged in the process as we speak and it has been extremely challenging and difficult, but rewarding. Even on my best days, I do not feel I have recovered: “returning to a normal state of health, mind, or strength”. I have struggled for nearly 30 years and I honestly do not feel I will ever be completely recovered. Some are in the throws of persistent and severe mental illness, with psychotic episodes that are uncontrollable. Although, I do not experience psychosis, I know how it feels to be dropped back down to earth, disoriented and bewildered from an episode of mania that kidnapped me once again. Was I too blame? Did I just not try hard enough?

What I can tell you is that Bipolar illness crept in slowly and stealthily in my late teen years, stealing my laughter, my potential, and my clarity. I was actually on top my game physically, an athlete. I was sociable and friendly, a lead in the school musical. I had been accepted into college and was not involved in drugs or even in a sexual relationship. I was NORMAL and my illness ROBBED me of my care free and happy lifestyle. When you preach “recovery” and the role I must have in it to stay healthy and stable, it communicates on some level that I caused the instability. I was simply living my life and it was hijacked and destroyed by an illness that I did not ask for, nor did I want. I prayed for “recovery’ and complete remission. And in the past 30 years of my struggle there were years where I was more stable and years where the beast of mental illness rose again, rendering me disabled and destitute. The imbalance in my brain is not always controlled by me. Therefore, I choose to embrace the illness and struggle “as is” and “manage and cope” as best as possible.

Here is me the year right before I became very sick on the Summer swim team:

 

I feel recovery in the incidence of mental illness is shaming and stigmatizing. Those who have a choice to remain away from what is causing their illness, such as in substance abuse, perhaps can talk about being in recovery. Their actions and their commitment to their health, has restored it. With mental illness however, a person can be choosing the right behaviors and still experience a damaging episode. And sadly the first thing people will say is: “Were you taking your meds, Were you sleeping, Were you…?” And, guess what? They might not have, but often times they did not choose to alter their behavior. Many times behavior changes as a result of perceptions and memory being altered as a result of the illness and then it spirals from there. I cannot count the amount of times I “skip” a dose of my Lithium because I simply cannot recall if I took it, even if I am marking it down or have a pill box. The first signs of my illness, I have learned over time, is disorganization and memory problems. People have told me I look and sound different when I am manic. So much is altered that telling me I should have done this or that is kinda fruitless when you truly understand what is occurring. And I often don’t know that I am going into an episode until I “fall out of it”, regaining clarity once again. But, somehow when my brain goes awry, I am supposed to stick to certain coping mechanisms and ultimately there is a lot of self-loathing that occurs because I cannot do so. My MS degree means nothing when I can’t even accomplish basic functions because of my mania or depression. And this has been an on-going struggle for years.

And so, I had a choice to make: to accept my faulty-wired brain or beat myself up and “try harder”. I am choosing to embrace myself as I am and do my best to manage and cope. And so, to all of you who feel you may never “make it” and “recover”, it’s OK. My advice is to do your best and if you have a day or week or even a month where you completely fall apart, accept it. Surround yourself around those who accept you the way you are. This moment right now  is what truly matters and you may or may not make it across some made up finish line to “recovery’. No matter where you are at in the process, embrace it and love yourself fiercely and completely, regardless.

I am coping and managing my illness as best as possible. There is NO finish line. There is just myself and my experiences and what I know. And I know my struggle and how hard it is. Embrace you, because you are “that special”, “that amazing”, and “that worthy”.

 

 

 

The Forest Within: The Gentle Giants will Heal You

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Today, I found myself walking in the forest. The familiar path I took is well worn as a result of receiving quite a bit of traffic from families, dogs, bikers, and occasionally horses. My dog, Gracie, and I traveled often alone today as the weather was damp and cool. We only passed a few others along our journey. Gracie was free to roam off-leash and was often engrossed in sniffing the forest floor or finding a stick to chew. She was completely occupied and appeared happy and content.

I made a sustained effort to be mindful during my walk by fully attending to the depth of the surrounding forest while at the same time opening my senses to embrace the present moment. What happened pleasantly surprised me. For a time, it was as if the path had actually disappeared. My focus had rested on the looming giants of the forest and the spaces surrounding them. The density of the forest nearly caught me off guard and was a bit disorienting at first. I had always narrowed my attention to the path before me. When I shifted to the tall trees and the spaces in between them, I was able to see so much more of the forest. I noticed the spaces between the branches and how solid and strong the trunk truly must be. The forest floor was covered with pines and debris, often from a fallen branch or two in a distant, past wind storm. There were trees down and hollow trunks that seemed to be old and decaying. My pup would often interrupt my concentration by playfully climbing on a log or finding a stick to chew. A few times, I’d have to call her as she had disappeared, more than likely searching for a rabbit or two.

I got halfway through the walk and it dawned on me how much I had healed here in this forest and continue to do so. I have always felt that the forest can hold my grief and absorb my pain. There is so much space and depth within the forest that any amount of emotion can be released and let go there. A forest is the perfect combination of decay and growth, simultaneously. And, upon further thought and reflection, both are needed to evolve. This reminded me that all of the pain and hardship in my life, from mistakes to disappointments, have their place in my life. The forest is often messy with brush, scattered branches, and even downed trees, but this doesn’t make it any less beautiful or captivating. Each tree, standing tall, is alone and separate from the others, but is frequented with many visitors from squirrels to birds and even insects. Storms come and storms go. It rains heavily and sometimes a light mist hugs the giant firs. And then, there are the days of sun and warmth. In the Winter, the branches become heavy with snow. Out in the elements, the trees are vulnerable, but on most occasions unless there is a tragedy like a fire or a disease, these gentle giants carry on through the seasons reliably. Life moves in and around them and they adapt and change, letting go of the life that inhabits them and remaining grounded by their roots.

I was feeling quite at home there in the forest today. It dawned on me that I had found my stillness again. I knew that this experience was trying to teach me something. Perhaps, I could be like the gentle giant. Life will stop in and pass through, but I was not to cling to it. Maybe I am also to value the messiness of life that contains the parts of myself that are decaying so that new growth can occur. This was a reminder to not devalue the decay, but honor it as it is also part of the beautiful mess that has made me. Looking around this beautiful dense forest, it seemed actually more mesmerizing with both the large looming trees and the downed logs on the ground. How could I view the old and new, together, as less somehow?  Immediately, more compassion came to the surface. How could I devalue the struggle and the “downed logs” of my life that made me? Perhaps, my mess could also be beautiful in ways.

I began to admire the trees for being so rooted and grounded. Their strength and separateness made me feel a lot less lonely and isolated. And at this moment in time, I was part of their reality, a passerby perhaps altering the forest in a tiny way.

There is and always has been immense healing for me in the forest. It has made me realize how we are all interconnected and that nature and life in all forms depend on each other for sustainability. We all are sharing the same oxygen. I feel more tuned in when I walk through the forest and I always gain something from the experience. Sometimes, ironically enough, a walk, all alone through the forest, is what you need to connect to yourself and others. Enjoy the forest, my friends, it will heal you!

This Raw, Beautiful, Wild Forest

As I sit here once again in the stillness, I feel exposed and raw from the continual shedding of layers that define me. I am reminded of the song, Watershed, by the Indigo Girls. The lyrics quickly fill the space surrounding me. So many times I have communed with this song, engrossed in its message. I wanted to share the lyrics below and encourage you to give it a listen on YouTube if you are unfamiliar with the Indigo Girls and their music. So much of their music has served as the backdrop of my youth, planting so many seeds along the way. I’m grateful to them and to other musicians whose music has been a gift and is every bit as relevant now as it was back then. Here are the lyrics to Watershed:
Watershed
Song by Indigo Girls
Lyrics
Thought I knew my mind
Like the back of my hand
The gold and the rainbow
But nothing panned out as I planned
And they say only milk and honey’s
Gonna make your soul satisfied
Well I better learn how to swim
‘Cause the crossing is chilly and wide
Twisted guardrails on the highway
Broken glass on the cement
A ghost of someone’s tragedy
How recklessly my time has been spent
They say that it’s never too late
But you don’t, you don’t get any younger
Well I better learn how to starve the emptiness
And feed the hunger
Up on the watershed
Standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize
‘Til your agony’s your heaviest load
You’ll never fly as the crow flies
Get used to a country mile
When you’re learning to face
The path at your pace
Every choice is worth your while
And there’s always retrospect (when you’re looking back)
To light a clearer path
Every five years or so I look back on my life
And I have a good laugh
You start at the top (start at the top)
Go full circle round
Catch a breeze
Take a spill
But ending up where I started again
Makes me want to stand still
Up on the watershed
Standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize
‘Til your agony’s your heaviest load
You’ll never fly as the crow flies
Get used to a country mile
When you’re learning to face
The path at your pace
Every choice is worth your while
Stepping on a crack (stepping on a crack)
Breaking up and looking back
‘Til every tree limb overhead just seems to sit and wait
‘Til every step you take becomes a twist of fate (twist of fate)
Up on the watershed
Standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize
‘Til your agony’s your heaviest load
You’ll never fly as the crow flies
Get used to a country mile
When you’re learning to face
The path at your pace
Every choice is worth your while
Up on the watershed
Standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize
‘Til your agony’s your heaviest load
You’ll never fly as the crow flies
Get used to a country mile
When you’re learning to face
The path at your pace
Every choice is worth your while
And when you’re learning to face
The path at your pace
Every choice is worth your while
Songwriters: Emily Ann Saliers
This song sums up perfectly so much of my current mood. There is so much inside of me I lam longing to express. If one could see and hear my spirit growing, I’m certain I’d be a tree in a dense forest at the start of Spring. My branches that once were stark and starved would be starting to show plenty of green, alive and full of color. The air surrounding me would be full of aroma. I’d be standing on my own, arms open and extended, embracing the warmth of the sun. I’d be part of the grandeur of the forest, but full and fruitful on my own. All the loving spaces between my branches, unencumbered by limitless space and my feet rooted firmly to the forest floor, forever grounded. I have nearly arrived and have taken my space among the firs. Together we are majestic and magical, separate we are enough.
I’ve been awake and with myself enough now to know how important it is to like myself, even more so to love myself. I absorbed so much that was not mine in my lifetime. Looking back, I am not ashamed to say that I was a “shell of a person” often searching outside of myself for validation and identity. I was lost. It made sense in ways to search for self-love through others. I reasoned that their opinions carried more weight than mine. I didn’t trust myself and never felt that I was good enough. Placing my trust in people who did not have my best interest at heart and refusing to “let go” nearly “did me in”. I did not want to exist without their love and acceptance. Something inside of me continually told me that I would cease to exist without their love. That I was nothing without them. So I hung on despite the utter hopelessness of the relationship and the reality that my needs were not being met.
Inside a storm was brewing. As certain people painfully discarded me, I began demanding more from them. I stayed too long in broken relationships demanding what I was willingly giving of myself, my time and energy. What I did not realize at the time is that in “rebelling” I was actually learning to trust my inner voice and love myself. That I was worthy of a reciprocal relationship. During this messy and brutal time of demanding more, I often acted in irrational ways and made things worse for me. The self-loathing got a lot worse until I became aware that hanging on for so long was an act of self-destruction and resolved nothing. Everything inside me wanted to remain engaged with those hurting me. It nearly felt like I would not survive if I “let go”. So, this process of holding on went on for a few brutal and dark years. Years of being suicidal and not wanting to press on. Years of losing opportunities and employment. I’m still grieving what I lost in not “letting go”. And yet, the tree in the forest still stands and Spring has come and there is lots of green peaking through!
Learning to love yourself through the layers upon layers of self-doubt is a long and arduous process. Self love can seem elusive and too often I was missing the mark. When you are “in love” and love yourself, it shows in the actions you take in your life. It is demonstrated in the boundaries you have in order to maintain self-care and self- preservation. I did not love myself. I did not know how to love myself. And it’s ok, so many others are also in this struggle, seeking validation of their self worth in people they trust more than themselves. The last decade of my life has been the tug-of-war of “holding on” and “letting go”. And I am feeling more confident now that I actually am beginning to love myself more and more each day. I still make mistakes and have shame. But, I accept myself and do not demand perfection. I do not beat myself up anymore. And ultimately, I know I am worthy. I no longer need others to tell me so.
This journey is a blessing despite the pain and suffering it took to get here. And, it is only the beginning. It is a spiritual change and one of perception. In retrospect, I was learning. I accept that we all start at different places and we all go at our own pace. I am not in any contest. I have taken my place among the firs, in the dense forest, and I feel strong in my separateness and uniqueness. We all make up the forest and it’s raw, beautiful, and wild. Let it be.

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Burn Brightly: The Healing Fire Within You

fire wood firewood fireplace
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I haven’t written for awhile. I’ve been walking among the shifting sands once again. As painful as it has become, I’ve learned so much on that dry, barren waste land that actually gives so little. Or does it?

Over the years, I have continually returned in search of some spark that would perhaps ignite a fire for warmth. I was mesmerized by the vast night sky where on rare occasions I’d catch a glimpse of a falling star burning brightly against the cold, dark night. My chest would swell and I’d all at once become hopeful again. It didn’t dawn on me to ever completely escape this desolate place, over time it grew comfortable to me. Here, I did not have to ever risk losing again or connecting to others. I was often lonely and in despair over lost connections, but somehow I felt I belonged here in this space, searching. And so that is where I’ve been tucked away.

I could shout out expletives all day long in this crisp, cold air and nothing ever truly changed. I could become deeply entrenched in endless preoccupations that were unhealthy such as over-eating or gambling and it would offer no satiation. Perhaps there was temporarily relief in that I was distracted from the pain for a brief time. Still yet, the pain and suffering was relentless and continued to return.

A seed of awareness began to grow within me beckoning me to sit with the pain. I felt it was all at once too consuming. Might I ignite into flames if I sit too close to the burning fire? The pain seemed so elusive to me, always changing direction, sometimes raging while other times smoldering, refusing to be snuffed out. Often, I would turn away from the mystery that was burning inside of me, relentless and consuming.

Pain and suffering, I felt, wasn’t just mine to hold. It had consumed others in my family. It was historical. To acknowledge my own pain and suffering and be vocal about it only served to massage the pain in others around me. Their pain became more visible to me often in that I became silenced or shut down. I knew this was there way of managing the years of pain they have been dealt. We all deal with pain differently. I kept going back to the pain, often choosing to suffer because I was not yet ready to sit with it and heal from it.

Somewhere within the countless journeys into the cold and dark barren waste land, I found myself and my voice. My entire life has been fraught with fear and uncertainty. I did not have a lot of confidence. I was the “little sister” and the “youngest granddaughter” which meant I was often not taken too seriously. My early years were marred by a neighbor who molested me and then quickly after a step-father who was authoritarian and intimidating. My perpetrator had threatened to harm my mother if we exposed the truth, and I was the one that told. Because of these things, I grew up with immense anxiety and fear. My step-father did not allow any type of expression of anger and we were not truly allowed to disagree with him. He has since apologized for being too strict when we were younger. Despite a late apology, of which I do appreciate, my voice and confidence was very late to “bloom”. Growing up, I became very clingy to mother and became overly dependent on her.

The last few years, the fire raged on and it became impossible to just “ignore”. For me, unlike some, I ended up very sick and unable to work. Life unraveled and I was left to deal with the pain that was consuming me. First off, I had a lot of excuses as to why I hadn’t dealt with the pain or as to why I dealt with it in the way I did. Often, I loathed myself for leaving the fire unattended and burning so brightly in my life. I felt like such a failure. I’d keep going back staring into the faces that were incapable of loving me. Some where incapable of expressing truth to me. And others simply did not care to answer my requests. It tore ever fiber inside of me to accept the reality that I wasn’t going to ever have what I wanted with those I loved. It could be that we were both too broken, but certain relationships I knew I had to leave. And it took years for me to do so. I realize that some people have the confidence and capability to easily cut ties when faced with unhealthy individuals. I knew I needed to leave, but I wasn’t able to “let go”. The process took years and it was a messy one. I also was “unhealthy” myself and was learning. It was a very imperfect process.

Going back now to the barren wasteland is a way of grieving. I’m slowly letting go of certain dreams, while accepting “what is” and even looking outward at the immense possibilities that exist in truly “letting go”. I’ve even begun the process of planning for just myself and am lighter as a result. Accepting “my mess” and imperfections has cultivated self compassion and even humor, at times. My voice has become very strong and I quite possibly have “overdone” it at times, but I hope one day people are able to see it was done out of love and even from a place of desperation and destitution. I know now that the place I rose from was difficult and nearly impossible, at times, to navigate. I’m accepting that given what I had, I did the best I could. Those in my family who continue to struggle are, in fact, doing the best they can. I struggle sometimes to see that with some because their ways of coping are actually so very hurtful. I know that with certain people I have to let go and “let be”.

I would have never guessed healing would be such a circuitous route of so many detours. But, I feel each time I get lost, I find more layers. I also pick up more confidence. Building a strong foundation takes immense work. I’m not sure if it were so easy, it would even be worth it. It is a painful process, but one that truly enriches your life. It seems the deeper I go in the more connected I am to myself and the more compassion I hold in my heart. It’s just life. There is no rulebook. I just want to keep finding more of myself. All the pieces of me that I lost or willingly gave up, I want back. All of me is valuable, the good, the bad, and the ugly. This mess created me and this mess is what will heal me in the end. I just need to sit still long enough to embrace the warmth of the fire.

 

Swimming & Separateness

women swimming on the pool
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I remember long ago, when I was only a small girl, swimming effortlessly in my Grandma’s backyard pool. I don’t recall ever learning to swim as I’m fairly certain it followed closely after I learned to walk. I vividly recall gliding along the bottom of the pool, watching the reflection of the sun bounce around, shimmering on the bottom of the pool surface. All the noise and chatter of the above-water world would disappear for the moment as I lost myself, surrounded by the silence and serenity, submerged in water. I was weightless and free. I felt a sense of mastery gliding along, with my eyes wide open. It was during these times I felt confident and joyful despite being separate and alone.

Surveying my life and my history, I am able to acknowledge that I often have difficulty truly separating from others. Not in the sense of having to always be around others as I am actually often alone. The difficulty arises in my ability and desire to trust my own decisions and to build my own self-worth. I’m too often searching for validation in others  instead of relying on my own intuition and instincts. I also have allowed certain people in my life to completely derail me by accepting their definition of me. My self-concept is too easily swayed by others. I feel I have a lot of work to do in this area.

I can go back further into my history and acknowledge that as a child I often did not feel safe to assert myself. As an adult, this has translated into a mess of sorts which often ranges from rage to defeat. And there are times, when interacting with unhealthy individuals, that I am demanding and insistent, throwing a temper tantrum like a three year old. For some reason, I am drawn to people who are also hurting and I often have too high of expectations for the relationship. I become too easily enmeshed and have difficulty separating myself from not only their story, but how I am valued within it. I am learning to disengage from those individuals in my life who are unable to connect, even if I love them. I have often lost my dignity while demanding love and respect and something larger inside of me desires the freedom of being separate and self-reliant. This is a very messy time for me and I’ve actually been quite depressed.

Despite the messiness and shame, I feel a bit hopeful. I feel that perhaps I am getting closer to finding myself. I have spent the first part of my life in silence, often too afraid to express anger. There were years where my emotional state often was dependent on others and I would check all my decisions by those in my life that I trusted. The last decade of my life my voice emerged, often as thunder. I was ineffectively coping with my sister who was battling an addiction and I was also dating a Narcissist at the time. I became increasingly angry as both my sister and the narcissist tested my self esteem by devaluing me often and abandoning me. With both, I hung on far too long and anger often spilled over into rage resulting in a loss of dignity and self-loathing. And now, I am finally at a point of self-forgiveness. If I am successful in letting go of my sister, as I have done so with my Narcissist, then I will find the space and time to forgive her. Still yet, I will not attempt reconciliation at this point unless it is initiated by her because I must maintain my dignity. I have gone “No Contact” with my ex-Narc and I feel pretty good about it.

I felt I needed to write this post today because doing so is a level of accountability to address my lack in self-sufficiency. I actually enjoy being alone and do everything from camping to taking trips. I am more so talking about the dependence on others for my self esteem, my self concept, and my confidence in decision making. I see this pattern and I feel addressing it openly will compel me to address it in my day to day existence. I am letting go of these patterns and it needs to be in concrete ways from this point forward. I believe the greatest endeavor I can do is to begin participating in the things I used to enjoy doing. And although I have trust issues, it’s time to join some groups and make friends again. The last year and a half I have been pretty depressed and have “let go” of a lot of things I used to enjoy. The more I “do” to rebuild my life, the more I will benefit emotionally and in my self esteem.

I’m often nearly shocked at how depressed I have been over the last few years. I had to stop working because I was getting sick too often and missing work. I even recently was approved for disability benefits, but it will take time to receive them and it hasn’t hit me yet that I have been approved. The last several years has been a blur where both my Bipolar 1 and PTSD have been unstable. I do feel I am slowly improving, but I would say I am only halfway to where I want to be! Writing is helping me to heal and it’s so important that I begin to physically do concrete things to challenge myself in the healing process. I’m hoping to write about my upcoming adventures as I heal. I’m grateful for the opportunity to blog about my experiences and appreciate the support I have received from my readers! It means a lot!

And finally, using the metaphor of swimming, I would like to jump back in to my life, totally submerged in water, eyes wide open, gliding effortlessly along the surface of the pool. It might just be time to go for a swim!

photo of woman diving into the water
Photo by Pete Johnson on Pexels.com

 

 

 

Out of the Fog: Finding Yourself & Forgiveness

photo of person walking on deserted island
Photo by Tom Swinnen on Pexels.com

 

I’m walking away. I’m learning to let go while opening my eyes wider, scanning the horizon for everything that has escaped me while I’ve been away. I’m learning.

It’s been messy. I’m drawing the conclusion that some situations and scenarios are so convoluted and crazy that they are nearly impossible to navigate. I lose my cool, become frustrated and lost in the fog. I lash out in fear from been rejected. I’m raw and vulnerable in these spaces. I know I shouldn’t be here anymore. I stayed too long, I wince in pain. I wish I would have left earlier. I could have sworn I saw something in this desolate and deserted landscape for me. I return again and again and I walk away empty-handed. I’m devastated. Where did everyone go? Why is there none for me? Am I not worthy? Do I not count? Am I not visible? I run from hilltop to hilltop in the stark, cold night screaming expletives into the vast, frigid air. It falls flat. No one comes for me. Never for me.

I get up, brush off the dust. Surely, I exist. Surely, I am here. Surely, someone will see me. It would be so nice to to have someone looking for me and upon finding me, grinning widely, hugging me wildly, catch their breath in excitement as the say: “Where have you been? God, I have missed you. Oh, how I love you so and am sorry we lost one another”. But, these are only dreams, manifested to keep me caught in the web of deception that those I miss actually are capable of connecting to me. I know from years now of searching for them, they are gone. It is hard to say it out loud, but doing so is the only path to true healing. I cannot stay here in this dismal place forever searching for love.

I grieve and I am remorseful for my own hurtful behavior. I acknowledge that I need to get up and go. I used to sink down and stay, nearly drowning in the continual chaos. I do see a path out. I’m hesitant to take it because it’s so hard to walk away empty handed knowing that this is your last time. All the arguments were my last desperate attempts to wake those that I love. With eyes wide awake, a knife to my gut, and tears streaming down my face, I know it’s time to leave. Letting go is so very hard. I’m reminded now of The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis at this moment and feel called to read the book once again. I read it several years back and was touched by the message and I now feel it will provide the comfort I need so desperately in my life during this time.

I have no crystal ball. I only know that it’s time. I have been saying it for awhile and have been dragging my feet. I know that I am strong enough because I walked away from an abusive relationship a few years ago and have not went back. It is hard to leave those you love. But, if I remain I will continue to leave myself. This self injury of leaving myself is more damaging and by staying I only create a larger wound. Time and space will provide me a great opportunity of learning to love myself.

I believe I am ready. People who know me and see me in the same patterns and same routines are not aware that my eyes have been open for awhile now. It’s been messy and inconsistent as I challenge my beliefs and behavior daily. There have been times I have asserted myself too much, crossing the lines becoming abusive. I’ve made many mistakes going back into the flames trying to assert myself while demanding respect. I acknowledge now that some structures, although old and decaying, have not fallen and demanding they do so is not effective. I needed to disengage and place my energies into endeavors that would provide some stability for me. The development of my self esteem and of stronger boundaries has been messy and imperfect work. I admit, I am not good at this. Often, I feel lost and I know I need a lot more practice.

I think the biggest difference from the past to the present, is my eyes are open. Each time things crumble, I become stronger. Instead of self-loathing, I bend a bit and forgive myself. I still long for perfection, but realize that it is not realistic and I loosen the reigns a little more, providing more give and flexibility. I also can see that the situation I am in is extremely difficult to navigate. Having someone in your family who is struggling with addiction is hard. I am beginning to see that letting go when people are refusing to get help is an act of love, for myself and for my family. By walking away and truly healing, I become of resource to them when they are ready. I also am rejuvenated and healthy enough to help should someone ask for my assistance. There is the chance that certain people may never want to reconnect. I am prepared for this and am ready to embark on a new journey where I live less encumbered by fear and despair.

And so, I am hopeful. I am still grieving. I am ready to spend more time on things that I love. I am ready to sing and travel more. I am longing to see more lighthouses along the Oregon Coast. In time, I will connect with others as well and I hope to perform again in musicals. I am longing to reunite with myself again. Somewhere out there, around every corner, is a happy and free-spirited girl that will hug me time and time again saying: “Where have you been? God, I have missed you. Oh, how I love you so and am sorry we lost one another.”

 

 

Unraveled Yarn: The Mess That Has Made Me

adult art blue close up
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I’m beginning to have glimpses of joy. There are times when I am able to relax, falling lightly, sinking into myself like butter melting on a hot Summer’s day. Even various memories are flooding back to me as I remember myself, and I smile. Who knew healing would lead me back to a sweet path of self discovery?

For so long now, I have been leaving myself and in these times of being separated, so much destruction occurred. It’s been a colossal mess of sorts, like twisted yarn that has to be cut with scissors to be unraveled. Healing has been a tiring and tedious process. I’ve often gotten so disgusted that I’ve put the twisted ball of yarn down for awhile in frustration. I’d come back to it every once in awhile and I would work on freeing a few strands and would quickly become frustrated, once again casting it aside. Many days I did not believe I would ever see the yarn completely unraveled, let alone knitted into something worthy. Often, I overlooked the progress I had made, instead zoning in on the mess remaining. Am I ever going to knit something with this beautiful ball of yarn? Something about the quality and uniqueness of the yarn kept me motivated to keep working at it, even in times when it sat, crumpled up on the floor, looking a bit hopeless. Over time, I began to see the value not only in the times I fervently worked on it, but also in the periods where I felt I had abandoned it.

As the healing process evolved, I began to become more aware that I was learning a lot by being both present and away. I am beginning to move slowly to the center, accepting the imperfection of myself and the world. I feel forgiveness flooding in around me, like I’m wading in a crystal clear pool of water on a very hot Summer’s day. It feels good. I can breathe a lot easier.

I would say that I am nearly ready to knit something now. That knotted ball of beautiful yarn is symbolic of my life and the trauma that caged me and controlled me for way too long. I sat, immobilized, for years often too overwhelmed to do the tedious work needed to free myself. This will take hours, maybe days, I thought, and then I would abandon the work that was needed to unravel it. This neglect over time only lead to increased knots, and like the yarn, it became quite a chore and very messy. Who wants to sit in the stillness for hours working on the difficult process of freeing oneself? Not me! In my restlessness, I chose to chase chaos, drama, and excitement. This could mean engaging in the wrong relationships with men, gambling, overeating, or arguing with family members. It meant leaving the knotted yarn on the floor for another night and putting the project “on hold”. Years passed, and my life stagnated. I became more and more sick. Things got so messy that I was unable to work and it was only at this level of devastation that I began to make some serious changes that began the process of unraveling the yarn that had become my current existence.

I’m a bit curious as to what I will now become. Now that the yarn is nearly unraveled, I’m beginning to take a bit more interest in it. It’s becoming more likely that I will be able to knit something really beautiful from this yarn that I’ve carried with me all these years. And the reality that I haven’t really lost “the mess”, just rearranged it to be useful, makes the endeavor even more special and significant. Thinking about it all nearly makes me happy.

I still have some work to do. I have some situations and people I have to remain distant from while knitting my life into something unique. This will be difficult, but needful in order to complete what I desire. Once healed, I will still need to work on maintaining what I’ve accomplished. I’m joyful that I’ve come this far. I’m hopeful that the mess is nearly unraveled and now the most rewarding endeavor will begin.

I actually feel there is a lot of newness and mystery to this process and am beginning to feel things are more possible. I’m hoping in time that my life becomes like my favorite sweater in Fall, hugging me comfortably and keeping me cozy. My footsteps are lighter now. There will continue to be challenges. I will continue to unravel them, sitting in the stillness that has saved me.

Flying Solo with You: Collectivity Versus Competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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