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.

 

 

Burn Brightly: The Healing Fire Within You

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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

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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
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Out of the Fog: Finding Yourself & Forgiveness

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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

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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.

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

snow woman winter snowflakes
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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.

 

 

 

Waiting No More: It’s Time to Drive!

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I’ve spent a lot of time waiting.

I’ve been restless, at times, desperately desiring to be completely satiated, longing for validation and visibility.

I waited a whole decade consumed by the desire to be passionately loved. I gave every ounce of my being to this fruitless pursuit, determined that one day it would yield the commitment desired from this individual. The commitment never came. In fact, the more I pursued and pushed, the more I lost myself. Losing him was letting go of the long held belief that I wasn’t good enough.

I waited for several years for a sincere apology and a gesture from a family member that communicated reconciliation was desired. I waited for certain family members to heal and recover from their addiction enough so that they could not only care about themselves, but they also could care about and connect with me. I waited years while we argued, knowing that the arguing was all that I had left. There was no true desire from them to know me or connect with me. I waited for years, grieving, often raging and demanding change. I only ended up alone and alienated. Little has changed in their behavior which has landed some of them permanently disabled, while others, potentially facing jail. I still am grieving, but I have given up on “waiting”.

I waited many years for my career to “take off”. I waited for someone out there to reward my hard work, experiences, education, etc. In the last decade, my work potential has been overshadowed by my disability of Bipolar 1, ADHD, and C-PTSD. Working with a disability complicated things and has temporarily placed my career goals “on hold”. I am currently not employed. I waited to land that “awesome job” and when I did finally achieve that goal, it was quickly thwarted by my disability. I got sick with several respiratory illnesses and was prescribed prednisone, a steroid, that inevitably caused a mania. I requested accommodations and then took a medical leave. When I returned from the medical leave, which was actually encouraged by my supervisor, I was terminated from my job without the opportunity to work with accommodations in place. I was devastated and have still not bounced back from the discrimination I endured. I waited for years to find the job that would provide security and pay well and as soon as I found it, I lost it.

I waited many years to be free from anxiety and depression. I thought perhaps a combination of therapy and medications would one day set me free from my struggle. I am still waiting on my complete freedom from the symptoms I have endured related to my disability. I am still not completely free from certain habits and symptoms stemming from trauma that I have experienced in this lifetime.

I have had an unraveling of sorts in this lifetime: failed marriage, failed career, failed engagement, a loss of family, a loss of employment, and the inability to have children. I have lived with a mental illness that often has stripped me of my dignity and distanced me from others. I isolate a lot because interacting with others can be difficult especially if I am working. When I did work, it took all my energy, leaving me feeling depleted. It was during these times I really needed the safety net and support of family and a solid relationship. Instead, as I struggled to maintain work I was often drained further by having to fight for love from my family and my partner. I was fortunate to have the support of my ex-spouse in the process and my mother. Still yet, I often felt overwhelmed and alone. I had waited a very long time for something to “work out” and I felt “let down” by the world. I was deeply depressed and this went on for a very long time.

In losing so much, I discovered that I was left with me. Over time I have let go of what was making me “hard” and I am now peeling off the layers that have hardened me. I’m exposing my fleshy fruit, my essence raw and vulnerable.

I don’t currently have a job. I’m single and living with my ex-spouse for support. I don’t have a home. My bank account is empty. My family relations are strained and I primarily am only connected to my mother, my step-father has never been too involved and my sister and her adult kids are all estranged from me due to the conflicts and chaos that  addiction has caused. My ex-spouse is a great friend and support. And, I have my dog, Gracie, who is very loving.

Losing so much is teaching me to be more humble and to appreciate what I do have, not just in possessions, but in talents, skills, and experiences. I’ve been stripped from what I felt was needed to feel valued and visible. I’m learning to define my self worth, not by the expectations placed from society, but more on the intangibles that define me.

I waited for years for someone or something to “show up” for me. I watched while others got married, had careers, and shared photos of their cute kids on Facebook. In ways, everything I had longed for was perpetually being displayed by others. I wasn’t jealous of their good fortune, but I often wondered why things had not worked out for me. In the end, it wasn’t in the cards. This is what I am learning to accept and in doing so I am slowly opening up the world that is mine. I am no longer grieving what I never had or lost. Instead, I am accepting the hand I was dealt, with curiosity, and am ready to discover this world embracing my reality wholeheartedly. I have always acknowledged some of the blessings that being single with no children has afforded, like ample time to travel and engage in leisure pursuits that I enjoy.

I have decided I am tired of “waiting”. I am letting go of all the people and things that were keeping me stuck. I am showing up for myself. I’m determined to awaken to the present and accept with grace and gratitude each moment. I sincerely want to fill the space that is mine.

It’s odd to think that in losing so much, that I am actually finding myself. This fills me with excitement and joy because I know it is what I have been searching for my entire life. I know intuitively that this is the greatest gift with the most returns. Investing in myself will only yield positive results.

I have so much more work to do, but now I have the right person in the driver seat, ME!! I’m not waiting around for others to call the shots or to determine my emotional state for the day. I genuinely want to be happy and want to be responsible for my happiness. I realize I will struggle from time to time, but healing is happening and I am grateful!!

 

 

 

 

Fractured Family Tree: The Scapegoat Lets Go

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I went down “that path” again. I knew in my gut what was waiting for me. Still, I went anyway, carrying that last bit of hope, protected deep inside me. I was still holding on to a lovely memory that has since become more clear over time that it wasn’t even real anyway. It was always this way. My family has been fractured, disconnected, and unhealthy.

I was the one in the end that became visibly sick, and in time raged, demanding more. And I am the one now, becoming well, sometimes still raging, and ready to “let go”. It’s very hard. Everything inside me wants to throw another all-out tantrum, demanding an answer for why my family is unable to heal together. It’s lonely. I’m sad and hurting. Still yet, I must face the truth, cry it out, grieve, let go of the “dream”, and accept what is.

This is the only way, because staying in the fight means certain death, for me. I’m not strong enough to stand among all the devastation, watching people I love lose everything, while devaluing me. I have meant nothing to certain people in my life. I can’t stay in a space where people defend and enable the deep neglect and abuse. I am unable to remain where I am character smeared, gaslighted, and lied to on a daily basis. I need to remain very distant from those who enable and allow the abuse. Some are too sick to see what is really occurring. I see it and it has made me very sick to try with everything inside me to awaken people when they would rather sleep. And so, I have watched the people I love lose everything to addiction and narcissistic abuse. The neglect has been so great that five kids, now adults, are not working: 3 are disabled (two due to drug use), 1 is facing jail, and the other refuses to work or get her GED even though she has a baby. No one in the home, six adults, work and they have a toddler in the home. I’m not even scratching the surface of all the chaos and drama that has occurred over the past decade due to the drug use, but it has been extreme. Trust me.

I’m left feeling empty. Another Christmas passed with the chaos related to addiction. Another Christmas where I did not receive a “Merry Christmas” text or a “thank you” for the presents I bought. Another Christmas where my Mom enabled the behavior and I am left unsupported.

It is time to “let go”. I went down that road with the last shred of hope slipping, like sand, through my fingers, racing to find my family. And the sand quickly disappeared, blown away by the storm that has raged on for years. I can’t chase it anymore. It was the last bit of hope I had and I couldn’t hold onto any longer. I had to let go.

I’m alone. And yet, I know this is exactly where I am supposed to be.

Our family tree has been splintered and diseased for a long time. I grew very sick and I knew in order to save myself, I had to cut limbs and shed certain branches, otherwise I would perish. Sometimes, I still feel I may perish. This hurt both physically and emotionally. I’m not breathing, my face is numb, and I’m holding my breath from how it hurts. I’ve been called “dramatic” in my effort to wake people up. And yet, two of my sister’s adult children are now disabled due to addiction. They will more than likely never work, never have children, never live on their own. I am avoiding details, because I ultimately am trying to stay closer to the center. Still, I’m bewildered as to how I lost my whole family and no one there can “hear me”. It’s a nightmare, but one I have been living for so long that I need to “wake up”. I cannot remain in the space any longer. I did not create it and truth be told, I am not welcome by anyone in it. I’m relatively invisible, drowned out by the larger players. I’m forever “little Amy” and “the little sister” and have not yet been seen, nor respected as a separate entity from the family unit.

Our family tree is fractured. The historical cycle is splintering and breaking, falling to the cold, hard ground with a thud.

I remember a few years ago, I was shell-shocked. I was constantly running from distraction to distraction. I was in a tumultuous relationship with a Narc who was abusive psychologically, emotionally, and physically. I was gambling a lot. My anxiety was “off the charts” and I felt trapped. I began to plead and beg to heal. I set the intention in my mind that I would “wake up” and heal from whatever had me running. I did not realize the work ahead of me, nor the lonely and sometimes dark road. I did not know that carving out my self esteem would mean getting in touch with the anger inside where I was left and abandoned by certain people in my life. Why was I not enough for them? I had to realize that I was enough for myself. The angry rages were in part defining my worth. Because, some of those I loved were continually in words and actions telling me I was insignificant. I realize it is a sickness. I am very sad for that. Still yet, I do not deserve to stay in a space where I am unwanted, unloved, and unappreciated. Nor, do I deserve to stay where people I love are not getting well because others who are older and have power are blocking their growth. The one person I feel that can help is also sick and chooses to enable instead. And, I am devastated, angry, and sad.

The family tree is fractured. And I have tried to not be overly revealing, but it is important for this process to be shared. People are sometimes too loyal to their families and hesitant to divulge too much information. Is this keeping our world from truly healing? When the family unit becomes toxic and a danger to others in the family, should  we not seek help? The loyalty might be keeping us stunted. My sole purpose is to promote growth. Yes, I have some guilt for “over”sharing. But, I feel compelled to write my truth and the trauma surrounding my life. I want a complete way out of it. And, I would be thrilled if any of my family members found a way out as well. I have lost hope. It’s been too long of a road. I got on the road again and was quickly back in the quicksand, sinking, with no one holding my hand.

The family tree is fractured. I will remain distant so that I can process my anger and the trauma leading up to the fracture of the tree. I invested a lot of time and energy and now I must let go and invest in myself. It was another mistake and I regret going down the road, yet again. I thought I was ready and able to “handle it”. I saw the destruction and burned in anger from the lost connection. I burned in anger from the loss of potential in the lives of those I dearly love. They are no longer recognizable. They have lost themselves and my Mom is lost in enabling them to foster a fabricated connection. She is lost and I am sad she is not able to help me. I would have been ecstatic for one of my nieces or nephews to make it out.

The family tree is fractured. I’m going to do everything this time to stay away. Their addiction became my addiction as I tried to salvage anything from the fire that swept through the forest, burning everything down in it’s path. Hope is dangerous. I really need to pick up the pieces of what is left of my life and rebuild. My life is the only thing I can control, anyhow.

This is and has been hard. I am grieving. Everything I thought about healing has been turned upside down. I do well for awhile and then have another storm. I’m realizing through the storms how to build better shelter around me for the next. My skin is hardening. My spirit softening, but I’m still not fully there, ready to completely accept the loss and “what is”. I have always been living in somewhat of a fabricated fantasy and healing is exposing me to the harsh elements, but somehow demonstrating to me that I am strong.

I hate the mistakes and messes I make when raging, but I see there is value in them as I am standing up for myself and learning boundaries. I still am super stubborn in setting a boundary and in not doing so I get burned very badly. Boundary setting is new for me as I always let everyone and everything in and have been used a lot. I don’t feel I ever learned to protect the space around me. I do feel guilty and sad for how things have ended, as it was ugly. But, I am beginning to feel that when you are in a toxic situation it does not matter how it ends, just that it does indeed end. I have stayed too long, always coming back with apologies, because I left in a brutal way. The cycle begins again and I am caught up in it. The abuse has been brutal and I deserve safety. Also, they deserve my absence so that in time maybe they will focus on getting well. My presence did not matter to some of them anyway.

The tree is fractured. It now stands alone in the stark winter air. There are stars filling the sky and it feels less alone and more peaceful. There is so much space around me. I needed this space. I’ll sit with this for awhile. Healing is hard & messy, but we are all worth it.

 

Making Snow Angels: Forgiveness and Freedom

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Please, stop the rain.

Turn these heavy, wet drops into snowflakes, blanketing the muddy and messy mistakes of life.

If it’s going to be a cold day, at least lighten my step with a lovely snow. Frame the chill with beautiful evergreen trees, heavy with the snow that the branches lovingly hold.

Once the rain turns to snow, I become like a kid, giddy, and trusting the process, embracing the world once again.

I’m surrounded by falling snow like a figurine, suspended, in a snow globe. I’m no longer clenching fists and jaw and I relax a little, turning toward the gentleness of life. Everything takes on a new, fresh identity. Even the cold seems welcoming and joyful.

The stillness and softness of the snow unwinds my tensed up shoulders & body. I begin to forget the harsh cold and bitter rain. I’m suspended in softness that is serene and peaceful.

Please, stop the rain and make it snow. I’d like to fall into the snow packed ground, making angels, while grinning ear to ear, staring at the starry sky.

Let me be light, like a snowflake. I’ll slowly ride a current of wind to the surface, where I’ll gently land with all the others, blending and covering the forest floor. And in that space I’ll commune with millions of magic raindrops that have blanketed everything in our path, turning frowns into smiles that erupt often, into laughter that playfully cuts into the cold, still night. Some will glide effortlessly along our surface with sleds and skis while others will watch from frosted window panes, mesmerized by our glorious ability to transform a dismal day of rain to a masterpiece of raw beauty.

Let it snow and let me be light.

Take this rainy night and transform it into something snowy and bright.

While it falls and covers the exposed and hurting earth, let it hug the hurt in its completeness, leaving nothing untouched by it’s snowflakes that sparkle by moonlight, shimmering like diamonds.

I’m falling back into you, making angels, and catching snowflakes on my tongue. I’m forgetting that I’m no longer a child and instead twirling, eyes wide open, taking you in completely, laughing joyfully. No one is with me in this space of snow and self forgiveness.

You’ve reminded me once again with your dramatic entrance that everything can change in an instant and it can be magical and transforming. You’ll soon be gone, but I’ve taken a recharge from you. It’s another reminder to let go and be light. Twirl and laugh more often. Even if you are alone in the cold and still night.

In all the storms I’ve weathered, I embrace a snowstorm with excitement and adventure.

So, let it snow. Let it be a blizzard. Let it blanket the earth in forgiveness, melting away grief and sadness when it exits in warmth.

Welcome Winter, I hope there is a snow storm brewing. I’m waiting in joyful anticipation. Let it snow.

Please, stop the rain.

Cultivating Self Compassion: I am Enough

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There is something forming in my conscious that sounds familiar, but has felt foreign to me until recently. It’s a seed that is growing in size, full and impenetrable. It’s resting on the collective conscious of “what is” and longing for the wisdom and strength of what has left us. My spirit gravitates toward a space that is shared between what I have absorbed and what I have chased. This new landscape is difficult to articulate, I only know it is defined by my very own view of the world, and, I trust it.

I’ve spend many years in anguish. I didn’t feel I was enough. I was never smart enough, kind enough, talented enough, good enough, organized enough, wealthy enough, etc. There was never enough of me to feel “enough”. Every endeavor was designed to be a means to an end. It was as if every activity I engaged in had to have a value assigned to it. If I relaxed completely, letting go of counting the “inventory” of successes and failures”, I’d feel anxiety and shame for letting down my guard and not fulfilling my duty. I’ve always been driven, a perfectionist, determined to excel at the activities in which I invested time and energy. One can see quickly where this is headed. Over time, I grew deeply disappointed, depressed, and anxious.

I wanted more for my life. I expected more from people. I even expected more from the world. I was downright devastated when I awakened from the dream where I had expected those around me to be kind, honest, and authentic. I did have a few people in my life who were healthy individuals. However, I had spent most of my time in conflict with those in my life who were unable or unwilling to change. I allowed these people to suck up my time, energy, emotions, and thoughts. It was my mistake. I’m still unraveling and unpacking the last few years where the trauma of my past became intertwined with the trauma of certain loved ones. Was I indeed trying to save myself by holding on too tightly to their trauma? Again, this elusive seed that is growing within me tells me that it’s all about to change. I’m often giddy and joyful, nearly feeling free. It’s a foreign feeling as I sit in the space of so many colliding and conflicting emotions, but having the ability to process without impulsively acting. This is new for me, and I’m sure I will backslide a bit, but I like this feeling a lot. I’m going to work to maintain this.

I had a session a week ago where I was talking to my therapist about the distance I have purposely created between me and a loved one to “keep me safe” currently. This person is a relative and so it might be difficult to completely remain disengaged permanently. It is someone who has hurt me quite a bit and her lifestyle continues to concern me. My pattern has often been to confront when I am concerned. This has not benefited me as the person I am confronting does not want to change. My therapist, was pushing me a bit, stating that I could be engaged on some level if “I accepted her where she was at right now”. I quickly shared reasons why I could not do so. They were good reasons. It’s very hard engaging with this person and our relationship is quite fractured. Still yet, this “push” from my therapist of acceptance bloomed inside of me. I cannot quite articulate how so, I can only say that it was another window into a different way of existing outside the “cage” I have been inside of for years.

And so, all of this has been filling me with curiosity and even joy. It’s as if I took the pliers  and gently took off one of the steel bars of my cage.

Tonight, I sat making Christmas ornaments for my loved ones. It was an imperfect process and I realized some things were a tad off. In the past, that would have bothered me a great deal. I let it go this time. I said to myself, “I don’t have to be perfect”. I noticed the tension rising: “I should redo it, it’s not perfect”. It dawned on me how most people probably would’t even notice what I saw as “imperfect”. When did my world become so calculated and precise? That isn’t the world! I instinctively knew it was not! I know the trauma in my past created a pattern of perfectionism. I smiled at myself at the thought of finally being free of this pattern. It dawned on me rather quickly that because I had placed such high expectations on myself, I extended the same to loved ones. And often if people were unable to meet them, it was a reflection that I was “not enough”. Somehow, their inability to meet my expectations was my failure. I believe this is why I have fought so hard, at times, with these individuals. Truthfully, I should have “accepted them where they were at” and retained my dignity by not fighting or pleading for their involvement in my life. It was this realization, that I’ve had before, that has now cultivated a greater awareness. It’s as if another layer has nearly been revealed and I’m eagerly awaiting for the next chapter of my life to begin!

I believe it’s a “way of living” that I have missed out on due to trauma and my continual entrapment within it. I know it starts with me and knowing that I am “enough”. I am inherently worthy, we all are. Operating from that optic alone frees me from a lot of desperate behaviors where I was relying on others to affirm my self worth. Whoops! Not a great idea as people are often totally oblivious to your struggle and have their own full plates. And then, there is the awareness that I no longer need to listen to the voices of others either defining me or telling me who I am or not. I am accepting all of me, the imperfections, the mistakes, the mess, and the comeback. I can see all the complexity and  I embrace it. I don’t have to explain it to others. I am at a point now where despite all the messes, I’m pretty proud and impressed at the way I’ve cleaned them all up! I am learning to live more in the moment and I enjoy using all my senses as I lose myself in the experience of life.

The complexity of life, the sadness and the joy, are held simultaneously in one space in my heart. I am more level as a result and joy is finding me in many places. I’m sure I will be able to express the growing light inside much better in time. I’m glad it’s been uncovered and it is glowing brightly. It was there all along, but had been dimmed by many years where I was searching. Just thought I would try and share tonight as I continue on my journey of healing from the pain and confusion of trauma. Love and light!