Cultivating Compassion for the Self: My “Second Wind”

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

It feels as if this beautiful, old home has been closed up forever. The windows have been nailed shut, barely allowing sunlight to pierce through, shattering fractals of light on the sheets that were haphazardly thrown, in haste, on the furniture years ago. It has been easy for me to become wrapped up in the problems of today, burying the past with my sadness and grief. By buttoning things up tightly, I had become more rigid, allowing this stuffy and dark place within me to expand until it nearly engulfed me completely. Perhaps, I felt that by uncovering joy, I would somehow be “giving in” and surrendering to the hurt that “erased me” in the first place.

Wasn’t it here, in this old home, where I twirled effortlessly as a small child, giggling, as I dizzily dropped to the wooden floors? Stepping into this space, I can nearly smell the apple pies my Grandmother cooked each Thanksgiving when she visited. The faint smell of leaves burning outside comes to mind as does the feeling of donning a new, fuzzy sweater to wear outside in the cool, crisp Autumn air. There is no other time of year that pulls me back to the place of my childhood than the beginning of Fall. As I begin to embrace myself wholly, memories flood my being, filling me with a sense of home.

Healing the trauma in my life, in large part, has been a process of stripping the sheets from the furniture and taking the boards off of the windows to let the light flood in. Trauma will keep you trapped in one room, even crammed into the corner of it. I could tell you every tiny detail of the room I was caged in for so long, because I spent hours ruminating in that suffocating space. I was the master there, until I became a slave to the emotions that evolved as a result of being caged for so long. It was only in the desperation to free myself from the despair and stagnation, that I began chipping away at the cell, exposing light amid the crumbling structures I had so hastily built in an effort to protect myself.

For years, like many others, I did my best to avoid feeling pain by continuously distracting myself, often engaging with people or pursuits that were unhealthy, even damaging. I was creating chaos, or at minimum accepting it in my life, because I felt if I surrendered and sat still with the pain, it might just swallow me whole. There were times I believed if I gave the pain in my life the space it needed to breathe, I might end up endlessly sobbing. My pain felt, to me, like the water behind a dam, and I feared that the act of acknowledging it would mean an irreversible break, causing immense flooding. Perhaps, I would not recover. Thus, the untouched pain in my life continued to expand until it became intolerable.

I found myself in an insufferable space, locked up by my memories, pain, and fear for years. Only one room of my old home was accessible to me, and I remained there, justifying the paralysis and stagnation as years passed by. Even though there was definitely validity to the trauma I experienced, I admit now that I had developed a very narrow focus that ultimately was harming me the most. I was unwilling to “let go” of a space that paradoxically felt both “safe” and “deadly” at the same time. At one point in my life, this confining space kept me safe and my fears more manageable, while years later, it has served to suffocate me, stunting my growth as well. I took this shell of safety with me to work and also into relationships, which limited my ability to truly relate to others. It took years of suffering to learn that the light in my life was every bit as relevant as the darkness. Although there is still so much in life that troubles me, I’m now able to let in the light while “letting go” of the reigns that I’ve been holding so tightly. This flexibility is necessary to provide me with the balance needed not only grow, but also to experience more joy in my life.

As I heal, I find myself uncovering joy in a variety of areas in my life. Even with those individuals that I can no longer have in my life, I acknowledge the love and light we shared between one another. I feel grateful for our memories and feel tasked to not discount the love, joy, or light associated with them, even if certain of the memories are extremely painful. I want to recall the joy experienced in these now fractured relationships, not just the darkness. There have been too many memories that I devalued and brushed aside on the basis that they were heavy with pain. I no longer want to erase any part of my life, no matter how painful, because I have discovered that I have learned from each experience, even those where I have felt shame, embarrassment, or desperation. Time has taught me to appreciate the many layers of my life of which are complex, rich, and even fragrant. I feel compelled to rip the sheets off the furniture and strip the boards from the windows, breaking the seal to allow in the crisp, Autumn air. In doing so, the memories continue to flood in, filling me with the depth and beauty of the wondrous life I have lived that I have often ignored and buried. I now am finding myself ,more often than not, embracing the memories that are met with longing and a deep sense of appreciation.

Standing in this space, I feel one of life’s greatest accomplishment is the act of self love and forgiveness. We are bound to ourselves, unable to escape, and thus must learn to truly love and accept ourselves.

Opening the windows wider, there is so much to see and to feel. It is painful and beautiful, and yet, not one fraction of this life should be discounted. It all counts, even if you have lost people that you have loved along the way. I let so many pieces of myself “leave” when others went away, often valuing their existence over my own. At times, I felt the pain would consume me, and yet I am still here, not only opening the windows, but leaning out a bit more into the cold and damp air, breathing in the scent of wet leaves as if to say: “Give me more of this life”.

There are certain fractured relationships in my life that exist primarily because some people who I love, are not only caged in a room, but backed into a closet. I do not know what is in their mind or in their heart as I can only see the chaos surrounding them. There has been drug use, dishonesty, and withholding information. These people I had to walk away from because I no longer could “relate” to them. They seemed to have walked away from themselves and I honestly do not know who they are anymore. However, I have decided to honor their place in my life anyhow. Just because they are no longer with me does not mean they did not bring my light at some point along my journey. I’m hopeful one day they will heal, but because I love myself, I see the value in having strong boundaries until they are ready to connect in healthier ways..

I am, however, opening up and allowing the love and light back in to fill the spaces that sat in darkness for so long. I won’t define my worth any longer by someone who left me. Instead, I will honor the light that was once there and the memory of it. I am doing so in order to cultivate more compassion for myself. Often, I blamed myself for other leaving when perhaps it was their time to go. I clung to those who left, placing my worth and esteem with them. When they walked away, I felt myself leaving and there were years I left myself over and over again. I felt lost and abandoned. I was left alone in that small, suffocating room and these were the darkest days of my life.

I must have wanted to truly heal, because I began saying it out loud and often. I knew I had endured a lot of loss in my lifetime: never knowing my real father, never having children, a divorce due to my spouse “coming out”, a failed engagement from an abusive relationship, a loss of an entire family due to substance use (my sister and her kids), loss of employment, loss of my health (became disabled as of last year), and current loss of independence (living with someone). I am even struggling right now with a loss of fifty pounds due to difficulty swallowing both food and liquids. All of these losses were devastating and truly stripped me of so much and yet, I still desire self love and the possibility of healing. I look back at my life and I can see times of clarity where it is obvious that healing is an endeavor that I am destined to embrace.

I’ve learned throughout the process that cultivating compassion and allowing light in from both the past and present is instrumental to healing. This also involves a fair amount of self forgiveness. I became aware over time that the ineffective coping mechanisms that were caging me were not my identity, but were employed in effort to protect me from pain. Because pain is a process to “go through” and not to avoid, my attempt to escape it became messy. This, at times, caused confusion and self loathing because I identified with my coping mechanisms and felt “bound to them”. Now that I am a step or two away from that mindset, I can forgive myself for the suffering I endured.

As I let go of so much of which I was holding so tightly to me, there is room to remember the light and joy in my life. I also find myself being flooded with memories that were made with  loved ones who still remain distant. I had pushed these memories away and had buried them in order to protect me from pain. But in my healing, I am able to embrace the memories as part of my experience of which I gained valuable experience. These memories, even if painful, at times, are now weaved into my very fiber and I wholly embrace them as they helped shape who I am today. I no longer look back at “my mess” and feel ashamed, instead I honor the hard work and pain I processed in order to become more whole.

I am just me, imperfect and full of flaws. I realize the more I cultivate compassion in my life, the more joy unfolds. I’m letting go of all the labels I have worn, placed by friends, family, co-workers, etc. and recreating myself with self compassion and love. This endeavor was always an option, I just chose to avoid the pain in my life that I had to acknowledge in order to arrive here. I’m glad I kept pushing. I still have so much more work ahead of me, but cultivating self compassion by allowing joy in my life may just be the “second wind” needed to travel onward!!

 

Honoring 47 Years: The Struggle and the Strength

 

It’s my birthday. I haven’t been writing a lot lately because I have been going through a difficult time. Soon after making the move to California, I developed an interesting phobia, phagophobia, which is the fear of swallowing. I am still in the process of going through certain tests to “rule out” any physical reasons for my difficulty swallowing and I’ve been waiting weeks for my last test to be approved by my insurance company and then scheduled.

Meanwhile, I have lost a lot of weight as I struggle each day to meet my basic caloric needs in order to maintain. I’ve lost 47 pounds in roughly two and a half months to be exact. This sucks. It sucks because if someone had told me prior to this that I would develop a fear around eating, I would have laughed in their face, more than likely saying “I wish”. I have always struggled with being overweight and I love food. But, here I sit today on my birthday doing my best to force pancakes down as well as another ensure supplement as to not lose any more weight.

The reason I wanted to write about this today, on my birthday, is to honor not only my struggle with my mental health, but also to honor anyone else out there who is  struggling as well. The reality is many of us suffer alone as others either are uncertain how to support us or they lack the understanding and sometimes the sensitivity to be helpful. In fact, many people, by being impatient and  demanding, cause more damage and end up impeding the healing process.

I am 47 today. I look back at the years I’ve been on this earth and I acknowledge that I have always struggled. I was diagnosed ADHD in 1978 during a time when the diagnosis was uncommon. Following that diagnosis in my teen years were the diagnoses: OCD, Bipolar 1, GAD, Panic Disorder, Schizoaffective (at one point), BPD (at another point), PMDD, and replacing BPD later was the diagnosis C-PTSD (this occurred in the past 5 years or so). I would say out of the above, my greatest struggle is with fear and anxiety as it is pervasive. My OCD is primarily somatic and I go through periods where I ruminate about one thing for awhile, for instance my breathing or heartbeat, etc. and will eventually “wear it out” until some other fear takes it place. Most of my fears have some grounding in reality and that is why they seem so powerful, but the amount of attention and focus given to the fear is what makes it irrational. I will often have ways of managing those fears by compulsions that I feel make me safer on some level. Those close to me are often confused by my thoughts and behavior, and admittedly, I am as well. I personally cannot “think” my way out of the web I have trapped myself so tightly within and it is beyond frustrating. Oh my GOD! How I have tried! From praying to meditation… to exercise to therapy… I am 47 years old today and still suffering. Ugh! I often wonder if I will ever be completely free. I will not give up trying.

When I think of my current suffering, where I have lost nearly fifty pounds, I remind myself again to respect my illness. Often, people dismiss mental illness by saying, “it’s all in your head”. The medical field downplays mental health by nearly expressing relief when it is nothing “physical”. But, I know better. Sometimes, I actually long for a physical diagnosis. Not anything serious, of course not, but something I can manage with a pill or have corrected by a surgery. I know how dangerous my own mind can be and am often more afraid of it than some structural entity that can be fixed with a surgery or an illness that is relatively easy to manage. I expect my last test for the swallowing to be within normal range and although that brings a certain amount of relief, it also brings a certain amount of dread, as I know that it will be me fighting alone to feel comfortable eating again. I hope this one “wears out’ more quickly than the others. I really do not have too much more weight that I can lose.

And so for my birthday, I wanted to honor your struggle. If it is physical in nature, I honor it as well. For some of us, we are fighting a silent war. We might not be able to fully grasp why we are stuck right now. We might be paralyzed in fear or anger, unable to move forward and those around us are becoming impatient. It appears easy to those on the outside to just “get over it already”, but for whatever reason we simply can’t. Sometimes we are able to give ourselves the same rational reasons that others provide, and yet, we are still unable to move. It’s okay. Cry it out. Yet, accept the struggle. Make peace with it.

I have been struggling for nearly three months with the ability to comfortably swallow. I haven’t had my favorite foods and there have been times I have been really hungry. So much so, I hurt. I have literally sat alone in my room crying while I stare at a plate full of uneaten food. Still, I was unable to push through and make myself it. I would use all the reasons loved ones had given me and many more that they did not come up with and still, my fear was greater. And so I am choosing, on my birthday, to honor the struggle. To make friends with it. To talk to it. To see what it has to say.

Mostly, it tells me that I am sad. That I wish I were closer to my family. That I wish I were more successful and able to work. That I wish my past relationship had worked out as I had dreamed and that we were happily married. Or that I had children and a family of my own. It tells me that my fear and inability to swallow is just a metaphor of my grief that is screaming:No More! I cannot ‘swallow’ anymore!” 

And, perhaps it is telling me to change. Often, we become paralyzed, I believe, so that we can change course. I’ve not been laughing enough, nor have I been connecting with the people that I love or participating in the leisure I most enjoy enough. Fear and paralysis has taken hold during the grieving process and perhaps this final “wake-up call” is telling me that it is time to not only perceive differently, but to act differently. I admit, I was “stuck” and have been “stuck” trying to swallow the “bitter pill” that life had offered me. In ways, my grief more than likely caused a psychogenic dysphagia: a fear of swallowing.

I will continue to go forward, swallowing as much as I can, and pacing myself as I continually learn to better cope. For my birthday weekend, I will be camping at a nice beach here on the California Coast. I plan to try a little harder to listen to the rhythm of the ocean, reminding me that as each wave rises, crests, and falls it breaks and collapses back into the ocean, surrendering and releasing….. letting go. In this way, I won’t get so hung up on a single wave or “thought” and give it so much power. I look forward to the sun and sand as well as playing in the waves for awhile. Although, I probably won’t partake in any BBQs, I will do my best to relax and honor where I am at right now at this point in my lifetime. I am 47. For all the fear that I have lived in, I have made it this far and it is something to celebrate. I want to relax and just be happy that I am here, in the moment for now, taking in the sights, smells, and sounds of the ocean.

 

 

Sculpting the Shame Away: When the Child Feels Like the Criminal

road walking cute young
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Some labels have such influence and power over us that they often dictate and predict our behavior from places deeply embedded within us. Labels that are donned upon us in our formative years are not easily shed. It takes not only a lot of work to free oneself from them, but it also takes the awareness of just how deeply rooted they have become and how pervasive they are in our thoughts and perceptions. Our thoughts have the ability to change us or to paralyze us with certain behavioral patterns which can further entrap us if we remain in one space for too long.

In scanning my inner spiritual landscape, I noticed that despite the work I had done to heal myself, I had underestimated the potential that words hold. I was taking for granted the power of language, both the spoken word and the inner dialogue running inside my head. I was aware of the critical incidents of my life that caged me in fear and anxiety, but I often times neglected the words surrounding these events that more than likely had an even greater impact in my life. The words had faded partly because the details over time had become less clear leaving only their imprints of how I felt about myself and the world in general . What took hold was how the language surrounding the event made me feel about myself. I carried shame, fear, and self-loathing from various events of my childhood and these feelings played out for years without me truly knowing why.

Perhaps I am just too “overly sensitive”, but as a child I ingested these words, wearing them tightly like a corset, even if they at times were squeezing the life from me. The words surrounding certain events held significance in my life and so I would lace up carefully, always trying to find the meaning behind the tightly tied corset that was denying me my freedom. I honestly was unaware that the words I donned without hesitation were slowly suffocating me. I just kept going, often completely oblivious of how small, in ways, my world had become.

Throughout my life, I have always felt that on some level I was inherently bad and at some point others will “find this out” about me. I was always waiting for “the shoe to drop” whereby I would be abandoned again because others had discovered my secret of being defective in some way. I used to casually joke in my adults years that I had a habit of disclosing too much too quickly as if to reveal my messy life, quickly pushing away people that I felt might leave anyway in time. I was aware of this behavioral pattern and at times even committed to changing it, but it is still something I struggle with to this day. It’s hard for me to let people truly in because I feel my life is too chaotic and it can be too overwhelming. I keep my circle extremely small because the stress and anxiety of navigating relationships is hard for me. Not to mention, I have been burned badly a few times by giving too much and getting little to nothing in return. As I heal from my past, I am developing better boundaries and am eager to rebuild my life around healthy people and hobbies that will help me maintain my peace and integrity.

I had a striking revelation the other day as I was struggling again with severe anxiety and depression. I have desperately wanted to be completely free from the chronic pain caused by being tensed up and hyper-vigilant. I was asking myself in desperation” “What more can I do”? What then came to the surface was this overwhelming fear and sadness that had caged me long ago at the tender age of four when my sister and I were molested by our next door neighbor. It was the fear that I was “bad” because I had messed up by telling which seemed so abominable at the time that it might of jeopardized the safety of my mother. Much of my molestation has been blocked out. What I do know is that while taking a bath with my older sister, I blurted out the unfathomable: “Wally (our next door neighbor) saw my butt today”. Of course, my sister recalls it differently and I guess I used a few swear words as well. We were in the bathtub and my Mom “dropped the soap”. In any case, this lead to my sister quickly shutting me down in fear, saying: “Be quiet, you will get Mom in trouble”. Our neighbor had threatened to harm our mother, who was a single mother at the time and she was also our only safety. This is ultimately, I believe, where my fear and mistrust began. We also had our home broken into around that time where a man entered, fixed a sandwich, and got into bed with my mother. I remember being awakened by a blood curling scream where my mother was shaking, but had called the police. This further reinforced that the world was not safe.

I had underestimated the power of the words surrounding the event which communicated to me that I was “bad” because I had placed our safety in jeopardy. I realize as an adult that the expressions of shock, horror, and rage were not directed towards me, but I couldn’t tell that to my four year old self who doesn’t have the reasoning of an adult. I was only able to see the body language and words from my mother and sister. I believe I must of felt a huge degree of fear and shame for telling and it was after this event that I began to wet the bed. I was often unintentionally made to feel inferior because of wetting the bed. I felt powerless to stop just as I assume I felt powerless when being molested. My innocence was shattered and I was no longer a happy go lucky child of four who played with dolls and fisher price toys, I was now a child who felt they had committed a crime. As an adult, I understand what happened, but as a child I assumed responsibility for what I couldn’t even understand or articulate. I carried the weight of this event in the way I felt about myself and the world. No one is to trusted, perhaps even myself.

That incident was followed in time by my Grandmother’s often simple, but often harsh ways of discipling us. Often, we stayed with our grandmother while my Mom worked. She had many foster kids and did a good job of keeping them in line and was loved, but she didn’t take the time when anyone got into trouble to explain the reason for the punishment. It was simply that I was “bad” child and therefore deserved a paddling or to sit in the corner for 15 minutes or so. I remember getting my mouth washed out with soap because I “took the Lord’s name in vain” when I really only said “Gah…”. Her discipline was stern and you were either “good” or “bad”. Years later when my mother remarried, my step-father not only was stern, but unpredictable and often times I did not even know why I got into trouble into much later. I spent my life trying to live in perfection to avoid punishment and I began to develop a lot of fears and phobias. Deep down, I just felt flawed. Not every child would feel as I do, but I absorbed a lot of the unresolved conflict of my caretakers and adults around me.

I was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 6, before the disorder was really known about, and would get into trouble often. Because of my poor impulse control, I got into trouble at school often and this reinforced to me that I was flawed in some way, a bad child. Back then there were no resource classes, I was often a target of teachers and they would embarrass me in front of my classmates, telling me “I had ants in my pants”. My cheeks would grow red in embarrassment as the room full of kids looked on. There were a lot of reasons, looking back, why I would develop the perception that I was a “bad” child and this lead to me being overly sensitive and anxious about myself. I still feel awkward to this day in social situations wondering when they will find out that I am flawed. I push people away or self isolate because I feel uncomfortable around others.

Having these revelations regarding my molestation and childhood has allowed me to reframe my feelings and to grieve for the time lost to the individual who stole my innocence at such a young age and colored my world in fear and anxiety as a result. It allows me the distance to separate myself from his actions.  Many times, especially as children, we take on the unresolved pain of adults who harm us. It’s nearly impossible to escape pain, yet we can stop suffering when we accept the reality of “what is”, grieve, and reframe as needed. It is hard work and I often times feel like a sculptor chiseling away to reveal truth and integrity in the structure of my life.

I hope my writing is helpful on some level. I’m learning every day and I want to stay awake. I long to leave this branch I am perched on and spread my wings in flight, effortlessly. I want to embrace my struggle and my willingness to search deeply inside for answers. I feel in doing so I will be able to shed the negative self-talk that has reigned for much of my life and replace it with open awareness that is non-judgmental and free of past imprints. It’s possible I have been protecting myself a bit too much and holding on too tightly to the armor that I wore to keep me safe. I realize the tightness of it means it’s time to loosen it’s hold on me and let go more. It served it’s purpose for a time, but those threats are truly no longer there. And so, I will just keep chiseling away until I feel more comfortable in this new reality.

***Below is a poem I wrote probably more than a decade ago. If I had to guess, it was written around 2003 or 4. It’s untitled as most of mine are. I am posting it here because I find it interesting how it conveys the feeling of being stuck, but moving forward in courage and hope despite that reality. Hope you enjoy!

Watching one’s feet

As life circles by

A tiny little universe

A place where you can hide

If I ever left the comfort

A few seconds in my life

I would detract my head in like a turtle 

My shell would suffice

Let me go back

I shiver with fear

The rain is upon me now

I have to shift gears

My eyes are opening

The sun, cutting sharply through the trees

The forest is growing

I physically am unable to leave

Toothpicks are prying my weary eyes open

Sunlight makes me squint

Everything has an outline

It’s shiny, the condition, mint

So, my legs drag on

Even in apathy or fear

I will keep the hope and courage

In the body that I wear.

~Amy Taylor

 

 

 

 

Shedding the Cocoon: Why Some of Us Take Longer to Leave

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

I have had my share of relationships that were lonely, unfulfilling, and, at times, excruciatingly painful. Instead of facing the pain and moving on, I suffered through years of being tormented by self-doubt and self-loathing. My identity and self-worth was too reliant on the opinions of those I clung to, refusing to “let go”. Over time, the offenses, both big and small, began to stack up becoming obvious, overwhelming, and messy. The spaces in my head and heart were impacted with words, memories, and regrets of which there seemed to be no impasse. I was suffocating, drowning in a lack of love for myself. One could say, that it was in the darkest of times, where I lashed out demanding to be loved, that the seeds of self-love were planted. I knew I deserved more, still yet, I went right back to the places and people who were incapable of giving me what I longed for and needed.

I believe that for many of us, for reasons often not easily articulated and summed up, self-love is an elusive concept. Perhaps trauma in the formative years left us with a larger than normal gaping hole, a deficit of sorts. Sometimes we didn’t get a full cup of self esteem whereby parents, classmates, and friends gave steadily, filling us with a vast reservoir. It can seem instead like a barren wasteland where the sole voice shouting is your own and it reverberates into the valley. And this may be why, when we see a traveler who notices our breath, we give more weight and importance to their presence in our lives. Even if, they are only there to serve the greater purpose of a mirror. I believe that for some of us, in this lifetime, our task is to find ourselves and embrace the light within us. I spent many years searching, making the mistake that someone walking by would mirror back to me what I longed for: love, security, and worthiness.

Because, I made the costly error that someone else would “see me” into existence and worth, I stayed on in desolation and depravity. I was grieving what I had missed and longed for that wasn’t granted in my formative years. I spend years demanding more from others, but not demanding enough from myself. I spent years focused on what others felt about me instead of relying on my own sense of self worth and mastery. Trauma followed me because I chose to stay immersed in it, searching for answers, often bewildered at the lack of love from others.

It took so long to leave my lover and certain members of my family because I had to be resolved that I had not missed in some way the love I was searching for. It was as if I had a very developed and lengthy “tally” sheet where I had to “check off’ every  lost attempt at connection. I went to great lengths to count and examine all my efforts, my failings, my mistakes, and misgivings. I scrutinized myself, always coming back to try in another way. It was easier for me to see my mistakes as the reason for why you did not love me or stay. Fighting often was the last resort to stay engaged and have your attention, like the child throwing a tantrum. I waited, often years, fighting to receive the bare minimum in order to relate to the ones I loved. I kept track of the times I came back and the times I miserably “failed” when I exploded in rage because messages and phone calls were often not returned. It took years of countless rejection and “conditional” love to completely fill the “tally sheet’ to where I said “enough”. I didn’t want to believe that I was not loved. I refused to face that reality. It sucked and it seemed impossible to accept.

I’m still unhappy and even broken, at times, that the love and commitment I felt towards  my sister and her kids and to my ex-fiance, where not adequately reciprocated. I fought for them tirelessly for years and as the tally sheet of abandonment grew, I began to take a harder look at myself. My ineffective coping of gambling and eating, had become too destructive and damaging. Anxiety and depression reigned, and my system of tallying collapsed. I took a long look mentally at the tally sheet and what I had feared had come to fruition: They didn’t care. It was probably more like, they were incapable of caring. Still yet, the evidence was overwhelming that I had been wailing and arguing into the wind. In fact, my love was like sand in the wind, always shifting, having no place to land. I spent a few years being scattered by the wind, feeling devoid of meaning and hope. Those were the darkest days of my life. The years of being left were undeniable. I had to face the reality that there was no concrete evidence that I mattered. I was left alone, often stonewalled for months. I loathed myself further for being the weak one, always pleading for love.

Things have slowly shifted. I found the stillness that I longed for where I simply exist, cocooned in a peaceful silence. I stopped searching desperately for approval and love, and instead accepted the loss of time and relationships and I began looking forward. I still slip, at times, and am carried by the wind, but I quickly return to a new space within me where my reality is embraced. Now, I see myself as stronger. I’m no longer continually distracting myself from the pain. I look around me and I see both pain and love. I see others desperately trying to disappear into the drugs, alcohol, sex, food, and gambling. I see those choosing to suffer instead of embracing pain and sitting through it. I’m in no hurry to heal and have been purposely single for over two years. I see learning self compassion and love as my greatest endeavor and accomplishment. I’m continually getting closer to letting go of the fears that have haunted me my entire life. I am committed to myself and my journey.

I’m uncertain in the end how truly unique my journey is. I smile knowingly at the scores of individuals in my life, from: family, boyfriends, and even therapists, who often were exasperated with me. I recall one person telling me my life “looked like a train wreck”. I’m sure many healthcare professionals felt “She is never going to get past this”. I had therapists get angry and roll their eyes saying “You’ll never leave him” or “You are a mess with men”. My life was a mess and I chuckle at how desperate I used to be. My self esteem was so low, that I’d throw myself desperately at my ex so I wouldn’t have to spent the night alone. I was angry, sad, and lost. What actually helped me was acknowledging that those hurting me were also angry, sad, and lost. Some choose to keep running, I chose to stop. I am immensely proud of myself for that choice. It is not an easy one and it does not require perfection. I choose to share my life and my mess, to prove with time and acceptance, healing does happen, even in the messiest of lives. No one thought I would ever change and here I am in the midst of metamorphosis. It is a long process and I am not even sure if it truly ever ends.

Life has a way of cocooning us in darkness. But, we can discover light if we work hard enough. And like most things, the light wouldn’t be so precious if it were easy to come by.

I encourage anyone who is lost, like the shifting sands, to find the stillness, embrace the pain and learn from it. Thanks for reading!

Sunshine and Palm Trees: Gently Awakened by the Streets of Los Angeles

white vehicle parked on road between trees
Photo by Vincent Gerbouin on Pexels.com

I haven’t written for a long while. I recently moved from Washington to California, an endeavor that was fraught with angst, anxiety, and trepidation. It was a difficult move, one that resulted in a few trips to the ER, an upper endoscopy procedure, and a loss of thirty pounds over several weeks. Although my esophagus was somewhat inflamed, I was relieved to learn that it wasn’t anything serious. I have been struggling with swallowing and there were a few weeks that I was subsisting primarily on a liquid diet. Things are slowly resolving, but I feel the drive down, being cooped up with my dog, and an exacerbation of my GERD, caused a temporary condition where I felt as if something was sticking in my throat. The anxiety of living in a large city, Los Angeles, and the dryer climate here, added to the problem all of which just takes time to acclimate and adjust. Meanwhile, besides taking Zyrtec, Flonase, and Prilosec, a does of patience is in order.

I’m taking this pause, pregnant and full, to share a slice of the reality of my current bewildering existence. I want to remember this time because I feel it holds immense relevance for me. The scenery here is as diverse and complicated as the population around me that appears to always be moving and alive, each individual having their own tempo, history, and space.

I can recall strolling down Venice Beach during the first week of my arrival here, feeling completely satiated. I was taken back by the display of diversity: the young and old, the rich and poor, the refined and the rough. In the span of a few blocks, humanity from every corner of the earth appeared to be represented. There were artists peddling their often unique and fanciful creations while the homeless camped out on the lawn. Hopeful musicians played music that spilled onto the streets while tourists and locals sat in open-air seating, eating food of which the scent permeated the air. The colors, scents, and vibration of life on this street made me full. Of course, there was always the pause to contemplate the juxtaposition of wealth and poverty, but at least here, in this space and in this moment, it was peaceful. And, even, at times, joyful, as what seemed to be “hippies”, were dancing freely on the lawn to the live music playing on the streets. I spent several minutes on the shoreline watching the surfers as the sun began to set. I left that evening, happy.

The first few weeks in Los Angeles was exhausting. My roommate and I were staying at a Homewood Suites that was South of the center of LA were we wanted to move. We spent a week, in harrowing traffic, on foreign streets, searching for a place to live. Every driver really should spend a few days on the streets of LA to understand the true definition of: Defensive Driving. It was grueling work and nothing was truly a “perfect fit”. It was expensive and we were doing our best to find a place as quickly as possible. During this time, I developed the swallowing issue as well as horrific allergies and GERD. Of course, I was experiencing significant anxiety as well. And when we got through with a full day of apartment hunting, we had a dog waiting to be walked. A few times, we had the energy to take her to a “dog beach” or to a Beach Boardwalk nearby. She loved the beach, but ran from the incoming waves of the ocean.

We finally decided on an apartment that was very centrally located. It was a one bedroom for $2400 a month!!  Ouch!! It was clean, had a pool, and allowed pups. The biggest perk is that we are within walking distance to many museums, a grocery store, a pharmacy, the Original Farmer’s Market and The Grove! The Grove is a premier outdoor shopping area where sitings of the stars are common. I’m not too interested in “the stars”, but this area is actually very nice, pet-friendly, and beautifully maintained. It has a little trolly that runs through the middle and fountains that dance to music. Oh, and the music that is played is often jazz and it is perfectly suited for the experience.

Adjusting to a new city takes time. I walk to the grocery store nearly every other day to pick up an ingredient or two that I need. I am still not accustomed to the homeless having to live on the streets. Many times, I have seen them lying on the streets, sometimes with their dog, while mice or roaches traverse nearby. It is very hard to watch. There are those homeless that are obviously struggling with mental health issues, sometimes screaming unintelligible expletives into the air, shouting at unknown entities. I find this unacceptable, but am at a loss of what to do. I keep walking, Gracie will pull in curiosity, while my eyes catch site of the many Mercedes, Volvos, or BMWs parked on the same block. It is a difficult disparity to see all in the space of one city block.

I often don’t drive too much as my roommate, who is currently finishing up in Washington, does all the driving. But, I have been out a few times to take Gracie to the park and to go to a medical appointment. I’ve driven through neighborhoods in Beverly Hills, and was somewhat awestruck by the Beverly Hills “civic center”. WOW. It’s a very impressive center. Again, the have and have nots demonstrated. And the wealth displayed in some of the homes of that area is mind boggling. I don’t feel I would ever be comfortable having that much money. Although, it is nice to see some of the homes, architecturally speaking.

Well, there is a lot to this city of which I may one day call home. I probably will not live here forever, but what I learn here will most certainly stay with me forever. I feel a bit trapped, at times, due to living in a city of such high density. It is entertainment rich, diverse, and full of opportunity. The diversity makes me feel spoiled, like I can taste a bit from other countries by frequenting certain local bakeries and eateries. Here I have access to all different types of people and cultures and that not only excites me, but perplexes me. I have a lot to learn.

I sometimes feel when I’m standing on the busy sidewalks of LA, hearing the horns blast me back to “reality”, that I somehow fell asleep awhile back in the slow town of Bellingham, WA. Los Angeles has gently shaken me awake. The perpetual days of sunshine, the buzz of life on the city streets, the display of immense diversity has awakened me. And this time, I want to stay awake. I have no idea what this city holds in store for me, and maybe that is the best part of this journey.

I remember telling myself before I left for the move: “Wipe away any assumptions you have of living in this large metropolis, and open your sense as wide a humanly possible”. Take it all in and stand unafraid. In some ways, I feel I willed this space here as I was stagnating in Washington state, I was very unhappy. The transition inside of me is now paralleling an actual transition in my life. And this is what was meant to be.

Thanks for reading… we’ll see what Los Angeles has in store for me!!  For today: Another day of sunshine and palm trees!

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

zpkSJIQ8Ri+2pk8stPwCGQ

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

nature sky bird animals
Photo by Adrianna Calvo on Pexels.com

 

The Forest Within: The Gentle Giants will Heal You

bright daylight environment forest
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

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.

19731935_10213471431201739_6840624190048748849_n

Burn Brightly: The Healing Fire Within You

fire wood firewood fireplace
Photo by alex Lázaro on Pexels.com

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
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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