Thursday, December 15, 2016

Tsunami, a story about being an ocean


Sometimes, life has a way of building up to a crescendo and leaving you stunned, vibrated and changed.

I feel like a tidal wave has been building in me, slowly, over thousands of miles (or is it years), a wave of tension, darkness and unrest. I've known it was coming. But it certainly increased in volume and hit shore in a way I wasn't expecting.

Recently, I broke down. Something seemingly inconsequential caught me, and the wave began to hit upon the shore. I started crying to Marco. I tried to tie it all up, explain this sudden crushing wave, but words came out spinning and foaming and turbulent.

In order to know the epicenter of an earthquake, circles are drawn around where the damage has happened. They then find the point where all circles intersect. But they can't really know until after all the shocks have happened. When you're in the middle of the shaking, the tsunami, you can't trace the origin. You can only try to stay safe and let it wash over you. I've always been a solver. I want to figure out the how and why and fix it. But the other night, I just let the wave come. I had a wash of emotions - sorrow, anger, fear, frustration, anxiety and then, finally, some relief.

Once the water began to settle, I could see just a little more clearly. I could trace the line out into my story and find the epicenter, the great shift that had caused this wave.

This is not the first wave. Not will it be the last, but I'm beginning to see that the origin, the epicenter, the chasm between the tectonic plates of who I am, was not exactly where I'd been focusing all these years. It was much further back, into the early days of being me. I'm seeing now that my very sense of self, the mountains and valleys of me, came too from this massive rending of my foundation.

As happens with tsunamis, more waves come. Yesterday, waking in a state of fog and fatigue, I wanted everything to escape being me for the day. I held it together. But the waters receded, threatening another massive wave. I didn't want to go to class and yet I wanted to escape the madness of weekday life with kids, homework, dinner, showers, fighting and bed. I gave brief thought to skipping class and getting a bottle of bourbon. But, I stayed steady enough to instead pack water and tea. Restlessness vibrated, waters began to rise. I wanted music, food, or anything to make the feelings stop, to release the pressure. But lately none of my usual vices have curbed the edginess of the building wave. So, I turned again to a source of steadying, Krista Tippett's show On Being. The episode that was at the top of my SoundCloud feed was an old episode called “Embracing our enemies and our suffering” with Robert Thurman and Sharon Salzburg. It seemed appropriate and timely.

Immediately I remembered why I go back to Buddhist teaching when I start losing my way. As Krista says early on in the interview, “in life, there will be suffering and we will harmed.” It's that simple. We aren't the only ones. This pain we feel is an essential and critical part of being human. We are not terrible for feeling this way. It just is. The problem arises in how we respond. I listened and felt the wave begin to curl as it approached the shore. I listened on my way to class. I listened finally, sitting in the parking lot. I took a deep breath and decided to brave the wave.

In class, I had a little anxiety about getting paired again with someone who caused a lot of pain before. I wanted  someone safe and someone I could trust not to hurt me. I was fortunate that a classmate, whose work is gentle and present, was available to work with me. In this class, the work centered around feeling more. We took a long time to sit and feel our bodies, to sense our partners, to feel and make note of what we feel both in ourselves and in our contact with them. It is an eye opening practice that leaves you with greater trust in your ability as well as a deep sense of safety within your own being. I loved it. I surprised myself with my ability to sit with the sense of my own impending doom and still be fully present in my body, fully present with my partner on the table. I was surprised how acute my feeling became when I stopped thinking and judging and figuring it out and focused on only observing. Once you’ve fully felt the subtle differences in tension, rotation, density and hydration, only then can you begin to work in a meaningful way. As I stayed and felt and noticed and let the thoughts of conclusion and outcomes float on by, a strange shift began to happen within me. I could feel it too within the tissues of my partner on the table.

Then it was my turn to receive. I felt more restless getting on the table than I did doing the work. Receiving is a different kind of work that involves truly feeling what’s happening inside your body. If you have a great partner, together you can feel your way into places you are stuck and nurture them into greater movement and ease. As my partner began the work I noticed that I kept expecting for it to hurt. He was gentle and careful and really listening, but I still found myself preemptively guarding against the inevitable pain. I realized that I was hanging on to past hurt. I was seeing a caring person as a person of potential harm. But the pain didn't come. And gradually, I began to relax into the trust of being there and allowing. The room was very quiet. The work was very subtle and meaningful and calm. During a moment of stillness, when all the practitioners were feeling, our instructor said, “I'm going to say two words.” He paused. “Loving kindness.” My heart felt torn. The wave began to crash. I’m sure he meant this as a reminder to the practitioners, to turn their attention to their intention, but it felt very personal. It was just what I needed to hear. It travelled back along that line of energy to the epicenter of my pain. In a place of darkness, in a place of loss, in a place that feels completely lacking in love, I let it slip in.

I will never be able to undo the harm. I will never be able to go back and be loved how I wish I had been. I will never be able to fix it or have a different story. But, perhaps, loving myself and accepting the love I am given, will begin to settle the disruption. Perhaps by loving the enemy within I can gain resilience from the enemy without.

Now, a very interesting thing happened. The instructor then led the practitioners into a period of rocking. He used me as the example body to demo the work. He rocked me, letting the fluidity of my body flow back and forth. He kept the rhythm going all down my entire body. The wave, instead of causing mass destruction, seemed to slosh about and flatten into calm.

It was as if my whole body became aware that I am not in that distant place. I am not still being hurt. I am healing. I'm okay. The abuse happened long ago and not now. Now, I am safe.

I missed out on deep abiding love as a child, and I have let the anticipation of harm cause me to miss out on it as an adult. But the truth is, I am truly, madly, deeply loved. I may have had my worth degraded as a child, but now I am surrounded by a community who recognizes my worth and values the qualities that have come from my shaken foundation. I am appreciated. I am valued. More than anything, I recognize my own worth, my own value, my own wisdom.

In the On Being episode about enemies, Robert Thurman talks about the psychology of loving your enemies. He says, “It means, you know, I want you to be happy. I’m gonna be happy no matter what, and it’s better. You’ll be more happy if you don’t kill me actually. And I might be more happy if you don’t kill me, but I’m gonna be happy whatever you do to me. But on that basis, I might take your weapon away.”

Last night, at the end of my session as practitioner, the instructor had as sit at the head of our partner and ask two questions:

What does this person feel like right now?

You sit and you feel and you take in that information.

What does this person feel like when everything is functioning perfectly?

You sit and you feel and you take in that information.

It turns out, the body is pretty communicative if you’re listening. It knows.


We all have trauma and pain and confusion. We all have enemies both without and within. We’re all stuck in places. We all have times when waves hit the shore. We have all been harmed and will be harmed. We know what that feels like. But we also know, deep within us, what healed feels like. Our cells know. They’re working every second to repair. We have within us at any moment both the possibility of suffering and the possibility of equanimity.

Take a moment and ask yourself right now, "What do I feel like right now?" Sit with it. Feel it. Notice. Then ask yourself, "What do I feel like when everything is functioning perfectly?" See if you can recall that feeling. See if you can sit with that peace for just a moment. Notice what changes. Notice what stays the same. Feel it.

Today, with shaky legs and a vibrant heart, I send out love to you. To my enemies, both without and within, I wish for you to be happy. I’m going to take your weapon away but not the hope for your happiness.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Anything to avoid all the feelings

I need a good book.
I need a glass of wine.
A hot bath?
Maybe a little smoke?
We'll veg out on Netflix.
And chill?
Maybe I need a good shag.
Or a change of music.
What's for sale on Amazon?
Maybe just a few minutes of Facebook.
Or a quick game.
A cookie would be nice.
Or three.
Or that snacking chocolate that fools me with it's protein.
Oh. I'll make a healthy soup.
Or maybe a really decadent one.
And cheese sandwiches.
Do we have a bottle of wine?
Will I feel better if I take a shower?
And get out of my pajamas?
Or are the pajamas the duct tape of my soul?
A massage would be lovely.
Who can I call?
Should I dye my hair?
Will that make me feel new?
How about a hot toddy?
Or some buttered rum?

I think I'll start with a good cry.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

There are no words.


They say to start at the beginning. They say to start with what you know. They say to start with yourself.

But what if all you have is a sickness in your stomach? What if all you remember is looking out the window?

Some memories float to the surface again and again like the disgusting foam that forms on the top of a boiling meat. They are part of me, and yet they are not. Yet, there is a darkness that remains that is also not yet fully known. Because I don’t know why it’s there. Because I don’t know why I act that way. Because I don’t have the words.

Broca’s area in the brain is the part that controls the ability to speak. It connects the ideas  to words and then controls the motor function of getting those words processed into sound. When traumatized people listen to a retelling of their trauma, this area of the brain shuts down as they approach the moment of trauma. We, quite literally, have no words.

We already intuitively know this. We say things like, “I was speechless.” We can have feelings and images and smells and pain in our bodies, but we lack the capacity to integrate them in a way that enables us to articulate them into words.

I never noticed before that I have a recurrent image that pops into my head. I’ve always brushed it aside because it seemed so useless and pointless and lacking meaning. Other memories from that time seem so much more important and elicit obvious feelings that I can describe. But this particular memory, the view out of a window, seemed only to serve as a pin in the bulletin board, a locator to bring me back to a period of time and space when the pain really started. If someone had asked me, “When do you think the trauma began?” I might have a flash of that image and then my brain would latch onto other moments that seemed to make more sense. What use is a window?

I want explanations.
I want to solve the equation, the relationship, the mystery.
I want order and continuity.
I want this to mean this and that to mean that.
I want answers.
I want certainty.

But fuck if trauma doesn’t hijack your brain and your body and your memory and put things in the wrong order or hold onto moments that seem meaningless or, for some, elicit no memory at all.

We attendees of Numonohi Christian Academy used to joke that we were “Veterans of Num.” Even as children we knew that the life we were living, abandoned by our parents for a greater cause, didn’t make sense. Some of us were beaten. Some of us were molested. Some of us were neglected. Some of us were chastised for eating too much, for eating too little, walking the wrong way, crying too easily, being upset when we witnessed trauma, screaming when we thought we were about to be raped. There was no way of being that was right. We were prisoners of faith under the control of wardens with no accountability and no consequences who claimed to be doing the work of the Lord.

And there will be no justice.

Sometimes I think that’s why I hold on to horrific memories. Like eating poison and expecting the rat to die, I’m tormenting myself because I don’t want to let them off the hook. However, because of laws pertaining to crimes that happened in other countries and because New Tribes Mission continues to fail in their pursuit of justice and concern for the victims of their systemic abuse, there will never be justice. And because justice doesn’t give us healing anyway, I know I can only begin to work on healing within, to start the one place I know, the place with no words.

I’m tired. Aren’t you guys tired too?

Developmental Trauma and PTSD both affect sleep and can cause long term pain patterns in the body, digestive problems, fatigue, fibromyalgia, weight gain, substance abuse, risk-seeking, and other self-destructive behaviors.

“The lives of many trauma survivors come to revolve around bracing against and neutralizing unwanted sensory experiences, and most in my practice have become experts in such self-numbing.” Dr. Bessel van der Kolk

I’ve been writing this blog now for nine years. I’ve been attempting through those years to make sense of the senseless. I’ve written about meditation, yoga, food, and research that I’ve come across that has helped me. I write to help sort things out. I write so that others might know they’re not alone. But sometimes there are no words.

Discovering Dr. Bessel van der Kolk and his book, The Body Keeps the Score, led me to find a type of therapy that works beyond words. Somatic Therapists use techniques that follow the sensations of the body to integrate traumatic memory and help victims of trauma integrate the discombobulated memories that assault them into the greater storyline of their lives.

Sometimes that image that comes up in your mind when you’re panicked about a work crisis, can be a window into understanding you never knew was possible.

I’ve got a long way to go, but I wanted to share with you about how this particular type of therapy is helping me so profoundly in ways that talk therapy alone never did.

I encourage you to listen to Krista Tippett’s interview with Dr. van der Kolk for her show On Being.

Here also is a list of books that have aided me in my journey back into my body and through the process of integration:

The Body Keeps the Score - Dr. Bessel van der Kolk
Bodies - Dr. Susie Orbach
The Places That Scare You - Pema Chödrön

There is hope.

There are therapies and practices that have been shown to greatly improve the lives of traumatized people. Body therapies like massage, acupuncture, rolfing, The Feldenkrais Method, EMDR as well as body practices like yoga and meditation have helped many people become more embodied and better understand their own body sensations and respond to them in healthy ways.

Sometimes we don’t have the words. And that is just the place to begin.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Far too fragile for this moment

His face is contorted in rage
And I can hear myself yell
He’s throwing things and screaming
My heart just fell
A day can turn in a moment
A son can hate on a dime
I put him in his room to simmer
Before he breaks me, I’m
Far too fragile for this moment

How loud is too loud to walk?
How loud is too loud to cry?
I’ll never fit within your bounds
Is there any reason to try?
My feet are dirty
As they pound the floor
My hands are shaking
As I slam the door

Fifty dead including the killer
Fifty dead from hate and fear
Somewhere mothers are screaming
Some are shocked at once to hear
Your son was murdered
Your son was queer
A day can turn in a moment
A son can hate on a dime
Fifty mothers are heaving,
Far too fragile for this moment

How loud is too loud to walk?
How loud is too loud to cry?
They never fit within your bounds
But they’d found a place to try
Their feet were dancing
Salsa beats upon the floor
Their hands were embracing
As he came in through the door

My son started fresh this morning
At six we have years to thwart
The anger and the horror
Disjointed moments of rage to sort
If I can get it together, be better
Stop being the man I hate
If in the moments of angry panic
Love can have a greater weight
Far too fragile for this moment

How loud is too loud to walk?
How loud is too loud to cry?
I don’t fit within my bounds
And often don’t have the will to try
My heart was pounding
As he screamed in my face
My arms were aching
As I brought him in for embrace

If your god doesn’t love us all
Then your god is far too small
If my child is filled with anger
He’s my mirror to see my shame
I’m a makeup of my parents
And he’s me all the same
One is the mother of a killer
And another the mother of the dead
And I the mother of a beginning
My stomach filled with dread
Can I be greater than the pulsing fear and pain
Can I choose to love in when rage is in my brain?
Far too fragile for this moment

How loud is too loud to walk?
How loud is too loud to cry?
Our bounds of what fits are too small
Love everyone, the order is tall
Grace and peace are bigger by far
Than the moment of fear filled dread
I have to believe we can all love enough
To unwind the spiral of hate in our head

People are made in moments
Children become who we are
How much love is enough to counter
The moments of losing our heads
Can we stitch together broken hearts
With peace and grace as our threads
Together can we change ourselves
Enough to give them a fighting chance
At a world without fear of being shot
While they hold hands and dance?
Far too fragile for this moment


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Practice

Pablo Casals, one of the world’s greatest cellists was asked at 93 why he was still practicing as hard as ever. He said, “Because, I think I’m making progress.”

Some days feel like they’re falling apart between your fingers like gluten free bread.

Some days it’s hard to sort out if the pain you are feeling is from the grief bubbling back up a year later or the fresh accusations from people you love. And then your computer crashes. And you fail to prepare for an exam. And you realize that you haven’t done laundry every day and now there are 18 loads waiting for you. And you react to everything in the most juvenile way and all the things you thought you had been learning just fly right out the window. You are nine and mad and sad and want to punch everyone all at once. And your stupid phone is broken.

I completely fell apart this past week. Some would say it was a “bad” week. It felt bad, that’s for sure. People I love criticized who I am, my husband, my marriage and my parenting. It felt awful. After being shipwrecked with illness and grief earlier this year, I had righted my boat and was sailing on the wind of change. I wasn’t prepared for another storm. But it came all the same. My mast just toppled, and my sails sagged.

Rudyard Kipling’s poem If kept running through my mind.

“If you can bear the truth you’ve spoken twisted by knaves...
If you trust yourself when all men doubt you...
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you...”

But that just made me feel even worse. Ugh. I’ll never be the man Kipling suggested.

I think I’ll get Mary Oliver's line tattooed on my arm so that I can always see it.

YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE GOOD.

I could add to that similar lines:

You do not have to be sane.
You do not have to be mature.
You do not have to let it run off your back easily.
You do not have to keep it together.

I remember, when I was in the midst of trying to breastfeed twins and losing my ever-loving mind from the pain of mastitis and ductal yeast and potty training a two year old at the same time, I felt like the very fabric of my mind was starting to unravel. I was on the phone with the lactation consultant outside of Dave and Busters like some raving madwoman frantically begging for advice on what to do next. She just said, “I give you permission to quit. You have the tenacity of a mule. You have done well. You have done enough. It is time to stop.” She gave me a gift I was unable to give myself in that moment, the gift of giving up.

We want so badly to have arrived, finished, become. We want so badly to not do the same things again. We want to be 100% awesome and grown up and moved past all our junk. We want to never give up and be the champion.

But I’m beginning to realize that growing up is realizing we never will.

So...I fell apart. But I got up. And I think I recovered faster than I have before. And I tried not to spread my anger all over the place or respond in kind to the way I was treated. I practiced sitting with the pain.

I think I’m making progress.


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