Who do you think you are

Those who know me know that I have been struggling with a lot lately. I have spent the last seven months in therapy evaluating my worth, living through terrible memories and facing traumatic issues. And most of this has been a self-inflicted series of exhilarating highs crashing to devastating depression. It was to the point I thought I was bi-polar. Why would any sane person pay to do this to themselves? I started because I wanted to get rid of the constant pain I am in from a debilitating illness. I knew something was missing, something was not complete. I wanted to have a life not filled with constant fear. I wanted something and even now, with all my research, I still cannot figure out what this THING is that I am searching for. And every time I think I have it figured out, it slips out of my hands. It is nebulous as a cloud.
But the good news is I know what I am not and that is my past. That was huge for me to understand. It was enormous to be rid of the baggage I have been carrying for years. Sadly, I thought I would go through all this metamorphosis and pouf; out would come out a perfect butterfly. No way. I am realizing that I am fully in ecdysis, shedding the useless shell making me soft and vulnerable. The being that is yet to be is still being developed. The shell has not hardened.
I spend a lot of time reading, studying and listening to podcasts. I heard one today that rankled me, only because it hit home. It was Carolyn Mass and she asked the question, “Who do you think you are?” Her talk was on entitlement and passing on suffering when people hurt us. The talk was interesting and it was on the idea of not subjecting people who harm us with retaliatory nastiness. But that was not what has been floating in my head. It was her question about “who do you think you are?”
It struck me that this is my dilemma. I cannot answer that question comfortably and authentically. I do not know who I am. For too long, I have been allowing other people to define me. First my parents and family tried to define me, and I never reached their standards, and then by friends and then by the men in my life. All were quick to point out faults so loudly that I never could hear my own voice telling me of my successes. I still struggle daily with the old pattern of trying to please; only to be disappointed which makes me turn on myself more.
When I first heard the question, “who do you think you are?” I got a feeling of insufficiency. “What makes you think you are good enough?” This is a question I have never been able to answer. But I need to, we all do. Because we are all good enough. We are entitled. All of us! We are supposed to have full and rich lives, defined by the individual. What makes you happy may not bring me joy. Our successes are as independent as our breaths. We just need to figure out what it is that will sustain and fulfill that need.
So the next steps in my journey are to figure out what it is that will become me. I have entertained going back to school, but I realized after some words of wisdom from my guide, that I am using a degree to define something I already am. Will having PhD make me any more credible than I am now, if I don’t believe in myself to start with? I realized after some honest thinking that I am trying to prove something; a costly endeavor that may not prove anything more than how foolish I am to think that it would. I know I am in an environment where I am not credentialed by their standards. So, maybe being in this environment is wrong, maybe it is not me.
We live in a world of sound bites and nanoseconds. I have no patience and I always want things fixed instantly. I have been going full barrel into this journey like an out of control car. I have hit speed bumps and pot holes and I am bruised and tired. I realized as I sat in the sun today after a long dull winter, that I needed to give myself a gift, a reward of a kind. When I doubt that this experience has been worth it, just this realization alone demonstrates it success. I need to give myself some time to get used to me, and then let what is supposed to happen, happen.

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Transitions

I hate transitions. They have bothered me my whole life. I have never longed for travel as I do not like to change environments often. I know when I need to get away from the mundane repetitive world I live in, but then I long to return to the comfort of what I know. I will never be worldly and I accept that.
The process of transitioning bothers me in the morning when I wake and leave the comfort of my bed to take the often painful first steps of the day. As a child, I would hide under the covers, not to play hide and seek, but just to hide. I do not like the first paces into my work environment and it takes a few minutes to find the surroundings safe. Once in place, the day passes without me being aware of the changes. But my body does. I find that by the end of the day, I am in knots even when the day has been pleasant and stress free. The cause is unknown in my conscious awareness, but my mind can read it. And when I return to my home of over ten years, I need time to assimilate back into the environment again. For many years I was not aware of all this information and stimulation, but it was destroying my health. Now I am know about it, but cannot completely control it, yet.
I do not like to go to new locations. I hate crowds. It takes effort for me to attend functions I am not familiar with. Some would say that I enjoy isolation, and that is not true. I have been told I am afraid of everything, and that too is not true. I just do not like to be uncomfortable. I am overtly aware of loud sounds and brilliant light and the assault on my senses is something I prefer to avoid. I can control to some extent where I go and what I do. My sanctuary is in nature, like my garden. I have little fear in the woods or on water. The River gives me comfort and she is ever changing her moods.
There are other transitions that hurt more than the physical reactions to the environment. Losing someone to the ultimate thief of death is extremely painful as there is no recourse for those left behind. I do not think we ever get over losing loved ones like children and family. The transition of divorce is like falling down a stair case in slow motion. You keep waiting to hit bottom. The transition of aging is agony for many. The helpless feeling of tumbling slowly towards the end of life is inevitable and it catches me often if I allow it. The loss of youth and beauty destroys confidence. The fleeting moments of power these physical attributes had slip through our fingers like sand. We turn a blind eye to the ripeness and gentle beauty that life engraves like a fine patina.
I am in transition right now and it is ripping my heart out. I am scared and unsure of where I am transitioning to, but I know I am to go alone. I cannot determine my destination. The unknown terrifies me but it is reaching for me. Like the child who boards the school bus for the first day, the fear is real and excruciating. I do not want to let go my hand. But I must.

My intensions: A letter to me in the future

Dearest Jane,
I honor you for you bravery. This journey of lessons took a lot of courage. The richness you found in your own strength is now as much a part of you as your abundant capacity to love, which never faltered.
The fear that once flowed through your veins is now something that does not poison you. You have taught your body what are real threats. You now can move through the world without reacting and conditioning yourself for fight, flight or freeze all the time. You know what your cues are. The feeling you get in your gut is a true warning sign that something is amiss and you honored yourself by paying attention to it. You have learned to release and you now teach others to do so also. You have learned to trust that you can handle whatever comes your way, even when it is not something pleasant. You know that nothing is more than the present moment and that everything will pass. You have come to accept this instead of clinging to painful memories or escaping into a private world of pain. You have learned there is always going to be sadness and disappointment and you have learned to embrace the failure of others as something you cannot control. You have learned not to accept behavior that harms you. You have learned protection skills that are not permanent but can be removed when you are safe. You have learned what it is to be safe. You have always been able to forgive as your heart always wants to see the good in others. But you could not always forget. Somehow, with patience and release, the memories lost their control over you. You allowed them to release their grip on your life and let the air in. You can breathe.
Once many of the old layers of protection were removed, the sense of exposure at times was too great. It took a lot of courage to remove those walls and you should celebrate each shedding. You always needed to know that you were not without support and guidance because you were so vulnerable. At times you felt you were a burden. Abandonment was a condition of your past. Your heart is full of gratitude and love for the hands that supported you unquestionably. Compassion was something you had never been given without guilt attached. You doubted it; you pushed it away in fear of having it taken again. You felt for a very long time that you did not deserve to be cared for or to have someone help you. You allowed people in just so far. You were scared. You have learned who is truly there for you and who is there for themselves only.
You were the one who was always the caregiver. Receiving help was failure in your mind. You have learned that needing help is not failure, but strength. It is a desire to be a better being. You needed the guidance to be whole and authentic. You have also learned to graciously accept compassion that is offered without fear of retribution, accepting in it in the manner it is given. The gift was in the giving as you now know. You needed to learn much so that when your turn came, as it has now, you know how to give unconditionally and without judgment as it was given to you. Your teacher has taught you well.
I do not think you even knew how afraid you were. At one point in your recovery, you came to the realization that no one else feels like you. No one really feels the same as anyone else and that is what is supposed to be. We are all individuals. Once you started to see what a life without unwanted fear felt like, it threw you. That state of panic had become so much of your life that when it was removed, you were unbalanced. The sensation of aloneness and exclusion was great and it made you feel hopeless, which was horrible. The awareness of non-acceptance was hurtful. You longed to be part of the greater whole. You felt that there was something wrong with you, that you lacked something. The feeling was instilled when you were very young. People from your past practiced unspeakable rejection and cruelty and did great harm to you, which because of who you are, you thought you deserved it. You worked through the hurt and pain and came to a place to where the past was irrelevant. It took a long time to release the hurt and there were times when their failure to love became part of your failure to thrive. You sensed the feeling of not being invited to the party of life. But in due course, you discovered that the only acceptance you need is your own. Life is a party of one; you had to invite yourself. You are the guest of honor. You had to learn that. You now celebrate every day for the wonder that it is. Now you can embrace your world for the safety and joy it brings you.
You still have much to learn. You will always struggle with your body and have learned to temper your self-loathing with acceptance. You will never meet other’s expectations of body image. But in your maturity you have learned the insignificance of that. You will always have to work to be healthy and control your wellness. This struggle to achieve a healthier weight was hard fought and you will never relinquish the victory. You know you will continue to have to fight for the ownership of your weight loss every day. You have gained back your mobility and grace. You no longer fear movement but have embraced the joy of dance and play again. You have discovered that beauty comes from within and that the eyes of the beholder are not always the truth. Because you now can really see, you know the lantern is only a vessel for containing the light.
You have learned to touch and feel and used your hands as the sensory tool that they are. You had blocked your ability to touch and be touched as a safety mechanism. The ability to sense and receive through touch, although completely frightening at first, was actually a powerful gift and you have grown greatly in your ability to use touch as it was intended. You have learned to trust what you sense through your hands.
You have learned to use other gifts that you closed off. You have rediscovered your passion for music and it is never far from you. You are investing in the joy you get from playing and singing which at one time was as natural and nutritious to you as eating. You again use your eyes for capturing life through the lens. This gift was so much a part of you that you taught it and now you are using it again to bring joy to yourself and others in your work. You use your words to heal and support others. You employ authentic words to express and give hope to others who follow or walk with you on your journey. You correspond with others as they reach out and you have grown immensely in their shared experience as they have in numbers.
From the moment you began this journey, you knew there was more to it than just feeling better. You always wanted to know more. You worked extremely hard to become a practitioner and teacher. You listened to what was being taught to you with complete devotion. You spent countless hours of reading and studying multiple methodologies, different authors, and devouring and ingesting the different principles and practices. You participated in course work and programs in order to expand you knowledge and abilities. You completely knew in your heart that you would somehow become certified and have your own practice to teach others to achieve personal goals and healing. You will continue to grow as you expand your scope of practice and teaching.
You have learned and will continue to learn to remove self-imposed roadblocks in your way. You struggle with trust, but you persevere. You were supported and understood with compassion and kindness. And as to honor those who bestowed their trust and faith in you, you will now pass it on to others who need it. And they in turn will do the same.

Through the eyes of my dog.

My dog looks up at me with adoring soft brown eyes. His toothy grin pulses with his panting as if the anticipation is so great he can hardly contain himself. His gaze follows my every move with rapt delight. What does he see? He has looked at me with that much devotion for over thirteen years. He never has failed in his trust and love.
The other day I yelled at him because I was frustrated about something totally irrelevant. He looked at me with a puzzled and pain filled glare and walked down the hall to his bed in disappointment. He looked back as if to say, “Really?” My shame was great. However, five minutes later, he was at my feet grinning his big grin, and all was forgotten and he had forgiven me. My shame was even greater.
I have learned much from my dog about trust and love. During time of great stress, it was his head in my lap offering comfort as I cried that pulled me through some very bleak moments. There was no judgment, no attempt to resolve my issues. Just the soft thick fur of his neck offered as a place to bury my sobs. And when the moment had past, he would bring a ball to me and say, “It is done, let it go. Come on, let’s play.” He has all the wisdom of the ages.
And it is not that he has never had hardship in his life. He was neglected, abandoned and tossed in puppy jail. He was a mess of dog parts. He has a tail of a golden retriever, the butt and legs of a basset, and a barrel of a body of a very big Labrador. His lion sized head supports the soft droopy eyes of a basset with the proud muzzle of the dog he became. But when he came into my life, his spirit was broken. He weighed 35 pounds but comfortably now supports over 100.
My dog has forgiven so much in his life. He is the perfect example of living in the moment. He trusts me even when I have failed him. He has a look that says this is not acceptable but I will get over it. And he does. He does not hold grudges. He seizes every moment for what it is and he lives them wholly. He throws his whole body in the pleasure of play. When he sleeps, he sleeps soundly only interrupted by the thought of chasing squirrels. Squirrels are his nemesis. He bounds off the back deck in intense pursuit of his quarry that we all know he will never catch. But his faith in his abilities never stops; he never doubts himself. He knows what his needs are and is more accurate in time than any timepiece. His joy when I open the door after a long day reminds me the true meaning of being home.
Everyone who knows him says that he is an amazing animal. He has protected me from intruders and strangers. He loves who I love as if to say my choices are valid. He knows when I need solace and his soft nuzzle can release my fears. We have an intimacy that cements our bond. There is no fear that my touch will be rebuked as I know his favorite scratch spots. He leans into my hug and we will sit together in the comfort of each other, totally secure and safe.
But it is that unwavering look of acceptance and love that astounds me. What does he see that I cannot?

Secrets

Friday night I had gone to sleep after a lovely night of visiting and chatting with a dear friend who has a lot in common with me. She has different eyes because she is more than 20 years younger than I am, but she also has perception much deeper than her age. After going to bed, I spent the night in agony. The tell-tale sign of something not being right appeared as screaming matches in muscle spasms. My legs and feet were curling and cramping relentlessly. This was something I thought I had gotten under control months ago. I got up to walk the pain out because my usual mental skills to calm the spasms were not working. I went into the living room and tightly bound myself in blankets and the comfort of my chair.
Through the darkness, the room faded into the past. The fear of long-ago filled me and I began to cry. I was not sure if I was crying from the pain in my legs and feet or from past memories. I released my mind to go and I followed where it willed. It brought me to my attic where I was going through my mother’s artifacts after she had passed away. In a small black box tied with a red ribbon were the letters written by my mother to her father, who had abandoned her as a child of 15. The letters were scolding and filled with the pain of a young girl who felt betrayed. Growing up, my mother had told me and my siblings that our grandfather had died because of being poisoned in WWII. He had been poisoned but not from gas. The actual obituary and death certificate were at the bottom of the box. He died in a sanitarium from alcoholism. I was twenty-five when I found the letters and felt betrayed by my mother because she had not been forth coming. Now, some thirty years later, I understood her shame and disappointment in the relationship that should have been pure. I understood her secret. It also made things in my youth make more sense. It was why she would choose to defend her spouse over protecting her children. It was in her mind the only choice as she did not want her children to feel abandoned by their father.
My mother had lived with her shame and pain from her disappointment in her own father. She felt she had to do what she thought was right to make her daughter stronger. She tried to toughen me up to life’s disappointments and heartaches. We shared an unspoken secret which she took to the grave. She never spoke of any of her pain, even when cancer was destroying her body. As a young girl she shut herself off from me in many ways and spent her energy in correction and trying to perfect a not-so-perfect daughter. She never was demonstrative and physical contact was never present. The day I was married her parting words as I left the reception was “you can never come home again.” It hurt me to the core as I thought she was glad to be relieved of me, and to some point I am sure she was. Once I was on my own as a married young woman, she reignited our mother-daughter relationship as friendship. It only made it more acrimonious when she died three years later. We never spoke of the evil or terror that existed in our lives and home we had shared. She no longer had to protect me from secrets. As I sat next to her as her life slipped away, there was no remorse, no divulgence from either of us.
I cried for the loss. I cried for her pain and mine. I felt that we had a circle of women in my family who were very good at keeping secrets and there was some release in that thought. There was some forgiveness.
The light shifted in the room and I swaddled myself tighter. I looked to my dining area where I also sit and write. The room became the warm wood covered walls of my aunt’s dining room. I was transported to her home and felt the love I always felt when I was there. Her lovely image passed into my mind and I remembered the story she wrote about her life and sent to us all when my father died. She had journaled the life she and her brother shared when they were very young. I never knew my grandfather. He had died a horrific death. He and what would have been my uncle, my father’s older brother died in a car wreck when they were stuck on a railroad track. I have never seen the obituary for it. It was not a secret though growing up. My grandfather was a revered diplomat from Spain who had swept my grandmother off her feet at a cotillion. Their love was storied as a romance of the gilded age. My grandmother was pregnant with my aunt when her husband and young son were decimated by a train. My father was three. My aunt’s loved-filled story about their youth was poignant with the restrictions of the era for people of high society and propriety. Because my grandmother was so young the estate controlled their lives. Everything from living expenses to hair ribbons, my aunt wrote, was documented and declared. My grandmother never remarried and never worked a day in her life. I remember a sadness about her, even though I always thought she was so beautiful with her long white hair and soft blue eyes. But I also remember there was a coolness about her, an aloofness that never permitted granny cuddling or touching of any kind. My aunt wrote of distance from her own mother that I am sure was also what my father had felt. I am also sure there was some survival guilt he dealt with. My aunt’s story was filled with hijinks and pranks she and my father perpetrated on unknowing victims. This was his gift to me, his sense of humor. She spoke of his gift for words. And she spoke of the bond they had and how sad she was that it had deteriorated through the last years. Their shared demons were never spoken. Both however had dissolved their lives to some extent because of alcohol. But my aunt recovered earlier and became extremely successful, out living her older brother by many years.
As I sat in the darkness of the early Saturday morning, I grew up. The swaddling offered warmth as I sat and wept for all of us. The demons floated in the shadows. The anger and hatred that has been sulking within me for so long became unnecessary. It was not replaced with any great feeling of love or even absolution. But the significance faded and I felt relief. I felt my parents were human and therefore allowed their mistakes as did their parents. Their punishment was not mine to give.
Another layer has been ripped off. What is left is still very much so the heart of a very young child who trusts that all is for love in this world. Intellectually, I have grown in my understanding of human behavior. I feel for the loss of lives that were not fulfilled and I grieve for us all. I can view this world with an adult eye, but I have not learned to love any different. So with a trepid step, I move onward.

Recidivism

Like a prisoner who dreams that he is free, starts to suspect that it is merely a dream, and wants to go on dreaming rather than waking up, so I am content to slide back into my old opinions; I fear being shaken out of them because I am afraid that my peaceful sleep may be followed by hard labour when I wake, and that I shall have to struggle not in the light but in the imprisoning darkness of the problems I have raised.
-René Descartes

Recidivism is a nasty effect that occurs when one repeats an undesirable behavior or condition. Criminals commit new crimes in an effort to be returned to the confines of jail, a place where is it comfortable and known. Most citizens think of jail as being confined. But any animal will tell you there is comfort in a den or hole. There is security even in the cave, ask Plato. There is control and with control, there is less fear. And less fear is where we all want to be. Even me.
I have returned to my safety, pulled the blinds down and turned off the lights. The exposure was too great. I felt safe and free for about fifteen minutes. I enjoyed the wonder and love I felt. I set forth in a brand new world with innocence and trust. But when someone is released without the tools of the current world they are in, it is a lesson in failure. It is inevitable they will return to confines of the world they knew. And like the small child who was incarcerated at five, I have returned to the protection of the closet. And for the present moment, it safe.

Trapped

I was asked to think about things associated with the word trapped by my guide. Obviously trapped is a word that has awful connotations attached to it for me because every time he mentioned the word, I would physically cringe. We could be talking about things and he would sneak the word in and for me the world would stop and “trapped” would hang in the air. It would seem the basic premise of being tied down in some fashion, or corralled into a close environment was what was setting me off. The causing memory was elusive but there still was this reaction.
I have been in therapy before for dealing with a very difficult divorce. One of the causes of the marriage failing was the effects of memories from my youth which were transferred to my life as an adult. Also transferred to my adult life was more abuse. I had not escaped. Interesting choice of words, don’t you think?
The therapist and I had talked about many of the memories, but there was this lingering situation that I had only memories in the fringes of my mind. She had brought me to a place where some of the event had come back, but not enough for me to believe it was the truth. For those of you who have suffered an extreme trauma, the mind is a benevolent soul that wants to protect us by making us forget. And I did for many years. I can say I had no recollection of the traumatic event as a young girl. But slowly the memory started to appear in flashbacks as an adult. The flashbacks originally made no sense to me but in dealing with issues in therapy, the foggy memory started to become somewhat clear.
The truth is I never wanted to believe that the event had actually occurred. The parts of the memory were so unfocused and surreal that I always had doubts. I thought I had made it up. AND that was even worse. Because how twisted would someone have to be to make something up like that? The shame was pervasive. And I was afraid to admit my fear that I fabricated the event to anyone, so I entombed myself as a protection. This might be confusing, but think about something really awful about someone you are supposed to love and feel the anguish it causes.
So what was stuck was a half completed memory of a heinous trauma that no young girl should ever have to deal with. Unfortunately, this type of thing is very common as I have discovered. The details to you, dear reader, are not important. But to me, there were everything and I did not have them. They were confined, safely locked away as a form of protection. But the container leaked and unconnected pieces would appear as separate keys throughout my life. But I did not know the location of the lock. I did not even realize what the memories and clues were until I was much older and had collected a disconnect circle of jangling keys. They made a lot of noise in my head.
It would seem the word trapped was focused on the event. And first glance, I would have agreed. But the truth is it was about the prison I had put myself in by not accepting the truth of the event. I am not blaming myself, or calling myself a coward for not facing it head on. It was not there for me to face.
But the body is an amazing story teller. Mine had quite a story to tell me and I was not listening. Much like a child who is angry, my body physically was rebelling with chronic pain and ailments. The list was long and I had chalked it up to getting older. I knew in my heart it was much more. I cannot tell you why now I decided it was time. I think that it was not my decision, but I was placed on this path. Whether I followed it or not was still my choice. The thing that changed was I am listening.
This week, I decided to face to “T” words by writing about “trapped”. I sat at my computer and wrote out my thoughts on the subject and they were forced and unfocused. I got frustrated and angrier and the week was horrid. I defused and thwarted the reality by writing excuses and analogies, but not the reality. My guide offered words of understanding and it was his compassion that allowed me to release. I allowed the sensation of what happened to be felt. Once I bravely unlocked the vault, the trickle turned into a flood of emotions and pain. I was there again. The memory was complete.
Breathe. Now to the resolve. As I wrote that I thought: if I was reading this and I was currently a victim in the place where I was before, my head would be filled with “I am not doing that.” What can I say to convince you that this is a good thing that happened? Once I felt the anguish, and believe me there was tons of that, and I dealt with the reality of feeling the physical components of the memory in the present moment, the sense of relief and release washed over me. That was the gift: the release.
What was missing was the physical part of the memory. I could not remember what my body felt when it happened. I would not have been able to complete this void until now. Because of the Associative Awareness Techniques therapy that I am in, I am learning to feel actual tactile feelings. I had shut myself off to touch because I was so overtly sensitive to it. I am learning to feel, to touch and to be touched. Sounds simple, but there was another “T” word invovled: Trust. Because I was finally becoming aware, I was able to feel all of the memory and make it complete. Before, the memory had no real tactile sensations to it. It was like a movie. It was one dimension. I could dismiss it because it was not felt. But before AAT, my body felt nothing in the present moment, how could it feel something from my past? I had taught it not to feel, because the pain was so great. But the feeling of release is so much better. Think of it as taking off a heavy coat that offers no warmth only weight. Right now, the sense of relief from not carrying it is what I feel. I would be deluding you to say that I am not raw from the exposure. But I know by taking off the protection, I will be able to feel the world, good and bad, and not be numb to everything. I chose that option now.
My future holds great promise of being released from the self created trap. I have much more work to do. I have more “T” words to work on: “Truth and Trust”. The work has begun because I trust my truth, even though it is not a pleasant truth right now. I have many more lessons in trust because the truth is, I do not do trust easily. Most victims do not. But I am willing to learn.