flatlined

I’ve told most of my story in repeated formats, even disclosing parts of that journey that hadn’t been shared before, earlier this summer. But there is yet another piece of the puzzle that I feel compelled to speak truth to today.

Through the last 25 years of my life, where in trauma after trauma has been laid at my doorstep, and I have worked overtime to ensure healing on my children’s part, and while I have spent HOURS in all forms of therapy and counseling, I have never been on any kind of psychiatric medicine as a regular RX. I have taken, literally, 6 pills of various psych drugs over the last two decades. 6 individual pills. Period. And I have been damn proud of that. That accomplishment had been my shining moment in my mind.

But for someone who valiantly defended and advocated for mental health for everyone else, that wasn’t a rational mindset. At all. It wasn’t logical or progressive in nature.

But I fought for that pedestal with everything in me. Why? Because I lived with someone for 12 years, and have had to continue to deal with him for 17 years more, who made me feel crazy every chance he got. When I divorced him, he claimed that I was the mentally unstable one, that I’d had a nervous breakdown, I was the drug addict, I was the unfit parent. He worked so tirelessly to destroy me in this area, that he was held in contempt of court FIVE different times for character assassinating me. FIVE different times.

And so I was gonna be damned if I was going to give him any ammunition to prove his point in any possible way, because if I had to be on any meds, he had told me he would use everything he could find against me to say I was unstable and unhealthy, and project his issues on to me. So instead I mustered all of my own mental clarity, emotional energy, and spiritual effigy, put myself through two “therapeutic” degrees, and held my shit together for all these years.

Until this summer when everything else about my health was falling apart. And I flatlined. Or rather I realized that I had been flatlined for years.

I had been a very purposeful parent. A very focused educator. A very over-achieving doctoral student. But an unusually uninspired, overly introverted, no libidoed, unpassionate, sad person. A person who had once wanted to change the world and was thrilled with simply living, I simply wanted to sleep and watch Netflix.

Then one day recently my old soul 17-year-old son approached me one day, after going to HIS psychiatrist for a check-up, saying, “mom, you won’t be weak or crazy for going to a psychiatrist. You’ve been strong for us for so long. You got us the help we needed, now you need to love yourself too. You deserve to love and enjoy your life, not just survive through it.”

So I went to a psychiatrist today. We talked for almost two hours. When I thought she would tell me I was dramatic or prone to being emotionless, or needed to just get over my past, and reduce current stress, you know what she did? She gave me an official medical diagnosis of PTSD, something that was so deeply validating and vindicating that I cried. I had been diagnosed with that by different therapists repeatedly, but never by a medical doctor on my official record.

And she gave me two different medicines that are supposed to help supplement my nonexistent serotonin production, and help me to calm my hyper-vigilant mind enough to sleep at night. She said that the medical world tends to misdiagnose the effects of PTSD in multifaceted, overlapping ways, often missing the key dysfunction trigger, the trauma; and that it takes time to heal many aspects of the PTSD brain because in order to prescribe enough dosage to truly heal the most dramatically injured areas, a person would have to become a medicated zombie.

I went into this appointment today expecting to be made to feel like I really WAS crazy, and I was trying to be ok with that. But instead, I walked out with the knowledge that what I believed to be true for everybody else, was true for me too. The ways I was violated and betrayed, and the ways I didn’t let them break and destroy me, are a testimony to how sane I really am, and that the ways I was injured CAN be helped to be healed through medicine, because my mind and emotions are showing a healthy response to pain, not in spite of their response because I just feel high maintenance.

What My Body Said to Me, On Trauma and Healing

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I will protect you, it said,

I will keep you warm,

I will brace for the impact of the enemies’ scorn.

I will block the poisons,

I will steady your gait,

I will absorb the toxins that overload your weight.

I will be your blanket,

I will be your warmth,

I will be the shelter for your storms.

I will carry your load,

I will ease your burden.

I will be your ceaseless soul warden.

 

Your feet will be firm,

Your walk will be steady,

Your body will not sway, no matter how heavy.

Your skin soft to touch,

Your hair full and smooth,

Your lips like honey, your eyes the bluest hue.

Your voice sweet with sunshine,

Your embrace eroding strife.

Your curves and your arcs filled with the essence of life.

 

Until one day you whispered no more.

Until the day you had to even the score.

Until the day the shell was cracked.

Until the day the heart was broke.

Until the day the gut became woke.

Until the day this frame caved in.

Until the day the your weary being rattled like tin.

 

I am here, you said.

I can give no more.

I have been strong too long.

Now my tune is an empty song.

I am broken, you said.

I am bleeding, instead.

The whole has fractured into pieces,

And the once flowing life now freezes.

 

I gave you my all, you said, now it’s my turn to grieve.

It’s my turn to cry.

It’s my turn to reject the tormenters sigh.

I am in shards, I am in limbo.

I am splintered and sharp,

I am interrupted and disrupted, intermittently sparked.

My chemistry’s shot, my defenses are blown,

My skin is dry and tacky, my lips smack of stone.

My curves and my arches are now bumbles of blah.

My eyes, once transparent, are emptily flawed.

My hair, once shiny, and vibrantly borne,

Now hangs limp and torn, razor-ended and shorn.

 

We need rest, it whispered.

We need to be renewed.

We need new life once again to flow freely through.

We need joy, it murmured.

We need to laugh more than cry.

We need to absorb the fragrance of a satisfied sigh.

We need to divest of the dead, the swollen, the mold.

We need to breathe in the spirit of the sun, made bold.

We need our curves and arches to achingly yearn,

For the shared embrace that warmly takes turns.

 

It is our time to heal, you longingly said.

For the you without me, cannot be, because your being resides in the home entitled me.

Body and soul cannot abide wholly without the other.

We’ve been through hell and highwater hand-in-hand, together.

Now it’s time to batten down the hatches,

Use our warrior energy to heal the scratches.

We are done fighting enemies that attack us from without,

We now need to battle the enemies who lurk about.

We’ve survived numerous calamities and frontal assaults,

Now we need to attack the foes that grate like asphalt.

Our roads are clogged, our channels filled,

Our springs of life are achingly stilled.

Our weapons are depleted, our ammunition zapped,

Our heart overworked, and our gut is attacked.

 

So, breathe, and rest, and let your worries flow,

Sit, and stare, and let yourself be slow.

 

Our journey isn’t over, our next steps have just begun.

But we can no longer be divided, body and soul, all or none.

 

For first we must just be,

for before we can be one,

we have to become fully and completely, and utterly, undone.

apologize

 

Glenn, My Veteran Hero

I had a neighbor for several years. We became good friends because he felt that I, as a single parent, in a less than perfect neighborhood, was a vulnerable and an often sitting target.

As we got to know each other, I noticed the limp in his walk, endless hours on the phone he would spend, pacing back and forth. And I would hear is seemingly agonizing nightmares he would live through at night, even when all windows and doors were tightly fastened. He was a mystery to me.

Until one day, needing to borrow a tool that he had, I walked in on him crying, and looking through a box of memorabilia. It was then that he told me his story. He showed me his double Purple Heart medals from Vietnam. He showed me pictures of the day he enlisted. He showed me newspaper articles celebrating his heroism.

I assumed his limp was from the heroic injuries he sustained, and applauded him for his service. I assumed the phone calls were to a long lost lover or child. I assumed his nightmares were due to his poor health habits.

But it was then that his face grew dark, and the demons flitted across his countenance like the nightmares I heard him relive at night. His body froze in a twisted position of terror. He then started convulsively sobbing, reliving his victimization, as a first year enlistee, of being raped and sodomized by his commanding officer, leading to destruction in his body that would never heal properly. His hours on the phone were with the VA. For years he had drank his agony away, and only then had the VA doctors and counselors finally begun to address my neighbors experiences. His nightmares harkened him back to that night when not only were his innocence and idealism ripped from him, but every semblance of trust in authority, trust in himself, and trust in his ability to ever be lovable or love again. I sat and just absorbed who he was, what he was saying, what he was saying when he didn’t speak at all, and I walked away from his house that day, forever changed.

I then became his defacto advocate, driving him to the VA, talking to necessary parties on the phone for hours, all while seeing this gentle hulk of a man who often shadowed into a fetal position, a shell of who he once was, slowly start to stand straight, a semblance of a smile flitting across his face, a strain of laughter filling the air.

As the years of opioid addiction racked his body a second time, due to the constant pain he experienced, the VA decided to use medical cannibis to treat him; so I was asked to be his medical marijuana caregiver. I took him to his doctors appointments as he was on full disability and couldn’t drive. He started bbqing and would often feed us, and we gardened in our shared plot together, what was once very clearly a delineated line between my thriving garden, and his weeds, became a single lush space.

Once he shared his story with me, and I believed in him, this whole other side of his personality emerged. It was like I was seeing him whole, unbroken, like the young boy he once had been. He would keep the neighborhood nasties away, and I would make sure he took all of his meds, ate on a regular basis, and would sit silently with him and just “be” when he needed to talk.

Then one night, after a couple of harrowing weeks of conflict with a friend of his, who had betrayed him in a business deal, I woke up to lights and sirens and commotion outside. Sheer mayhem. Found out the next day that my neighbor had 51-50’d himself, the grief of losing that friendship being the straw that broke this camels back.

So remember, we don’t celebrate today simply for those who never came home, for those for whom we know why the flag is lowered to half-mast. But we remember those who DID come home, but will never be the same. And we need to remember those whose lives are a daily struggle, often lived at a half-mast capacity, because they did the most heroic thing of all; they lived to tell their story, and owning it has almost destroyed them.

Glenn, I don’t know how you’re doing, or where you are anymore; but if I could see you, I would tell you thank you for your sacrifice, thank you for protecting my kids and I when we couldn’t protect ourselves, thank you for allowing me to bear witness to your story, to hold space with you, to help carry your grief, and know that your brokenness and survivor stance kept me from going off the deep edge in addressing and owning my and my children’s own story of trauma and violation. Your struggle was not in vain, and even while you struggled to maintain a sane and living relationship with reality, you played a pivotal role in me staying rooted and grounded in mine. I will never forget you.

#ptsd #veteran #woundedwarrior #sexualassault #memorialday #owningyourstory

My Son’s Tattoo

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I almost didn’t get pregnant with him. Abuse and drama grew to an all-time high.I had almost left my ex.  We had gone to marital counseling at our church, where my ex had finally acknowledged that he had a problem that he needed to fix.  We decided to give our marriage, and family, one more try. We went away for the weekend to “save” our marriage. And yowzers….. I was pregnant.

The “saving” died a quick death. With a cocaine addiction of his  that began spiraling out of control, so further did our lives. During this pregnancy, I was pushed down a flight of stairs ( 7 months pregnant), and held at knife-point, arched back over our washing machine ( 8 months pregnant).

I was under so much stress during these months,  that our son was born a month early. His eyebrows were nonexistent. His eyes were still sealed shut. His tongue hadn’t detached from the bottom of his mouth yet. He was born with bronchiolitis, a condition that has major ramifications to this day, manifesting in serious sinus allergies and asthma. He was also born with a skin condition covering much of his tiny body, a mix between eczema and hives.

Even though he had been scheduled for a routine c-section, he ended up being delivered emergency c-section, without initial medicine because it was too late in the process to give me the regular labor medicine.

I had to literally pump my milk through a special attachment, and then feed him through a preemie tube, in order to breastfeed. I did this even after I returned to work at eight weeks, pumping every recess and lunch break, for the final months of school. At home feeding him took twice as long. Pump, then tube feed. Pump, then tube feed. Pump, then tube feed.

And yet, through all of that, he was my relational child. I remember the first time he laughed; the sound filled the room with joy. He enthusiastically participated in life. He gave love. He gave compassion. He gave fun, all from the moment he was able to communicate. He was full of hilarious antics and humor. His very personality screamed,” Love me! I love you!” He wanted to be held and he wanted to touch. He wanted to play and be played with. He was always on the move, rarely still, unless he was asleep.

He was also the child to see his father punch his mother in the nose.

He was the child to see his father push his mother into a bookcase, shaking loose the books.

He was the child to see his father spit in his mother’s face, block the door from her escape, and throw a glass cup at her head.

He was the one that could never live up to his father’s opinion of what it meant to be “a man”, even as a young child. He was called “sissy”, “mama’s boy”, “weak”, and every other form of derogatory  term a father could call his son.

It was this child of mine that didn’t want to be a boy, or black, when he was 4, because to him , male and dark were people who were mean, and scary, and hurtful.

It was around this time that he wrote this note to me, seen here on this tattoo. He was always writing notes, drawing pictures, leaving little gifts, reminders of his full-hearted love for me…..

It was this child, at 8, who told me that he had an anger management problem because of how mad he was at his father, and that I had better get him into counseling. Which I did.

It was this child that, unbeknownst to either of us, would establish at bond together, that would define how we each interacted with the other sex, for all future references.

It was this child that told off his father repeatedly in later years, telling him that he would never forget how he saw him treat his mom;  and, while he could forgive his father, he could never forget his actions. He would honor him, but never trust him.

He was also the great encourager, with a hero mentality far deeper and intense, than belied the youth in his years.

We would often go on walks together, and he loved to blow dandelion seedlings with me. His favorite colors were bright and strong and vivide, full of life like him, orange, red, and yellow; hence, the colors in the tattoo.

He is also my child that was diagnosed with depression, and who yet carries himself with pride, shoulders back, bringing awareness to the fact that boys can suffer from anxiety just as much as girls can.

He is my child who, now at 15, stands taller than me, his voice deepened, who calls me to always first pray when I’m upset about something; telling me that I taught him how, and I better walk it myself if I talk it.

His depth is far more complex than  his age.

He is an old soul in a young body.

He is a self-proclaimed feminist, who, having been raised by a mom and sister, fiercely guards the privilege of women to be seen as equals to men.

He’s the one who thinks I should take care of myself first,  before I can take care of anybody else, and reminds me of this when I forget.

He is my yin to his yang. And, like I always used to tuck him in at night, saying the same little phrase tattooed here…..the day he wrote it to me, this mommy heart was healed in places that I hadn’t even realized were ripped open .

The bond between a mother and a son is often a precious gift; mine has been a priceless lifeline of light in a journey darkened by shadows.

I love him, deeply, heart and soul.

 

 

Breath, Interrupted

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I went to a pilates consultation last week.  It was awesome. I loved it. And I joined.I start tomorrow.

For those of you who’ve done pilates, the key to building strength, evidently, is by how you breathe. In fact, you breathe counterintuitively to how you THINK you should breathe, because this is what activates your core, and what builds strength.

While the instructor was consulting me, she had to keep on telling me NOT to hold my breath, to breathe….. period….. let alone “counterintuitively”.

Then I started yawning, which I do frequently, tired or not. I had to explain to her that I wasn’t bored of her, or what she was teaching me. In fact, I  was fascinated.

But this is the thing….

In the last two years I’ve realized something about myself that I’ve with struggled for years.

I forget to breathe.

I forget to breathe, and then I hold my breath far too long. Then when I’ve maxed out my oxygen intake, I yawn to recoup my losses. And yawn. And yawn. And yawn. And pause. And yawn again.

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I’ve realized that my jaw clenches shut as well. Which makes it even harder to yawn.. .And even harder to breathe deeply.

When I realized this about myself, I felt shame. Who flippin’ forgets to breathe, for God’s sake? THE most fundamental activity about being alive, subconscious at that, and I screw it up. I work AGAINST nature, not with it. What’s wrong with me?

So, in the last couple of years, in spite of the intense stress I’ve been under, I’ve really tried to practice intentional breathing, meditative breathing, just……..breathing period……..I’ve tried to still myself and just “be” (which is a whole other blog post).

be still

Two months ago I started a doctoral program, and I’ve started reading more and more about trauma, and it’s affects on our bodies and minds. And as I’ve recently read up on trauma-informed yoga care, I’ve become more aware of the discord I have between my body and mind, based on the PTSD I have.

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You can’t change what you don’t know, right? So this doctoral program was chosen as much for what I want to accomplish professionally, as for what I need to accomplish personally.

….then today happened…..I had a breakthrough. I was reading one of my school  books, and I came to a section on “awareness of breath”, and the recognition that many clients the authors have had experience with,  unconsciously hold their breath, and have constant muscular tension, and yet are unaware OF that tension or discomort.This creates a lack of synchrony between one’s body physiology and felt emotions. This holding of the breath is a side effect of the aspect of trauma, “fight, flight, or freeze” where one freezes.

And then my heart raced fastesr, tears welled up in my eyes, and my breath literally got caught in my throat. I held my breath ( shocker).

Memories flooded back to my conscious mind, having been deeply buried in my psyche for over a decade, of the years during my first marriage where I had to “freeze” to keep myself phsyically safe. When I would literally hold my breath, not just as a response to “freezing”, but because I literally had to hold my breath to keep myself as far away from danger as possible.

See, if I breathed the “wrong” way, I was up to something, and had “suspicious” behavior, worthy of a fight.

If I exhaled the wrong way while I was sleeping, he would wake me up, and interrogate me about “who” I had been dreaming about.

If I breathed too rapidly, I was lying and covering something up.

If I yawned, I was being disrespectful to him.

If I was calm with my breaths, I wasn’t attending to his needs, and being a good wife.

No matter HOW I breathed, I made a mistake. The very thing that keeps us alive, I was not allowed to do freely. So I shut down. The less I breathed, the less I had to worry about. But, unbeknownst to me,  the less I breathed naturally, the more my body suffered, and the more my breaths died.

And, 14 years after I left him, today, the pieces of the puzzle finally came together. Now my forced, and blocked breathing, even my yawning at weird times, makes sense. It actually means that I’m coming back alive.

And, it means, that at 43, years old, I’m learning how to breathe again.