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

 

Ocean Wave Tattoo

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The first time I remember being at the ocean, I couldn’t have been more than four or five years old. My family was at family camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and we were at the ocean for the “Beach Day”. Today that meaning carries with it the image and expectations of the rides and hype of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, elaborate sandcastle contests, and competitive volleyball tournaments. But in the mid-70’s, “beach day” was simply the day you spent time at the water’s edge, digging in the sand, looking for hermit crabs, and eagerly running away from the oncoming waves’ froth.

My family never spent time at the beach other than this one designated day each year. So I hadn’t had a lot of experience with sand, or waves, or the stinging sea salt spray that the air seemed to be heavy with. Nor had anybody ever told me that waves could be unpredictable, unexpected, and unforgiving.

I, in my eagerness and zest for life, full of an extrovertism that would quickly vanish in ensuing years, I stood at the water’s edge, bucket and shovel in hand, turning to wave at my mom and dad who, not being beach people themselves, were grudgingly “taking one for the team” and hanging out at the sea for a day.

It was when I had just stopped waving, and started to bend down to dig up the sand to fill my pail with hard, wet globs to carry back to our dry sandy spot, that it hit. I didn’t hear the roar, amazingly, maybe because I didn’t even know what to listen for. I didn’t feel the ground pulse underneath me, probably because I was full of the pulse of my own heart beating happily with life, and I didn’t see the receding water in expectation for a gathering wave.

I only remember being knocked off balance, and pulled out to sea by the power and relentless pulse of the wave that fully engulfed me in it’s angry embrace, seemingly mocking me for standing in its way.

I remember everything going dark, being strangled by the water’s curling and curdling grip, and struggling to gather my tiny frame. I willed myself back to shore with every ounce of energy I could muster, frantically fistfighting the heavy and heaving riples, stopping only to cry when I was safe on the dry sand. It was then that I looked back at the now  darkly mysterious and fully alive sea, finally fully grasping what had really happened to me, realizing that the enemy had almost won; I had nearly been defeated.

And then I don’t remember the ocean again really, for another 15 years. Until I was on my honeymoon with my first husband, in the Bahamas. I was already on edge and not myself due to issues written about in other posts. And I vaguely remember there being a tipped sign, barely legible, warning of dangerous riptides. And, much like the rest of my experience with him, this barely 48-hour-ed wife believed him when her husband said that she would be safe, to just ignore the sign.

So I walked out into the seemingly never-ending shallow waters, beginning to relax from the warmth of the tropical waters mesmerizing me with their sparkle. Only to then all of a sudden have my feet sucked out from underneath me, like a quicksand presentation running in slow motion. The tide yanked me back from behind, submerging  me to it’s depths, slamming me into the ocean floor with a power that created a sand paper effect over the entire front of my body. And for an instant, I was paralyzed, suctioned to the ocean floor in a magnetic grip.

Again, I struggled to right myself, and free myself of the gale.  I gasped for hair and choked on salty froth that had ballooned in my lungs and nose. It wasn’t until I reached shore that the sandpaper effect began to show pinpoints of blood from where the sand had been engraved into my skin. And I remember sitting on the dry, sandy shore, shaking from adrenaline, wondering if in some weird way,  the ocean was sharing a premonition with me of what this marriage was going to be like.

And then I don’t remember any ocean or beach experience for another 12 years. This time, I was alone literally, not just figuratively. But at this point, alone was the safest refuge I could find. When I finally left my first husband, under 100 pounds, hair falling out in clumps, six different kinds of hives all over my body, bruises and scars dotting my skin from the war I had been in for the last 12 years, I desperately sought solitude. And the place that kept drawing me to it was the ocean, with a yearning that filled me equally with awe and comfort, surrounding me like a blanket on a cool winter’s night.

Instead of fear or anxiety, the sea called me to it. The pounding waves anchored my broken heart. The rough, warm sand seemed to exfoliate the scar tissue both on my skin and my psyche. The pungest salt-filled air seemed to cleanse the muck and mire from my very breath. The sea was calling to me, the ocean was welcoming me home. The waves, in their angry rhythmic song, sang to me a lullaby.

And it was another 15 years later that I realized the sea had made me. It had been preparing me, from the very beginning, to know how to not only survive, but to thrive, when everyone around me was simply surprised that I was alive. When I should have been terrified of being pulled out to the breadths, or slammed into its depths, instead not only did I rise on my own, and survive the defining comb, but I actually gathered strength and found my home, from what many would flee from and simply randomly roam.

So I learned that the waves, like so much else in my life, had tried to break me, but instead they made me. And this tattoo is to remind me, when I feel discouraged and weary and sad, that my life has been defined.  And over and over in time, I have learned to see from what once made me blind;  and rather than becoming bitter, these sands have made me kind. Not the type of kind that pats your head, or speaks platitudes, forever being cliche. No, it’s the type of kind, that sees the light in the mind, and is able to identify what most see a common, as actually the sacredly sublime.

Reminiscing A Year Ago

A yearblog ago today, my divorce was final from the marriage that lasted less than a year….. a marriage that, unbeknownst to me, was being strangled from within before it ever even caught it’s first breath. Infidelity is the most incidious of thieves… and multiple robberies, veiled in silence, secrets, and sudden sedations, steals the very core of who you are. You find yourself grasping for anything that’s not a murky mirage. Nothing is as it seems. Nothings is what it looks like. Nothing is what you believed to be real.  I wrote this poem a year ago today. And while much has healed, and much has been restored, much remains broken. Grief changes you. And while you heal, the scars will always remain. On  International Women’s Day, to those women who choose to remake themselves whole when others have done all they can do to break them.

Ironic, or perhaps providential. Definitely a justified juxtaposition. Today, on International Women’s Day, my divorce is final.

And while I rejoice and I am relieved, I grieve and I am sobered. I laugh through my tears. I shake through my strength. I sigh through my exclamation. I celebrate through my silence.

I pause, breathing deeply, exhaling the toxins of the recent, inhaling the blossoms of the next. It’s the day of closure. The moment of the dream deferred. The door locked, key thrown away. The promise severed, ripped away. The skin scarred, marked forever. The body swelled in death’s final blow.

I don’t grieve the person, who turned out to be, no one that I ever truly knew. My heart instead aches at the need to once again be strong; the resolute one, the barrier between the war zones; the hope-filled one, the warrior one, the bearer of all prophetic news. My soul is tired and weary, and wanting to quit, my arms are heavy and laden, and dense from traversing through all the bull****.

So now, I pause. Be still. And wait. And retie my loosened threads. Now I slowly gather strength, like the slow rising of the bread. I will draw from all the storminess, the raging gales that roared, to be the eye, where calm rises, showing it’s wholly humble side. From my depths, my pain, my deep angst of what if’s, I muster courage, and focus, a resolve to transcend my fists’ tight grip. I rise. I reckon. I make the wrongs be resoundingly right.

I am woman. A she. A her that won’t quit. I am female. A daughter. A mother that won’t sit. So yes, on this women’s day, I understand the fight. I understand the rift. I understand the reasons why women’s backbones’ are curved and quick. I respect deep down the importance of celebrating the “weaker sex”. For those who aren’t valued and treated with an equitable view, the fight is not just corporate, with salaries in view. No, this fight is personal, with families in full review. My son will be raised, with honorable wit, always expecting worthy and equal women by his side. My daughter will know, that more than her shape, there is a reckoning power in her eyes.

One day, when my being quits, it will not be for naught. I will stand before God one day, as He welcomes me to his lot. He will say well done my faithful child, for though with iron you were wrought, you stayed the course, you didn’t defeat, you never caved in your pursuit. Your love for Me is how the world will know how deeply they are loved; that when the world order around Me screamed to sift the “lesser we”, I stood in quiet, stealth defense, to show Myself first to thee. And that against the violent norms of social orders of the day, I stood in stark contrast to honor women, and respect for them I will always portray.

So today, I am free. I am unshackled, I am torn. I am woman. I am warrior. Through my strength yet I will soar.

Arrow Tattoo

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“Neither seek nor shun the fight.”- Gaelic proverb

Archery is a unique experience. It is somewhat counter-intuitive in nature. You have to pull back in order to release, you have to clench in order to liberate, you have to gather  in order to set free. And hanging in the balance of those two acts is that moment of tension, of unknowing, of what some call liminal space. Liminal space is time between the known and the unknown. It is a transitional moment of intensity when we stand in the path of the unknown. Richard Rohr says that liminal space is  when we have left one room and not yet entered the next. It is that graced time when we are not certain, or in control, but when the greatest growth and change can occur.

I kind of see it as the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter morning.

I have lived much of my life the last 15 years in this space. God made it clear where I didn’t belong, but not always making it clear where I did. belong And what is it about human nature that we want that space to claim as ours? We want to draw our line in the sand and say, “This is mine. Back off.”

But in this liminal space, it’s not always clear how we are to proceed.  Conflict, by it’s very nature, is conflictual. When conflict arises, I don’t know about you, but I tend to freeze. Then sometimes I “flight”, sometimes I “fight”, and sometimes I “fawn”.

The Celtics have a proverb that says, ” neither seek nor shun the fight.” It has resonated with me since I first heard it. Because it, like the tension-spun arrow, reminds me that it is in that moment of unknowing that is often times exactly where we are meant to be. I have had plenty of experiences where I have to shun “the fight” in my life. And I have had plenty of experiences when I have had to “seek the fight” in my life. I am far more comfortable with shunning than seeking. But the reality is that, ultimately,  I am learning to be the most at peace in the “neither” part. Forego the teachings of the “neither”, and  often times you overarch the seeking, or passively underestimate the shunning.

Life often calls us to advance. But before we can do that we have to retreat and reinforce our defenses. Sometimes we have to just “be”, when we don’t even know what we are “being”. But God does. And I’m learning that it’s far more important to be where He wants me to be, then to be where I think I am. ……if that makes sense.

And when I need a reminder, I have this tattoo as a memorial stone, harkening me back to times when I DID just “be”, and how that it’s far better to be in the plans,and hands, of God, than my own.

 

 

 

 

 

Barren Tree Tattoo

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The first time I ever recall “remembering” the leaves falling from trees,

their  autumn colors catching the glint of the early fall sun,

was the day my grandpa died.

For some reason his death reminded me of a tree.

Not the tree that is in full spring bloom, with aromatic flower petals perfuming the newness of the Spring air.

And not the tree, fully swollen, offering much needed shade on a hot summer day.

No. It was the dying tree, it’s leaves crisp and crackly, colored blood red, fire orange, and burnt yellow, that cocooned me that day, much like the flannel shirts he would often wear, me beckoning him to stay.

And seeing that I was cold, he would envelop me in one of them, a thousand sizes larger than what I wore….. surrounding me also with a warm, musky scent, the remnants of the aftershave he bore.

The tree reminded me of the colors of my favorite flannel of his, with it’s warm hues of late Indian summer…

The shirt that I then wore to bed each night, until months later, the worn raggedness of it, finally, was less of a covering, than no covering at all.

….And maybe that remembrance of the autumn tree, at so early a young age, was actually preparing me for winter trees, and the unprepared  deaths that lay ahead.

Trees, stripped of their fall explosions, standing stark and silent against harsh winter skies…..

Trees that once gave so much life, but now seem to have been shuttered, would become to me,  the strongest of them all.

It’s with THESE trees that I have felt the most companionship with, the most closeness with, in my life.

Many times in my  years I’ve found myself on dark, shadowless paths; journeys that most closely resemble the depth of the darkest days, and the months that stand silent, like timeless winter trees, even amongst the gales that scream.

These are the months, where seemingly nothing lives, nothing whispers, life seems to have been snuffed out before the night.

The days where there is no rustle, no ragged breeze, not one voice to be found  in life’s audience.

The haunting beauty of a leafless tree, seemingly barren of all life, standing silent in the raging storm….it draws me in, and holds me tight, and whispers it’s ok.

The beauty of a stripped tree, standing still , is that what you see is what you get.

There are no games, no hidden cues, no foilage demanding to help hide.

There are no lies. No cover-ups. No place for shame-blamed bruises to collectively reside.

So the winter tree, so plainly seen, helps me to breathe in, and just be.

It reminds me that, when all else fades, the root is what we see.

And the roots are made, not in the blaze of summer’s inviting gaze.

But insteaed they’re made, dug deeply down, through the piercing  of the winter’s glaze.

And it was in that season, one winter, or ten, that the tree gently whispered to me.

He said, “My dear, you stood on your own, unassumingly.

And you,through blizzards and freezes quietly grew….

And the best kept truth about enduring such pain, about being so gutted and thrown askew,  is that deep inside the tree, quietly, new life hibernates anew….

And not today, and maybe not the next, for the winter season is  not yet past….

But one day, the thaw will come, and the air will be birthed warm and new.

And that tree that stands, so silently, with seemingly nothing to show…

will one day, under the weight of it’s limbs, burst with a beauty that is fresh and aglow.

So stand strong, oh leafless one, when you feel most rejected, you’re not.

For much like a cactus, who stands dry and taut, seemingly dead to the uninformed touch..

Deep in your trunk, buried beneath, far from the external swell,

your life harbors a refreshing, lifegiving, drought-quenching,  well.

 

Grief, Exhaled….. Tattoo

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This tattoo took me over the edge from being a person who had tattoos that were “cute”,  to a half- arm- sized tattoo on my left arm.

For a while I often wondered if it was “too” big, or “too” out there, or “too” much, quickly covering it up whenever I was around someone who maybe I  thought would judge me as having gone “too far”….

It even caught me off guard at first, startling me into thinking I had black marker on my arm from teaching…

But then…. as I’ve slowly evolved and grown as a person over this last year, this tattoo has become not only my life’s mantra, motto, but it’s the embodiment of how I’ve chosen to see life.

The impetus for me to formally verbalize my thoughts, cohesively turning them into the deeply etched phrase here, was in living through  the most recent of traumas in my life.

Without going into detail, after being a single parent for over 10 years, I remarried, only to find out that my husband of less than a year had been serial cheating on me during the entirety of my knowing him…. friendship, dating, engaged, married. To sum up one of  his mistress’s words, which he corroborated, he married me because I provided a good reputation for him, and I loved his children.

A whole different trauma. A while different betrayal. A whole different grief.

And from these ashes, these words took shape. While I created this for MY life, I choose to treat everyone who comes into my life with these life affirming beliefs as well,and pray that I can pay my pain forward, through being a vessel of transformed grace and hope.

So here is what I think….

BEAR WITNESS….Do you see injustice? Do you see abuse? Do you see oppression? Do you see evil? Don’t turn your head. Don’t shut your eyes. Don’t silence your screams. Don’t ignore the pain. Face the storm. Sound the siren. Summon the jury.

REVEAL TRUTH….The truth can’t set you free until you first unwrap it, unhide it, and uninhibit it. Truth speaks for itself. Don’t drown it out. Don’t shovel it over. Don’t bury it in and slam the door. Lay it down, and out, for all to see. Bare your naked soul. Call it for what it is. It is not YOUR burden to carry the sins of someone else. Lay blame where blame is due. And then step back, unburdened, and fret not anymore, the shadows no longer hold you captive.

HOLD SPACE…..Sometimes there is nothing to do, but sit with the grief, let the tears flow, tend to the shuddering silhouette. Grief bottled in is no mourning at all. Don’t rush. Don’t downplay. Don’t compare. Don’t rebuke. Simply……..be.   Light the candles. Rest in the refuge. Be silent in the sanctuary. Stand down.

EMBRACE PAIN……Life causes all of us pain. We either allow it to shape us, or we spend our lives fighting, as it swallows us. Before we can heal, we have to simply acknowledge it. Weakness isn’t in being betrayed, or in losing, or in being ripped apart. Weakness is in acting like it never hurt us to begin with. Let yourself feel all of the bitterness and rage. Let yourself be broken. Let yourself fall apart. Let yourself be real. It’s ok to not be ok.

CARRY GRIEF…..Never let someone tell you that you EVER heal whole again, unscarred, unblemished, unfractured, back to who you once were. You don’t. And don’t try. A part of your grief will go with you for the rest of your life. Own it. Respect it. Carry it. You are who you are because of the heartache etched on your heart. Make grief your ally so that, rather than embittering and imprisoning you, it creates a compassion for others you meet on your journey who need to know they aren’t alone. Because no one can walk this road solo. And no one is untouched by grief. And the darkness doesn’t discriminate, but it DOES fade to the corner when we light the path together.

HONOR JOY……There WILL be moments, even amidst the worst of the storms, when laughter will bubble over, the sun will beam bright, and life will kiss you with joy. Don’t downplay it. Don’t sabotage it. Don’t disgrace it. Don’t ignore it. Don’t destroy it. Don’t disown it. Honor it. No matter the cards you’ve been dealt, you’re  bound to draw an ace at some point. Hug it. Enjoy it. Grasp a hold of it. And….even if it’s just the eye of the storm, and the clouds are drawing nigh again, engrave those moments as memorial stones of what can be, what has been, and what will be again. Because the darkness and storms may rage for a night, but even the gloomiest midnight ends. And the sun comes up. And joy…..joy….. joy…. always comes in the morning.

 

 

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).

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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.