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

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.

The Woman and the Wolf…on Interpreting Dreams…..

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I rarely dream. And when I do, I rarely remember them. And when I remember them, they are nightmares of the past, often repressed memories that seep their way into my sleep-tossed thoughts. These dreams seem to dangle their legs on both side of the consciousness fence…just enough trigger me awake in a fervent night sweat, but elusive enough for me to not be able to own and disarm them. It is a rare and significant event when I dream, and I remember it’s contents when I awake, and it isn’t some mocking joke of the pain of my past, but instead a mysterious puzzle that I WANT to piece together.

This was the type of dream I had last night; and I have mulled over it’s contents since I awoke, wondering what message it’s sending me.

Ask me twenty years ago if I believed then that dreams meant anything other than an oddly fragmented amalgamation of the sum of all of our various parts and passions, pleas and plotlines, pieced together in some helter skelter chaos, and I would have kindly, but firmly disavowed any other perspective. But now, I’ve lived too much of life, seen the evidence too often of thin spaces where spiritual and physical meet, where supernatural and gravity dance, where what isn’t said or even coherently thought into existence plays just as much a part of ordering our daily steps as what we view with the naked eye.

So this is what I dreamt.

I was above a bustling, busy, belligerent, boisterous populated scenario. It wasn’t a geographical place, it was just filled with people, lots of them. Shades of gray and grime and grit were what painted the neverending seemingly dark night of a collective soul, almost languishing in a rave like unified movement.

But I was above it all, in a gondola of sorts, flying over the rushing commute hour frenzy below. And while there were a few people there with me in the gondola cab, it was like we were existing side by side, but weren’t cognizant that each other was even there.

Except there was a police officer with us. And he and I were interacting in such a way that we shared a somewhat intimate, beautiful embrace…just a hug… but it was genuine warmth at its’ most beautiful.

But then it wasn’t.

I pulled away, my guard going back up . Nothing he said or did led me to react in such a way, it was simply my lack of believing he was genuine.

And then I saw a pair of earrings, shining in the otherwise darkened gondola space, hanging from a sellers arm. They caught my eye, and with their encompassing shine, my whole being felt refuge, safety from everything going on below, and from the few people in the gondola, including my cop. But what drew me in and imprinted itself on my mind, searing a space in my heart until this very moment, was the design on  saw on the earrings.

In an etched silver metal design, there were mountains. And below the mountains was a gray wolf. And below the gray wolf, or rather wrapped in his furry embrace, was me, securely lodged in a place of warmth and light. I felt confident. I felt safe. I felt free. Oddly.

And I woke up, for once, with a steady heartbeat. And steady hands. And dry sheets, cool to the touch.

It was a dream, rather than a nightmare. A mosaic of hope, rather than a ritual reminder of terror and pain. And I smiled. And it was good.

And then I looked up what a wolf in your dream DOES represent:

To see a wolf in your dream symbolizes survival, beauty, solitude, mystery, self-confidence and pride. You are able to keep your composure in a variety of social circumstances and blend into any situation with ease and grace. You are also a loner by choice. To see a white wolf in your dream signifies valor and victory. You have the ability to see the light even in your darkest hours.

Wolves are seen as majestic, beautiful and as a source of sacred wisdom,” she explains. In general, though, Richmond says dreaming about wolves entails facing a fear. She suggests asking yourself what you are frightened of and how you can control the situation. “Certainly the North American Indian cultures and tribes find the wolf a very important dream symbol,” notes Richmond. “It is considered a strong warrior symbol and is associated with wisdom and healing.”

wolf3     wolf2

 

Queen Anne’s Lace Tattoo

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My daughter was six years old the day I finally gathered the courage to leave her, and her brother’s, father. That day, with the cathartic seriousness of a therapist, my daughter turned to me and said, “Mom, I’m proud of you. You’re finally growing up. You’re finally standing up for yourself, and us.”

She. was. six.

Growing up, all I ever want to be was a wife and mom. While I was a tomboy in every other way, and I had no desire to cook and clean, I DID want to be barefoot, pregnant, and save the world. Little did I know that the world that would need saving would be the one inside the four walls of my own home, and the people most in need of rescue would first be myself, and my two young children.

Because that’s the thing about being in an abusive relationship/marriage. While in hindsight you can look back and see a million red flags pointing to the oncoming storms, at the time, you simply feel the stillness in the air, and hold your breath.

And the deeply etched heartache in the abusive context isn’t just the victim of direct abuse, but it’s the children. The little’s that everyone thinks can’t hear, can’t see, can’t possibly internalize the electrically charged atmosphere; can’t possibly remember years later, if not in conscious memory, than subconscious muscle memory, the stealth terror which froze them in their beds at night, clinging to their stuffed animals; or the stealth fear during the day at not wanting to let their abused parent out of their sight for fear that they can’t protect them; or the stealth anxiety that eats away at their childhood, clawing away the simple joys of the newness of the world, and instead replacing it with the simple and singular focus of realizing that their world isn’t safe, and how do they defend themselves, and those they love, against it?

Which pops the bubble of yet another childhood idealism for children of domestic violence relationships, that of a child being able to trust that the adults closest to them will first and foremost protect them.

That’s where this tattoo comes into play. When I left my abusive marriage, and my daughter spoke the words that have haunted me to this day, I was NOT the person I was supposed to be. And yes, I can justify and explain, and even use solid research to back up why I was an absolute mess at that time in my life. And that matters. And it’s a million conversations for another day.

But today, it’s about her. My then six year old who lived in constant fear and constant anxiety. My six year old who chose to step in the middle of me and her father, because she wanted to protect me from his blows. My six year old who hated all dark colors because they were a sign of weakness to her. Why? Because I only wore dark colors at that time in our lives, and until the day I left her father, she saw me as weak. My six year old was my emotional strength, and what kept me sane, in those early years when I felt like my world was crashing, and spinning, and destructing, before my very eyes; but she carried a burden that was not hers to carry.

And another aspect of being a child of an abusive marriage is that they struggle to know who to “align” themselves with. While they want to protect the parent that is being  hurt, the survival mechanism kicks in as well. So their young and innocent mind decides that they better draw close to the abuser, as scary as that can be, because it’s probably safer than being closer to the abused; heck, the abused can’t even defend themselves, how will they be able to protect them? Their world of clarity and truth is obscured by the dense clouds of confusion, and fraught with the discordant rhythms of a childhood that has been stolen from them.

Then, besides having to heal from all the other trauma that we lived through, once the three of us escaped the situation, another challenge confronted us. I had to earn back the right to be respected, and the right to be the authority, and the right to be the creator of a safe and trusted place…… so that slowly my daughter could learn to be carefree in who she was….. a now 7-year-old. I had no voice, no commanding motherly presence ( still working on the commanding part), and I offered very little hope. And while my love for my children was large, and wide, and deep, and overpowering, it wasn’t expressed in the language where they could sense or feel it. So I had to heal myself,  heal my daughter, heal my relationship with her, and heal our home, all under continuing adverse circumstances. Our home was no longer a war zone, but many other places were still. And I had to learn how to fight for her in those areas too.

Which means that we kinda raised each other. Which means that there have been many days when we have been more like sisters than a mother and daughter. Which means that I have worked overtime to ensure that my daughter trusts my authority, feels safe with the boundaries I’ve drawn, and is secure enough to fall apart herself, knowing that I will be there to pick up the pieces.

We were discussing tattoo ideas a couple of years ago. She turns to me and says, “mom, I think you should get a Queen Anne’s lace tattoo.” I look up at her and ask her why.
“Mom,  the meaning behind a Queen Anne’s Lace is ‘haven, sanctuary, place of safety and rest’. You have been, and are that, for my brother and I. You need to have your next tattoo be that as it tells the next part of your story,  our story. We feel safer with you than anywhere else or with anyone else, now; and you don’t understand just how important that is. My brother and I would be involved in so much s*** if it wasn’t for you and your example. ”

And once again, like the raw emotion I felt the day she was six, I look at her, stunned,  in wonder and amazement.

All those sleepless nights, all those deep conversations, all those occasional yelling matches and slamming of doors, all those days when it took all the energy I had to physically cradle her through her rages, all those times I did not back down when she challenged me, the time I believed her when she disclosed the unthinkable abuses that had been done to her……all of the underpinnings of parenting that were magnified a zillion times in our case. All… of….. it….. mattered…. All of it made a difference. All of it created a world of order from chaos, hope from despair, and peace from what started as a war zone.

There are a lot of things I’ve failed at in my life. But being a mom evidently isn’t one of them. So while others toast to celebrate, I get inked.  Cheers!

 

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.

 

 

 

Matching “Break The Silence” tattoos

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She and I have been like “Thelma and Louise” since the day I knew about her. I remember the exact day I got pregnant, it was a warm summer evening, a rare moment of peace….. Extended family arrived later the next afternoon. And with that, an onslaught of violence delivered “on the down low” in our bedroom, as was the usual case whenever family from either side was around. Only he wasn’t quiet enough that time….. afterwards, his family asked me if I was ok……. I couldn’t say “no, I wasn’t,” because that would leave me open to “asked for” retribution later that night. So I said I was fine, we all nervously laughed, and my habit of living a double life took on a new passenger.

I had always wanted to be pregnant. I couldn’t wait until the time came. But I quickly found out that, for ME, my growing bump meant yet another liability to try and protect, and detract attention from. With every, “you’re adorable”, or “how cute is that bump”, I would be splayed into the limelight, a limelight that only spotlighted yet another hurl of cutting remarks and accusations, never knowing why my pregnancy only drove his jealously and insecurities deeper into the abyss of illogic.

She arrived on a full moon night, three days after her due date. Later, she would tell me she was only being considerate, that she had been due on my 25th birthday, but wanted me to celebrate my quarter century for myself.

The L&D department was packed that night. The doctors were running around frantic.The wolves might as well have been howling in their packs, outside the waiting room door.

I was in hard labor for 18 hours. After the first doctor told me repeatedly that I “just wasn’t pushing hard enough”, a new doctor came on shift, took one look at “us”, and frantically rushed me into the OR, saying that her head was stuck in the birth canal, and that we were both about to have life-threatening issues and/or injuries.

Through an emergency c-section, she was delivered safe and sound. Everyone went home. An hour later, I was rushed into the OR again. My uterus had collapsed, and I was hemmorhaging. When all was said and done, I had to have an emergency DNC, and I was placed in ICU for a week. I had lost almost 5 pints of blood, necessitating numerous blood transfusions in hopes of saving my life….

Her father came to me the next day, threatening to take her out of the hospital away from me. I must have done something wrong, he argued,  in order to have all the trauma happen to me at birth. Oh wait, he said, he decided he knew what the trauma was. She wasn’t his child, but his brothers’. Repeatedly over our twelve years of marriage, he had pretty much accused me of having an affair with almost every person our age in our lives, including his sister, and a friend I taught with. If I had even LOOKED at someone a second too long for his liking, I was accused of being a whore. In fact, he compared himself to the Hosea of the Bible, and me as the one he “saved”.

But for this particular moment, it was one of his brothers. He was so mean, accusatory, and verbally abusive,  that the L& D nurse told him he needed to leave, that my machines were beeping abnormally, because my heartrate was skyrocketing, due to our argument.

It was there, in that moment, utterly physically and psychologically broken, that my heart broke fully in two. I had been hurt and angered and shamed at his abuse before. But this time, after just giving birth to our daughter, I was fractured in a way that would literally take almost two decades to heal from. And it was in that moment that I created a bond with her that was what propelled me six years later to be able to leave him, to protect her and her brother. Because at that point? I didn’t matter for me. I was nothing. All of my life, for MY life sake, left me that night in the hospital, the day after she was born.

But for my child, and, eventually children? With a more urgent burden than I ever imagined parenting to be, because literally our life and death lay in the balance, I decided that being a good and Godly mom would be THE driving force in my life.

So, 16 years later, when she wanted to get matching tattoos, representing all that we had had to fight through in our lives, just to get to where we were that day, how could I ever say no?

“Break the Silence” is an organization that was started to bring awareness to domestic violence, and how, unlike any other crime except for sexual assault, it’s the silent crime. No one talks about it. What happens behind closed doors stays behind closed doors. It’s family business. It’s protected by shame and denial and terror. It wreaks havoc and chaos on the one place that you’re supposed to feel safe, your home.

And she and I, we raised each other. She protected me, even getting hit once by her father when she was trying to intervene in a fight between he and I, when I couldn’t protect myself. She was my logic and backbone when I was silenced by fear. She was the fighter when I had no fight.

She was born stoic. I remember watching her as a baby. She would take in everything around her. No nonsense. No fussing. Missing nothing. Her eyes could pierce you with a simple stare. She sucked on her binky with an intensity that belied her calm exterior.

The few times she did let down her guard, and showed vulnerability of any kind, I held her dear to my heart like one would hold a fragile glass doll; the moments were rare indeed.  Little did I know just how important that strength and stoicism would be for her a few years later.

And when we did escape, and start to heal, I had to work hard, very hard, to earn her respect, and my rightful place has her authority figure and mom. We have often been more like sisters than mother and daughter.

But I know that now she can look at me, and model herself after me. If I’ve done nothing else right with my life, I have grown into a healthy, strong, woman, who fights for what she believes in, who protects her children, who speaks for them when they can’t defend themselves, and who holds them when they themselves have been broken in two.

This shared tattoo is about so much more than ink, and wrists, and letters. It repesents a bond between she and I that has been forged by the same molten iron, shaped by the same, unforgiving mallet, and cooled with the grace of the same God that has turned those ashes into phoenixes of beauty.

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And people wonder why I don’t get out as much as I could, or live my “own” life more, why I insist on being there for my kids so much. I remember when it was threatened to me  every day that they would be taken away from me. I remember what it was like for our house to be a war zone instead of a home. I remember what it was like when I had to literally fight for them, with every breath in me, some forty-five times in court.

So to say that I take parenting as my number one joy and priority, and that I’m even fanatical about it,  is to define me exactly as who I am. I will never be a hovering parent, but a warrior parent? Everyday.

Before you can break the silence, you have to have found your voice.

 

Grief-Rendered Speechless

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Struggling this morning. Grieved that 5 cops are dead, and several others wounded. Two wrongs never make a right. And unfortunately, revenge and retaliation only serve to take the focus off of the insidious and deeply entrenched grievous acts ( repeated acts, not just a single incident) that led to the most current travesty.

We, as white people, just like all people should, be equally maddened by the cops who lost their lives. As well as support the amazing cops, who do amazing work, every day.

But we CANNOT forget, or cease to wrong the injustices that are set forth every day in this country, towards black males in particular, black lives in general. The cop killings do NOT wipe away or justify police brutality.

When we’ve had one white guy after another shoot up schools or buildings, we NEVER say that violence against all white guys is condoned, or shake our heads in self-righteous indignation. Instead we spend HOURS analyzing and critiquing what set him off in the first place.

We KNOW what set the Dallas cop killer off. Lord KNOWS that he had enough reason to be angry and upset.

So rather than pointing the finger at him as the reason why cops have to be brutal, let’s all of us work hard to change the reality that sparked his righteous outage in the first place.

 

We have an epidemic of brutality against blacks in this country, by police. It’s real. It’s ongoing. And it’s terrifying. I know. I have a son who is faced with this fear every single day. “Black Lives Matter” is a mantra, a way of peacefully demonstrating, about something that is very distrurbing to the peace. If you don’t live it, it’s very easy to isolate yourself from it’s realities. Unfortunately, I don’t have the same luxury that many white people do. And thank God. Because if all white people truly followed God’s mandate to demand justice, and defend the oppressed, comprehensively and structurally in our country, there wouldn’t be a need FOR a “Black Lives Matter” movement.