In the year 2050, I became this meme on Spacebook. Here’s why.
Age 0. I was born.
Age 7. My dad died. His heart stopped. My heart broke. My family broke.
Age 8-17. Survival mode training 101, Part 1.
Just add tequila.
Age 18-25. Survival mode training 101, Part 2.
Had husband. Had miscarriage. Had lots of tequila.
Age 25-41. Got rid of tequila. Got new husband.
I got a starter survival toolbox. Some items included: 1-family of choice, 1-Blue Book, 1-Higher Power.
Read some tools, practiced some tools, lost some tools, misused some tools, lacked some tools.
Age 42-55. Put main toolbox in the garage. Got some tools out on occasion. Usually between kid’s events, bouts with cancer, mother’s funeral and Modern Family episodes.
Added second toolbox. Included brightly colored paint, some joy, furniture, brushes. Kept this one in the house.
Age 55. Life and my immediate family, as I knew it for 26 years, blew up all over the living room.
Main toolbox found, under the rubble. Second toolbox proved to be a lifesaver.
Age 56-60. Did not die. Learned how to live. Took a minute. Got out the main toolbox. Added more books, more family of choice. Upgraded Higher Power. Added the Stuff that Dreams Are Made Of to my second toolbox. Used frequently.
Age 60-62. Got a wake-up call that I am gonna die. Don’t know how long I have. Estimate just under 30 years.
Found open door to a road less traveled. Walked through the door. Drove down the road. Led me to the beach. Brought both toolboxes. Put in the front seat for safety, like eggs and bread.
The main toolbox got upgrade. New Red Book added. New family adopted. Higher Power got another upgrade.
Realized Higher Power has their shit together. And I am not far behind.
Age 62-64 Continued using toolboxes. Got rid of tools that no longer worked. Upgraded to new and improved tools as more was revealed. Leaned into love. Burned fear in effigy. Surprised myself.
Age 64-90 Continued waking up with direct access to salt water and sunshine. Adapted toolbox and lifestyle to fit each other. Continued to upgrade and maintain Higher Power connection. Like electricity. Paying the bill by fully expressing my gifts and sharing. Wrote one kickass book. Or twelve. Won award for most fun grandmother in the history of time. Lost award for most humble grandmother of all time.
My House-is a very very very fine house. Two stories that tell so many more. The stairway to the top is made of 12 steps because I qualify for enough 12 step programs to build a stairway to Heaven. Which goes well with the fact that at my age, I have a doctor for every orifice.
I came in through the kitchen window and then I fell into the bar. Food and alcohol were what kept me alive in their time. The food is supposed to do that, but not in the way those four slices of Wonderbread covered in Hellman’s did. They filled a love-shaped gaping hole in a 7-year-old girl with a toothless grin and long, stringy toe-headed hair. I had just lost my date to Saturday morning cartoons when my dad and only friend died. We were supposed to meet in his giant red leather chair at the top of the stairs. The chair sat next to his smelly pipes on a table in the family room looking down into the kitchen where the mayonnaise lived. Instead, I was greeted by the minister and my mother who told me that my dad had gone away in an airplane and wasn’t coming back. “We interrupt this episode of Tom and Jerry to bring you the first big lie in your life.”
The bar wasn’t that messy but it still needed clean up in order to stay alive. I was groomed for that one. I instinctively knew that no was a complete sentence and I used it at age 12 when the drunk man in the bar where my mother had taken me asked me to dance. My mother took my no away from me, making me dance with him anyway. That started a boundariless tango with alcoholic partners who I seem to attract still today, whether they are drinking or not. I was only at the bar for a little while, but long enough to lose my car and my virginity and a baby and my pride.
The bedrooms of my life tell many stories beyond their unspoken law to be used for sleep and sex only. I truly hope I’ve heard them all, but they say you can only say “yes” or “I don’t know” to a certain question about what or who may have gone down in that room.
I keep a king-sized bed in my bedroom today even though I live alone. I am holding space since the universe is going to bring the person to share it with me in due time. I end my days and take my naps there with room to spare for me and my one-eyed cat named Atlas. Besides, I need the extra space so that my mother’s shame for having a vagina with feelings has a place to sleep too. I carry that for her like a dutiful daughter even though her box that was shared with the others’ husbands is in a box in my living room with the rest of her.
The dogs need a place to sleep too. They were my only source of love in Connecticut after the household on 2 acres lost its head. Throughout my life, the dogs have been welcome to sleep with the humans. The smell of a wet dog could go under the aromatherapy label of “Unconditional Love” if you ask me. There were 14 dogs total over the years, who took turns sleeping and playing in shifts, leaving their fragrant mark on the beds and my heart.
No day today ends until I strap on my CPAP mask. I am a top gun pilot call sign Luna who flies top secret night missions that must be really stressful because I grind the shit out of my teeth and often wake up sweaty and exhausted.
The office has been neglected. That is where the business of living is meant to be managed. The files for taxes and divorce decrees live there. As do the unreconciled numbers and untold profits and losses. Currently, there is a “to be filed” pile spilling for attention and it is getting that.
I went reluctantly into the big room upstairs just last fall. Pain and the pattern of my feelings of abandonment that far outweighed the current day cause were screaming for attention. In my house, this is the room that knows the story from its beginning. Where the family and the disassociation originated. I have known about this one for many years but been too afraid to go all the way in and take my rightful seat.
I visited there half my life ago, but I heard people sharing their pain of origin and mine was quite happy hiding under the stories of pizza and booze binges I used to survive the war zone inside of our house down the street from the yacht club.
I don’t know what I was so afraid of. The unknown, I guess. Much like the Wizard turns out to be no more than a blow-hard little man behind a big curtain, this room is just a room that needs love, gentleness, humor, and respect.
To get in, I had to push against a stack of busted up mismatched brown wooden chairs that were blocking the door. I didn’t put them there, but it is up to me to move them and find my seat. This room has cobwebs in the glare from the big window whose light comes through in spite of the yellow film from neglect. The light is so important you know. Without it, there is no life. And I want all of what is left of mine.
I am using the manual that tells me what to do to get that attic room in order. It starts with washing the window in three steps in order to let the light in. Then comes the decluttering. I am not there yet in this room, but it served me well when I cleaned out the kitchen and tossed that old crusty green white bread in the trash. .
It was a lively group meeting for dinner. Me, my good friend Anne and five lively southern belles who had come to visit the beach.
I met three of them in October when they were visiting from Mississippi and Texas. I formed a strong bond with one of them.
She was a classic beauty, much like my mother, kind of a Barbara Stanwick stunning. She also had to her credit birthing 8 children, being one of 13 herself and having a hand in raising some of them. Our walk on the beach last fall felt much like the mother I never had was with me. Whatever made me is generous that way. Sending custom made experiences to me, when I am not even looking. That is my proof that while at times I feel alone, in fact, I am not.
Two more Steel Magnolias had joined the original three here at the Emerald Coast of Florida. All but one had been cheerleaders together in high school fifty plus years prior and they were having a girl time get together at the beach.
We met at a Thai restaurant. It is one of those places where you take off your shoes and step down to be seated around the table in kind of a nook. I love going there. It feels like something out of a movie.
There are two steps up at the table. That is where you sit to remove your shoes. There is a bamboo wall dividing the sunken booth from the one next door, providing a private dining experience. You can’t see other customers and they can’t see you, unless they are passing by to go to the bathroom. The table is down and in the middle, surrounded by black leather cushion seats. No direct back support, but there are cushions along the back side, so I always park myself there.
The seven of us took up most of the black cushioned area which felt cozy, or at least it had the potential to.
But this dinner, one that I initiated wanting the benefit of social engagement and what promised to be a lively experience with delicious food and spirited women was none of that for me. The experience was there to be had. But I was not there. My body was, but I was somewhere else. I was disassociating. Leaving my body to avoid discomfort. I knew it, too and I made great efforts to be fully present, but with minimal success.
It was like watching a television show. Something I have done lately to numb myself. And I did that in person last night. I may as well have been in a bubble. I was watching them, but I was avoiding eye contact when I did try to engage. And was acting a part really because as much as I desired to be fully present, I could not be. It was concerning.
Something had happened between me and the woman I had felt a maternal bond with. Something that she said to me the day before that triggered my experience with my mother and how she abandoned me while showing the world actions of a born again Christian.
My mother did some good things in the community under the umbrella of her churches outreach ministries, no doubt. She mentored a troubled teen, helping her find herself. She volunteered at a low income grade school, mentoring second graders. But what she didn’t do during that time, was be a mother to a daughter who needed help when the birth of her baby resulted in a disabling postpartum depression. For the first year of my daughter’s life, the first three weeks of which required us to be separated while I was hospitalized, I needed support to take care of me and my daughter. It was a rough year. And my mother was rarely there to help, keeping her schedule of ministering to others in the name of Jesus.
The message I got was my needs for my mother were not as important as those of other families. Also, that God somehow supported this because what she did, was in God’s name. I am not saying that is what she said. I am saying that is what I internalized deep in my bones.
I have compassion for my mom. I think had she known better, she may have done better. But if my daughter were to go through what I did, I would make supporting her and her baby a priority and the fact that my mother did not do that for me while busy in the community ministry, frankly fucked up my head around God and faith and not feeling worthy of my mother’s love.
Back at dinner, we did the lean in funny group selfies and when I looked at the images that were caught of my facial expressions, I could see my disturbance in several. Almost a scowl. Not anger, but angst. Then, as I have been well practiced at doing most of my life, in the next few shots, I poured it on and smiled and laughed and those images were there too. But I know that the angst on my face was the only honest expression I had.
My friend Anne knows me well. She was seated diagonally from me, but it felt like a mile. When it is just the two of us, I feel safe to just be how I am and not feel like I have to be the fun one. A role I have taken on to survive at times or compensate for feeling insecure at others. We do play well at the beach, our inner kids one upping each other in imagination, but only recently I have let her into my heart, sharing some of my pain and trauma for which I seek relief.
That is a hard practice for me. To allow someone in to see my hurting, vulnerable side. The part of me that I have so much trouble embracing. The parts that feel unworthy of others attention, nevermind my own at times.
Consequently, eye contact with Anne was uncomfortable too. I am seeing all of this upon reflection. In the moment, I was just floating around in my little invisible bubble, poking out of it now and then with a funny story or anecdote. It was exhausting. I struggled to listen to the conversation. I may have well been in my car in the parking lot.
In the days, weeks, months, years leading up to this dinner, trauma had been a main course. I hate that word, by the way. Trauma. It is overused, misused, misunderstood. Let me put it this way. Some shit went down in my childhood which formed me and which dictated my choices in adulthood for relationships and support people which only reenacted that shit from childhood. There were also some external traumas. Death of my father when I was 7, loss of my family as I knew it right after, breast cancer, sudden end of my 24 year marriage, just to name a few.
My body is screaming for attention. My complaints could wear the title of Fibromyalgia if I went to the right practitioner. I sometimes hurt all over, not just in my back or neck, but my legs and hands and feet too. Lupus is on the radar, according to my last blood work. My painful hips, have been charted as hip bursitis, a title, by the way, that I have renounced in the name of yoga and walking.
I am listening to the book, The Body Keeps Score, a book written by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk to show the correlation between the mind and brain and body in terms of its response to traumatic events. I am only at the beginning, but already this book has informed me that what I experience in the ways of body pain are symptoms of unhealed trauma that have set up camp all over my body. It is all just my body asking for attention to a problem that goes way deeper than the symptom of pain.
My breast cancer was born in the terror of the week of September 11th, as I lived in the trauma of that attack in my home for a week solid, marinating in the news and images, somehow relating on a visceral level. The tumor in my breast found in April 2002, was measured for how fast it had grown and based on the size, my intuition tells me that it got its start that week.
I have alot of therapy under my belt. Forty plus years of seeking relief or guidance for a world I was not properly prepared to navigate growing up. But none of that addressed the trauma beyond identifying and understanding what I experienced and on some level re-experience when things happen in my current day life to trigger the hypervigilence in my body and brain. Most of those years, practitioners were treating symptoms. Depression? Most likely largely grief at much loss, was and still is medicated. Anxiety? Same. Sleep? I don’t get any without medication. For now.
I am seeking help and have my first appointment for somatic therapy, https://therapy-mn.com/somatic-experiencing-ptsd/ to begin next week. I visited trauma work with a safe and compassionate practitioner last year at this time while I was still in Tulsa. One session in, and there was a rage in me that ran deep. I told myself I could not afford it, discussing it with the therapist. “Trauma is tenacious.” Her words to me, which I heard to say, “this shit is not going to get any relief until I get specific help to do the work.” My rationale at the time was, “I can’t afford this. I have other expenses and bills to pay.” I knew then that I would need to do this work at some point if I were to salvage whatever is left of my life in order to be present to it and to me.
As it is, I struggle with disassociating on a regular basis, making jokes that St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things is my lover because I am always going to him to find my keys, my glasses, my wallet, my car. But it is not funny. Because I also lose my focus in my car. When I drive while too tired to safely do so. I have been labelled with ADD too. And that accurately describes my struggle. But again, it is but a symptom, I believe of an underlying, untreated, unhealed problem. Trauma.
About a year and a half ago, I had such concern for my concentration and how it impedes my function that I had a thorough battery of two days worth with a neuropsychologist to look under the hood in my brain. My brain is fine. My score was off the chart for anxiety, however. Hypervigilence. In every fiber of my being. Fibermyvigilence.
When I moved from Oklahoma to Florida last fall, I knew that I would need to do this work if I was going to have relief and healing. So I told myself that after the darkness of winter, a time when I go dormant, (called by others seasonal affective depressive disorder,) I would get myself the help I need. And I am doing that. The rationale of not being able to afford it comes up in my ego, Elvira. She is so afraid I will send her packing. I won’t. But she cannot run this show anymore. I want and need more from myself than what she alone can provide.
I have also begun to listen to Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. (I have a friend who calls him This and That.) His teachings are famous in recovery circles that I have been in. For me, he is a warm fuzzy messenger of self love and self care. This is just one of his talks about how to deal with strong emotions. In it, he talks frankly of suicide. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOn-mOCKzrY&t=58s His teachings, gentle and simple work for me as I am new to the practice of loving and being a nurturing parent to my inner child.
So my spiritual support is all in place for me to do the work now. And I believe it is the timing that the universe dictated. Right on schedule. I have a support network of fellow travelers who are also recovering from childhood trauma that impedes their adult lives, an inner child mediation that feeds my soul and esteem, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3-haY5mbyg yoga and the beach, also good for my body and soul and now the trauma therapist to hold my hand for the next level of healing. I am grateful. I am willing and I am ready.
If this brings you any comfort or if you read this and relate on any level, I’d love to hear from you here or in the comments. It is my intention as I share here on my blog, to hopefully benefit others by so doing.
One last thing. Don’t give up. I have thought about it many times. And I am so glad that I didn’t.
Last night, when I went to bed, I told God that if I died in my sleep, I would be okay with that. And then, I woke up.
Today, I find myself alone. And hurting in ways that are hard to express and even harder to experience. I try and practice prayer and meditation, as my spiritual life has become a greater priority than ever. With age, and awakeness being the great motivators.
I find reading difficult, so I rarely do it, but a couple of years ago, a friend said to me when I was in the throes of grief, that the book, “Your Holiness,” by Debbie Ford was important. For me, it was exactly that. The author, Debbie Ford, a woman who had recovered from addictions to alcohol, drugs, men and money and served many in her spiritual service work, died an untimely death from a rare cancer in her fifties. The date of her death was Feb. 17. An anniversary that I share as that is the day I got sober from alcohol. It was chilling to me when I saw the date coinciding. I feel that she has communicated with me from the afterlife because her book has spoken So loudly to me. A miracle really, as I have rarely been able to take in words from a page that could leave any lasting impression.
On this day, as I crack the book open randomly to see what it has to say to me, I find this prayer, that I had yet to read. (I find that using a highlighter to illustrate the words brings them into me when just black ink on white paper fails to do so.) It was just the right thing at the time.
I am back in touch and in some cases, in touch for the first time with much grief. At 61, and after 40 years, give or take, sitting across from therapists, I have all the knowledge from the neck up about the losses in my life. And it is a long list. Some come with trauma. All, as they are screaming to be released, hurt to express, but they have to be heard if I am to stay on this planet and if God continues to wake me up like today.
As the prayer states, “Let the wings of angels lift me out of earthly problems,” I really don’t have many earthly problems when I think about food, shelter and clothing. All needs are handsomely met. Right now.
My acute needs are to express the grief that has set up camp in my neck and my shoulder and my hips and my throat when swallowing my food is difficult.
I lost my father at age 7. I lost any semblance of family that remained shortly thereafter. And I wasn’t even ten years old yet.
It’s funny. Now that I am writing with the intent to share here for whoever reads it, I find myself guarding my words. Not everyone is worthy to know my truth in its entirety, but still, I am moved to share because frankly, I have survived yet another bout of hurting so bad I did not want to live.
Living alone, with no one to touch me, and I mean almost ever, because it is not safe to just hug people like it used to be for the very real pandemic and its risks, I am touch starved.
It has been nearly a year since my routine of seeing people in groups, several times a week, where I got multiple hugs, has been drastically curtailed. Before the virus, I might see friends four or five times a week for support groups, fellowship, making art, sharing meals, having parties, going to parties, always with hugs hello and goodbye. Things I choose not to do today because I don’t want to get sick. I have a compromised immune system as it is.
That kind of lack, like a drip of water on a rock, for long enough, is going to leave a mark.
I do have two friends who are cautious that I feel safe to get hugs from and I am now getting monthly massages, but as a friend who went to Harvard put it, “This shit’s hard.”
So I literally am at a point of do. Or die. The do looks like diving into the deep end of a support group where grief is not only honored, but where the members are willing to sit with my uncomfortable when those grief purges come. And I need that. I need the company of another, albeit by phone or on Zoom, to be present with me as I express my sadness. Because while others can do this on their own, with just their Higher Power as witness, I am not them. And my inner wisdom knows the depths of the losses I have had that need to come out through the tear ducts and my voice in order for true relief and healing and they need to be witnessed by whoever made me and safe people. Both.
As this prayer so beautifully expresses, I have angels. Upon whose shoulders I can rest my head virtually as I sob into my phone and my black and white polka dot happy bedspread, adding accents of black mascara. Sobbing like the little girl inside me who just needs to be heard. And she is. Being heard by others who have been brought into my life at precisely the right time so that I don’t have to go there alone ever again.
I do know that people cannot be my God, or Higher Power, or rescuers. But those people I have found, who listen without judging, who validate without fixing, are put there by whoever or whatever made me, are walking me towards a new and improved definition of a Higher Power.
From the grief and loss and trauma that comes with losing a father at age seven and losing a family shortly thereafter and losing over thirty years to looking outside for the love I had inside in the “hims” of the world, all the bullies I put in place because that was my comfort zone, the men who invade my space physically and verbally because that was my grooming with a promiscuous mother, the cancer that took much from me and left me scarred in its wake, the food that was a comfort until it became a tool of self harm, the alcohol that took me to unsafe places at vulnerable times, and for all of the time I have lost abandoning myself to the many distractions of this world, and for all of the self hatred that had no place to go until now to really get healed, well, the length of this sentence speaks volumes to what is crying to be expressed.
So, sometimes just doing right now and the right nows that follow that, is all I can do. I rarely make plans anymore because I want to live an organic life. I don’t set an alarm, and I can set a goal for my day, and intentions, but the results are often so different than what I thought, like now, writing this to share with you, I am just going with my spirit and how it moves me.
I still hurt, but it is lessened for sharing. In a way, I really am dying. My old self is dying off and getting a replacement. The real me. Been there all along, but she got alot weighing her down. I trust that as I do the work, those spaces left vacant by old, crusty grief and nasty trauma will be filled with light and air and energy and joy.
I hope if you find yourself reading this in that place of wanting to give up, that you don’t. My own history has proven that all of these painful times do pass. So please be encouraged that the same is true for you. And if your pain is so great that you can’t find a way out, at least make one more call to speak your truth.
Others may not be listening where you have tried to be heard. Others may not know what to say. Others may say things that only make your pain worse. But you are worth one more call. And then, if you still want to check out, you can.
But I believe you are still here for a reason. You may not know what that is right now, and you may be as old as you have ever been and felt nothing but struggle, but I see you. And you matter.
Also, I love you.
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