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.
You are worth it.