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.
I recently heard a story about a man whose grandmother swam out to sea, intending to die and succeeding in doing so. I can relate to her.
I am writing this as a woman who just moved from land locked status of 51 years in several states to the beautiful Florida panhandle on the Gulf of Mexico. I am 10 minutes from the beach and I go most every day. I have been here nearly a year and have only gone in the water over my head twice. Because I am afraid of the water.
The funny thing is, I love being near the water. This is a quote from President JFK that he made on September 14th, 1962, to a gala dinner held at The America’s Cup sailing event. It has always resonated in my soul. The painting, above, is mine and has that quote, plus sand from my beach on it.
“All of us have in our veins the same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea-whether it is to sail or to watch it-we are going back from whence we came.”- JFK
I must have been four or five years old when I began my swimming lessons. They took place in the swim lanes of our all white Yacht Club, between ropes strung with big red bumpers. The same color as my kick board that was assigned as a teaching tool. I hated swimming lessons. The water, which made up the swimming area, diving area and beach area was walled off from the Long Island Sound, so it was salt water.
As I recall that moment like it was yesterday, I was terrified by the instruction to hold my little arms as far as I could out in front of me, while holding the only thing I thought could keep me from drowning, my red kick board. From my child’s eyes, the gap between me and that board felt like a mile because I could not see through that water and feared that the dark space below would swallow me up whole. This was in the early 1960’s.
I lived in New York and Connecticut from age zero to nine, formative years with the trauma of the death of my young father being part of the story. He was 42. I was 7. He went to bed on a Friday night, and was a no show for our standing cartoon date the next morning. Because during the night, he had a grand mal seizure, which stopped his heart. For good. And the family fell apart after that.
Before he died, family outings to the ocean were regular practice, as my father loved the sea. He had a boat at the yacht club named for my brother and sister, who were here first, eight and nine years ahead of me. They were sailors too, and while I was in swim lessons, they were in sailing school.
Jones Beach in New York was a place we often went as a family. My first thought is the memory of the time I got to watch the filming of a Hawaiian Punch commercial there. I sported a red mustache stain often, so I was a big fan. They spread a blanket on the beach, filled it with lemons, limes, oranges, pineapple and ice cubes. Then, two people grabbed the edges and tossed up the contents like a trampoline while the camera filmed. The end result that made it to the screen was a slow motion scene of fruit and ice flying up and down, seeming like magic to me.
The next thought I have is the undertow. And my experience of having been caught in it. I don’t remember specifically, but I know that it happened. I had a recurrent nightmare for years, (not sure for how long or when they began or ended,)of blankets coming up over my head, and me struggling to breathe. I always reasoned that was because of being caught in an undertow, because the sensation was the same.
The truth is, based on more information coming to my consciousness over the years, there is also a possibility that those were real blankets and that at some point, someone tried to make me quiet with them. If that did happen, at this time I don’t know who or why or if so, or if they wanted me quiet for the moment or forever. So it’s no wonder to me that while I do have sleep apnea, I often sleep better when I rebel and don’t cover my face with my CPAP mask to sleep.
Two years after my father died, it was just me and my mom in 1969, in a big three bedroom house on two acres in Connecticut. My mom had sent my sister away. To college early. And my brother, was just sent away. In my nine year old experience, I had lost my father and only friend at age seven, followed two years later by losing my brother and sister, my home as I knew it, four collies, including “Buttons,” the one I called mine.
The greatest devastation was not the house or the dogs that were lost, it was any hope of ever having those who survived my father’s death to ever be anything like a family-ever again. My father had a traumatic brain injury where he was mugged and left for dead in a stairwell in Manhattan in his late twenties and when he drank against doctor’s advice, was emboldened to hurt people. My mom had suffered violence at the hand of my father for many years. From what I saw and know today, everyone in our family suffered at his hand, albeit mine seemed the least of it. But growing up around what was happening, that being my formative environment, took its toll on me, much like second hand smoke.
My mom had decided to move us. Me and her. And I was excited. Because we were moving to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida! I would get to live at the beach, in a fancy high rise condo and the plan was that I would attend a school with children from all over the world. I was thrilled. And it never happened. Instead, we ended up in her old home town in Southern Illinois and then Tulsa, Oklahoma. So when I am telling those who ask why I moved here to Destin, Florida, whether it is a local or one of 4 million tourists, I say, “I was removed from the beach against my will at age nine, so I decided to make that right.”
Fast forward to the 1970’s and the release of the movie Jaws. That did not help me. I was still working on going to the playground without fear after seeing the movie The Birds which depicted a small sea village overrun by angry sea and land birds that attacked and terrorized the towns people, teachers and children on the playground.
From then until now, the only vacation destination that held my interest was always the beach. But never to swim in the water. Just to be near it on the beach. And boy, have I landed on a beautiful one. It is considered by some, to be one of the most beautiful in the world. And for good reason. The sand is white and it sings when you strike it just right with your heels, the water is an ever changing experiential painting, boasting clear Coke bottle green waters on the sand bars, allowing the eye to see quite clearly what is frolicking there. One day, I got to watch the manarays, with their black ball diamond bodies, accented with white, long black tails swishing as they glided through the shallow water faster than I could keep up with as I walked knee deep behind them trying to keep up.
As the eye moves up towards the horizon, on a sunny day, of which there are many, the water likes to show of its Emerald green prowess, which has rightfully earned these beaches the name of Emerald Coast. But don’t tell anyone here, MY favorite water is that sapphire blue that, as you continue up from the bottom if you are scanning sand to sky, happens just before you see that navy blue line, setting a boundary that if it had a voice it would say to the viewer, “This is where the sky begins and don’t you forget it!” I have also heard it say, “Look at me. ALL of me. My water. My sand. My sky. My creatures. Take me in. Often. Because I am a gift. An ever changing display of the most beautiful living painting you will ever have the good fortune to see. I will never be the same way twice. Not from minute to minute. Not from day to day. I will dazzle you with my angry gray clouds, my bright white towers, my periwinkle sunrise with the sweetest pink accents. You will be stunned at what I show you. The colors, if you pay attention, will blow your mind. The bold orange and yellow fireballs that when they go under water for the night, don’t go without at times leaving a green burst of light at my horizon line.”
I have gone for a walk in cutoffs and a t shirt that took me chest high into the water some 40 feet offshore, shallow green waters allowing me to do so, to enjoy the show of the pelicans all around me. I have watched between 50 and 100 migrating loons on the water. My personal favorites, because they appear black with white polka dots, and I have a jar full of feathers that they leave me beach side on their way out of town to prove it. I relate to the sandpipers. Those little ones who travel in neurotic groups, their legs almost spastic as they scurry.
I don’t talk about this in the daylight much. But today, I felt I had to. Because once again, just last night, after a week filled with situational ups and downs of joy and disappointment, I felt down, and tired and spent. And again today, I woke up, so where the night at times can be like being in deep, dark water, waking up again affords me the chance to push off the bottom and resurface. And while it may be hard to believe, mornings like that it can still be hard to get up and go to the beach. Thankfully, most of the days I am gifted with the strength to do so. Because I have learned that no matter what the world is doing, and much of it right now makes me very sad, in my little world, the beach is healing me.
When I was 11, I had my first understanding that people could make themselves die on purpose when my 14 year old cousin, a beautiful, sensitive artistic soul shot himself. When Robin Williams died, I was heartbroken as the world was to lose such a joy bringer. But when Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade both took their lives within months of each other in 2018, when I was in a year long severe depressive episode, I found myself googling how to hang myself. From my cousin’s death forward, the suicides of people who show a beautiful life to us, only to end it in private has left me marked with a fear at times that one day, suicide will come to me or my thoughts and it will win. I have never attempted it, and every time the thoughts were strong I went for help because the moods I live with at times change fast at no notice from up and embracing the moment, to a deep dive of hopeless despair.
And while I am on the subject, one which sharing it out loud here makes me feel naked because so many judge what they do not know, those people who have not been here cannot know. And sadly, they will continue in ignorance to judge a person whose pain moves them to leave a lifeless body on purpose as selfish. Mental illness IS NOT a character flaw. It is a real sickness. And for this person, those who do judge out loud, when I hear them if I am down at that time, just makes the pain worse, never better. So please, keep it to yourself. I have been in that dark space on and off now for a year never mind for most of my life and have shared that there are nights as I age when I say to my maker that I would be okay if I didn’t wake up, but I never volunteer to exit. I just express the feelings to safe people because much like cockroaches, they can sometimes flee when there is light. Frankly, that is part of why I am sharing this now.
Back on land and at home, after going to the beach, I am changed for the better. But back on land and at home is the rest of my life. And that has been hard at times, in recent days and before. Even moving to paradise is still change requiring the grief and loss of where I left to come here and all of the support and the people who gave it. I made this move because I was moved to do so. By the instinct that was put in me by whatever made me. And everywhere I go, there I am.
So I find myself healing in paradise. From unresolved grief over the loss of my 24 year marriage, the necessary loss of a 23 year old daughter, formerly dependent on me, who now is a young adult, with less need for me and more need to find her own way. I am now a life consultant and I am careful with that to just offer my experience if it applies and in most cases, I am just a listening ear to the young woman just looking for a safe place to sound out what is happening in her life in this world. And I miss her.
And here I am. Making my life. At the beach. As a woman who is afraid of the water, I find myself consumed by wanting to keep others from drowning or dying. People and living creatures alike. This morning, I scooped up a bee, struggling at the water’s edge the get right side up and fly. I carried it in a pile of sand to the dune nearby. This week, I found a bobber on a rope that floated up onshore. The rope was covered with some kind of mollusks, who looked like some kind of Mad Max community. All in burnt umber, appearing lifeless as they were attached to the rope with seagrass and muck, only to watch long enough and see signs of life. It looked like shell mothers twitching with babies attached. It was fascinating. In any event, when I learned that the line had been thrown in the trash, I made it my mission to save them. I dug them out of the the trash, found a fishermen’s knife, cut off the bobber, and threw the line out, hoping it would take them somewhere to keep living.
Earlier this year, I spent three hours helping rescue a loon who had beached with a spinal injury, consumed by doing my part so that it had every chance to make it. And yesterday, I saw something floating just offshore. It appeared gray, and round and shiny, I thought maybe it was a dolphin. I kept an eye on it for forty minutes or so, as a crowd began to gather and a long lens camera holder spotted what looked to be a sea turtle dead in the water. I went into action. Calling the Florida Wildlife people and was told they would need a call to pick it up once it has washed up on shore. I felt sad. Just then, a man swam out to see what it was and upon his return, he had good news. Not only was it a very much alive turtle, it was not alone. It was having a roll in the hay of the Gulf of Mexico, working on baby turtles, and when he told me that part, his eyes got wide as he said, “that is something you cannot unsee.”
I am a volunteer on the beach, trained to support the lifeguards and other agencies who try to keep the people here safe when the water is not. It is optional as to when I volunteer. They don’t require a commitment to a calendar. I go when I feel called from within. And typically that is on the days when the water is closed. Double red flags fly to warn of the rip currents. Rip currents which have killed five people here in the last few months alone. My job on those days, when I see people in the water, is to blow a whistle, wave them out, and explain that the water is closed. Then, if, and sadly when, they go back in, I am trained to take a picture of their back side, note their description, time and place of entry and report it so that if their body turns up later, they have some idea of what happened.
As I recount this to you, I am struck that I am trying to keep things and people alive. When I can only do so much. But I think it comes from several places. On the surface, I really want to do my part. And when I do these things, I feel value and purpose. But what troubles me is the emotion behind my action at times. It is almost a desperation. Ultimately, The life I think I am trying to save is mine.
To use a metaphor, I have had many times in my life when I go through periods of darkness. And some of them are frightening to me. The feeling is not unlike that same fear I felt when I was asked to trust a kick board with my life. And there was not much in my young life at that time that showed me ANYTHING was worthy of trust. So I see these times as me being under the water, in total darkness, part of me relishing in the quiet, the other desperate to spring to the surface to breathe, not wanting to suffocate. But I have had so many of these times that doctors like to call bipolar depressions that when they come, they find me as a tired woman who isn’t very fond of swimming to begin with. And I entertain the idea of staying down.
So I will let the beach and its water have the final word here. And I suspect it would speak to me in this way. “Keep coming to me. Daily if you can. More than once a day if you feel led. That is me calling you. See me as proof that beauty still exists in a sometimes ugly world. Kindness still happens in a sometimes angry society. The unexpected can surprise you with joy. And life is everywhere. All the things and the creatures all have a part.They matter. And so do you.”
“P. S. I will put people in your path who will help you to not fear my waves. And I will offer you joy and healing beyond measure when the time comes.”
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. .
“The women in my small group at the writer’s workshop were writing about trauma and stuff. I tried to tell them that there was a lot of that.” This comment from a man I met at the beach who is a fellow writer. The difference being, he writes fiction. I don’t. His inference was that there was already enough writing about trauma. I say write that shit because there is so much trauma to be written about and the writing and the telling will heal the writer and some of the readers. The message I want to convey in my stories about the things I have survived is that of survival. And you can’t hear enough about that. This is a tough world. And survival is part of living in it.
We met because he was talking about an annual writer’s workshop here in the Florida panhandle that happens every year. One that just wrapped up and that I was thinking of attending next year.
Several things I heard him say provoked me. To be fair, I think he was coming from a place of wanting people to succeed, and by that I mean sell books, but I heard some rules around that and I am not sure that I want to plug into a formula to sell. I want to write what I am meant to and then let the results or any monetary success happen. Or not. “I tried to tell them in our sharing group that their writing was a little manic.” What does that even mean? Do I really want to go to a workshop to be told what someone who writes about sea monsters thinks of my work? Aren’t my opinion and that of the source of my words the ones that really matter? What is my motive in going to a workshop anyway? Don’t I already have a style of my own? Or am I looking for a magic formula to sell, sell, sell. And maybe get my ego stroked to the tune of $1000 to me.
I am a creative person. And a bit of a rebel in that. What I mean is, when I paint, I resist “rules”, like complementary colors, proportions, blending colors. I like to paint what is in me, which, so far, is two-dimensional whimsical, bold, and colorful, whether on furniture or on canvas. It sometimes happens that my instincts for what colors and patterns to combine fit some of these formulas. But it is not because I set out to do it. It is because I am true to my own creative expression. Most of the time. I just want to leave my mark of happy colors or inspiring words in the hope of brightening up the places in the world that need it. Like maybe your home. Or your heart.
The same is true of my writing. And I have been moved to write a book because when I share with others the good side of the things I have survived, they thank me for sharing. Say I give them hope. That I say what they want to in a way they can not find the words to express.
When I shared this with my fellow writer standing in the parking lot with the Gulf of Mexico playing back up as its angry waves crashed upon the shore, he was a bit dismissive, as if to say, “It’s already been done. And too much at that.” He also noted that these were women he addressed. Not sure if that was significant to him, but I wonder if he would have noted if they were men.
He challenged me to go home and write a story for an hour. Then put a bunch of stories together in a book. I entertained that for a minute thinking I probably should because, after all, the suggestion is being made and if it is true that there are no coincidences, it must be true for me. If I use that logic though, then the gallery owner who looked at my paintings and said that I should go online and practice to get good at mermaid bodies and faces so I could sell would have been the right thing to do. If I wanted a career cranking out paintings for Kirkland’s or Home Goods, I would do that. But I don’t.
The good news is that I have my own relationship with my work. And allowing others in needs to be done selectively when I am holding tight to my own convictions. Maybe I won’t sell any more art furniture or canvases. Maybe I won’t have a bestseller. Maybe there won’t be a book at all. I have only been able to write eighty-some pages so far because the subject matter is tough.
Here is the real truth about the block I have entertained up to now. Telling my story could potentially be cathartic, so that would mean parting with some of my baggage of grief and loss. Even though shlepping these bags gets old, it is what I know. It is in my muscle memory to remember that I grew up in a home bereft of nurture and rich with neglect, suffered from alcoholism and anorexia, marital abuse and mental illness, lost a baby, a house, two breasts, and two husbands.
I think I fear what I will do with my hands when I really let them go. But all of this is possible if I stay true to myself and what my instincts move me to write. Paint. Create.
There is also the possibility that I do sell a book. That there is abundance beyond belief in so doing. Just typing these words is a challenge because I am owning the very real possibility that my life may one day no longer be small and as I write, my hands want to grab that baggage instead, like a security blanket, but I refuse.
There is a movie called Finding Joe on Youtube about the influence of mythologist Joseph Campbell on our culture. In it, are testimonies of Deepak Chopra, Mick Fleetwood, inspirational author/teacher Allan Cohen, professional skateboarder/entrepreneur Tony Hawke and others about finding your bliss and living it. The message here is one of how we are all tigers and that there is an abundance of food for sheep that we are offered, but very little food for tigers. I intend to feed my tiger and encourage you to do the same.
Whatever you do that you love, that lights you up, that makes you feel young again, that brings you joy, DO MORE OF THAT. Bake the cake from scratch. Try the new recipe. Take the pictures. Plan the trip. Write the poem. Play the instrument. Make the move. Life is all about practice. The only thing stopping you from practicing yours is you.
And now I am going to take my own advice and get back to my book. This time, I will put my trepidations and hesitations in my suitcases under the bed so that I can get on with letting go. I suspect it will be awkward at first, but I am confident I will find something else to do with my hands.
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.