To value life

Hearing that a loved one is perhaps dying is a very big shock. I guess my first real brush with death happened when my father was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 1984. I only so young then, I was only 22 but a very young 22, I had just spent a year in my first job at the Research School of Biological Sciences and had moved out of home for the second time to share with some friends who were in the military at the Duntroon college here in Canberra. I was running a bit wild on the weekends but also holding down a second job waitressing to save for my overseas trip with my then partner Jim.

Dad’s diagnosis was a big shock to us and I have shared how it was the one time we connected where Dad expressed his emotions and I really felt his vulnerability. Up till then we had had a lot of healthy disagreement because I didn’t like my Dad was a property developer who was bulldozing old buildings to put up huge modern office blocks with my brother. I was also unconsciously angry he would not support my academic studies and forced me to go to business college.

Dad’s illness was in some ways mercifully short. He was operated on December and came out briefly from hospital on 24 December only to be returned in the early hours of Christmas morning. He died while they performed an emergency tracheoctomy on him to help him breathe in the early hours of Thursday 8 January. I got the call at work to come home.

I never got to say goodbye. I had not been well enough to go to the hospital, I was to be leaving for India in January to meet my partner who left in December and had had shots the day before Dad died. As it was my partner broke it off with me in the middle of the night shortly after Dad died, he told me not to come overseas but Mum forced me to go on with the trip which was horrendous. My brother handled the funeral and I never got to see Dad’s body. I do not remember the funeral at all, only some of the wake and not even a lot of that. Within a month I was alone overseas in the UK and very lost.

Lately I have achieved some kind of peace with Dad’s death. I have a post banked up on what grieving people need and how each death is personal and different according to the relationship we had with the person, Dad was always emotionally remote to me, as is my brother so I have struggled so much in my relationships with men, most of my partners could never validate me emotionally and my last partner caused me untold damage by not even trying to understand my complicated grief issues. That said I would often lash out due to anger I had with my father at not really ‘getting’ me and showing me empathy. I am sure I had to go through all of this pain in life to learn what a loving relationship with a healthy emotionally validating partner is, and harder to believe I do deserve to be treated with more empathy and respect.

Now that my friend, Christine seems to be possibly suffering from cancer the synchronicity of timing is not lost on me. I found my Mum also lost close friends in the final years of her life very close to the anniversary of Dad’s illness, diagnosis and death. In the case of my father it dogged every Christmas celebration and one year my older sister and I found ourselves at logger heads, it was the year Jonathan left me.

Christine’s illness is a reminder to me, too of my own brushes with death. Four of us have been diagnosed with cancer in my family, my father, my brother, my second oldest sister and I. I have not been brave enough to go for my own breast cancer check up yet, it is something I know I must deal with.

I wanted to write this post though to work through how intrinsically death and life can seem to be inter-related. Really bad grief or sadness or loss can steal our life energy for a long time and can be made more complex by earlier, perhaps unresolved griefs. What is clearer to me after all the research and reading I have done on grief as well as my experience of seeing how the failure to deal with, or rather struggle to do so manifested in my family is that we do need support and validation in our grief, in order to move through it an embrace life energy again. That said if the bond to someone is powerful, for example in the case of Johnny Cash and June Carter that I shared about in recent posts the death of one may bring about the death of the other.

Its is our heart energy that is most impacted through loss, death or leavings. I know my own heart and panic symptoms began when Jonathan told me he was leaving me. The month he spent with me before packing up to go ‘home’ to the UK in July 2004 was one of the most painful periods of my life and the following 7 years spent in the wilderness of abandonment involved a brush with death due to a head injury on the first anniversary and a bad fall on the second, but maybe on all those years we were together I was on the run from my own grief and trying my damndest to live. I think of how I struggled with the grief in my body and how little affirmation or recognition I so often got. I think of how grief still gives me ‘spins’ at critical times of the day and especially around the 5 pm critical timeslot which was when I went head over heels over my bicycle following a cranio sacral session to deal with earlier trauma. Maybe I would have been better to let sleeping dogs lie, who knows if I bought the accident on myself as my sister tried to tell me many years ago. It was just so hard to trust a family so often shut down who told me I should not be where I was nor doing it as tough as I was. That said I know its not their fault either. I truly do believe everyone does the very best they can with what they know at the time. Its just sometimes their ‘best’ falls woefully short.

My inner critic gave me a hard time again today for going over and over my trauma again in this blog earlier. It told me I need to be ‘moving on’ and that its boring for my followers. I will let you be the judge of how accurate my critic is, while acknowledging that at times my fear and sensitivity may have kept me more stuck than I needed to be.

That said I am alive and I want to live, I really really do. Life is full of such a profound mix of ‘blessings’ and ‘curses’ and in the end its up to us how we handle them and the attitude we take to them as well as the choices we make in the face of it all that makes our life what it is, and so often we are not always consciously choosing. Today I choose as much as I can to embrace life, despite my knowledge of how vulnerable it can be at times to live and face death. But I want this awareness of death to always help me keep my heart open to love and to the opportunities to connect and be fully alive that life constantly presents me with.

Shedding

Crying.png

You shed these tears

With layers of years

As the pool of sorrow around you grows

There in that ocean where you swim

Flotsam and jetsam

And a million other things

Lap around you

As the water swells and you find yourself

Buffeted about

Tidal pull back to the past

Fills your heart with such unrequited longing

For the arms that never held you

Until the death nell

Refrains of songs

Bring intimations of the past

The big house he built

Looking for security

Chasing god know what dream

That ended in ruin

And as the explosions came

Everything detonated

Leaving only wreckage

And now you are

Shattered into a thousand shards

This is not only wreckage

As mosaic pieces begin cluster

You sort through all the precious things she left

With a heavy heart

As tears swell

And your head remembers the explosions

Of spring and summer

At times the grief feels too large to contain

But then there is the part of you that sees and knows

It is not the whole of you

She is in the room with you now

Holding all the younger selves

That struggled so hard to grow

And as the deep cries rock you

You realise without a doubt

That you are shedding

But also integrating

What everyone in ignorance

Said you needed to leave behind

Oh God why don’t they know

The past will never fully leave you

Only release its powerful hold

In time and with grieving

As your pain becomes the very thing

You bend willingly to accept

And surrender to

Because you finally forgive

Knowing the cost

Of holding on too tight

Will only lead to death

(Remember that this place into which you are dissolving

is a place of intense creativity. Of creation itself.)

Melissa LaFlamme

The need to feel safe and the healing power of presence

Elephant.jpg

In order to be able to open ourselves up totally we need to feel safe and we can only feel safe in a climate of acceptance and love.  I do believe it is this open non judgemental acceptance which can free us and often it is given the name presence.  Being present with someone, totally with no agenda is such a gift.  It is about the best gift we can give to anyone who is struggling and has locked up things inside.    People who are suffering don’t need to be told what to do.. they JUST NEED TO BE HEARD AND VALIDATED!!

For so many of us it wasn’t safe to fully express ourselves growing up.  I know I suffered doubly from being at a Catholic School where it was soooo repressed.  As kids we learned just to suck it up but I was listening to part of a radio play in which a young boy was sharing what a preacher had told him from the bible and saying how it was all about being bad and needing to be made not so bad, the inherent idea of original sin was a toxic poison so many of us imbibed with the rancid morning tea milk we were forced to drink that had become tarnished from being left outside too long in the sun. I know I used to gag on mine.

Its a very long journey to learn to be present to ourselves and not totally possessed by the voice of a voracious inner critic we internalised composed of all the things we were told about our badness or need for correction.  And yes sometimes we do need to monitor behaviour but what we most categorically don’t need is blockage against knowing who we are and what we truly feel.   And this can only begin to emerge in a climate of empathy and open presence.  Being present for our own self and offering understanding compassion and love is in my experience the thing that most soothes my anxiety.   Soothing comes from the love we give, increased anxiety comes from speaking to ourselves or others badly or in a critical or unloving way.  We are all human and do it but we can all become more mindful of it too, we don’t have to be perfect just a bit more aware.

 

Unwelcome : A safe harbour

Aloneness.png

You learned a long time ago

That this world was not a place that welcomed you

That there was no one there

Holding the door open with a smile

Saying : How nice to see you

Come on in

And rest a while

You learned to keep as quiet as you could

About what you felt and thought

While bursting apart at the seams

Denying the body you lived within

Was a simple human body

Needing so very much more than this

Endless corridors with closing doors

And backs turned

The failure to admit all of this to your mind

Meant that it was your aching body

That kept the silent score

Of what you never

Were allowed to know

With your mind

Until your hunger grew too insistent

And set you on a search to find the one who said

I know you

And love you

And accept you totally

Please come in

You are more than welcome

Here

Please take a seat

For here you will find

Acceptance

A safe harbour

A space to be

Seen and loved and known

All in the past : a prayer

Flying with Birds

Dear Higher Power and Higher Larger Self, you see all and know all of me.  You know all of my past pain, you know my body remembers, you know what a torment past pain can be.  Help me remember that today is today.  It is a new day.  I do not have to carry that past pain with me all the time.  Surely there has been so much that has happened to us all that would cause us to break down weeping and never get up, but surely all of that is now in the past.  Please I would love a life that is free, one in which I could be lighter, one in which suffering would not endlessly weigh me down.   Please help me today to celebrate what is good and healthy and beneficial and hopeful in this day.  Help me to open and keep reaching out and to keep love in my heart.  Let me be soft with old pain but dont let it hold onto me for too long.  Today Higher Power set me free to live and learn and love again.

Where has your spirit gone?

Aether Ashley Lebedev.jpg

For me Dad You will always be alive In my imagination We never really got to know each other There was a chasm we could not cross I felt you so far away In another land Though close to me Is it any wonder I struggled so much To be close to men in my life

But now I imagine where your spirit has gone Into the ether Or fishing off a celestial beach Living the life you never got to live on earth

1985

Songs of innocence take me back To that world Something changed irreversibly When you were taken so suddenly And its so hard to fathom now Where I went And all the ghostly paths of exile I travelled Always silently crying out your name Fearing to get close to anyone again They could never know the ghosts that haunted me

Its taken me years too To now feel you silently breathing In the air that surrounds me Never really far away Yet never truely found A mystery I will never fathom A ghost that will walk with me for the rest of my days

And yet there is too, a curious love I do not fully understand And the acceptance of a destiny never chosen that I must embrace

 

(Image : Aether by Ashley Lebedev)

On ambivalence and facing my wounds

I kind of love the word ambivalence.  I break it down into its two roots ambi and valence.  I know valence is a kind of frequency or charge, I guess we could call it an energy or pull, this by-way pulling of contradictory inner charges of though and feeling is something I go through a lot in my relationship with the outer world and my family most especially.

I seem to be torn at times between forgiving my Mum and family for past neglect and feeling great disappointment, resentment and anger about them.   I long to connect and then feeling thwarted and hurt want to get as far away as I can.   The resentment has changed for me in recent months with the realisation that it can, if buried and the true feelings not dealt with cause disease on many levels.  I do feel this together with the many experiences of wounding and emotional abandonment I experienced together with difficulty forming healthy nurturing relationships contributed to my breast cancer last year.

I know acceptance on some level provides relief.  I can accept something occurred or is occurring although I may not like it, I just realise I am powerless over other people and realise expecting change is doomed.  Only the adult part of me is capable of that since my wounded enmeshed child wants to hold on and not accept the truth at any cost.  When I don`t accept or choose to see the reality I can make excuses for bad behaviour or just keep hoping ‘this time it will be different’ and just stay stuck in anger as a defence against grieving, mourning, accepting and moving on in a rational way.

I just watched a second video from Courage Coaching on how narcissistic parents can infantalise a child and it sent some shivers through me.  I have struggled with feeling a sense of competence and independence in my life due to being over involved and enmeshed with my Mum for some years and this difficult situation was made harder by my father’s death when I was 23.  I feel shame and guilt at times when I see how I acted my own fear and pain and feelings of being not worthy enough or inadequate in relationships sometimes through anger and think gosh I really was strongly on the narcissistic spectrum. But I also know that true narcissists try to avoid any possible introspection and that is not me.   I am overly introspective at times and often make things my fault that are not.  As I now understand it, the home I was raised in and influences around me were out of my control then, I was for a time powerless over the unconscious effects. Pain and difficult emotions such as anger and resentment come as teachers to guide me to a healthier pathway and in recovery I need to contain and work through them so I make healthier choices that don’t lead to more of the same.

I never had my painful feelings mediated or learned how to deal with them growing up.  I saw my own family using alcohol a lot and that is what I learned to do, silencing and drowning the complex mixed up feelings of my child within.  I had, even for years into my sobriety, trapped childhood feelings all mixed up inside.  Therapy is helping as is understanding how a regressed brain and wounded inner child forms in such an environment. This child needs help to understand his or her feelings and grow up.  It`s a long and difficult process for many of us.   That painful relationship we got involved in was just a trigger for us to do our own healing and that now is OUR responsibility no matter what wounds we carry.   If we stay stuck in blame and angry with the abuser or abandoner as a defence against a deeper acceptance we are in trouble.  Anger over what was done to us is an essential stage we must pass through to engage and moblise our push to heal and change and form better boundaries.  We cannot by pass it on the road to healing but staying stuck in it recycling over and over is just not healthy.  We deserve a happy life free of that kind of angst and pain after all we have been through.  When we form better boundaries and learn to self soothe and self care we are less likely to be as angry in my experience.  Our inner child needs our inner adults tenderness, discipline and strength.

Suffering = Pain x Resistance

One of the most healing balms we can apply in life is acceptance.  Its so hard to hear at times that we need to accept painful things that have happened, most especially abuse or the failure to be protected by those we thought ‘should have’.  However what has happened to us has happened and for some of us, perhaps, left deep scars or even a festering wound really as these kind of wounds have not yet formed scar tissues until a way along the journey.

I think at times we can compare our pain to an open wound.  We so suffer unconsciously from what happened to us that is not yet fully known yet leaves its bloody foot prints upon us.  This is where applying unconditional loving presence towards our hurting, painful or contracted places can help.

Christine Neff talks alot about the equation that heads this blog in her book on Self Compassion in the chapter on resilience.  What she says, and what many Buddhist teachers teach, is that it is really our resistance to our pain or things we wish did not nor did not want to happen that causes us even more suffering in the long run.  I know for myself when things don’t go well or I hit a brick wall my immediate response is to try to find a way to more through it or react, that is when I need to pause and bring my energy back deep within in order to move it in a more helpful non resistant direction.   I do this a lot on the road when driving and getting stuck behind a very slow moving car.  I pull back and slow myself even more in this situation.   But I can also see situations in which I did not do this in my personal life and my not accepting and fighting against the certain thing I didn’t like I made things far harder for myself.  That said there is a time to fight for things that are within our power to change when it would be for our own or another person’s good.

We are in the long run human and our reptilian brain does cause us to react.  Christine explains in her book how we are hard wired to escape pain and predators as mammals, those defensive reactions served us well in the past but if we are reacting to being retriggered in the present all the time such responses become counter productive.  In PTSD and Complex PTSD we can get frozen in those responses.

Key to understanding how and why we resist and react is the concept of experiencing emotional flashbacks or what John Lee has called age or emotional regresssion.  I am the midst of writing a post on this concept.   When we age regresss or flash back we are no longer in present time and we often do not recognise it.  We can say things that were better not said, we can get frozen in time.  We can start to try to fix or give unwarranted advice.

I am just reading a book which deals with the concept of being hijacked by what the author calls our ‘toddler brain’ this occurs when we are age regressed and triggered by some kind of cue, perhaps the harsh tone of somone’s voice or undeserved criticism.

When we are in age regression or hijacked by the toddler brain we cannot respond well and with empathy.  We may not see the truth of a situation.  We may lash out.  We may sever friendships.   Getting ourselves back in adult brain takes work for those of us who had difficult or traumatising childhoods that left us with deep attachment wounds.

When we can open to a difficult reaction in the present moment with our full awareness (one of the skills we learn when practicing mindfulness); we can be less reactive.  We can practice self soothing.  The adult part of us can turn toward the inner child and comfort him or her, we can take ourselves into time out in order to have that inner dialogue.  We can also set boundaries with our wounded self in order to take care of him or her and not react.

Christine makes the point in her book that we are more hardwired to remember negative experiences than positive ones.  I guess this is one of the ‘pinning’ aspects of trauma I spoke of in a recent post.  When we are pinned to the negative sticking place we see only threat, we may be flooded emotionally or physically with a panic attack.  In my own case when this happens now I remember to work to take a few deep breaths into my belly because when I pay attention to my body I realise what has happened is that I have frozen my body or stopped breathing something I had to do when trapped in the car waiting to be cut out all those years ago, something I also used to do a lot when my Mum’s energy was upsetting or troubling me.   I have then learned to shift my focus and my attention to something beautiful in the surrounding environment.  I will have to deal it time with things that call me stress and anguish but being mindful in the present moment means I don’t have to ‘blow them up.’

Stopping the running of negative dialogues and scripts is also a part of this process. Often when stressed or panicking if I pay attention to my inner dialogue its all about resistance, saying things to myself like “this is all too hard, all too much. shouldnt be happening” or feeling and telling myself I cannot cope.  Sometimes in order to feel better all I have to do is place my attention on a task in hand that is right before me and start with that one little step instead of looking at the big picture and totally freaking out.

Doing something loving for our body is another way we can draw attention away from pain when we pinned in place and increase the flow of good chemicals such as oxytocin inside.  For example when I woke this morning and push pull symptoms of PTSD began I reached for some hand cream beside the bed and gently applied it to my arms and hands.  This soothing action took me into a gentle, loving, peaceful place.

Decreasing our resistance and lessening our suffering is also about opening to body sensations that may have come from our compulsive need to resist that formed over long years if we were not taught as children to engage in a positive way with challenging emotions.  Burying them inside us is not helpul.  For myself I know how my body has suffered from the chronic tightening that goes with repressed or denied anger I was not allowed or helped to express.  Today I sometimes deliberately tighten my muscles or limbs as an excercise to help them release stress and relax and I find this exercise helps me., but this exercise is totally different to a lifetime in which we had to bite down hard on difficult emotions and experiences.

All in all there are many things we can do to deal mindfully with our pain so that it doesn’t have to turn into deeper suffering.  Self compassion, mindfulness and learning to work with painful sensations, thoughts and emotions are all ways we can apply the soothing, healing balm to our wounded, contracted, hurting or fearful places.

 

Soothing

AB

Gentle rain

You feel

Like soothing balm upon my soul

Putting out the fire

In hurting places

Restoring me to peace

And to a softer reality

That remains when illusions dissolve

With the deeper realistion of love

You awaken

Quietly

In the depths of my soul

Remembering

You can often bring pain

But remembering

Remind me

To stay present

What is past is past

Yet

Grief of loss

Lives on

Transforming all our lives

In ways which

Make us travel down

Fathoms deep

When we return and resurface

We have glimpsed darker truths

Than others will ever know

That is when

Gentle rain

Falling down

Replenishes our soul

And grants us

With our tears

A restoration

Through acceptance

Of peace

Moving towards our happy

The following quotes from the third story of recovery from BPD in Beyond Borderline : ‘ I Am Not Just a Box in the DSM-5’ really spoke to me.  It’s full of truth and hope for recovery.  Facing our darkness is the way we move towards the light.   It is something I so firmly believe.

Mostly I was hell bent on protecting my own misery, because it was the only dependable companion I had ever known.  Even if I think back to my “happy” high school years, that self critical, loathing voice was my closest companion.

Driving a wedge between my true self and this negative, hate-fuelled version of myself was a truly Herculean effort.  It took years to put enough space between the two selves for me to even begin to reecognize the existence of this voice.  It took months of true ambivlence about life to wake up one morning and look at myself in the mirror and see the utter defeat and sadness that had taken over.  It took another round of treatment in an alcohol facility to grasp some whisp of hope that if I could cut the shit, stop the self destruction, I could have a better life.  My true self deserves better.  The little girl who danced around effortlessly in pink and purple sparkles deserves better.  The girl who talked to strangers, just because, deserves better…..

I honestly dont know how I survived all the torture I put my body through.  I don’t know that I believe in a ‘higher power’.  I don’t believe in fate…. But there has to be some greater purpose to my life that what it has been so far.  And in my darkest of days – of which there have been many – I have always found solace in the small ways of making life better for other people.  So if my story, if my pain, can help save someone else from making the same mistakes I have, then I guess it was worth it.

Today I woke up energetic.  Today I did not plot how I could become invisible.  I can once again look people in the eye.  Don’t get me wrong – I still have my moments of despair. …. But I can look in the mirror and see beyond all the psychiatric and other sorts of labels that people have ascribed to me.  Yes I may be a borderline, raging alcoholic, depressive, former anorexic patient. But I am also a friend.  A daughter.  A sister. A niece. A cousin. A soon to be teacher.  A life long student.  I am becoming dependable.  I am ambitious  I am intelligent.  I am a woman.

My life and path followed a dark, twisted road.  But each wrong turn has made me stronger.  At the end of the day I am who I am today because of what I lived through. Some day I will be able to look at it all and be grateful….When that day comes I may just surprise myself and be happy to be me, in spite of any box the world tries to put me in.