Cultivating peace

Focus

It is occurring to me lately that cultivating peace on any day is something I can choose to do.  I would rather feel the soft cool balm of peace washing over my troubled soul at those times when it may be hurting or aching.  I would rather answer that cry of regret or feelings of not good enough or criticism with a soothing caring word from self that lets me know that having it all together is not the answer to peace and happiness for me in the present moment, rather that answer lies in peace and at oneness, acceptance of the fact that life can at times be full of pain and far from easy.

Past years have shown me beyond any doubt how hard I can be on myself inside my head.  I didn’t hear voices of self compassion growing up.  I was alone a lot with my thoughts and I felt an emptiness from my parent’s emotional distance which I now know went back to disconnection from their own parents and having to mature at a time of great emotional turmoil in both their worlds affected by traumas beseiging their families due to war and other difficulties.

What I did develop in this environment was a sense of being alone and not knowing where to turn but to substances.  I also became very critical inside my head.  Because I did not know how to manage, nor who to ask I just took myself off and diverted or buried feelings.  Even in my sobriety as trauma began to emerge I started to feel and hear a very destructive inner voice telling me to take my life.

I will post a post after this which comes from a recovery story in the book Beyond Borderline in which a sufferer speaks of how she struggled with her own inner critic. Those of us recovering from Complex PTSD which is a wider less stigmatising diagnosis that could be an umbrella under which others such as Bi Polar and Borderline could fall have deep work to do with the inner critic in recovery.  The inner critic doesn’t accept anything, it judges which is different from discriminating between helpful and unhelpful responses to trauma.  It runs an ongoing monologue of all the ways we have failed, fallen short and not measured up without considering that we lacked certain skills or support.

The antidote to the inner critic is a wise mind loving compassionate voice which is more realistic and understands how we have suffered.  It understands that we have only fallen short of arbitrary standards that are not necessarily realistic nor kind.  It allow for us to progress rather than demanding us to be perfect.  This is the voice that gives us peace, that helps us to cultivate peace.  This is the voice we need to listen to keep our lives in love and balance, rather than full of pain, fear and destabilisation.

I do believe what we choose to focus on grows in our life.  My work with a trauma body therapist involves putting the focus on goodness or pleasant feelings and sensations or things in the environment, not purely as a distraction to pain but as a reminder of what good still lives on outside a traumatised reality.  In many instances the trauma or pain we carry is not even ours, it belongs to the ones who passed it on or the ones that passed it onto them.  We can learn to give this pain back where it belongs and I will write about this soon in a post which shares the work therapist Mark Wolynn does with recognising core trauma and fears we take on from the past.   We are not meant to live a life of constant fear, pain and insecurity but this is what we will find if we keep our focus on it.

Combatting the “leprosy of mental illnesses”.

I have never been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder by a professional.  My current therapist doesn’t use these kind of diagnoses and often tells me we are all on the borderline spectrum somewhere.  However I identify with several of the core symptoms and the difficulty feeling a secure sense of self, as well as being hyper-reactive to triggers of invalidation or abandonment due to the prevalence of these kind of traumas in my young and adolescent life.

I have intense compassion for those bloggers here and anyone who suffers from BPD which means I am always happy when I come across something that sheds light on one of the most stigmatising of mental illnesses and has been called “the leprosy of mental illnesses” by mental health professionals who themselves are often not able to tolerate the full spectrum of behaviours of the disorder if they don`t have strong understanding and therapeutic framework.

Today I found the book Beyond Borderline : True Stories of Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder  in my local bookshop and was moved to tears well before I reached page 10.

Beyond

The following statistics enlightened me further to its widespread prevalence.

  1. More than 14 million Americans have the disorder making it more common than Bi Polar Disorder and Schizophrenia combined.
  2. 40 percent of people diagnosed as Bi Polar are, in fact Borderline.
  3. There is a inheritability factor of about 67 percent in BPD.
  4. 10 percent of sufferers of the disorder end up taking their lives.

Treatment and recovery from the disorder demands the establishment of a strong bond with a therapist who can help to contain the sufferer`s working through of complex abandonment and trauma issues that can lay hidden for years.   It demands also that the sufferer come to understand perceptual distortions which come to characterise the illness and function to split off pain and may block healing helping them to tolerate and de-escalate painful emotions and emotional triggers.

The book contains 24 personal stories from sufferers and sheds so much light on the illness.   These are people who have gone to the depths of hell, pain and terror that many will never know making us cognisant of the full register of emotional pain that underlies a condition that often functions to keep the sufferer trapped in the most terrilble emotional isolation.

The experiences shared,  show that BPD is a disorder that can be recovered from, if sufferers are willing to do the work and move towards psychological understanding that involves navigation, rather than splitting off of pain.   I highly recommend the book not only to those who suffer but those who seek to understand and in seeking that understanding will help us to address the stigma of a condition that so badly needs our empathy, insight and compassion.

All kinds of worries and fears

One of the worst legacies of past loss or trauma is that they leave us with all kinds of worries and fears, most of which are not fully conscious.  The thing about psychological defences we erect is that we often dont get to know they are present, we just act from behind them unconsciously seeking to self protect ourselves from further harm.  I was reading a little book on emotions yesterday and in it the author talked about fear and anxiety, how at times they are a sign we may be in danger or unsafe and at other times are a hidden excitement about facing or doing something that takes us out of our comfort  zone and could end up being really good for us.  The example the author used was of the anxiety she felt prior to a talk she gave about a subject she was passionate about.  Since she was invested in the subject her energy was engaged but the anxiety she felt was strong, however the benefit for her of moving through it was that she came out the other side by facing and feeling it and acting anyway in a way which enlarged her life.

We are certainly all impacted by fear and anxiety in some ways, but if early losses or failures have been great it can be harder to reach forward.   We may literally feel like we are dying when we have to make a change or face a fear or anxiety laden situation and the truth is that we are being urged to die on some level, to the part of us that want to keep us safe and protected at any cost.  In my own life I see more clearly in hindsight the power my own fear has exerted over me and what it has held me back from.  I have been so scared at times and I hid my fear and terror behind defences.  I was probably only fooling myself with all the stories I told myself about how or why I could not do the said thing.

That said its another matter if we have in childhood been shamed for fear or responses that were legitimate.  Ideally if we have emotionally present parents they hold our hands through this kind of thing or encourage us in positive ways.   I think of my own fear and shyness issues and in discussing them with my Mum see I carried them from her.   Mum was brave and defiant in certain situations which enabled her to go after what she wanted at times, at other times she was held back.  As a young child with no father and an often emotionally and physically absent mother she struggled in schoold and was not supported by the nuns but used and abused.  I think as kids we see and feel the parents fear but if they defend against their own deficits being understood and known that can rebound upon us.

Lately as I do more of my own healing work and confront some of the deep grief I defended against in my own life as well as my own and other’s fears of it, I see how at times my life became so limited by that unresolved grief.  When my marriage ended I went entirely into isolation and hit the ground as I knew my that stage in my sobriety I had a lot of grief work to do.   I needed help with it and it took me a lot of years to finally find my current therapist who is helping me to grieve.  Now my grief is not only for the original events but for the lost years and opportunties I could not take due to fear and the terrible repercussions of the head injury I had in 2005.  But lest this just be a post about grief, I am noticing that the more deeply I open to my own fear and grief the more I am able to feel a growing sense of lightness and joy.  The defensive fear that dogged me and stopped me reaching out or giving from my heart is slowly melting away.   I know it will probably always be ther to a degree.

Yesterday I did a favour for a friend and it felt so good to extend myself for someone outside of my family, and a special someone who has really been there for me over the past few weeks when I was so ill.  It seems years since I felt safe enough to truly open my heart to someone in trust.   We have been building a friendship over past months and in her company I feel so happy and light.   Its really only in facing my grief and in knowing that others can bear it and will not shun me for it that I have started to feel safer.

I now know our family sadly has this toxic stoic defence against vulnerablity and grief which is not healthy.   All those years ago when I lost my father and then a few weeks later my partner broke the relationship off I never found a place of safety or holding where I could feel and shed my grief.   It saddens me to think of all that I went through in the ensuing years of my addiction with all of that grief and unresolved pain locked up inside me.

In my marriage I tried to start to deal with it but that upset my husband who also lost his father at a similar age to me.   And it took a few years into sobriety for feelings to thaw.  I remember in the early days though two powerful dreams I had where my father visited me and encouraged me to leave the old toxic path behind.   Lost relatives are energetically around us after they die, I firmly believe that.

In 1993 I could not yet know the trauma and grief I carried was ancestral on both the maternal and paternal sides.  Only later years of healing and sensing and doing emotional recovery work as well as being given information about our ancestral history has shown me this and given me heart insights.   I feel now more compassion for every single member of my family as I see they did the best they could with the level of insight they had but most of them are happy to float on the surface rather than look down into the ancestral issues, so sadly in our family we have patterns of emotional disconnection and distance which keep certain issues hidden and repeating.  I can only do my own emotional recovery work though and in recognising the links to the past start to break the entanglements I have been caught up in as a soul.  My task is to bring that awareness to light.  To see the part that fear played as well as the lack of holding and a safe space and then to find and create that for myself now so I that I can stay close to the light and not be so beseiged as a soul by past darkness.    As Carl Jung said what remains unconscious in our family history so often becomes our fate, only consciousness work at midlife can open our eyes and lead us on a journey of healing and discovery in which we find how complex issues are that plague us and what deep roots they have.

Lately I am relying a lot on the power of prayer.  I am aware that a higher power or force of love needs me to live in love and that that love is really the antidote for fear and unresolved grief..  Everyday I ask for my fears to be held and not overpower me.   I ask for help not to over ride my own boundaries as I learned to do in my family.  I ask for protection and care and safety so I can continue this awesome journey a day at a time.   I am coming to believe in the force of love and that I can choose to align myself with it.  Love wants us to face our fears and to see what we bury in darkness.  It asks us to be honest, even if that confronts others.  It asks us to be true to the call of our hearts and our souls which need our protection and care and can then extend that same protection, care and compassion to others.  Love also asks us to give rather than withhold what our souls and other souls needs so that the force of love can be demonstrated and thrive in all our relationships.

 

 

A beautiful interview on being fully present

The gem of wisdom in this interview comes towards the end, so stay with it.  “To be loved means to be recognised as existing”  fully in all of our suffering.  I have been an admirer of Thich Nhat Hanh for some time.  This beautiful interview toward the end gives some lovely advice on how to listen and be fully present with compassion for others and also for our selves.  We can use his mantras to talk kindly to ourselves when we suffer too.

 

My sad self : reflections on trauma, Persephone and journeying in the Underworld

Persephone2

My sad self is not the whole of me, though at times it is so strongly present.  There is a side of me that is very dark and heavy and sad, that has lived in a dark and heavy places of isolation, separation and grief and known great loss and pain, awakening at 17 when an accident nearly took me out and stole from me that last semester of my final year at school.  Talking with my therapist a few days ago I spoke of how it felt like at that age a tear appeared in the fabric of the earthly reality and a dark hand reached up to grab me and take me down into the Underworld.  That was just the initial event of many traumatic experiences that unfolded spanning the years from age 17 to 31 when I finally got sober and arrested my active addiction in 1993.

The light returned for a time, then, when I met my ex husband.  We had some happy years of normality as we built a life together but in time the darkness of my unresolved past claimed me.  As I look back I wish I could have made other choices.  I wish I could have remained tethered in the daylight world and gone on to share a life with my husband but it all got torn apart around this time of year and so my sad regretful self is very, very strong some days.   I find myself captured by thoughts of what could have been were we able to build a new life in Cambridge.  I know its useless to regret the past in that regretting solves nothing.

Maybe too, as my therapist says, my ex husband wasn’t a proper life partner for me, maybe it was all ‘meant to be’.  That kind of shift of perspective can make my heart less heavy as I realise that I can be grateful for the time we did have together but also recognise there was a deeper layer to me than could ever truly find a home in that relationship.  And that I had an inner destiny calling me within that had not only a personal but a collective purpose.

As I shared in an earlier post Mercury, planet ruling perception, mind, communication and journeys turned backwards for a glance on Sunday, the 11th and it is not quite on my Pluto/Persephone in the first house, but nearly!  So I am looking back at all the changes and endings that led to now and this new beginning.

I read a very insightful chapter in a book on the Goddesses in Everywoman many years ago and in the chapter on the Persephone woman I found myself.  The Persephone woman’s life journey takes her to the Underworld either through emotional abandonment, depression, abuse, trauma or addiction.  There she lives out the dark side, perhaps sharing a strong connection to the ancestors.  I have Pluto Moon and in her book on that subject, astrologer Judy Hall tells the stories of several Plutonian Moon people, John Lennon was one.  He wasn’t a woman but the early abandonment of his mother left him with wounds.  The other family profiled in that book with a strong Pluto/Persephone signature was the Bronte family.   Several of the Brontes died young and there was mother loss that dogged them all, most especially the younger brother.  The dark heart of Pluto Moon is present in several of the sister Bronte’s books which touch on obsessive love and mental suffering and trauma experienced in and through relationships (Moon) with the traumatised (Pluto).

For myself I feel the heavy blackness at times.  Kat and I were going over the years of my life that led to my oldest sister’s first suicide attempt in 1982, yesterday.  It was such a hard year in my life anyway in other ways.  Following my accident and an aborted attempt to embark on studies up North I returned home to live in hopes of finishing my teaching degree. Instead Dad forced me to go to secretarial college.  As Kat said to me yesterday : “That just wasn’t you”.  I told her that it was as boring as hell and that we had type in triplicate with two carbon papers only being allowed two mistakes a page.  No tippex and no computer autocorrect.  That year my drug taking and alcoholism really escalated.

In later years one smart arse said to me “why didn’t you tell your Dad to stick it up his jumper!”.  That wasn’t done and in any case I didn’t have means to support myself on the back of my accident.   Anyway it was that year my sister’s husband returned her home to us with a one way ticket and one blue tracksuit with a beaten up old case for what she believed was a two week holiday.  He just disappeared and there was no return ticket.  Her four boys were with him.  Suicide attempt in that dark front room at the start of the  hallway, dark, dark emptiness descends like a shroud, laying all joy to waste!   A few years later my father’s illness grew and he was taken, leaving us alone.

Early on I learned relationships were dangerous. Life was unsafe.  Today when I woke up I just lay there and repeated to myself over and over again.   “You are safe, you are loved.”  Trauma repeat on any waking up and coming to consciousness tells me otherwise!  It tells me without words but with body symptoms “you are about to die, or be killed! Or something is about to be stolen.” (As it always is, I guess, as life goes on!)

Death is really rearing its head in therapy lately and coming up a lot (Mercury on Pluto in the first house makes sense!).  In the absence of outside forces collecting to cut me down or kill me I can then internalise the killer within in the form of a nasty anti life critic mean saboteur grim reaper who cuts all life, all joy, all promise, all hope, all faith off.   That is when I find myself once again deep in Hades/Underworld or the inner place of shades with a traumatised Erishkegal crying over and over and over again “Woe to me, woe to my insides. All is black, all is helpless, all is fucked death is stronger than life.  I cannot make it!” (Black side of black/white thinking?)

And yet another part of me knows that this is also not the entire reality of the life that I can have and live to embrace.  There is also happiness that is there when I choose to say to that Underworld place : “No! I have done enough time here now!  Now please, will you let me reach for life, for light, for love, for promise, for joy, for hope?  Please don’t kill me off any more.  Please today let me live free and dance through the fields with Jasper.”

Today I beginning to feel that I can actually make a choice but you know moments before writing this and articulating all of this I felt that I was sucked back so far down in the darkness again and literally could not move  This feeling followed a conversation with my Mum after which I absorbed all her sadness and tiredness.  I came off the phone crying because yesterday a put a schism between us due to my abandonment wound arking up.  She didn’t respond with empathy and then I think on some level that just made us both sad.  Today she sounded so very, very tired and then I thought of how at times I almost feel my psychic energy body is reading or mirroring hers which would be another manifestation of strong Pluto Moon, a very strong psychic connection not only with my mother but with the mother line.

Lucky for me I can use perception, my mind and astrological signatures and archetypes to make sense of this ‘stuff’.   When it has its hooks in me though its a different story,  I am sucked on by the psychic/soup/fog of which I am not fully conscious.

I started this blog to speak about my sad self and to explain how that is not the entirety of me.  I have a happy self too, one that can live in the present moment and positive life energy.  I just have to become aware when the darker, heavier, sadder side is gaining hold, feeling my way into it, connecting with it, but not allowing it to fully possess me is a skill I am finally learning.   I want to be able to be and express from both sides for Persephone never lived the entire time in the Underworld. In spring she returned to upside world again with gifts to give and dark knowledge she earned having eaten and tasted the fruit of suffering of Hades/Pluto fruit, the pomegranate.  She can give then to those who also voyage or get trapped in the Underworld too.  She can affirm that they are not lying or mixed up about that place, that it is real and does exist and is not just some form of aberration that so called saner souls can say is ‘madness’ or ‘insanity’, rather it is like a scar or birthmark that permanently marks the souls of some of us.

Like Innana (another Persephone woman), the recovering Persephone becomes able to travel down to meet the ailing, grieving, inconsolable, wounded, flawed, disturbed and sorrowing, hungering side of others or of ourselves.  Through empathy and compassion (and self compassion ) she develops the resilience to be deeply present with others or herself, for a while, holding their/our hand and saying “woe is you and woe to your insides”.  She can do this with patience and forebearance just long enough for her  Underworld sister Erishkegal’s suffering to be soothed, mirrored, contained and transformed.  And then Innana finally becomes free, free to return once again, for a time to earth, to light, to spring, to sunshine, to hope, to trust, to love at least until the next descent or call is heard.

The force that fights love

I just reblogged a post by Monica Cassani which spoke about that sub part of our selves ‘the inner bully’ or ‘inner critic’ who can give us such a hard time as we go about trying to heal ourselves and become stronger on the path of recovery, and when I say stronger I am meaning it in the sense that a strong soul can embrace weakness, deficiencies and other flaws in themselves and set about finding a loving way to deal with those aspects of their being rather than just put on a mask or become filled with bluff or bravado, or get defensive when vulnerability is triggered.

As I read this post and considered my own struggle with my inner bully I thought of the part that fear of love and fear of being loved, embraced, open or vulnerable may play in our lives when we finally do begin to change old ways of being with both ourselves and others from a negative to a more positive slant.  And at the basis of all positive change I think that a healthy attitude of self care and self nurturing as well as self compassion are so very important.   Until we can embrace our weak spots, our past pain, wounds and injuries in self acceptance and love we don’t seem to get very far on the path of healing and we may actually even self sabotage when offered the chance to embrace something good.  Until we can honestly acknowledge our gifts, sensitivities and strengths and our unique spirit in ways even others cannot we also don’t ever get to experience the freedom of a full life.

I notice a lot of things in reading other WordPress posts.  I notice how staying trapped in feelings of self righteous anger at abusers often keeps people stuck and as I read those posts (as well as some of my older posts) I see how such feelings actually hide deep within them a (often unconscious) lack of acceptance, a refusal to be able to let the pain go on some level. T his is understandable as pain can and does run very, very deep if we have suffered abuse and it is a very long and painful process to work this through, acknowledging and embracing all our feelings without being eaten alive by them.

And yet I also feel that as we come to realise that we in fact did not deserve such abuse and as a result now sadly treat ourselves in the very same way that is when we have at our disposal the greatest gift and resource that can be used to help us overcome the negative down spiral that follows a painful history of emotional abandonment and abuse.  We may always stay angry at our abusers and that is fair enough but if our anger implies that in some way we are resisting the pain that we need to feel in order to move through to healing that held in anger can be not only counterproductive but toxic and may block forward movement.

Healing to my mind involves opening the locked door of our heart that wants to stay shut to pain.   We fear inviting that pain in as our deepest fear is that on some level it may destroy us, that we might not survive.   But my experience is that when I open the door of my heart to the full impact of past pain or grief that pain or grief is able to move and to transform on some level.  At that precious instant I fall into a place of deep inward surrender and peace in which I know without any doubt the full impact of my entire emotional pain history and see so clearly its consequences.  As I do a part of me wants to rise up and say ‘NO!”,  This is the cry of my spirit that knew it was deserving of so much more and could have shone so much more brightly and suffered far fewer years in the most painful and lonely isolation, an isolation that kept me imprisoned for well over 14 years.  And this awful truth is a  deeply difficult one to embrace and acknowledge.

And yet, another part of my spirit in some way actually needs to say an unconditional ‘Yes!’ at that moment.  To embrace the pain I didn’t choose in order that I can now let the pain go, knowing that to allow it to define the rest of my life would be to continue to pay too difficult a price which will keep me locked in prison, locked in death, locked in resistance, locked in unbecoming.  And that is now not what my spirit wants anymore!

When I know my spirit to be free, when I look to the positive things in my day, when I count the gifts of this path, compassion, wisdom, insight, deeper psychological knowledge then I find gratitude and that gratitude tends to bring the sunshine out in my soul.  When I look to how I can use my own suffering to help others, when I realise it is a gift to be able to say that I hurt and have suffered, when I no longer need to hide, when I use that suffering to make me reach for the light and love and joy in any day, when I find avenues of self expression and ways to let the energy of love flow out from me and to anchor in those energies of beauty and love all around me, wherever I find them, say in sunshine, nature, good company, music, art, poetry, films, dance then my spirit shines and is no longer as bowed down as it was before by the terrible burden of a lonely painful past full of trauma.

And when I realise that all along the inner bully is just fear and thrives not on life but on attack well then I have a choice to answer that fear with love, compassion, wisdom and insight, and I no longer need to turn my inner bully out on others in the world, criticising them, even if they, due to unconsciousness or nastiness are continuing to try to cause me suffering.  Instead I can just turn to my inner child essence and spirit, take her by the hand and chose to walk away or answer with love, no longer hooked by my own deeply buried anguish into reacting, lashing out or trying to change what is and was never in my power to change and what I am so much better off, walking away from.

Rocking

My heart broke this afternoon to arrive to see my Mum in her chair in the hospital arms wrapped around her shrinking body rocking with her head down.   I wrapped my arms around her and cried.  She spoke of her anxiety attacks and how finally one of the doctors had asked her about her emotional history.  Thank God they finally began to make some connections between what she has gone through emotionally and the physical ailments that are besieging her.  I wish my Mum had found somewhere to pour out her pain years ago when she struggled to deal with the abandonment issues that led her first daughter to collapse.   I think now it is a case of not enough and too late.

I emotionally connect to my Mum only when we are alone.  When my sister is there or there are other visitors Mum stays silent about her pain.   It may be good that the focus is off of her pain for a while but at the same time there is so much I feel she needs to share.  I am under no illusions that I am my Mum’s saviour but I know how painful grief and isolation are.  I look back with sadness at the time I needed to ask for or lean on my Mum’s support but could not due to an old pattern. I got angry or fearful and ran.   I can not have those lost years back, over 13 years now that saw the end of my marriage which also hurt my Mum so deeply and led me to a deeply isolated place from which I am only now beginning to emerge.

I know I didn’t do anything ‘wrong’ but choosing the actions I did led me to more isolation, at the time I was in recovery for addiction so my emotional awareness had not yet begun to open up.  I did not know how I would deal with what was below the surface if I reached towards those who were struggling with their own pain and so several times I took myself off alone.   Its confusing as I probably could have healed on my own at a safe distance years ago, but now I don’t feel that either me or my mother can.  Our healing or coming to peace involves our need to connect and come out of the prison of emotional isolation that seems to have dogged us like a curse along the multi generational line.

It was so hard to leave the hospital just over an hour ago, but I knew I had to come home to take care of my dog Jasper and myself too.  Without self care there is nothing for me to give to anyone else.  I am so sad that I cannot connect with anyone else in my family at this level at the moment.  My nephew who I thought I was close to has not returned my calls.  The sad fact is that fear keeps many members of my family emotionally distant and disconnected from each other, that and a stoic kind of self sufficiency and concern with material worldly things that ultimately, to my mind, seem unimportant at the level of heart.

Sad as the situation is though, I must accept it.  I can only give the love I feel and I can pour out my disappointment about my family’s lack of emotional availability with my therapist, Kat who understands.  Modern life seems so busy and superficial at times.   People shake their heads when someone chooses to end their life as if its a great mystery as to what made them do it.  “Why didn’t they reach out?” they bemoan.  But when did that actually pick up the phone to say “How are you, and how are you feeling?”  How many people end up suiciding because for years they were never truly seen at an emotional level?   Of course if we feel desperate we can and should open up emotionally but what I feel is more of a problem for our society is how deaf we have become to essential matters of the heart with our rampant preoccupation with the cult of materialism and individualism.   Its a deep dark truth and its one we need to change.