full weight of everything

The reality is that no one yelled. No one hit. No one was overtly cruel or intentionally harmful. Violence? Neglect? Abuse? No, never, these were not things that happened in our home growing up. We read books. We played board games. We lit Hanukkah candles and played Frisbee golf in the backyard.

Silence, though. Silence has its cost. We did not feel pain. We did not go where it hurt. Avoidance. You cannot teach what you have not learned. You cannot be emotionally present for others when you cannot be emotionally present with yourself.

Now– here– today– Adult Me– I’m rereading Harry Potter this summer. Concurrently, in the past couple weeks, I’ve been overcome with anger. Stuffed up and unable to shift emotional energy through my body. I have learned over the past couple years that under anger is fear and under anger is grief. Yet here I am, stuck stuck stuck. Forcing energy to shift doesn’t work. How can I access the grief? A couple years ago, this was so easy. When there was a fresh loss. That’s what healing is– grieving. Why is it so stuck now? Because frustration always helps move things along smoothly, after all.

Then, this morning, I turn the page:

Mrs. Weasley set the potion down on the bedside cabinet, bent down, and put her arms around Harry. He had no memory of ever being hugged like this, as though by a mother. The full weight of everything he had seen that night seemed to fall in upon him as Mrs. Weasley held him to her. His mother’s face, his father’s voice, the sight of Cedric, dead on the ground all started spinning in his head until he could hardly bear it, until he was screwing up his face against the howl of misery fighting to get out of him.

When I have howls of misery, I tend to hold myself tightly, wrap myself in myself. Only by holding myself can I feel– I don’t know another way, I don’t have memories of loved ones teaching me that it’s safe to be held, safety is in holding on to each other and letting go into each other. I pull away. I don’t trust that we can hold each other.

Boundaries are complicated.

My dad told me several years ago, when I was caring for an ill family member, that when it’s family, you don’t ask. You just do. You just take care — bring food, spend the night, make tea. You just do. You don’t ask.

Somewhere along those lines, though, across the years– within an enmeshment of miscommunication and avoidance — somewhere along those lines– where was the taking care? Sometimes when you’re a kid, what you need isn’t what you want. I never wanted to feel grief. I never wanted to be seen crying. I never trusted it was okay to feel. And I did not learn how.

Growing up takes time.

I recently fell apart at work, emotionally activated by an intense community meeting. Afterwards, a coworker held me tightly as I sobbed. As the meeting ended, knowing I was about to fall apart, I tried to make a beeline for the bathroom to hide. But no– she intercepted and held me. I started to resist, but I felt the sureness, the safety. She wrapped her arms around me and carried the weight–physical and emotional mass. She held me as I let go into her. She held me. And she did not look away.

Grief.

He had no memory of being held like this, as though by a mother.

 

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“if you do not own your story, it will own you”

I keep reading and rereading the beautiful words that come from this blog.

I keep saying it over and over- if you do not own your story, it will own you.  Your story is being told either way.  It is either being told because you are standing in your whole truth, having integrated whatever you think your unspeakable story is as A fact your life- or it becomes THE fact of your life, and is told through unhealthy and harmful ways- addiction, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, perfectionism, promiscuity… those things are all your story being told- it’s just your story as told by your abuser.  You are not the author.

Yes, go read all of this blog. I have so much respect and faith in writers like these, who take their truth carefully and gently and then hold open their arms and ears for others’ words, other stories.

I struggle with stories. The aspiring Buddha part of me says drop the storyline, be present, let go of your ego. The shaming parts of me say keep your mouth shut, this isn’t about you, go serve others, make yourself very small. The young parts of me still deeply believe it’s my job to make everyone happy and I am responsible for their emotions. Don’t rock the boat.

And other parts of me? They know. They know the power of saying a sentence, a word, honoring a memory as it comes up, respecting the events that have happened… I know the power of just naming IT, whatever IT it may be on a given day or week or month. I know how hard it is. I know the tension of suffering and the relief that can come just from a simple sentence, an exchange, an acknowledgement.

“Do you have plans on Memorial Day?”

“Yeah, actually, I’m really excited– my roommate and I are going hiking,”

“Oh that’s awesome!”

“Yeah. I’m also relieved to have plans because it’s the two-year anniversary of a traumatic incident and having something to be fully present for is good,”

“Yeah. I get that.”

You get it, because you’ve been there in your own ways. We are people who get it.

Just naming it. With a trusted colleague or friend, shifting the weight of an anniversary out into the world makes us feel just a slight bit lighter on the inside.

Similarly, I have swum through years of painful time between Christmas and New Years Eve– deep depression, anger, and panic–without looking at its origin. This year, I put the two and two together and acknowledged that that time is also an anniversary of a difficult time– and for the first time, I named a piece of it: sexual assault. The details don’t matter, yet naming it– acknowledging yes this happened and no it wasn’t my fault and yes it’s messy and complicated…. Naming it. Sharing it. Letting go of the weight inside my chest.

Because In Others’ Words is right: The story is coming out whether we like it or not. We repeat trauma, try to get it right, try to understand– and until we feel safe enough to pause, see what’s happening, and find the courage to name it, and share it– it sits heavy inside. Way, way too heavy.

Even writing this– on a 99% anonymous blog– that shaming voice is saying no, nope, no one wants or needs to hear this. And maybe that’s true. But I’m here for me tonight, and I need to hear it. Stories are who we are– and who we are not– but that story is there whether we like it or not.

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who knows why

Music in the heart tonight:

 

the only way in is through / and I am trying to get through
… who knows why / things wind up the way they do

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She doesn’t want to run away this time

Six years ago on New Year’s Eve a dear friend experienced a sexual assault. A year and a half later she started talking about it but stopped when it became too much, too overwhelming. Other symptoms took over, requiring attention and priority care. She pushed it away. One week ago she was triggered again and she doesn’t want to run away this time.

She has worked through other trauma, other painful experiences. She knows coping skills and grounding techniques. She feels ready. This time, she knows the only way out is through and she knows it’s time to talk about it. She knows it’s complicated and messy and confusing. She knows it’s wrapped up in grief,  anger, preemptive attempts at forgiveness. This time, she knows that no matter what, what happened at that New Year’s party was Not Okay.

This time, for the first time, she used the words “sexual assault” because that is, in fact, what happened.

Here are some gentle reminders for my friend, as she turns her face toward that night:

  1. It doesn’t matter whether you were drunk or sober.
  2. It doesn’t matter whether you said “No,” repeatedly or wished you said something, anything at all.
  3. It doesn’t matter if he was your friend.
  4. It doesn’t matter if you don’t remember all the details.
  5. It doesn’t matter if it wasn’t physically violent.
  6. It doesn’t matter if you had said “Yes” a few days earlier.
  7. It doesn’t matter if other people “have it worse” or different.
  8. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had positive sexual experiences since then.

You’re starting to make the shift from your brain to your heart. Please know in your heart that intrusive, tactile memories point to trauma. Hyperventilation, insomnia, and cold detachment point to trauma. Please know that it really doesn’t matter what we call it– it was a violating experience that has trickled back in bits and pieces when other events happen. This is the definition of “trigger.” It has impacted you in a painful way and that’s enough. It’s not more or less than what it is. It is enough. You are enough.

It wasn’t your fault. I know it’s complicated and you’re making yourself sick trying to remember what you said and what he said and what exactly happened and whose hands were where and did you ever actually say the word “No” out loud?  Was it that you didn’t say “Stop it” firmly enough?

You have the right to be confused, scared, angry, sad. You have the right to your emotions. It wasn’t okay.

And please know in your heart that you did the best you could to take care of yourself. At the New Year’s party in a house full of people, your choice to stay with him, stay quiet, not “make a scene” was the safest choice for you. Know that. Know it happened and it wasn’t your fault. And know it was not okay.

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the little things

One day you notice it doesn’t seem so hard anymore.

A scary, confusing dream, but you didn’t wake up shaking in sweat, in terror.

A train ride with your boss and you find yourself overwhelmed by gratitude that you get to work with and learn from such wonderful, kind, talented people.

A morning yoga class when you realize you’ve actually learned some of the poses and oh it’s so much easier to be mindful when you aren’t confused about what body part goes where.

A jog through the park because it feels good, not because it’s the only way to make your day okay.

Drinking a beer with your roommate on Friday night because it’s comfortable to be home and spend time together after a hectic week.

Home feels safe.

Buying a holiday gift for a friend, not because you feel obligated to give, but because you know she’ll love it.

The holidays bring up a lot but, when you’re ready, you let yourself feel joyful and celebrate with others.

Tomorrow you are saying goodbye to a dear friend who played an irreplaceable role in healing from last year’s trauma. She was the first person you felt a real connection to in months and it felt safe to be yourself around her. You know you’re probably never going to see her again, but you know you’ll hold each other in your hearts. You’ve cried– and you’ll continue to cry– but you know this ending is an opportunity to say goodbye. You do not take this opportunity for granted.

You call your mom on the phone this weekend because you feel grounded in your Self.

You light a candle tonight and feel grateful.

One day you notice it doesn’t seem so hard anymore.

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Writing update

I’m thinking about real writing. I’ve published under a pseudonym recently. I wonder what it would be like to own those emotions, those words.

I have a lot to say. I just want to know “it’s okay” to say. And I want to know in my gut, in my core, that putting my words out there is what I want to do.

Until I’m sure, here I’ll stay.

 

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Choose to be okay with not knowing why

You want a reason, a label, a point-to, a know-how.  You want to know why. Why you sleep through the night, but feel exhausted when your alarm goes off. Why you suddenly have no taste for the morning, no desire to get out of bed. Why the days are getting shorter and so is your patience. Why your hips and knees and neck and back hurt. Why waves of exhaustion hit you square in the face and if there ever was a good reason to call out sick due to feeling kind of tired, this would be the week to try it out. Why reality seems a little fuzzy. Why your nihilistic streak is streaking loud. Why you know you have so much on your to-do list at work, yet come home and sink into bed or the couch. Exhaustion. Why you are so exhausted. Why stress gets under your skin so easily. Why overwhelm and why perfectionism, why trying to do more than your best and why managing your time is a challenge. Why you swore you wouldn’t crawl into bed fully clothed with your dinner in hand this fall, why you know it’s a tricky habit to get into, the shrinking of the world to your bed and closing your bedroom door. Why lying in bed under your weighted blanket feels so safe. Why you know you can’t choose comfort and courage at the same time but you know your default is comfort, is safety, and always has been. Why courage seems slightly out of range at the moment.

You want to know why the numbness is creeping in. Why, even when you know it’s better to feel pain and grief, know you feel more alive when you’re actually feeling this pain– why, even when you know in your core emotions are what compose your life– why, even when you know better, you’ve faded back into the woodwork default of disconnect. You want to know why you have been so spaced out. Why you forgot to get off the train last week and wound up miles away from home before you realized. Why engaging with the world, why connection, why common humanity– why these themes seem so foreign. And why again, why again so foreign.

You know about trauma. You know that this framework is one that makes the most sense these days. You don’t know what to make of it, though. You know about all sorts of  other labels- you’ve been on the receiving end of a diagnosis so many times that it’s lost most of its meaning. You know that you don’t know what to call what’s happening these days. You could call it depression but you know it’s not. It feels more like exhaustion, overwhelmed, falling flat on your face. Fight or flight or freeze– you’re running away from these feelings. Whatever you call this, you know you can’t know why– you know you can’t stick a label on it and understand it tonight. But you know this wave will pass. You know the fall is stressful, you know the shorter days are scary, you know that you don’t know the half of it. You know you can’t know. You don’t have to know.

You don’t have to know.

You just have to choose:

Choose baby steps. Choose kindness. Choose a hot shower and hot meal. Choose compassion. Choose to take care of yourself. Choose to move through this wave. Choose hope.

Choose to be okay with not knowing why.

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