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The Greatest Thing…

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“The greatest thing is just to love,

AND be loved in return.”

 

 

My grief cycle moved very nicely from anger to sadness throughout the day, which I credited to really FEELING my emotions, which I hadn’t really done before with strong “negative” emotions, for lack of better terms.

Last night I attended another Authentic Relating circle.  I was particularly nervous because a friend was also attending.  This made me feel vulnerable for a couple of reasons.  First, they knew me outside of the circle, and that I had been struggling.  Second I was concerned that I would no longer be able to be an on-looker at the circle, and need to participate more.  Both concerns were forcing me to look at my emotions and focus on being present in the space which I ended up being very grateful for.

I also was grateful that I was asked a pointed question about how I was feeling, which forced me to be out in the open and vulnerable.  After the past few days, I was feeling raw, and was craving the opportunity to speak about my experience and yet still feeling really trepidatious about opening up to a group of nine people I barely knew about the hurt I was feeling.  But as soon as I started talking I started to feel a release of some of the sadness I was carrying.

I started to hear the stories of the other’s in the room and one line struck me about being a giver, and pouring a lot of love and time into relationships and feeling like you’re not getting much back.  When I heard that line it hit me so hard, like someone threw truth at me like a brick.  All I wanted to do was to reach out touch the person who said this, but they were across the room.  It was an almost overwhelming desire to connect and go, I hear you, this is exactly it.  The givers give, but often we are not given TO.

Yes. yes. YES. You are not alone, I hear you.

One of the reasons I surround myself with such amazing people is TO LOVE.

 

I’ve realized that equally important is to be loved IN RETURN.  

 

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Dear Yellow,

Yellow, you are a feeling.  I saw you this morning in the sun, and I wasn’t ready to see you.   Minutes later you hit me in the face with a pretty Insta post with the hashtag #goodmorning and #wakeup.  You symbolized the feeling of dread I had today. This feeling of “the world just isn’t ready for the rage I have to unleash on it today.”  I wasn’t ready for this pure lemon cake color.  I was ready for coffee and grunge brown.

Yellow, I didn’t think I could interact with you today.  I didn’t think I could start to see the good in the world.  I didn’t think I could start to think that there are people out there that aren’t trying to be subversive and mean.  I started the day spinning on my current friendships and wondering how they too are going to plot against me and suddenly flip the script and dump me in a dumpster fire like I was a couple days ago.  This is not the color yellow.  This is is pea soup green, and not the pretty kind.  The kind with lots of bacon grease and goo.

Yellow, you started to find me today in reassurances.  In little moments where I was told that I was a good person, despite words to the contrary.  I found you, yellow, in snuggles with my kiddo.  I found you in pre-lunch almond rocas.  I found you in little social media messages with new friends where I got to share little inside jokes, about the color yellow. I found you in the acoustic version of Ella Vos’ “Down in Flames.  I found you in the sun that snuck in through a small crack in the blinds.

Yellow, you were in my therapy room today, where I raged, and cried, and shook for 20 minutes explaining why I was so hurt and angry.  And I looked across the room and saw this hilariously drawn unicorn with zebra stripes.  I smiled and realized that you, yellow, were in the room.  In that moment I realized that it really didn’t matter anymore. The truth will never be heard by the one person who would need to understand it. I was just the person in the way at the moment in their story of hurt.  And that’s really sad.  I can move on, but they are likely lost in a sad story.  I wish I could be there, as I had been before, but I won’t be. That was the choice they made, and maybe one day looking back they will see that.

Yellow, thank you for being so beautiful.  I went back to you today and noticed how pure you are.  Thank you for putting amazing people in my life who talked me through amazing things over the past few days, especially those who knew both of us in this conflict and could really stand with me in understanding.  I feel such a burden of release and relief.  It’s weird to have a color associated with it, but I do.  Thank you.

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Waves of Grief

Grief: deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement

Through my life, I’ve had seasons of relationships, several of which have come and gone naturally as people have moved away, or as men have entered and left my life.

The largest relationship that ended was the divorce of my father and I. Divorces are often referenced when speaking of marriages, but as time has moved forward through my life, I’ve come across more and more people who have moved through divorces with family members (particularly parents) and even deep friendships.

They always hurt. However, the more experiences I’ve had with them, the more I’ve been able to take things from each relationship and learn from them.  Flexing self-care boundaries and advocating for one’s own needs in relationships can feel selfish early on if you aren’t used to it, but relationships that are well-balanced will be able to handle honest open communication when those needs arise.  Those conversations may still be fragile (because let’s be honest, it’s still hard to say “I need this, and you aren’t meeting that need” and it’s hard to hear that and not react strongly as well.)  If the relationship can’t handle those conversations, it’s a great time to start looking at that more closely.

Today I am hurting and I’m raw due to the loss of a friend.  I broke up with this person last night, and I’m in mourning. I’m wishing it could be different, but also know that it was for the best, and was a long time coming.   I’m angry and sad beyond belief today.

I’m experiencing literal and physical waves of grief as I have so much to say and know it will never be heard. I’m feeling that my truth is completely right, and hers is lost in her story.

I went to my massage this morning and in the middle was asked what I was experiencing and at that moment burst into tears and said “waves of grief.”  I felt warm contractions of tightness all over my body moving through of pain and sadness as I started to process all the anger and frustration other feelings this situation brought up in my heart, and how the gaslighting of this interaction churned up remnants of past interactions I’d had in previous relationships.  I felt, as her hands were on my neck, this shooting moving through my body that landed in the pit of my stomach that was similar to this awareness I’d have when people would say things I just knew not to be true, this visceral gut feeling like a blinking warning light screaming at me to run away, but I felt stuck. There was literally nothing to do but lie there and feel, and grieve and notice.

So for 90 minutes I lay there, felt, grieved, and noticed.

I’m feeling vulnerable, misunderstood and wanting to be a right-fighter, but knowing that none of that matters because nothing can fix this, and even if it did, it could never be the same.  So it will be left, never to be talked about again and I need to face feelings of bereavement.

I have to refocus all my feelings to the future.  What have I noticed is important to me?

1. I am worthy, and others I’m friends with are worthy too- I am worthy of friendship, and of people noticing me.  I had people checking in on me last night after the divorce happened.  I had people checking in on me today.  This is how I behave as a friend towards others as well.  This is friendship.  I am not a last-option.  I am not an accidental thumb dial when you are a purposeful consistent dial.

2. I will make time for my friends, and my friends will make time for me- I value my friendships, and I will make sure they know that.  I will continue to go over and chalk their driveways with pretty messages if they are having a bad day.  Or bring them Italian sodas, or drop them a text to let them know I’m thinking of them because that’s who I am. My friends will do things that will help me know that they are there for me (in their own way.) Not only will I work to get together with them, they will work to get together with ME.  I will work harder to figure out creative ways to get together with my friends.  I’ve realized that this is really important to me.

3. I will not just rely on Social Media for my friendships, I need more.  I will continue to build relationships outside the keyboard.  Social media will enhance the friendships, not be the main form of communication.

4. I will not be gaslit.  I will remain true to what I know is right and true. I’ve worked hard to know what my gut feeling is, and it’s accurate.  I need to listen to that feeling more and use it.  It’s a powerful and amazing tool.

5. I will strengthen my friendships by sharing fun, challenging, and intellectual experiences.  These things make me feel alive, and those I want to be around will also share those feelings!

You matter.

I matter.

We matter.

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The Cost of a Pencil

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In middle school, I sat and watched the popular girls pass notes across the aisles.  The notes would be written on blue lined notebook paper, intricately folded as if made into origami cranes.  As soon as the teacher’s back was turned, the kites flew across the desks as quick as lightning, the pre-Twitter glimpses of little girls intimate thoughts to each other about boys, friends, and future plans.

I dreamed of having these notes passed to me one day.  However, my fate in middle school was sealed on day one, and the only folded notes I had were ones I practiced myself.

I went into middle school poor.  That is to say, I was the girl showing up in torn second-hand clothing and a boys haircut.  This put me behind from the beginning.  I sat down in class the first week and a girl in front of me asked for a pencil.  I didn’t have enough to give away, knowing that what I had needed to last the whole year, so I said no… very hesitantly and regretfully.

Little did I know, this girl was the most popular in the 6th grade.  In addition, her last name was right before mine, so we were destined to sit next to each other for the rest of my middle school career in every class.  She was ruthless and had social collateral gathered to have a posse of girls against me within the day.  And so it went for three years solid.

Teachers watched as I would be bullied by a gaggle of particularly awful girls.  One would kick me in the head daily in choir class and the director would see it, look at me, then look away.

Looking back, what is most interesting to me was my deep desire to be accepted by these girls.  “What could I do to get these girls to like me?”  Was this thought to get them to stop doing what they were doing, or because I truly wanted to be liked by them? To this day, my motives on that question are unclear as I am an unreliable witness to my own past experience.  I had folded into myself.

My mother and father were lost in their failing marriage.  The family in poverty while the divorce drained the resources both financially and emotionally, leaving me not in the crosshairs, but totally forgotten.  I folded into myself.

I recall when the bullying had reached a boiling point at school and I finally said something to my mother.  She, from her place of privilege, spoke pretty words of 1. they are just jealous (which was just untrue, due to my place of poverty) 2.  they have anger problems (how is this helpful?) 3.  tell a teacher (they are literally watching this happen and doing nothing)  4.  let’s invite them over to our house (OMG ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?) 5. In a couple of years, it will be over (but for the next three years?) 6. Just ignore them (How does one do that when your entire realm is them?) I folded into myself with no ally in sight.

However, one thing was clear, I felt very vulnerable. At 12, I experienced my first real serious depressive episode and became suicidal.   I was alone in my world, and no adult was going to help me.  I folded into myself.

At this point, the food I was getting from home was not meeting my needs (at this point I was eating one pack of uncooked ramen for lunch.)  I found out that a girl at school qualified for free school lunch, but never picked up her tickets… so because I was hungry, I started to pretend I was her.  Daily, I told the lunch lady my “name” and picked up her ticket.  I finally felt like I fit in and I got enough to eat for one meal out of the day.

I pulled this off for several months until one day I went up to the lunch lady and told her my “name” and she said, “no you aren’t!”  I still, to this day, recall the flush of heat I felt across my chest when she yelled this across the lunchroom.  You could hear a pin drop, and she pulled me by my arm from one side of the room to the other, with everyone watching me all the way to the office.  The school’s eyes bored into me as my shame radiated around me like a nuclear glow.  All this because I was hungry. I folded into myself.

I sat in the principal’s office waiting for my mother, and when she arrived the question was asked of me “well, do you have enough to eat at home?”  My mother worked for the district and was known by the principal, and with this additional complication, the answer was handed to me on a silver platter with her eyes boring into me just like the entire school’s had been moments earlier.  “Yes, of course, I do,” I said.  And I folded into myself.

My punishment for this egregious crime of stealing lunch tickets was community service for a month.  I emptied trash and cleaned blackboards of all the teachers and offices for all the after-school classes which all the richer kids could pay for.  The girls that mocked me all day long got to see me on janitor duty every day as well.  And I folded into myself.

At this point, my mother found me a therapist for a short time.  Every week I’d go there and play board games.  I found this hour a total waste of my time, mostly because at the end, he’d meet with my mother with me out of the room.  This felt like a total violation of any potential conversation I’d ever have with him, so I ended up just wasting time with him.

Near the end of our time together, he asked me once what my “biggest problem was,” and I thought about it.  I answered “my hole in my shoe.”  Thinking back on it, I was being REALLY honest.  If he had probed that answer, he would have really uncovered a LOT about poverty, my intense bullying and a plethora of home/school/life/abuse issues.  But alas, he closed the hour with a sigh. Soon after he gave up on me. And I folded into myself.

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Where does that leave us?  Somehow, despite suicide attempts, severe depression, anxiety and an equally oppressive high school career, I made it though.  No teacher ever intervened.  No adult stood up strongly for me, but more importantly WITH me, despite clearly seeing what was happening.  Though my experience was threaded with socio-economic and psycho-social issues, it snowballed from ONE event… a PENCIL.  A pencil in sixth grade almost cost me my life, several times over. We HAVE to do better for our young people.  I am ONLY ONE.

We have to unfold and to encourage others to unfold.  We have to do better. 13906608_10100592277897561_6423930915444828325_n.jpg

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Vicarious Vulnerabilty Victim

This week I attended another Authentic Relating Event, Circling, this one much smaller than the first with only 8 people in the room.  While the setting was different, the content was focused on authentic relating.

My main worry was having nowhere to “hide” with the smaller crew.  I felt… vulnerable. (So I suppose I was right on track.)  Tuesday was a day full of anxiety, and this event was mere hours after.  I thought of canceling, but I had already paid and had bailed from this event two weeks prior.

Admittedly, I enjoyed this intimate setting much more as I was able to settle in and learn more about each member of the group rather than mingling with 20 others.  I was quite nervous to attend this particular “circling” event, however, due to an ominous review from a person from the previous larger event.

Circling is formatted around two “circles;” conversation sessions that happened among the eight of us over 45 minutes with a break in between.  The first circle was dubbed a “birthday circle.”  Birthday circles are focused on one person, where the conversation organically moves around this person topically.  Due to confidentiality, I will not mention what we talked about specifically.  However, broadly, the topics involved how this person reacted to insight given by the others in the group and past experiences.

Though this circle was directed and focused on this one individual, I noticed that I was internalizing a lot of interesting facts about myself.  How would I react to certain situations that were brought up?  How would I feel if I were asked this question?  How would I react if I were asked this question in that particular way or tone?

When this truth bomb was so casually thrown out in the middle of the circle…

“Self-care can disguise itself as isolation.”

I mean, holy shit.  Prepare me next time, Y’all.  I don’t know about you, but I can count on 1845493 hands how many times my self-care has looked like just me retreating into my soul in an unhealthy “omg just leave me alone I’m dying here but save me but leave me alone but help me” way.  However, I label the retreat as “self-care.”  Dude, get over yourself.  Sometimes needing to be alone is self-care.  Totally.  But if you are unplugging from the people you tell when you are having a hard time… if you are running away (especially if you are running away from yourself), first off, good luck.  Second off, let someone know that you are struggling and let them know that you are going to wade around in the shit for a day.  Then do it.  Go ahead.  But then plug back in.

Self-care can disguise itself as isolation.” 

Okay, back to the night. More broadly, once I got comfortable with the questions being asked, I started to probe my ideas about the askers themselves.  What about their experiences brought them to this space, and why did they think what they did?

All this thinking, of course, led me to be quite quiet during this circle. I asked a couple of questions to appear engaged (though I was DEEPLY engaged internally), and then we went to break. During break, it became apparent that several of the people in attendance were friends, and they started to speak with each other.  I noticed that I started to feel left out.  I tried to engage by eye contact with the story and laughing when there was something funny, but there was still a level of disconnect.

We started the second circle which was an “organic circle,” which was waiting to see what would come up.  One person talked a bit about drifting and spoke a bit about feeling disconnected from the group then hesitated to speak further because the topic would be dark.  This was REALLY interesting to me because the first circle was so light and I resonated with the disconnect.  Again, I won’t go details about the topic due to confidentiality.

We closed the circles and two of the people turned to me and said they wished that they had heard me talk more, and they wanted to get to know me better.  My immediate response was that I wish I had talked more as well.  It was an odd thing to come out of my mouth as I didn’t really even think about it.  I had just spent so much time listening to people be so brave with their thoughts and feelings that I just felt I was holding space to hear them.

I drove home feeling very warm and lovely.

 

When I walked in the door I sat next to my husband and told him about the event and I sensed a weird vibe.  As I talked more about the events, I felt a heavier and heavier cloud settling.  I had just spent 3 hours being in tune with people’s emotions, and I knew there was something wrong.

“Are you okay with me going to these events?” I asked (sensing there was something much deeper.)

“Yes.  I just don’t get why you go to them and share thoughts and feelings there.  I mean you have family and me for that.”  He replied.

I had an immediate thought that I couldn’t hold back, “Are you jealous?”

“No!”  He was so quick to reply that there felt like there was some truth there.

“Okay.  Tell me more about what you are feeling then, because I don’t understand, and it seems like you have some concerns.  Is it because there are guys at these events and I share these experiences with them too?” (Knowing that cheating is never ever a concern on either of our minds, I wanted to give him a starting point to work from.)

“Not at all. I guess where I come from is that the feelings and thoughts you mention are things that I generally share with you or my family.  I just don’t understand why you feel the need to seek these experiences outside of us for…”

And he paused.  And cried.

So I waited and thought. And got it.

“So what I’m hearing is that since your emotional needs are met by me and family, the only reason you’d do something like this is if those needs WEREN’T being met.  So, since I am doing this, you’re concerned that YOU aren’t meeting my needs as my life partner?”

“BINGO.” And he took a deep breath of understanding.

 

So then we hashed out how lovely our relationship is, and that the reason I do things like this is to be brave.  And I can be brave because I feel so secure in our relationship.

I married up, Y’all.

 

 

 

 

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A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.

I recall when The Five Love Languages was in its heyday in the relationship scene.  I was heavy into the church phase of my life, and EVERYONE seemed to be reading this book. (Along with “Boy Meets Girl” and “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” which I will discuss later in this blog series, and I refuse to link.)

For those who need a refresher, the premise is that everyone gives/receives love in 5 basic ways:

  • Physical Touch
  • Words of Affirmation
  • Acts of Service
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts
(Important to note, the way that you receive love may not be the way you give love to others.)

And while the book tended to be wielded into use by the couples on the scene, I started to use its guidance more recently for self-examination.

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My large circle of church friends vanished as I focused on survival after my assault.  I learned a difficult lesson. Friendship (for me) is about SHOWING UP.  Showing up is a lifestyle.  It’s not a singular event, it’s a pattern.

Non-survivors of complex trauma don’t understand the extent of the risk involved with friendship.  It goes beyond the risk of a typical friendship. It is a risk to us survivors to hold our heart out and hope that those friends will not let it drop.  It’s a risk to offer it in the first place.  It’s a risk if we have shared our stories with you.

Soon, we will stop asking you to show up (because that means we have learned.)

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SHOW UP, friends.  

 

And DON’T FOLD, Survivors.

The vulnerability project is never as real is it is right here.

“I like my body {self} best when I’m not worried about how much space it’s taking up.”

 

 

 

 

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Limbal Ring of Insight

 

“Of all the qualities that give an attractive person an edge, here’s one you’ve likely overlooked:  the limbal ring,  the dark circle around iris.  The limbal ring is the line that separates the colored part of the eye from the white…. 

The limbal ring is well-named. Limbis means border or edge, and it’s related to limbic, meaning emotion or drives. The limbal ring, seen from inches away, is an intimacy zone.”

~ Pyschology Today~

Last night I attended a game night hosted by Authentic Relating  (A.R.) in a neighboring city. Authentic relating meet-ups are based on the idea of deepening interpersonal connections and really pushing aside the fluff and getting to the meat of the authenticity of each other in conversation and interpersonal relationships from the get-go. From their page, their goals state that their activities are created to: “Highlight and train body awareness, Create deep connection, Boost empathy, Strengthen community, Be fun!”

For someone who survived trauma and has anxiety going to this event was a BIG leap.  I had already bailed on this event once two weeks prior, and I was committed to attending this time around.  I was challenged already as it was in a new place, with new people, at night.  The topic was “self-love,” another topic that can be hard for us women/mothers, as putting our needs and self-compassion in the forefront can be challenging.

As someone with PTSD does, I got there early and parked where I could see other people enter to make sure I got to the right place.  Then when I was convinced that I COULD, in fact, do ANYTHING for 2 hours, I walked in.  This event was held in a lovely space, and the people were friendly.  I sat down on a comfortable pillow in a giant circle and waited for the event to begin.

Marina Abramović’s performance at MoMA in 2010 emphasizes the power of eye contact. Marina Abramović is a Serbian performance artist who has various performances that push her body to extremes to experience pain, nudity, violence, and vulnerability. In her performance The Artist is Present, which took place in MoMA in 2010, Marina sits on a chair as the spectators come one by one to sit in front of Marina to look at her eyes for a whole minute. The moment they look at each others’ eyes and communicate without any words is so deep that the vulnerability of eye contact becomes the power of communication. In just one minute.

During my two hours with the other twenty authentic relaters, we went through several activities meant to help us gently grow, and find our edges.  They didn’t waste any time diving right in, starting with the very activity Marina Abramovic did at MoMA.  We were to find a partner, hold hands and simply hold eye contact with each other silently until we found that we had really connected, then move on to the next person.  Thankfully, I had chatted with someone who sat next to me when I arrived, to the two of us partnered up.

My partner had been to previous A.R. events, so this particular activity seemed within her comfort zone, where the immediate and sustained eye contact with a stranger immediately hit up against my edge.

Knowing this was the idea of the activity, I went inside those feelings and started to explore them while maintaining eye contact with my partner.  She had a kind face and an accepting expression.  Knowing I was new, I sensed she knew this was challenging for me.  Mere seconds in, my heart began to race, my shoulders tensed, my breath was unsteady, and it hit me… how little I sustain eye contact with people when I am expressing feelings.

In this one minute, I managed to have a full soul search and had the serious realization of a need to be more bold with those I talk with, and to connect with them more when I am speaking my truth.  I have no problem connecting with others with full eye contact when they are speaking about THEIRS, but I shy away when I am speaking about mine.

Tomorrow night is the gathering of my delightful tribe of twelve ladies who gather once a month at my home to fellowship and simply be among women.  I will be exercizing these new skills if the opportunity comes up!