tap. tap. tap. Hey, is this thing on?
I feel that at least a short summary on all the things that have been going on is long over due.
By October of last year work became intolerable to the point of triggering my PTSD and my Mother flat out told me that she didn't want to work with me/us to live together or even have a relationship with me. In early November 2013, as I was trying to put on Ignite Portland, Mother pulled the granddaddy of all tantrums in order to get her own way and strike out in one massively hostile, abusive, dangerous action. And I? Well, I just had to stop and was encouraged by HR to go on short-term disability.
I was granted the benefits for two months, but instead of personal recovery I had a couple of frantic months where I was still dealing with Mom's stuff and hostile behavior. I also frantically looked for another job. Then day came where I was supposed to go back to work and I really just kind of halted, the human equivalent of a core dump. My health care providers told me to stop all of it and sleep, take walks with the dog, make art, read and take lots of hot baths. There's new medications too, which have helped me to start sleeping again and keep my PTSD at a more manageable level. I have also officially left my position at my old company.
So I run errands during the weekdays and have been working on organizing more things around the house. Spending a couple of years constantly dealing with my Mother's stuff has had me taking quite a few trips to Goodwill to get rid of things I realize I no longer use, read, wear, etc. A friend of mine and I created two new flower beds in our yard last month, one in the back and the other right outside the front door. I love that whenever arriving home or leaving, the first thing we see now are flowers.
My health care providers remind me that I am doing the necessary work of healing after years of exhausting work from being on-call for so many years and the even harder work of healing the wounds from the abusive relationship with my Mother. Lately there's been more good days than bad, which helps me feel like there's "progress".
Still, there are days were I find it hard to get myself to leave the house. Seeing old co-workers causes panic attacks. News or contact by my Mother causes a week of nightmares and days-long anxiety. Finding yet another box of her hoarded, expired medication exhausts me. I'm told that the level of breakdown and extreme exhaustion I was at in December was pretty severe and recovery may take a long while. I have been strongly encouraged to "retire" early from high tech positions and instead teach yoga and start selling my artwork.
If I were to be hoping to return to tech, my doctor has said that she would consider releasing me to that kind of work until January at the earliest. However, my care providers have enthusiastically released me to start teaching occasional yoga classes. I'm going to be trying to get on the substitute teacher list at some of the community centers, athletic clubs, and yoga centers.
I also am now legally married to CK, which is amazing and wonderful. In early June Oregon's ban on same-sex marriage was overturned and we got our license within hours of the legal ruling. On June 14th we were legally wed in our backyard with a few close friends, CK's Mom & Step-dad, and sister were in attendance.
I've been adding a few new recipes to Vegan Nosh. I love that my food photography has improved so much from the class CK and I took together last year. I've found a linoleum block carving class the day before my birthday and have broadly hinted to CK that I'd love us to go together.
This weekend I will be attempting to spend some time at the World Domination Summit. Ticket was bought a year ago, when spending a crowded weekend with a few thousand people sounded fun. Giving myself permission to just go for the things I want to go to.
This song randomly popped up on my iPod a few minutes ago and I was struck once again by those lyrics. They pretty much catch my full attention anytime I listen to 'My Culture'. We're not strong if we don't think we are. We lack confidence when we think we don't have any reason to have any.
That brings this post around to chatting this morning with my EMDR therapist, PB, about my anxiety around the job search, my current lack of job. Next month my severance package, my "lovely parting gifts" from my last job, will run out leaving me on unemployment. I'm feeling a lot of dread and downright panic about this.
CK says I should take my time, find a job I'm really going to like. Sure, most of me believes her, but there's a rather insistent part that doesn't trust it. I've never been able to count on anyone to have my back and this habit is very hard to unlearn. Under it all there's a part of me that doesn't trust anyone, particularly anyone who says they love me. After all, my experiences with people who've said they love me have been pretty negative.
That shines a bright light upon the part of me that is pretty sure that all of those negative experiences have happened because I'm fundamentally not worth that kind of love. I'm so deeply flawed and such a misfit that eventually people will become disenchanted and hurt me again. It is the same part of me that dearly wishes I could be possessed of an average IQ and settled down into a seriously mainstream, ordinary, invisible kind of life.
All this insistence despite the preponderance of the evidence to the contrary. The larger part of me trusts CK and her love for me. That greater self also knows with certainty that the further I've moved away from the "mainstream" the more in touch with my essential self I've become. I know that when I tried to play that game, reinventing myself to be what would make my boyfriend/husband/family/friends/etc. happy, I was seriously, deeply depressed and had a weight & cholesterol over 290. It was a fraud, all of it.
The reality: Vegan, Queer, Buddhist, Yogini, Liberal, Smart, Poetry-Reading Freak.
As they tease CK (in a friendly way) at her office, "Edge Case".
What's underneath this job stuff? Well aside from the not trusting anyone to make sacrifices while I'm not bringing home an income and really have my back, I'm pretty intimidated by the popularity contest that job seeking feels like. It takes me right back to all the unease and awkwardness I felt as a adolescent. I got my last job through the sheer nepotism of being hired by the team I was a support engineer to when I was laid off. No interviews, I was the only qualified candidate for a job requisition written to match my resume.
I'm afraid all my inherent freakiness somehow seeps off of my resume and all hiring managers take one look and say, "No way!" Surely this can be the only explanation for my marked lack of anything resembling an interview. Clearly my lack of confidence is well founded. Right?
PB told me to work on being aware of the physical sensations that arise around this fear, especially since I experience this more as a physical sensation rather than a voice in my head telling me horrible things. She also said to work at bringing awareness to those moments, even if there are mere seconds, when I remember that I'm a strong, capable, talented woman. And that being a freak isn't so bad. Neither is being smart.
If I don't see that I'm strong then I won't be.
Yesterday I awoke feeling anxious. Had a difficult time getting to sleep and then bugged by Puck once I got sleepy. I finally tossed him out of the bedroom and closed the door a little past 1AM. In the morning I awoke after another dream where I was trying to teach yoga to a large class and no one would pay attention to me.
I could feel the desire to just stay home. There was laundry to do, food to make, art projects to make for people. A softer side of my Inner Critic just wanting us to stay safe, warm, comforted. Instead I mindfully got ready and went to a yoga class. I felt better afterward, like I nearly always do.
Yesterday's poem reflected that pull of depression under the Inner Critic's sweeter enticements.
Stay home, she says.
It is safe here, warm,
There are so many
Things to do,
That need doing.
From inside me.
Wrapping up my
Encasing it in
We are afraid.
Security I touch
The energy of effort
And leave the house.
I had a meeting with a dinosaur today. Well, at least I'd like to think of him as a dinosaur. The kind of change-resistant, judgmental, dismissive males in technology I'm really hope are becoming the exception to the norm.
Another team asked my boss for me to sit in on some meetings to discuss migrating a very old system they used. They know I have a lot of experience with systems migrations as well as knowledge of Free/Open Source Software. I had said I looked forward to working with them, on a project where I felt like I knew what I was doing.
During the meeting I asked a question and was suddenly, brusquely asked by a member of the other team, "Who are you?"
I explained which team I was a part of, the background I had with systems, and he responded back, "Huh. Never heard of you."
Each time I asked a question or made a comment he would cut me off, dismiss my input as irrelevant, unnecessary and misinformed. It was one of the worst 30 minutes. I tired to just be open, positive, and present.
After the call I felt awful. I've felt so down on my skills or ability to get projects done this year already that this call made me feel just totally demoralized. My Inner Critic immediately piped up to point out that I probably won't get a bonus for this year. Ick.
Within 10 minutes of hanging up I was craving sweets particularly, but rich food in general. I just sat with it for a while. Checked out that I was hungry, but the Halloween candy and cookies were not what I needed. The craving for those things wasn't hunger, but the strong desire to comfort my hurt feelings with something tasty. The coping mechanism I was raised on.
Instead I made a baked potato with some chili on it for a late breakfast and ate a reasonable lunch. For dinner we had leftover white bean, kale, potato & leek soup with a reasonable amount of bread. Afterward I finally did have some cookies with CK. I stayed mindful of each sweet, chewy, gingery bite.
This afternoon I saw my therapist and talked about how listless I feel. That it feels like I'm not getting enough done at work, that I'm very unfocused and then feel guilty, which makes me want to distract myself more. Vicious cycle.
Rather than offer me pointers on how to not procrastinate, what I believe I was hoping to hear. GM pointed me to examine how I'm tying my sense of measuring accomplishment to ticking projects at work off as "finished". That I once again don't think I'm doing enough and I'm seeing the bonuses and raises as an indication of my value. I'm so focused on that external, financial input that I don't examine the tremendous accomplishments of the weight loss, buying a home, huge strides in making my life & relationships healthier, intense spiritual growth -- all of those things I've done but don't feel how they indicate to me I've succeeded.
The day yielded a lot of positive input from good friends, most of them men in technology. It felt better to talk it over with a few people, laugh a little about it, and be reminded of just how great some of the men I know are. I will continue the practice of cultivating patience with my frustration at work and the feeling that I'm not doing enough.
Talked with GW today about the anxiety that comes up around sesshin, around practice in general. I occasionally get really wicked flashbacks during meditation. Oh how I wish they were just like some creepy movie playing in my head. Zen meditation is done with the eyes open, but unfocused and relaxed. I found this to be amazingly helpful instruction that I shouldn't close my eyes while meditating. That totally got rid of the "movie in the head problem".
I get auditory flashbacks. Yes, that means I hear what clearly that cannot possibly be there, that was decades in the past. I also get tactile, sensory flashbacks. Yes, that means I feel like I'm being touched.
Yes, they make me want to start screaming and run.
For the longest, longest time I never told any one about these. I'd stick with nightmares, those were bad enough and fit the PTSD stereotype of "a terrifying movie you can't wake up from". Meditating in Zen fashion, with my eyes These other types of flashback really left me feeling like I was going insane. It was only after years of therapy that I admitted it to my therapist. To my relief she only cringed and commented that those were bad ones.
Her recommendation to me seemed so obvious, get a mala. When it happens give myself something concrete, from the present moment, to hold onto. Let it help bring me back into the present when a flashback has hauled me backwards into the past.
I remembered the story of Mara attacking the Buddha as he meditated. Throwing all manner of visions to terrify, tempt, or otherwise distract the Buddha from his focus. In the end the Buddha touched the ground, saying that it would bear witness to his practice.
Flashbacks are nothing but pure, unadulterated Mara. It is so strong that it can totally pull me out of the present moment. The trick, says GW, is not to hang out there. Find the resources, the tools to pull yourself back into the present. Touch ground.
On the way to another appointment in NW Portland I picked out an agate wrist mala at New Renaissance Bookshop. It has several moss agate beads on it and reminds me of the ground. My new tool in working with the anxiety.
I feel cranky today, off and on. Despite this I managed to get quite a lot done today at work writing test plans and I kind of enjoyed the very crowded bus ride home (had to climb over luggage to exit the bus) while listening to Joe Strummer and some vintage Clash. I got home in plenty of time to go to yoga but I just felt drained. On top of my my left hand had been aching for a few hours at work.
The hand... yes, well very early Tuesday morning Phoebe spooked Atari by making the coughing-up-a-hairball noise. Atari sprung up from the bed onto the headboard by using the palm of my open, vulnerable, sleeping left hand. Wouldn't you know it, we hadn't done his back claws because he was so agitated the other day. Ugh!
It sucked teaching yoga last night with my hand marked with two angry red, deep scratches (yes, there was blood). I actually didn't do a lot of weight bearing poses and did corrections when those were going on. Regardless, it sucked and my hand ached today.
I'd felt an undercurrent of worry all day about a friend. For the past several days I've been getting news that one of my dearest college friends has cancer. At the most recent doctor's visit, two kinds have been found. That's been weighing on me a lot. Cancer still causes me to flinch, having grown up with it part of my life, and JA-D is really very seriously ill.
I didn't feel exactly or completely angry, anxious or fearful tonight. I felt like doing nothing. I ended up laying down for a little bit then forcing myself outside to water the flowers and vegetables, which helped. Made myself a big pasta salad for dinner, bit strange with the leftover parpadelle (good pic of shape of pasta, but we get a sprouted wheat type that's vegan from TJs) from last night, but really tasty. I also did some laundry and shifted stuff in the basement so we can have visitors stay there later this month.
While I did these simple tasks around the house, including eating dinner, I did Metta practice for myself. It hit me while chopping broccoli up that I've once again forgotten how big the past several months it has been. It is something my attention has been directed to by a few people - that I don't give myself space or time to let things settle. It is the part of me that feels compelled to keep moving, not to stop, not to rest, just keep going forward. That if I stop, something bad will happen.
So tonight I stopped. I watched the apathy I felt coming up, seeing it as a way to avoid the grief and anxiety I am feeling right now. Trying to use the apathy as a way to somehow placate that anxious, pushing voice. Over-rule the prodding to keep moving with an overwhelming case of the Blahs. Not to mention the watching guilt arise around feeling worried and blue since I "should be happy" now that CK and I are getting established. Oh yeah, the big S word, should.
Rather than sink into that dull space I watered our plants, made myself a healthy dinner, didn't chastise myself for craving sweets or for anything else, and did Metta practice. I still feel sadness, but it has been a few months full of life shifts that have been painful at times even though they are for the positive. All the scary medical news about someone I care deeply really had unsettled me.
Just last night I sent the editors of the ZCO newsletter, Ink on the Cat, something I'd written about facing the suffering of others. I had summarized the whole of it by saying that we need to offer fearless compassion. Unflinching and open in the face of suffering. Last night's late news of ovarian cancer shook me and it took me all day to recognize it and open enough to cultivate compassion again.
Regardless of the teachings of the Five Remembrances, it doesn't mean that we will not feel sorrow and anxiety when a loss or illness appears in our life. Nor should we deny loving-kindness to ourselves, it is necessary to care for that hurt. The Remembrances are just a reminder that we all face old age, illness, death, and the loss of those we love. The only thing any of us has is the legacy of our actions. We need to prepare ourselves and cultivate compassion so we have it in great reserves for those times when it is dearly needed.
I am feeling distracted today which is no help at all to writing test plans, project plans, or new code. I decided to write down some of what’s distracting me in hopes it will help clear things up for me. I’m also going to make myself go for a walk over to Powell’s to pick out a book to give to one of my SMART readers, who “graduated” from the program this year.
More bad news at work today. In addition to my director’s mother dying last week a co-worker’s brother, who has been battling brain cancer, is in the last stages of his life. He’d gone into remission for a while and things were looking incredibly positive for him. They found another cyst in his brain yesterday. Today he had a few lucid moments and in them asked to have his breathing tube removed, to not replace it should he stop breathing. After receiving this news I sat for a few minutes doing loving-kindness practice for my co-worker and her family.
I think the biggest part of the distracting disquiet is that I believe AM is angry at me and feeling like I’m ignoring him, “pushing” him out of my life. That I was sick for two weeks probably doesn’t measure in much to his feelings. Aside from being sick, I do admit that I have been keeping communication with him down a bit. I’ve been angry with him and rather than confront him about old decisions that cannot be fixed now, I’ve just been trying to work on being present to how things are now. Some distance has helped me from falling into venting that anger at him, merely complaining about the past.
I told Hogen that when I try and pull away the anger and the many times I felt deeply disappointed, I’m just sad. Putting in the garden was bittersweet in many ways, bringing up a lot of that sadness. Sweet because it felt really good to make some progress and the yard, having it look nicer. Bitter because I kept running into tangible evidence of projects, ideas, tools all just set aside to rust and decay. So many instances where an investment of time, if not money, was made only to be abandoned after the initial enthusiasm wore off.
It hurts to remember the many times I questioned this approach, said that I think things should be done in a different order, or at least continued. Most times I was given a list of reasons as to why it was OK that things weren’t progressing how I’d hoped they would or assurances that things would be different, but then weren’t. A lot of times it felt as though my priorities didn’t really matter in the overall scheme of things and that either his priorities were more important or that he had put the priorities of other people ahead of mine, of us.
For some reason it hurts more when I’m holding some rusted tool in my hands that had meant so much to have the year before that spending money on it couldn’t wait until there was actually money to be spent. However, it apparently didn’t mean enough to be put away for the winter so it would be in good shape this spring. I’m not sure why I feel the hurt and anger so keenly when there’s some material reminder around, but there it is.
Broken stuff, broken dreams, broken hopes, broken promises… And the overwhelming feeling that I should have done something differently earlier. At times it feels like every rusted and/or broken thing I find around the house and yard is just further evidence of my complicity, my fault. I feel tremendous shame around all of it.
It isn’t useful at all to dwell on decisions I made then and it is even less useful to direct anger at AM for the decisions he’s made over the years. It doesn’t actually fix anything at all in the present and in the long run only hurts our chances for maintaining some kind of friendship. Nor would any of it change that a fundamental instability in my relationship with AM was my trying to force my sexuality to go the direction I, we, wanted it to go.
Right now I’m finding it challenging to reach out and foster our friendship, although I am trying. It hurts really letting myself feel the deep sense of disappointment I tried hard to ignore, feeling that I didn’t matter enough & that other priorities were more important, and recognizing, mourning the loss. It has been incredibly painful deciding to direct the movement of my life towards my priorities without him, to agree with him that it was time for us to end our marriage.
During my sessions with GM she and I have talked about how we would have eventually hit this point, the need to end my marriage. Last autumn I was still trying to find a way to “figure it all out”, feeling that if I just worked harder at the problem I could fix it. When AM responded to my distress by saying he thought we should end things I was surprised, it was not the direction I was going. After talking with him about it I agreed he was right.
I’ve wondered a lot if he’d be less angry with me if CK wasn’t in my life right now. If he saw that I was without a relationship and struggling more would it be just as easy to be angry with me?
It isn't that I begrudge him his own hurt and anger. I can only assume that just as I am feeling the full impact of the loss and the pain around examining that loss, he is going through the same process in his own way. It would be entirely unreasonable for me to expect him not to feel hurt and angry as well. I guess it just hurts a lot that he’s angry at me.
Now that teacher training has wrapped up the Next Big Change has time to manifest.
AM had mentioned that he was pretty much transitioning to his flat. All of the anxiety and grief I've felt once the distraction of teacher training was done began to feel intolerable. The fear about sesshin next week began to feel overwhelming. On top of all that I was now worried about Zonker and Phoebe being alone that much. I had gone to check on them on Saturday night after AM moved his furniture out and felt awful leaving them to go back over to CK's flat.
Teaching yoga on Sunday barely lifted me out of it. Quite often teaching is so grounding it helps me move through fear. We ate some lunch, I talked with my Mom, and CK and I decided suddenly to just start her move. My move back into my house again.
We got her essentials, including Atari, moved over and started working on things. The futon sofa from the meditation room is now out in the living room. A chair I had is up from the basement (courtesy of Sangha members who helped AM move) and it looks nice from what we can tell amidst the bags being unpacked.
There's a lot to be done. Much more than I had anticipated, but we'll work through it together. Already we both feel so much better with us being here. Zonker and Phoebe are so much happier with us here. Atari is getting curious after 2 and a half days alone in what will become CK's home office. Her plants make the space look great even in the chaos. The weight of the fear feels far less oppressive.
It has been a week since I saw my Mom, gauged the depth of fear in her eyes. I have been trying very hard not to freeze up myself in fear. I've also been trying not to fall deeply into any kind of blaming or anger as AM & I move towards our divorce. It has been especially difficult since I was already really feeling a lot of hurt and anger around that relationship so adding the worry about Mom has felt very hard. I've tried to create space for myself, letting go of even more of the things I think I need to do.
Going to sign the paperwork for the divorce really unsettled me a lot this past week. That it included a discussion around finance made it feel especially difficult. All the choices I made two and a half years ago, counting on things staying the same, don't make as much sense now. I keenly feel the weight of the debt I am in and it is painful.
After signing things the tension between AM and I was pretty great. We ended up having a painful discussion about the ways in which we've both been let down by the other. In the end it doesn't change anything, I'm still a lesbian who needs to not be married to a man any longer, but perhaps it was good for us both to let the light into the shadows between us.
I really want to see AM succeed and I don't think he would have done so with me. It is painful to think about and hard not to resent. I see him making efforts now that we're in the process of a divorce that I've wanted to see him make all along. As happy as I am that he's had any kind of catalyst in his life, it hurts that it couldn't have happened when I was there to appreciate it with him - as selfish as that sounds.
He's angry that my promise that he matter, he was different, was wrong. AM understands that at the time I made that promise, I meant it. That I continued to want it to be true, was unwilling to see that it wasn't earlier because I love him and don't want to hurt him at all. I wanted to not him more than I wanted to acknowledge that I felt hurt knowing that I was unsatisfied with him and unsatisfying to him.
That was Tuesday and after that painful conversation I had to pull myself together to go teach yoga. I was hugely relieved when only one student showed up, a student who's game for anything she can learn. It made it easier for me to only have to pull my attention to the present for one other person.
During that private class this student revealed to me that some of her neck and shoulder tension arises out of being abused as a child. I felt silenced by her sharing, touched that she felt comfortable sharing with me. After what felt like some long moments I revealed to her that for me the fear from abuse settled into my hips and lower back. We worked on gentle ways to get her shoulders to open and on some breath. I made sure to thank her for being willing to share with me and for letting me learn from her as well.
The power of yoga to settle one into the body in compassion and awareness is why I think it will be helpful to teach it to people recovering from trauma. This act of open sharing with my student, coming after such an emotionally raw day, helped me feel grounded and focused. It is a path of deeply knowing the body from the inside out and inviting compassion to flower for the body, the self.
A lot times I don't feel capable of teaching in this capacity. I'm afraid that in the middle of a workshop I'd start crying uncontrollably, overcome with grief and fear. I doubt my ability to teach and question if I am stepping beyond the boundaries of being a yoga teacher, assuming some kind of knowledge of psychotherapy when I clearly lack that training.
The act of sharing with my student on Tuesday showed me that I was safe. I was able to reveal my own PTSD and abuse to someone else and have it be met with acceptance and compassion. I was able to hear someone else and respond with love, gentleness. I am reminded that I know the asana and pranayama that help with PTSD on an intimate level. I do not offer counseling, I merely offer the space for emotions to arise, a container for the pain, and quiet space in which to observe that pain & cultivate compassion right where it hurts most.
In looking at the local news this morning I saw that the teacher of some of my dearest friends died unexpectedly. I felt the sorrow rising at this news. Not long after corresponding with one of my friends I spent several minutes on the phone with a lawyer going over some questions about my divorce. A couple of hours after that I received news that our very close knit team was going to lose the support of a very talented team member. By 2PM my left leg hurt from the hip all the way down the back of the leg.
One of my friends stopped by and we were able to talk briefly of the grief he and his congregation are facing and I was struck at the enormity of the loss. It made me think of the absolute, inconsolable anger and grief I'd feel to lose one of my teachers. In this frame of mind I tried to get the Merit List printed, including Reb Aryea's name, and had technical difficulties. By the time I got to the Dharma Center and saw CK standing there I had tears in my eyes even though I'd told Hogen in a tight voice that I was, "OK".
Sitting seemed to help, I felt a little more settled. Perhaps it was just the pain in my left leg that was distracting to the noise in my head. No sudden, painful, horrible thoughts arising in the quiet. I felt very grateful for that. At times I feel fear in going to sit with my Sangha these days, afraid of what fresh agony from childhood will surface in my mind in that deep stillness. When that happens it erodes the feeling of safety zazen gives me -- even if I know I shouldn't hold onto zazen as being safe.
After I was invited to be part of a group recommending guidelines to how we will grow our Sangha, how to reach out to more communities to show them that the Dharma is truly accessible to all in ways small and large. I felt deeply disappointed when I was told I wouldn't be able to participate if I was unable to come for the two days designated to this activity. It is an area I feel so connected to and to be told I couldn't be a part because I was learning to be a yoga teacher felt hard.
I found myself crying for a moment upstairs alone when I put the Merit List back into the Ino's notebook. It wasn't that I felt judged or that the group was intentionally being hurtful. I did believe what I'd told them. I understood they would want to keep the group whole. I knew I could trust my Sangha to make wise decisions. I just felt taut with all the sadness, all the good-byes I've said lately and changes I'm making.
When I came back downstairs after composing myself, or so I hoped I had, JM caught me to say that they wanted me to be part of the group for as much time as I could devote. That they felt it was important to include me since this was an area that so deeply called to my heart. I was very touched and in my tenderness felt tears coming up to my eyes again.
On the way home from the Dharma Center I picked my laptop up from the office (I'd forgotten it when I left earlier) then popped by CK's to pick up some of my stuff. She had tea waiting for me and I sat talking with her a bit. When I tried to say I felt a little silly being so emotional she drew my attention to the whole of my day so I would see that it was a day heavy with sadness and the constant pain-noise in my left leg made it feel very hard.