Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.

11Jul/112

Remembering Jennifer

I did go to Denver for Jen's memorial. There was never really any question in my mind that I wanted to be there, but it was a hard decision in many ways. Difficult in large part because CK was co-chairing an event in Portland the same weekend and wouldn't be able to travel with me. A good friend offered to travel with me and I lucked out in being able to get her on the same flights that I was booked on, particularly for the flight home to Portland out of Denver International Airport, which has the "advanced imaging systems" well in place.

I haven't wanted to fly anywhere at all since TSA began their policy of doing invasive pat-downs if you opt-out of the full body scans. As someone who had at least one set of chest x-rays a year throughout my entire childhood and well into my 20s and 30s, I am mindful of how many times I get exposed to those kinds of radiation levels. Being asked to submit to a full-body x-ray type blast in order than some person in a dark room somewhere and peruse my nearly-naked image really kind of bothers me. It bothers me more to have a complete stranger, regardless of gender, touch me in my genital area and my breasts. It bothers me a great deal that to travel I must submit to being seen by a stranger nearly naked or submit to a level of touching that would be considered felony sexual assault if someone not in a TSA uniform attempted it.

So I felt I was faced with two choices that were not good for my physically or mentally. Given that I have a very small number of very private, but very meaningful, piercings, I worried that these appearing either on a full-body scan or during an invasive pat-down would be cause for even more invasive, triggering, traumatic treatment. By biggest concern was clearing security to come home and I was very worried that if things were traumatizing that I wouldn't be mentally capable of getting myself onto my plane. Having a friend travel with me helped alleviate these worries to the point that thinking of the travel didn't make me feel nauseous with anxiety.

As it was, I was on full-alert mode by the time we passed through security at PDX to board our plane to Denver. It was the way a TSA agent was telling a man in the security line behind me that he was going to give him a pat down. The agent carefully and clearly explained to the man traveling that he'd be running his hands over and around the buttocks, groin and genital area.

My travel companion hadn't even noticed. I had noticed and it made me shiver with anxiety despite my own uneventful trip through the security line. We made it to DIA without any problems, got our rental car, some amusement ensued around using the map function on my phone to try to get to a Whole Foods; we ended up at the distribution center near the airport.

We found the house and it swiftly filled up with college friends who had all come to Denver to honor Jen's life. I was so grateful for the simple lentil-based spaghetti sauce BD & VD had put together upon arriving to the house first. It was a huge relief to get there and have tasty, vegan food waiting for me.

It was on my third gin & tonic that I realized that my hyper-vigilance, which almost never turns all the way off, was out-of-control. I don't make ridiculously strong drinks, but under "normal" circumstances I'd certainly have noticed the affect of 3 drinks. I wouldn't have been so foolish as to get in the car and drive to prove to myself that I wasn't affected, but I know that if some emergency had arisen I would have been perfectly focused.

Even much later, after taking Xanax to help me sleep and give my muscles some relief from the tightness and muscle spasms, I was still completely wired. I was pretty much that way all weekend long and didn't manage to drop off into fitful, troubled sleep any earlier than 4AM. The first real sleep I managed to get was on the plane back to Portland.

The trip itself, seeing many friends from college, was bittersweet. I really enjoyed connecting with folks again, and it seemed right to share our sorrow about losing Jen. However, I felt I never left a state of hurt and shame. Many times I found myself feeling like I was not really a part, having not returned for my senior year.

Seeing my EMDR therapist a couple of days following we started to look at why talking about college just leaves me stuck in so much suffering. There is just so much shame for me around not finishing, feeling like I let myself down, my family down and my friends. Jen went through so much hell during what would have been our senior year. I feel like she'd tried to help me during my big crash our junior year, and my not being there for our senior year let her down.

I often felt like I kept monopolizing the conversation while in Denver. I just felt so awkward. I felt a lot of anger too at the advisers I had who utterly failed me. In hearing about how the school psychologist made some demands upon Jennifer her senior year I was angry for how she was treated, but even angrier that I never even know our college had any kind of mental health office at all. I was never told about one, referred to one... I don't know if it would have kept me from having a nervous breakdown, but it sure has hell would have been nice to know then that there was any kind of option.

VD, my other college best friend, reminded me that my two academic advisers were known assholes. While it was good to be reminded, it was also a reminder of just how little they did to help me. If I wasn't giving it my all, they didn't have much time for me. If I was floundering after being raped... they never asked. Not once. Instead I was told by both of them to get my shit together and get my grades back up.

Everything about college brings me around and around to being hurt, betrayed, and having my faith in men destroyed. From the fiance who raped me to my advisers who never tried to help in anyway. With that there's this constant feeling that all of that was my fault. My bad choices, my not saying "No" loudly or forcefully enough, my not standing up to my advisers.

Seeing my college friends kept me in a constant state of shame, hurt, and anger. On top of that the profound grief around Jen's death and terrible guilt that I should have done more to go see her while she was living. Stir in a good dose of awkwardness and the feeling like I was talking way, way too much.... Yeah, no wonder I didn't really sleep at all there.

Ultimately I am glad I went despite the deep discomfort I felt while there. Also despite the EMDR appointment afterward that left me totally unhinged in looking at all the stuff that's wrapped up in not finishing school. Reliving and pulling this stuff out into the light of day is contrary to everything I was taught (via intimidation, isolation and shame) as a child, but I do really see the correlation between the chronic pain I've had for over 11 years as well as a lifetime of insomnia.

I'm also glad I went for the time shared in the afternoon before Jen's memorial. We hung out in the morning and chatted. I made a paper memorial and MK told us about letterboxing. We set out to find a couple of letterboxes, only finding one. We gathered and did a small memorial of our own alongside a stream. We hung tokens we'd all brought and/or made into the tree above the stream. We hid a letterbox as a memorial for Jen. Then we all rushed back to change and go to the "official" memorial. These moments were the small window during which I felt a little more myself, and not emotionally raw and wired.

Stupa-inspired, ribbon & paper memorial with verse from the Diamond Sutra

22Jul/090

a kind of distancing

It was the way an old friend from high school described me recently. Something he never could pin down about me when we were friends back then. There was "a kind of distancing" in my personality he noted. An aspect that was always a little "off".

I've always felt kind of off from center, never entirely a part of any group, including my family. Moving as often as we did complicated matters further. I rarely had time to get used to a group, begin to make close friendships and I'd be changing schools again. I cannot recall clearly how many schools I went to before graduating high school. I can say that in the time I first started high school at age 14, until the time I graduated at age 17, I went to 4 different schools.

My disconnect with my family stemmed in part from the way my Mom was treated herself in the role of the "younger daughter/black sheep". Her mother and older sister always treated my Mom as though they expected and believed the worst of her in any given scenario. In addition to all the general negativity I got from being my mother's daughter and the youngest, I was generally considered to be freakishly smart by all of them.

NT was one of my closest high school friends. We shared our writing together. I'd thought of him this spring when I found an old writing project from those years. Finding the project set off a lot of sad, troubled memories, but it had caused me to think about him.

I've been turning over in my mind how someone close to me, really as close as I let anyone be to me, saw in my teens that I was distancing myself from people, from life. That they could see this coping mechanism I'd built. It shows how at that young age I'd already had some pretty well developed survival skills in play.

I was asked today if I find that validating. I suppose in a way I do. The problem I have with things that are validating like this is that they are also pretty creepy and disturbing. OK, so it is good to have this outside observer who could tell something wasn't alright despite my playing my part as "average teenager" as well as I possibly could. Then again it is just one more reminder, one more stone taken out of my wall of denial, that it was awful.

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10Jul/090

Aversion, Delusion, Attachment and Me

Maybe, just maybe the reason why it is easier to rest in the anxiety of blaming myself for some events in my life, "my failings", than it is to look truly deeply, openly at the real causes. The anxiety, the shame are the lesser pain and they are they pain I'm accustomed to. Comfortable suffering.

It is far easier to blame and castigate myself for "allowing" myself to gain over 150 pounds than it is to realize the truth of my family's deeply disordered behavior around food, body image and personal interaction. Less painful to say that my marriages "failed" or to just rest all the blame on being gay than to look at how the faith and energy I put into those relationships was not met with equal effort. The pain of saying I failed at college is far, far less significant than looking at how a combination of my family environment & childhood abuse and 2 sexual assaults in the 3 years I was at Beloit led to a breakdown.

Anger is merely intensified aversion and Buddhism teaches that aversion (anger) is one of three root causes of suffering (attachment/greed and delusion/ignorance being the other two).

On Wednesday my therapist was shaking her head and half laughing as she asked me if I really, truly was trying to blame myself for all these things. She asked me if I could really see how I was turning into failures things that everyone else in my life sees as amazing successes. She smiled and said that she really thought that only I would find some way to blame myself for behaving exactly the same way as everyone else.

Self-directed blame becomes just another way to avoid being present to the grief and pain. Generating anger at the self has a kind of delusional quality to it, distorting reality until I always come out the failure. Clinging to the idea that things really weren't that bad, attached to my comfortable, known suffering out of fear of sinking into the whole truth.

15May/090

My Dad’s Inhaler

In the May 2009 Bronchitis Saga I've had to break down and use an albuterol inhaler again.

This feels really bad, like some kind of defeat. I haven't needed to use albuterol for my asthma in years. Since changing to a vegetarian, then vegan diet it hasn't bothered me nearly as much. I went from having to use it for emergencies about every other month, and daily if I had bronchitis (usually twice a year), to not having used it since 2002.

Until this week. I've been so out of breath and coughing really hard. The one I still had kicking around was really old (2001) so my doctor prescribed a new one for me. We both agreed that I should have one regardless of the bronchitis in case I did have an emergency.

Yesterday, feeling incredibly short of breath, I finally broke down and had the prescription filled. The little excursion to the pharmacy left me utterly exhausted & shaky for the rest of the day. I also was coughing a lot yesterday and stayed home from the Dharma Center again, which feels unsettling having been away two weeks.

When I got back home and opened up the package I realized why the brand-name, Proventil, sounded familiar. After dumping out the contents of the box my hands held my Dad's inhaler. This felt pretty creepy.

My Dad died December 11, 2009. I was there. Well, actually I was outside when it happened, fixing the wooden reindeer in his yard that had fallen forward on its nose, something that would have bugged him. He died while I was outside taking care of his Christmas decorations.

The death certificate would say that the cirrhosis (alcoholic) beat the COPD (smoker) as the cause of death. I don't keep bottles of Seagram's around the house, not sure if I would. But it felt unsettling seeing same inhaler he used, the ones I'd see around his house, by the side of of is bed. Especially since I was using it.

So much of my life is driven to not become my family. Sometimes our greatest lessons in life come from watching teachers who show us what not to do. My family members represented all of the six realms of existence - distracted by desires (human), anger (hell), craving (hungry ghosts), at the mercy of instinctive response (animal), envy (jealous titans), and pride & indifference (gods). Having spent the past decade plus separating myself from years of unhealthy training it feels like something of a failure to be using the same inhaler my Dad used.

Yeah, totally unreasonable. There's a big part of me that knows that and I'm trying really hard not to let that part beat me up about the fact that I'm still kind of creeped out by using the same inhaler as my Dad before he died. It isn't a failure, it is just bronchitis.

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24Nov/080

Anniversaries

I remember RC saying to me that he felt that anniversaries are more important in our lives than birthdays. We weren't party to the choice of our birthday, we just arrived for it. But anniversaries often mark an event we choose or an event significant to the lives we're a part of. I reflect upon the years I've been teaching yoga, the times my Father and my Dad each died, the first few times CK and I went out together, and the time when AM and I got married.

Compared to each of these times I can reflect back on the years that have passed. What has changed (much) and what has stayed constant (little) and how I still relate to the anniversaries. Those dates remain fixed in time but I am remain in movement. This autumn and winter marks the 8th year since my Dad died, the 7th year since my Father died (just a little over a week ago), the 7th year since AM & I got married, the 3rd year I've been teaching yoga, the 3rd year I've been practicing at Zen Community of Oregon, and one year I've been seeing CK.

The next year will be full of changes. All of these anniversaries will remain, perhaps a couple of new ones added, however the way I relate to each of them will have changed. Next year I will not be taking CK to the airport to share the holiday with her family -- either I will be with her or she will remain here and will creating new anniversaries and traditions. I find myself really excited at this thought and that helps offset the undercurrent of crankiness that has been there since I kissed her good-bye at the terminal.

1Oct/080

Sideways

The morning started with my not feeling entirely rested and grateful that AM was driving me into the office. While getting ready I checked into to work email and found that the contract had not been ratified by the union. We're back under the threat of work stoppage and everything that entails. I've asked for a waiver for Saturdays since I have teacher training. Not working a contingency schedule yet, but just trying to plan for it.

After taking the 8AM call I was grabbing my last few things to head into the office, planning to make it there right at 8:30 for the team call. I noted to AM that we had a voice message, he checked it while I grabbed things and put into my bag. The message was from my ex-husband saying that he had very grim news about DW, his daughter. This person who still calls me "Mom".
I phoned him immediately and was told that DW appears to be using heroin. It is truly awful, grim news. I am trying to keep reminding myself that I wasn't a bad step-mother to her. AM, CK and my therapist have been reminding me as well, have been for some time. More than anything I am deeply concerned for her well-being.
It has brought up all kinds of painful memories of living with OM, going through her spiral down into identify theft (mine) and stealing gift certificates from DW herself who was age 6 at the time. I felt so violated by that happening and still occasionally have the horrible memory of trying to clean up the blood in OM's room after she left.
Went to work, had coffee with CK who coaxed me to eat most of a bran muffin, worked on some stuff, we went on a team walk, and worked some more. Taut with tension across the front of my chest all day. Except while I was walking very briskly I felt chilled to the bone.
When I got to my appointment with IW today I told her about my day, tears in my eyes. I felt like I was humming with painful tension despite having mindfully done zazen while waiting for her to finish with her earlier client. She did cranial work on me for a while after covering me up with a blanket. I felt some of the tension lessen up, my heart slowed down a little, and I warmed up some.
While she was working on me I told her about being paddled with hard objects as a small child. Something I'd never shared with IW, some part of my brain holding back because she is my physical therapist. Since IW does craniosacral therapy as well as therapy to address the trigger points in my back and hips, it is an important detail to share.
After I told her she confirmed what I've felt for a couple of weeks. That the abuse contributes to the constant tension and pain. That part of my body tightened up protectively around that pain and has never been relaxed. She told me she really thinks it would help some of it for me to be able to really feel that sadness and grief, to cry.
When we talked about it I was already crying more. She pointed out the constant war in my body when I cry. I relax then everything pulls in, I force myself to relax and it tightens right back up, constantly. When she commented on this I blurted out that I'd sometimes been punished for crying.
"Ahh." she said and noted that it was all the more reason for me to do so now.
After she worked so much on the cranial stuff she found the trigger points in my hips, tail bone and left sit bone. Far fewer of them than usual. IW said that she's going to swap this order from now on, work on the pent up energy first then the points. She believes even more that I can freed of some of the pain in my back.
And now, fed warm dinner and in my new PJs, I feel very tired. Not entirely hopeless as I did earlier today. Waiting to see if SJ is going to phone, he has some input on DW that he's not been able to connect with me on. I don't feel like I'm dreading that quite as much either. It is all just so very hard.
4Aug/080

Old Papers

I have been feeling low all day today. I woke up tired and with a sore throat, more evidence of having missed my allergy pills yesterday. I had gained more weight over the weekend. I felt irritated with myself, with what I have to work with in my life, with my career, and just cranky feeling. I got my work day going, calling into the daily status meeting. The rest of the day was filled with random problems and meetings. I called an end to it after trying to make progress with an installation and running into missing libraries.

In the mid-afternoon I had a surprise call. My friend, SS phoned to say she was going to be in my neighborhood and could she pop by so we could meet her new baby, Ezra. I got to spend 20 minutes holding her very active, 3 month-old boy while we caught up a little. It was just nice to sit with the baby, occasionally holding his feet and appreciating how small he is. I felt my mind considering what it might be like if this were CK's baby.

I had planned to go to the pool and try and get a good work out. I just felt apathetic and tired. I finally decided to stay home and deal with some boxes AM had brought in over the weekend. We're down to the last of them from the garage and I thought that maybe dealing with them would improve my mood. I quickly got sorted out making piles for recycling, donating, and trash.

It was in the second box I found the first letter from MM. Handwritten, loving, sexy and acknowledging the importance of our relationship. I sat there with it, uncertain what to do for a moment. Some instinct to continue to save this scrap of paper despite the fact it made my heart ache a little. I tossed it into the recycling bin.

The third box contained journal entries written onto pagers of a paper planner. A copy of the certificate from my first marriage. Page after page listing CDs purchased from OM, impersonating me, by the now defunct CD Warehouse. Strange to look at the marks I put next to CDs I knew were mine. Stranger still looking at my name on the signature line in OM's handwriting. Additional pages of bank statements showing unauthorized withdrawals and forged checks. I sat with them a little before feeding them into the recycling bin feeling the old memories churning. The echoes of emotions, betrayal and violation, rising up to the top.

Then came another letter from MM. This one done on a computer and printed out. More words of love. Promises that we would work on things, try to find a way through and words expressing how much I meant to her. Reading them I was also able to see some of the warnings that I would get over the time we were together. Her noting that no one could ever expect to really satisfy her now reads with an understanding of how I played an assigned part in her life.

It isn't as if I miss our relationship at all. It isn't fair to compare them truly, they are so different, but the depth of connection between CK and I is so much more than what MM and I shared. I feel so much a part of CK's life, that I am a wanted and included part. Her family knows about me whereas MM made effort to make sure her far distant parents couldn't possibly find out about her relationship with me. Just felt the hurt of the way she ended, or rather, let me figure out the relationship had ended. Rereading what she told me made me be able to clearly see and feel the sense of having been abandoned by her.

By the time I'd gotten through all the boxes I was feeling depressed, fat and my back hurt me. I had been feeling anxious after writing CK and telling her about the baby, thinking of a day when it would be our family. I felt such a rush of vulnerability in telling her, in revealing the way I think of a future together. In putting words to it, sharing it, I have a fear that I've said too much.

I'm trying to be compassionate with the depression I feel tonight. I know there is part of it that is rooted in irritation at feeling the sadness and unfairness of my childhood. I want to get past all of that and not keep having things bring it up. Yet it just keeps coming up, all the emotions I was told were inappropriate or I hid for fear of being yelled at, shamed. Some days it just feels like it is too much effort to do anything but try and be present for it.