11 Jul 2011
in Uncategorized Tags: anger, grief, history, PTSD, shame
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
17 Feb 2011
in Uncategorized Tags: grief, healing, metta, practice, PTSD, Zen
I learned the art of “checking out” early. I would shift my attention from my body to some small detail of the moment. The vivid colors of cartoons on the television. The quality of the morning sunlight coming in through the north facing windows of my Mother’s bedroom. The pattern of the paint and plaster on a ceiling. Code. Work. Writing ideas.
You get the idea. Something I could make so deeply engrossing that I was no longer connected to my body. I was outside of what was happening to my body. It is a pretty useful defensive tool and it has got me through abuse, doctor’s exams, and dental work.
As a Zen practitioner we work toward being present to the moment. Fully conscious of the whole moment. The sensations of the body. The speeding of the mind. The sounds, textures and entirety of the present moment.
When I first was given the practice of Metta from my teachers it was profoundly difficult for a long time. I could send Metta all the live-long day to people I knew, people I was neutral toward, and even became more comfortable cultivating loving-kindness toward people I found difficult.
Where I got stuck was cultivating loving-kindness toward myself. The idea with Metta is that you start with yourself, filling yourself with so much loving-kindness that it very naturally extends outwards to benefit all living beings. I was right there with the benefits to all living beings, but not myself.
I realized with some shame that when I tried to focus on myself I’d “check out”. Many people have a struggle with their inner critic who finds any number of reasons why they don’t deserve loving-kindness, but I didn’t get that. I just left the scene.
My teachers gave me all kinds of ideas on how to stick with myself. After many months, well over a year, of working with Metta practice, I can finally stick with myself. I built up slowly through the phrases, getting stuck on wishing myself happy for quite some time. Now though I can even find myself truly wishing that I be free from fear and anxiety, may I be peaceful and happy. I also sometimes add an additional loving wish that I be free from shame.
In this case it has felt like a victory to not “check out” (such a gentle way of saying “disassociate”). However, I’ve noticed in the past few months that I don’t really check out anymore. I’m going through a period right now where it doesn’t feel like progress or healing at all. It feels like I’ve lost one of my best allies.
I find myself fully, wholly present to what is happening to my body and mind. While at times it is great and other times tedious (chronic pain is, above all things, tedious), there are other times when it is truly horrifying and awful. I feel utterly defenseless against memories both mental and somatic. At those times I really grieve the loss of my ability to disassociate.
Don’t know when or how it happened, but I feel bereft. I’m sure there’s some combination of Yoga, Zen and EMDR therapy at work in this.
I am assured by both therapists that it is very certainly progress even though it feels like a terrible loss. They’ve also pointed out the progress I’ve made in being my own advocate and asking for what I need. My cognitive therapist even noted that I’ve been able to more clearly articulate events that have happened.
At this point I’m just going to accept that it is progress and stick with things. But I miss it.
29 Jul 2010
in Uncategorized Tags: boundaries, Mom, PTSD
Last Saturday our plans to sleep until noon to recover from all the sleep lost during OSCON were dashed by an early morning call from my Mom, phoning from ER. She’d spent much of the night with terrible chest pains and her husband had taken her into the closest hospital. By Saturday afternoon she was back at the hospital associated with her health care group and we went up to see her.
Here’s where it goes weird.
Through some miscommunication my Mom believed she had been given a firm diagnosis of stomach cancer. That was back in February. I assumed that they’d done a scope, some blood work, and all those usual things to diagnose something like that. But they hadn’t.
On Sunday morning they performed the scope and saw some spots that looked like ulcers that had likely been bleeding. These were cauterized and a tissue sample was taken for biopsy. On Monday some abdominal and chest x-rays were taken and nothing suspicious was found. We’re still waiting to hear the results of the biopsy, but as of this moment it appears that Mom never had cancer.
Mom is furious that she was lied to. No mention of a “diagnosis” from a doctor appears in her charts anywhere; Mom sees this as a conspiracy and is certain records have been deleted. On the advice of her naturopath I’ve mentioned that she should make sure that all her records, even things marked as “sensitive” be evaluated. Mom is more concerned about having to tell people she was wrong about having cancer than she is happy to be freed of this burden.
CK and I believe that there was very possibly not a firm diagnosis. Mom was referred to an oncologist, but never went. She also had been told that it would be 8 weeks to get her in for the stomach scope and possible biopsy. She also never went. We feel that there probably was the suggestion that the digestive distress she’d been experiencing could be a recurrence of stomach cancer. Upon hearing that Mom went into her consistent behavior of reacting from fear and impatience, deciding that she did have cancer.
After a second Sunday visit CK said to me in the car on the way home, “That’s what you grew up with?!”
I am first and foremost thrilled. On the other hand I’m furious with the way Mom spins stuff. I’m frustrated with her continual impatience and her drive to try and control everyone else while refusing to take care of herself. In trying to just offer sympathy at listening to her irritation I’ve been accused of belittling her.
Today we had a long phone conversation and she was much more rational to talk with. When she went off about her husband not taking care of himself I told her to let it go and take care of herself instead. She doesn’t like taking care of herself and would prefer to think she’s in control of everyone else so she doesn’t have to think about her own needs. She also prefers to let other people take care of her and angry when they don’t “do it right”.
In a big moment for me setting boundaries as to what is acceptable I asked her to stop sharing a childhood story because for me it is a very painful, traumatizing memory. She hurt at hearing that this incident causes me nightmares to this day but wasn’t defensive. She agreed to never talk about it again and made additional overtures in accepting that many times she did not make the best decisions for my well being.
All this and an incredibly intense EMDR session yesterday. Last night’s sleep was frustrated by nightmares. CK reminded me again this morning that I need to “give in” and take Xanex when that happens. I’m about to head off to see my acupuncturist and hopefully that will settle some of this energy. It has been a really long, exhausting week and I’m feeling pretty worn out from the intensity of it.
19 Jun 2010
in Uncategorized Tags: healing, practice, PTSD
I was a “good kid” and flew under the radar or went sideways through my family. I quickly learned to how follow the rules, even when they were illogical, and tried to avoid meeting conflict “head on” in order to hold onto things that sustained me – riding my bike, being outside, swimming. At those times I was isolated, which was often, I read and read and read. I think I came out of childhood with a better understanding of how to slay dragons, solve mysteries, and practice the intrigue of a Dumas’ hero than how to interact with other people, communicate my needs effectively, or sustain my energy through complex projects.
As an adult I comforted myself with the notion that I never was injured physically, was only struck in the face once, and because no one could ever tell the depth of abuse going on from the outside then maybe it really wasn’t so bad. Maybe, just maybe I could pretend it was OK and that the profound memory loss I have around much of my childhood isn’t some kind of dramatic indicator of PTSD. If I could just continue to move sideways through the world then no one would know and I would never have to admit the truth of my unhappy childhood to myself or anyone else.
I also ate and comforted myself with food. I relied upon unhealthy food choices, unhealthy portions, and emotion-motivated eating. Those same, “acceptable” coping mechanisms taught to me by my family.
It didn’t work. That sideways path may have offered me a way to avoid the truth of the suffering, but I wore in the pounds I carried. That extra 140+ insulated me from the truth and when I lost it, not intending to discover anything but lowered cholesterol, I lost the ability to hide from the suffering. Maybe if I’d stayed with just studying yoga I could have pulled it off? Probably not, since yoga drives you toward truth as relentlessly as Zen when you practice it deeply. The fourth of the Niyamas in the Yoga Sutras is svadhyaya, deep study of the self as well as spiritual writings.
I know that I will never undo the past. The events that happened can’t be made less traumatic, cannot be considered anything but abuse, including the considerable periods of time I was isolated from others. No amount of swimming, zazen, therapy, or cake will erase the past or somehow turn those events into moments of a happy childhood.
I found myself crying a little in the steam room yesterday, realizing that the blue funk I was in was just grief processing through me again. On Wednesday morning I’d done some major processing of an event that had happened when I was 14. Although the work with the new therapist took down the intensity of this memory until it no longer felt like I was being swept up in it like a riptide, it still hurt deeply.
Rather than resist the hurt I feel for myself now, or the profound pain I experienced at 14, I tried to practice acceptance of it. Acceptance that doesn’t condone or excuse the cause at all, but rather accepting that it is reasonable and rational for me to feel pain over that event. It will never be something that feels happy or normal, but it can be brought to a point where it just merely aches like an old injury and I don’t feel the need to hide it. I can’t rewrite history, but I can lean into accepting the pain I feel because of it.
14 Jun 2010
in Uncategorized Tags: acupuncture, practice, PTSD
In the past week I’ve started seeing another therapist. No, not a replacement, in addition to the therapist I’ve been working with for years. The new woman specializes in using EMDR with PTSD, particularly childhood trauma. It is really stressful for me to take this step for all kinds of reasons (talking to a new person, having to honestly look at my childhood & process it, the feeling I don’t deserve the tremendous expense of seeing 5 different care professionals, etc.), but it seems like such a necessary choice.
My primary therapist has been working with me to let go of the notion that I had a happy childhood on any level. I’m really fighting this. I can feel myself clinging to the idea that on some level, in some way I must have had a happy childhood. The truth that really I didn’t have a happy childhood seems impossible to process. When I try to take it in I feel nauseated, dizzy, hopeless and notice tight pain in my stomach, heart & throat chakras.
That brings us to all the body work. I’ve started acupuncture again and once again it sets off little emotional bombs within two days of an appointment. I leave feeling rested and have a good day following and then some kind of breakdown. I had a couple of days where I felt utterly worthless and incapable of doing anything well. I had a couple of days where I just felt a lot of grief about my childhood.
After some discussion with all these amazing people who’ve done body/energetic work with me it is totally clear that there is a deeply somatic component to my PTSD. It is the reason why the cognitive work I do with my primary therapist is oftentimes so slow, so painful and at times feels impossible to learn. There are areas where the traumatic response is so physical, I don’t get the negative voice of the Inner Critic so much as I feel the grief, the sensations of worthlessness and shame, in my body. I also am struggling with feeling a lot of shame around the fact that I didn’t have a happy childhood, that on some level it was my fault after all.
So, in spite of my absolute resistance to working with another therapist, I am seeing one who specializes in the kind of somatic work with trauma I clearly need. On her advice I’ve also been trying to be more attentive to a yoga practice combined with regular visits for lap swimming or water exercise and using the steam room at the gym. A combination of burning off some of the energy and tapping into the comfort & safety I feel while in water or in the steam room.
I’m also returning again and again to the sensation of the breath in the body, my first and best known form of zazen. I’m combining this with a body scan to just take inventory as to what is there, not to respond, just to observe. Occasionally I offer in some phrases of Metta practice, but lightly and with less focused attention than I have used.
06 Jan 2010
in Uncategorized Tags: pain, practice, PTSD
I’ve attended several yoga classes in the past few weeks, about two a week. It has been a real dive back into this level of effort as the classes are much more intermediate than the ones I’d been teaching at Dishman and they push me more than I’ll push myself at home usually. Tonight’s really wore me out, but I didn’t feel any of the nausea I used to.
The acupuncture has really shook things up, out, and shifted things around. The chronic trigger points in my hips are gone. If they get triggered again, I know I can make an appointment with JS and get that energy out of there! I am still weak in that area, but pushing into that weakness doesn’t cause me intense pain.
What I’m aware of now, after IW worked on me at the end of last month, was the tightness in my side. I think of myself as very open, very flexible in my side body and able to breathe very deeply. And yet this are is tight, bound up.
I hold my breath a lot. Yoga has really made we aware of it, as has meditation. When I’m anxious, I hold my breath. Angry, hold the breath. About to cry, very tightly held in breath. I learned this as a child as a method of sometimes holding in emotions that would get me punished or out of some wish to become invisible. What kind of yucky energy is caught there in that holding of the breath?!
I saw the pain the hips as being a black/gray sludgy, thick energy that sat over searing hot, orange and red energy. Bringing awareness to my sides I can sense some of that sludgy stuff there too. Less than the hips, but similar.
The horrible shame that arises I’m realizing is that dangerous, terrifying, burning angry energy below the sludge. Not entirely sure how to work with it yet. I’m trying the practice of loving-kindness while looking at myself in the mirror. I’ve also started visualizing myself as a young child, sitting closely and lovingly with that child-me, and telling her over and over that she is not to blame, that she doesn’t need to carry that shame anymore.
Might just about be time for sanzen again. I felt so overloaded by the sesshin last year that I haven’t really gone. Just seemed like I had so much to work with in my practice that I really didn’t need, didn’t feel I could handle any more input. I also find it really hard to go out on Sunday night. Not teaching Sundays means I’m going to devote at least one Sunday a month to attending service at Great Vow and having sanzen.
09 Dec 2009
in Uncategorized Tags: anger, healing, PTSD
Had an interesting discussion with my therapist today about JS’s comments about the energy of anger in Chinese medicine. She felt it made a lot of sense for this to be stuck for me. My entire life has been a long series of not having the space to set boundaries. As a child my ability to set them was either denied or taken from me if I tried. As an adult I’ve experienced having people, partners even, disrespect or undermine the boundaries I would try to set.
The result has always been to over compensate. Just function higher, do more, try harder and pick up the slack. Always.
Oh, and when I fail? Self-direct that anger for a perceived inability to always pick up the slack when other people break down those boundaries. Why, yes, that does mean that I beat myself up for failing to be perfect.
She felt that if I could learn to set those firm, clear boundaries around my needs that it would heal the body that responds in muscle spasms to the energy of the anger being stuck, denied. Even more importantly it would heal the awful shame that arises any time I engage my sense of vulnerability around expressing my needs. That I need to address this in the present to heal the old pain.
This seems more attainable. I’ve been spinning around this idea, fed in part by the writing about trauma recovery, that I’ve needed to get in touch with the anger I feel about the abuse. I know I do, it does make me angry and I’m really alright with it. I think this is one of those times it is OK to look at a situation and say the anger is reasonable. I’ve even met the rage of the child I was at 13 while in sesshin (it was deeply unsettling).
But do I feel some need to throw cups and break them? Maybe a little, only in my mind. The thought of standing out in my yard shattering pottery seems kind of silly and excessive. It is a good metaphor – break the dirty cups of my life I have such a hard time not minding. In practice though, I don’t really connect to it. Perhaps because in practice I have this vow I made to not give rise to anger, but to seek the source.
When I do engage the feelings and thoughts around the anger at the abuse I feel grief. When I seek the headwaters of it, so to speak. I feel the intense hurt of an injured child and young woman. At times these things have themselves felt terrifying and overwhelming.
Even at those times when I am in direct painful contact with memories of trauma I don’t feel the need to scream and throw things. These times are where I come into contact with grief again and I acknowledge that the anger is reasonable. The anger is just there, with the memory. There are memories that I know will always carry anger around them, but it is old and I don’t honestly feel the need to let it come rushing back through me in the now. I just want to get it out of my left leg and hip.
GM said she’s always felt that this is a more positive thing anyway, that I don’t feel some intense need to express the anger beyond acknowledging that it is there. As painful and overwhelming as it gets sometimes it is expressing the emotions that fuel the anger anyway. If I was still stuck in a rage it would mean I wasn’t accessing the grief causing it. She felt there isn’t really any need to spend time on trying to express the past, other than to keep present to the hurt that arises and greet it compassionately.
This anger energy in the present, that is something to learn. How to use the energy of bamboo shooting up through cold, dark earth to burst forth into green life in the spring. That is the energy of boundary setting.
07 Dec 2009
in Uncategorized Tags: grief, healing, PTSD
And how am I…
In the past several days I’ve been diagnosed with a vitamin D deficiency, my levels are pretty low. This is actually pretty serious and can affect a person in several ways. It is the leading culprit for my fatigue, not the chronic pain that I’ve blamed (on the advice of my physician). The new acupuncturist, JS, is the one who guessed it on the basis of my saying how markedly better I felt in Hawaii.
Am taking a pretty enormous dose of D right now. In 12 weeks they’ll test again and see if I’m any where near “normal” levels. Apparently it is fairly common in Portland to be low on it. I guess there’s been a lot more attention on it recently and more doctors are testing for it now.
Still having a lot of acupuncture done. Another session focused on detoxing the body, again the heart-protector. Again I suddenly went from feeling absolutely fine, doing zazen with needles in my back, and then I’m suffused with grief and feel a headache & nausea. Not quite as intense as the first time, but pretty significant.
Was doing better and then Thursday the head pounding came back again during our Zen community cohort dinner/meeting. We went home, I went to bed early. Friday through Sunday was down and up, and down again and a shaky even into feeling rather tired today.
Saturday was the big “up” in the middle of the lows of the weekend. We made breakfast together and went for a walk in St. Johns. Coming home we had leftovers and took a nap (more acupuncture causes napping in my life). We watched the first Blue Planet DVD and went to bed early. It was all pretty marvelous until I tried to go to sleep.
Friday and particularly Saturday night into Sunday was a lot of stuff triggered, pretty early pain. Sunday morning it went straight into my left hip and leg, turning into spasm after spasm. The hip pain that for years has been associated with the herniated disc shows up, after being all but gone for two weeks, when I’m seriously emotionally triggered. Can it be any more obvious?
I’m trying to stay focused on how I was able to be present to the pain, the terrifying shame I felt. I retained the ability to talk, to fully, if haltingly, communicate what was going on. I was even able to visualize the way my body felt inside – seeing the pain like lava. This is progress. I didn’t shut down completely.
In the middle of the big down, feeling enormously triggered by childhood trauma, I taught yoga. One of those times where I just get out of the way and allow that lineage to teach through me. The class ended up running long and I felt grounded, if unsteady. Coming into a shaky evenness after the storm of emotion and memory.
I worked on small art projects Sunday afternoon, in part alone with the cats. I did no chores. I didn’t feel guilty about it.
A picture I took Saturday really resonated with me when I saw it had come out. It was a quick decision to take it, seeing the lines suddenly and clearly.
We were walking back out of the SuperFund site of Willamette Cove.
Cables cut, restoration begun, but toxic areas remain. Native trees reclaim the shoreline.
01 Oct 2009
in Uncategorized Tags: PTSD, Zen
It is a week away and I don’t feel excited or happy about the Jukai ceremony next week. It has felt like every task (sewing my rakusu, making my lineage chart, and writing about the precepts again) has done nothing but stir up my Inner Critic and/or trigger painful memories. For the most part I’m just feeling apathetic, tired and emotionally raw.
And I’m still waffling on asking my Mom to attend. Right now part of what I’m stuck on is pure logistics. Mom doesn’t drive, is out in either Corbett or Gresham (long story, another post), our house is already going to be filled to the brim (yep, source of anxiety) as are our cars, and I’m not sure her husband or anyone would be willing to come into Portland on a Thursday evening. Add all of those headaches to having stirred up a lot of painful emotions around growing up and I still haven’t talked with her about it at all.
My neck/head still ache, particularly the left side. IW worked on it yesterday at our therapy appointment, but there’s this lingering heavy feeling to it all. I think some of it is allergies/sinus and some feels like all this icky, sticky energy. CK and I talked again last night about my seeing someone for acupuncture to get some of that stuck stuff moving. Massage and the physical/craniosacral therapies have helped, but stuff still feels stuck at times.
Tonight before sitting we had a meeting with our practice group and I shared that I felt lousy, cranky and didn’t really want to be there. It was suggested that we talk about working with emotions in our practice and I felt like I had a total meltdown, including muscle spasms, stuttering, and crying of course. We ended up not staying for zazen and instead went to the gym to sit in the steam room, which helped relieve some of the muscle tension.
What really hit me was feeling angry that here I’ve worked so hard to reach this point, to receive Jukai, and I don’t even appreciate it. I’m so worn out and exhausted by all the painful emotions it has brought up that I can’t even enjoy the accomplishment. I feel that I’ve been robbed of feeling good about this, like so many other times in my life the abuse in my past has taken from me.
Before we left one of my Dharma sisters reminded me that I have a week to go, that maybe by next week I’ll be able to appreciate the work I’ve done. I hope so.
05 Aug 2009
in Uncategorized Tags: anxiety, practice, PTSD, sesshin
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.