Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.

23Oct/170

Parks Gratitude

Now that I'm teaching at the Mt. Scott Community Center 3 days a week I get regular opportunities to walk through the tall firs the fill the space of the park. It is a park with a lot of history for me, my grandmother lived not far from it when I was a child and the park was the setting for several family gatherings including my birthdays. Having an August birthday meant several of mine were celebrated in public parks.

Portland has over 10,000 acres of parks. The largest, Forest Park is over 5,100 acres, is where I first took my wife on our first outing together to hike in gently falling snow and mud. It is the largest urban forest preserve, significantly larger than Central Park in New York City or Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. I've hiked all over it growing up here and I doubt I'll ever see all of it in my lifetime.

Whenever people visit I usually take them to visit a park, we have so many to choose from. There has always been at least one park within a fairly easy walk in every part of the city I've lived in. I've been so fortunate to grow up living with this abundance of green spaces. Being able to find myself in amidst tall trees and green, growing things remains an important healing tool in my life.

 

19Oct/170

Space to Grow: Gratitude

There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.
― Leonard Cohen

Today's been a little easier, very busy but I'm feeling better about the day overall. I've been thinking about something I was sharing in therapy about my relationship with my wife.

Most of the time, despite us both living with c-ptsd and her managing ADD as well, we connect well and work well together. We have real synergy at times when we're working together. When we're not, when we get off and end up at such opposites it is if we're magnets pushing each other away. She gets bigger. I get smaller and try to disappear.

I even joked, in reference to a tree in a storm I'd drawn, that "I make myself small enough to hide in that gap, down in the roots."

"So you disappear?", my therapist asked in response.

"Not exactly." I responded after some thought, "It is more that I try to find some place dark, warm, and safe until it is safe to come out."

Making myself small and scarce, only doing things that would please my Mother (like silently cleaning the house), helped me survive her rages. For so long, I have perfected making myself small enough to go down into the cracks until the storm blows over.

I want to think of those cracks now, not as places I go to hide, but places I am reminded of the light. Places where I grow from, until I grow out of this reaction to get small enough to disappear from view.

I'm grateful for all the times that pushing myself down into the cracks kept me safe. It was a useful skill.

I'm grateful for all the light that came in to me during those times since it helped me to find ways through the darkness.

 

16Oct/170

Willingness Gratitude

I've had another tough day, so much so that I've really had to start writing to figure out my gratitude for today. For a moment I thought it might be the fact that tomorrow is another day and I can put this day to rest. However, as I wrote a little bit, it occurs to me that I'm grateful for my willingness to unlearn old patterns of behavior that now, at age 48, really hold me back from flourishing personally, professionally, and in my relationships with the people I love.

Sometimes I really feel like a badly programmed robot.

Having been an isolated, only child and my Mother's predilection for moving nearly every year of school, I often am left feeling that I'm lacking in communication skills. Beyond the isolation of being an only child, my Mother used "grounding" as a frequent form of punishment, limiting me to my bedroom except to go to school and the bathroom. I believe I often would even get a plate fixed in the kitchen and eat by myself in my bedroom. I never thought of sneaking out as a teen, by then I was too afraid of her to even consider trying it.

People who know me primarily as a yoga teacher might be surprised to know that I don't feel like I'm great at communicating. In my years in technology my communications skills were always credited as a contributing reason for promotions, raises, and bonuses. In the realm of more public communication, those connections that feel a little less personal and intimate, I'd say my skills are better than average.

My teacher likes to use the phrase, "Professional Extrovert", which is pretty apt. I can be fairly easy with a group of people in front of me, but one-on-one interactions often feel so much harder and I'll find myself thinking, "How do real humans do this connection shit?!". In the worst case scenarios I freeze up and fall back into old patterns of behavior that don't really help in the present day, and often create more problems.

Knowing it, being aware of it, and being any good at stopping it are all every different parts of the work to do to change behavior. I'm still on the first two and trying to figure out how to get good at stopping it instead of stopping it through painful communication failures. How do I reprogram the routines that convince me that quiet retreat and productivity are the answer, because they always did improve things for my abusive Mother?

Today it feels like there are no answers, however, I am willing to keep digging into the mess of it all, to do the rewiring of old patterns.

 

12Oct/170

Self-Care Gratitude

Last night I realized that I'd been optimistic about the number of things I'd want to do the first week back from retreat. This morning, before teaching, I contacted a friend I'd been planning to see this afternoon and asked to reschedule. This gave me more downtime at home after teaching my morning classes. Time to catch up on some household tasks, walk the dogs, and feel a little more rested.

Over the past few years I've got better about telling people I can't make it rather than try and push myself through. The years where I could just keep pushing myself are long-gone, thankfully, and I have to make time to rest. I've become someone who naps when I'm tired, tries hard to get at least 7 hours of sleep, if not 8.

A topic my new therapist explored with me was self-care. She's worked with a lot of people who are in caring professions who respond with a blank look when asked about self-care practices. I was glad to be able to honestly tell her that, while I'm not always great about doing it, I do have practices. I also try and practice what I teach, so I journal, meditate, do yoga movement, and have a gratitude practice.

Learning self-care for me was a crash course, necessitated by health crises. I'm grateful for the skills I've learned and continue to learn about caring for myself. It has taken me a while to see that caring for myself is really helping care for the people I love in the long-run; I can't be of help to anyone if I'm too burnt out.

4Dec/160

Moving Forward

Despite sleeping well, and the cats letting me sleep until 8AM, I felt a little anxious this morning. Thanksgiving marked one year since my Mother died. The first of December a year since I actually found out. With the strange way the news around my Mother's death unfolded last year it isn't too surprising that I think of her death as being in December. I thought about it for some reason this morning, realizing that Thanksgiving, the blues I felt coming on right afterward, ties up closely to her last act of malice against me.

With CK being away visiting her Mom for some early Christmas celebrating, I decided that unless I felt poorly I would do a little community scouting this morning. I went to church. Not just church, I went to an Episcopal church. That's the faith I was nominally brought up in and am baptized in. We were not regular members of any church, I suppose the one I went to most often was the one my Grandmother belonged to. The rest of the time it was largely related to Christmas and Easter.

The nearby church I picked called out diversity on their website, with rainbows, so I was hopeful. I found an open and welcoming community with visibly queer members; I stayed for a cup of tea. When I stopped saying "spouse" and switched to "wife" no one really blinked an eye. Perhaps I needed a year to pass from my Mother's death before setting foot in a church, some distance from the increasingly narrow, judgmental, supposedly Christian beliefs became.

In the time since I came out to her, my Mother went from standing up for me in front of people (or so she told me she did, who knows, really), to manipulating long-time family friends through their "faith-based homophobia" to gain allies. Telling people how she tolerated my lifestyle. Now imagine your whole life being like that. I would go from the novelty of being interesting and attention-getting for my Mother, to being reviled by her, getting her the attention for denouncing her daughter.

I was washing my face this morning when I had a clear flash of the last eye-to-eye contact I had with my Mother, in a hospital room northwest of our home. The look she gave me was one I'd seen on her face before, always directed at other people, when her plans to cause suffering would bear their fruit of ill-will. She looked at me with a blend of malice, triumph, and satisfaction, the hint of a smile on her face. It was terrifying.

Coming to terms with all the kinds of abuse she either visited upon me personally, or facilitated, or turned away from because to protect me would be too much for her. I honestly struggle still with the shame of it all, it is a daily effort to remind myself that I no longer have to carry shame adults thrust upon me, becoming another kind of abuse. Between the shame and having a hard time trusting, I feel like I make a lot of really foolish mistakes in relationships. Mistakes I feel that somehow, at 47, I really should have grown out of by now.

Despite that terrifying look on my Mother's face burning in my brain, or perhaps because of it, I thrust myself out of the house and off to church by myself this morning. I rewarded myself, and the dogs, by walking in the mud and wet through the nearby woods. I did some much needed cleaning tasks and stocked up on food for the dogs and cats, just in case the forecast of possible snow comes true. It has been good, but tiring day and I might just curl up in bed with some light reading.

Dogs - Portland, Oregon - December 2016

Dogs - Portland, Oregon - December 2016

29Nov/160

November Blues

Realizing I haven't posted since my birthday. I had a bit of a slump around my birthday, just spent some downtime, teaching classes and resting on many levels.

I've since been regrouping on all the tasks to complete after finishing my Advanced training in Integrated Movement Therapy, seeing clients, having meetings with my mentor, writing. Then it was October, which arrived uncharacteristically wet. We were overwhelmed with garden produce, unable to get to a lot of it processed.

A guest in October left leaving us feeling exhausted and anxious. About the time it felt like my energy was picking up, well the election happened. The next day each of my three yoga classes had students crying in them, which was a lot of energy to contain and hold gently, tenderly. I was exhausted utterly at the end of that day, the next morning I awoke with a fever and sore throat. That quickly turned into a hacking cough. Missed classes, came back to teaching too soon, relapsed and ended up missing out on the first real rest and treat I'd planned for myself at a yoga & art retreat out at the Oregon Coast.

I'll be wrapping up the last of my to-do items before applying to my internship, I'm not too far off my original goals for my program. I'm grateful to have been able to keep focused on this goal while at the same time working on completing my business plan. This week I'm submitting my application for a small seed grant for starting my business, which I'll be using to pay for internship costs. Things are coming together nicely even with needing some downtime around my birthday.

I'm trying to keep focused on all the I've been getting done, because once again this year November has rolled in with rain, dark, and some serious blues.

Trying to be gentle with myself. November and December bring together the anniversaries of 3 deaths: My Dad (step-father) died in December 2000, the a little over 11 months later my biological father died in November 2011. Next month also marks the first year since my Mother died last December. The year my Mother did her best to blow up our lives, that all started in November, continuing on through into the New Year. When I keep in perspective that these last two months of the year have just held a lot of grief.

Which means this year won't be the year the blues don't stroll on into my life in November. Another year of practicing appreciating what I am getting done and reminding myself that these blues aren't here forever and in a few weeks the light will slowly begin to return.

27Aug/160

Here and Now

All told I've opted for a really quiet birthday this year. We're having a leisurely morning then going on a hike & letterbox hunt at a park not too far from our house. We'll picnic and then come home to garden. It is going to be a pretty wonderful day spent with some of my favorite beings.

I'm celebrating my first birthday since my Mother died this past winter. It has felt at times pretty rough, although given that my last birthday-related communication from her was deliberately hurtful, it is also something of a relief. More steps into this strange, new world where my Mother no longer can hurt me. Still, it has made this birthday seem a little less celebratory in some ways.

In other ways it feels like an enormous milestone. Over the past 16 years I've completely changed my life to live more healthfully and more ethically. I don't have as much of a comparison to my Father's family, since they've always been estranged, but on my Mother's side the later half of the 40s, if not the early half, came with one or more prescriptions for managing heart disease and/or Type II Diabetes. Hypertension, high cholesterol, and dangerously high blood glucose levels all ran in my family. Women tended to die of strokes or some type of heart failure. Obesity was also something that just began to happen after high school. It was the normal behavior for pretty much all the women in my family, always on an endless cycle of dieting, binging, stress-eating, etc.

To be 47 years old, not obese and not on a single medication for heart disease or diabetes is an enormous accomplishment.

Yes, I take daily medications. I take things that help me live with the chronic pain from my back due to degenerative disc disease and I take things to help me manage the anxiety and depression that arise from my C-PTSD. Those and things to further support my overall health, like a daily multivitamin! That's it though, and that is something that my Mother would make out as if I'd performed some kind of miracle instead of giving me the credit for working really very hard indeed to change my life, to steer myself toward health.

In a way I don't think I'd ever thought I'd be here now. Bigger than the still daily shock of recalling that I stopped working in tech nearly 3 years ago. I really doubted my health for so many years, internalizing my Mother's never-ending medical crises until I started to believe that I was next, I'd get cancer and die. I'd have a heart attack. I'd get congestive heart failure too.

Yet here I am.

I'm still figuring out how to engage around doing work with other people, which still feels challenging to get back into but I'm slowly learning the boundaries of my ability to work on projects again. I'm at a point now that I don't think I really could go back into the stress of the kind of tech work I did for nearly 2 decades, even very occasional meetings tends to increase my anxiety. Not that I really want to go back to tech in any way, sometimes I just miss the money and it briefly crosses my mind. That's when I recall the tone of my doctor's voice when she describes my health a few years ago as being in "acute crises" and "on the verge of hospitalization".

I'm learning how to be a business owner, luckily with the help of a program for "dislocated workers" that provides me with free training and support from a business advisor. I'm close to completing my business plan and then can submit it for a small seed grant from the program. I came from such a blue collar family that being a business owner, trying to get my brain around how business works, feels like such an unexpected experience.

So much about my life now is unexpected, not at all what I used to be planning for. 47 sees me watching for sales and trying to do our grocery shopping strategically, cooking more inexpensive meals at home. I am reminded of the frugality, the barest of minimum my Mother and I lived with for long stretches at a time. It isn't always easy and I do miss my tech salary. That said, my life now is so full of richness, wonder, delight, and love. There are so many things I continue to discover are possible when I don't work 50-60 hours a week, including connecting deeply with CK over gardening as well as having time to really appreciate all the things, including beautiful flowers, she brings to my life.

I'm so grateful to be here now, in this life, with this health, and with the support of the loving beings that now surround me. I'm teaching 9-12 Yoga classes a week now and continuing to work towards completing my certification in Integrated Movement Therapy. I'm stretching my confidence slowly in regards to my art, but continue to explore the ideas that come to me as both a way of creating beauty and to let myself use my art as a way to express the journey I've been on as I heal.

Having come all this way through all this welter
Under my own power,
I've earned this worn-down, hard, incredible sight called Here and Now.

I've taken liberty a bit with some lines above from a poem by Northwest poet, David Wagoner, "Getting There". It's a poem that has continued to open and unfold for me since discovering it when I was 15 or so. It feels appropriate to put it here again, it has been in my mind the past several days as this birthday approached.

Getting There
by David Wagoner

You take a final step and, look, suddenly
You’re there. You’ve arrived
At the one place all your drudgery was aimed for:
This common ground
Where you stretch out, pressing your cheek to sandstone.

What did you want
To be? You’ll remember soon. You feel like tinder
Under a burning glass,
A luminous point of change. The sky is pulsing
Against the cracked horizon,
Holding it firm till the arrival of stars
In time with your heartbeats.
Like wind etching rock, you’ve made a lasting impression
On the self you were
By having come all this way through all this welter
Under your own power,
Though your traces on a map would make an unpromising
Meandering lifeline.

What have you learned so far? You’ll find out later,
Telling it haltingly
Like a dream, that lost traveler’s dream
Under the last hill
Where through the night you’ll take your time out of mind
To unburden yourself
Of elements along elementary paths
By the break of morning.

You’ve earned this worn-down, hard, incredible sight
Called Here and Now.
Now, what you make of it means everything,
Means starting over:
The life in your hands is neither here nor there
But getting there,
So you’re standing again and breathing, beginning another
Journey without regret
Forever, being your own unpeaceable kingdom,
The end of endings.

14May/160

Resiliency Day

Last year CK was out of town on Mother's Day, to help me through what has become a sad holiday for me, I invited people over for tomato soup and grilled cheese. I got out coloring books, colored pencils, puzzles, and other crafty things. It was a quiet gathering, but full of love.

This year was still hard, particularly since it is the first Mother's Day since she's died. I was grateful CK was home and we spent the sunny day working out in the garden together, had dinner out, and watched a show. Instead of Mother's Day, I have suggested that instead we celebrate "Resiliency Day". CK has pointed out we could celebrate "Dog / Cat Mom's Day", which is true, but I like the idea of a day acknowledging our resiliency, really celebrating it.

Maybe it is just a day where we do nice things for ourselves, like my day of grilled cheese and tomato soup with coloring books. This past Sunday I took a lot of pleasure in tearing out some landscaping cloth and moving rocks as part of a project to reclaim a space to grow veggies in; it made me feel connected to my strength.

That's the whole point of celebrating resiliency; celebrating our strength and our creativity in surviving.

I'd love to see this idea grow. How we can take a holiday that has become painfully associated, like Mother's Day has for me, and instead use it to celebrate how our creativity, flexibility, and strength helped us to survive, possibly even thrive despite considerable disadvantages.

That's my plan at least. I'll celebrate Resiliency Day on any of the dates that give me a bit of a crash. Taking dates, like my Mother's birthday, where it is hard not to be pulled down into anger and grief, and instead focus on how I continue to make changes to live in a way that breaks the generational abuse cycle.

11Jan/160

72 Bows, 49 Days

Yesterday was the memorial for my Mother. She didn't want me invited, didn't even want me informed of her death on November 24, 2015. As it was, I was informed a week after she'd already died. Already been cremated. Already had her dog taken to another home. Already done, all of it.

I though about going. Really explored if defying her last wishes and showing up to bear witness to her life would in any way heal the depth of pain I have felt at the many ways she used isolation and cutting me off from contact with others as a form of punishment. I considered the cost of going to such a hostile environment, populated by people who supported my Mother, believed the things she'd say about me, and shared the profound homophobia she cultivated in her last year and a half of her life, and decided that all that stacked against a chance, a slim one at that, of any kind of healing or growth. One might hope that perhaps she knew how miserable her memorial would be for me to attend and asked me not attend out of compassion for me, however, that isn't the case. It was intended as punishment for my being a disrespectful daughter.

Instead, we stayed home and worked on chores, read, and I ended up going to bed early. At the time my Mother's memorial was due to start I decided was the perfect time for my daily Sadhana. I lit the candles, rang the bells, lit the incense. I took a deep breath and was struck with how to focus my intention to honor my Mother's memory.

71 full bows for every year she lived. A last bow for the year that wasn't finished. Then I sat with a photo I'd come across of her as a young girl with her sister. I was struck at how left out she looks, how unhappy in comparison to the glowing smile and gleaming curls of my Aunt. The toxic family behaviors seen in this photo. I suspect my Mother might be around the age I was when I first realized I couldn't trust anyone in my family to take care of me.

Today marks 49 days since her death. It wasn't her belief at all, but to me this time represents her journey across the Bardo. Since those bows and all day today I've focused my hope that she move onto a better life. A life where she is able to feel the love around her, where she is able to feel contentment, where she is able to play at the game of joy without a single stumble.

The Beginning of Grief

I made 72 bows
For her life.
Fast, at first,
On the flow
Of the breath.
Slower as the
Numbers added.
The last 12 requiring
Multiple breaths each.

Then sitting, breathing in.
Feeling the blood moving,
The muscles responding
To the sudden burst of
Breath and movement.

Willing myself to
Let her go,
Let her be
Found,
Content,
Seen,
Loved.

Then 49 days
Pass by and
I feel like I am
Paused, waiting
For the feeling
That she
Has finally left.

**Photo taken by myself of an art installation by Sarah Jane.

24Nov/150

Getting There

Getting There
by David Wagoner*

You take a final step and, look, suddenly
You’re there. You’ve arrived
At the one place all your drudgery was aimed for:
This common ground
Where you stretch out, pressing your cheek to sandstone.

What did you want
To be? You’ll remember soon. You feel like tinder
Under a burning glass,
A luminous point of change. The sky is pulsing
Against the cracked horizon,
Holding it firm till the arrival of stars
In time with your heartbeats.
Like wind etching rock, you’ve made a lasting impression
On the self you were
By having come all this way through all this welter
Under your own power,
Though your traces on a map would make an unpromising
Meandering lifeline.

What have you learned so far? You’ll find out later,
Telling it haltingly
Like a dream, that lost traveler’s dream
Under the last hill
Where through the night you’ll take your time out of mind
To unburden yourself
Of elements along elementary paths
By the break of morning.

You’ve earned this worn-down, hard, incredible sight
Called Here and Now.
Now, what you make of it means everything,
Means starting over:
The life in your hands is neither here nor there
But getting there,
So you’re standing again and breathing, beginning another
Journey without regret
Forever, being your own unpeaceable kingdom,
The end of endings.

I discovered the poet David Wagoner, when I was around 15 or so. I was blown away by the way he talked about death, both of humans and of forests. He's a poet who made an impression upon me as a human and as a writer. Several years ago, when CK and I were in those first awkward weeks of a relationship, I invited her to a friend's birthday party. He requested that in lieu of gifts that his friends put on a talent show for him.

I read poetry, it is something I learned to do in high school, even did it competitively into college. Yep, forensics. Yep, competitive public speaking. I was one of those kids. I really loved it and the skills I learned in it have continued to be useful to me to this day. For part of a season I had a whole set of dark, death-y poems of David Wagoner's I read. There was a year in high school where we lost a student from each class; the junior class loss was a friend, not a close friend, but we were on the swim and water polo teams together. The poetry fit.

I'm not sure if I found Getting There when I was younger. However, when searching out the "right" poem to read to a friend to celebrate his fortieth birthday, I came across it. My friend loved it as well as my choice of Pablo Neuruda's Ode to Wine (this poem follows at the bottom of this post, because it is just too marvelous to miss).

I feel like I have begun getting somewhere. Some place where I feel like I'm finally on a path and not, yet again, thrashing around in the brambles, hopelessly lost.

While I was on retreat in November for Level 2 Integrated Movement Therapy training the two-year anniversary of the last time I saw my Mother passed. Two long years, one year which felt as though it consisted almost entirely of learning how to sleep again, since making the decision to not have any interactions with my Mother because she is incapable of not treating me abusively. Kind of a big anniversary.

However, all told, being in training with my teacher, at a place I have so quickly come to love, seemed like as good as any place to be. The other option probably would have involved snuggling in the bed with dogs and cats. Not that the home option is bad, the retreat option just seemed better, like it was probably a really good place for me to mark that anniversary.

The actual day, the day where I last saw my Mother, was our last night of the retreat and we had a small fire ceremony involving a nighttime walk in the triple-spiral labyrinth at the Grunewald Guild. Before going out we reflected on a word, a phrase, something we wanted to work on releasing, letting go of. I picked a pretty powerful word to offer up to the fire.

The anniversary hadn't felt as though it was really bringing me too low most of the week. I was grateful too feel on a more even keel then I had back in September. That's until I was halfway through the second spiral and I felt as though all the anger, grief, and profound loss I have felt since that day just hit me all at once. For a moment I stumbled, nearly falling out of the labyrinth I was walking in. I made my way around it, offered something it is high time for me to let go of to the fire, crying steadily all the while.

I've had anxious, restless dreams since returning. My brain continues to try and integrate, process things. Today I saw my massage therapist who helped release the profound tension in my upper body I've been carrying since the fire walk.

Thanksgiving is the day after tomorrow. Friends are coming over, our longstanding tradition. The transition into the winter holiday season, starting with Thanksgiving, still feels a little painful. However, it feels like I've been getting there more easily these days.

*"Getting There" by David Wagoner, from Traveling Light: COLLECTED AND NEW POEMS (Illinois Poetry Series)© University of Illinois Press, 1999.

 

Ode to Wine
by Pablo Neruda

Day-colored wine,
night-colored wine,
wine with purple feet
or wine with topaz blood,
wine,
starry child
of earth,
wine, smooth
as a golden sword,
soft
as lascivious velvet,
wine, spiral-seashelled
and full of wonder,
amorous,
marine;
never has one goblet contained you,
one song, one man,
you are choral, gregarious,
at the least, you must be shared.
At times
you feed on mortal
memories;
your wave carries us
from tomb to tomb,
stonecutter of icy sepulchers,
and we weep
transitory tears;
your
glorious
spring dress
is different,
blood rises through the shoots,
wind incites the day,
nothing is left
of your immutable soul.
Wine
stirs the spring, happiness
bursts through the earth like a plant,
walls crumble,
and rocky cliffs,
chasms close,
as song is born.
A jug of wine, and thou beside me
in the wilderness,
sang the ancient poet.
Let the wine pitcher
add to the kiss of love its own.My darling, suddenly
the line of your hip
becomes the brimming curve
of the wine goblet,
your breast is the grape cluster,
your nipples are the grapes,
the gleam of spirits lights your hair,
and your navel is a chaste seal
stamped on the vessel of your belly,
your love an inexhaustible
cascade of wine,
light that illuminates my senses,
the earthly splendor of life.But you are more than love,
the fiery kiss,
the heat of fire,
more than the wine of life;
you are
the community of man,
translucency,
chorus of discipline,
abundance of flowers.
I like on the table,
when we're speaking,
the light of a bottle
of intelligent wine.
Drink it,
and remember in every
drop of gold,
in every topaz glass,
in every purple ladle,
that autumn labored
to fill the vessel with wine;
and in the ritual of his office,
let the simple man remember
to think of the soil and of his duty,
to propagate the canticle of the wine.

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