Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Poetry and Gratitude

Hey, it's April, which happens to be National Poetry Month, and I'm trying to think of creative projects. Reviving the old 30 Poems in 30 Days challenge!

April Haiku

Raindrops fill flowers.
Delicate cups overflow.
April showers fall.

I'm grateful for these fancy primroses CK grew from seed. I'm grateful for her exuberant return to gardening. I'm grateful her job is secure and she likes it.

I often have moments where I'm grateful that my Mother is dead. This ghoul of a President at least wasn’t elected by her, because she would have voted for his “straight talking” ways. She would have been the Boomer playing down the seriousness of COVID and telling me I’m overreacting, being a drama queen.

Her death freed me to heal, to finally see the full scope of the abuse, to really connect to the terrified child I was. Connecting to that child self is helping me to see how remarkable I was.

How remarkable I am.


Self Taught

Trauma Therapy Tuesday; it was productive and sad. Strange seeing all the shops closed, especially as I’d been processing how utterly alone I felt at age 4. Deeply melancholy.

In a family with intergenerational trauma, everyone had poor, to dangerous, soothing skills. I somehow, at 4, figured out how to soothe myself. I figured how to keep myself safe in a family that didn’t value me.

I’m appreciating what an amazing child I was. I was a badass.

I’m also sure that I would have learned to be the person I am without being terrorized. I’m both really proud and amazed by my child self while also being deeply angry that I needed to be a self-taught badass.


Childhood Logic

A few years ago I read Arielle Schwartz's workbook on healing Complex PTSD (recommended). I posted several quotes from it onto Tumblr and often they get reblogged. This one was over the weekend and, not surprisingly it’s been connecting with the current trauma memory I’m working on integrating.

"Self-blame is a direct link to childhood logic -- children will develop a fantasy that they are bad kids relying upon good parents to avoid confronting the terrifying reality that they are good kids relying upon bad parents."

I have a belief that I am so fundamentally damaged and toxic that I really should be alone. Prolonged exposure to me is dangerous.

This doesn’t really align with reality, but that’s why my trauma is Complex.

It’s what happened. Through abuse of all kinds, telling me repeatedly literally and metaphorically, that I was terrible, ungrateful, and deserved to be treated horribly.

I had bad parents. The one that was present was so damaged from her horrible Mother she was unable to soothe herself, had terrible boundaries, and lacked empathy. She terrified me so often, so young, that I didn’t dare do more than back talk and even that only mildly, as I grew older.

All of this gets tied right into shame around money. Which is coming up, right on time, as students send me money for online teaching! People giving me money, as opposed to a paycheck or transaction for an appoint, really trips me up. I get hit with shame and unworthiness.

This would be why I’m both glad I still get to go to therapy in-person, so long as I’m not feverish, and sad. I’m glad because I’m struggling and sad because it’s a reminder that my childhood was profoundly fucked up.


It’s the Trauma

My first foray into therapy was with a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) provider who gave me my initial PTSD diagnosis. She had a lot of biases and a difficult time keeping them out of her sessions; our relationship ended traumatically because of this. She retired a few years ago and I’m honestly relieved she’s no longer practicing.

After a while I got stuck. CK ultimately steered me to someone who specialized in trauma therapy and used EMDR. The new therapist helped me start to understand what Complex Trauma is and why early childhood trauma needs different healing methods; CBT doesn’t help. We thankfully had a good relationship in place when I needed to end things with the CBT therapist.

I was in the midst of my yoga therapy training and internship when my trauma therapist retired. I was having weekly mentoring sessions with an Integrated Movement Therapist so I put off finding a replacement until I was through my program.

Since I’ve been able to embrace the label “Artist” for myself, I got a referral to an Art Therapist a friend sees. I really respect art therapy; I was working through some very painful stuff and using art let me access my memories and emotions in new ways.

When my anxiety was destabilizing life last year, a return to trauma therapy was presented. My therapist not only works in art therapy, but she offers Somatic Attachment-Focused EMDR (SAFE) for folks with trauma history. This approach helps people integrate events more completely.

While I have some understanding of the neuroscience of trauma, how brain development is affected, my therapist shows me how this plays out in my own brain. I’m appreciating how recognizing myself as mildly nuerodivergent explains many of the times I feel like a “broken robot” when trying to connect with other people.

While this is all great, the hardest part is continuing to unpack just how terrible my childhood was. Realizing where I’m still clinging to fantasies that my Mother wasn’t so bad, that I didn’t feel utterly alone even in, perhaps especially in, the middle of family gatherings.

Accepting that trauma changed my brain in ways that seem to leave me with Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria means that my doctor and I are exploring a medication that stems to be lowering my anxiety. This is great!

The flip side: I’m integrating the fact that my childhood trauma was profound, that I was the only child of a deeply disturbed Mother who was incapable of self-soothing. I don’t recall more physical abuse from when I was older because she didn’t need to rely on it. She so throughly physically terrified me from ages 18 months to 8 years that she only had to reference it to get me to behave.

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Mom’s 77th

‪Today is my Mother‘s birthday. She would have been 77. ‬

I consider all my students, including the new one who came this week, aged 99, and think, that’s so young!

‪When I tell people why my energy is low, they feel like they get this heaviness, they know how to respond. Oh, that sucks… imsorryforyourloss… mumble.‬..

‪When your abusive parent dies your grief is complicated.

If you’re currently doing trauma therapy to heal said abuse? You get complications galore in your grief.‬

I’m sorry for my loss. Losses, there’s so many when you have a parent with a disordered personality. Loss of safety, loss of parental support, loss of identity, loss of confidence, and loss of stability. To name merely a few.

I’m proud of how much I accomplished without any direction aside from the urging of my heart to run in the opposite direction of the example my Mother set. I finally had to admit I couldn’t save my Mother and saved myself instead.

In contest to my complicated grief today, I was showered with love at the bakery after driving across town to our favorite place. I was told how I’m “always a shining light” and offered a hug. At work the director told my new manager that my work, which doesn’t make the community center a lot of money, provides an important service.


The Lies We Tell Ourselves

⚠️ Content Warnings ⚠️
⚠️ Domestic Violence, Rape, Child Abuse ⚠️

Talking about my trauma therapy today, early childhood and conception. I’ll repeat the warning block right before it comes in to the post.

In December 2018 I went to Mexico, using money I’d raised through donations, and trained in offering Bedside Yoga for end of life care. The whole combination, succeeding at raising money and the training left me feeling unsettled.

As 2019 went on, I began feeling like I was increasingly off balance. My therapist suggested we move away from Art Therapy into SAFE to address the root traumas. We spent a couple of weeks identifying an underlying false belief I have about myself. Then we went back in time from present day to the earliest memories I have that connect to this false belief.

With all that in place, we start at the beginning, reprocessing each memory in turn until it loses the charge, then we “install” the memory into our history. It’s has slay been an illuminating process. We’re only on the third memory.

I say it’s a false personal belief, yet at the same time this belief feels so true. Despite the illogic of it, part of me is certain that I’m ultimately toxic. People shouldn’t ever get too close, if they do I’ll eventually harm them because I’m dangerous.

Right. That definitely makes it hard to connect with people.

The process of going back gives space for people who want to address birth trauma. For me I asked that we start by processing my conception story. I know it because my Mother weaponized the information against me when I was 16; a memory recorded to integrate later.

⚠️ Content Warnings ⚠️
⚠️ Domestic Violence, Rape, Child Abuse ⚠️

My conception is the result of a night of alcohol fueled domestic violence. In 1969 it wasn’t illegal for a husband to rape his wife.

My Mother has experienced multiple miscarriages, a stillborn son, and had a girl who was born with significant birth defects who died at 18 months of age. She told me endless stories about her singing & reading to me when I was in her womb.

She would call me her “miracle”. She wild often remind me that she made me, I was hers.

My therapist helps me understand that my Mother has a personality disorder. That her mental illness was the direct result of my Grandmother’s abusive parenting. Having experienced abuse from my Grandmother, I know she was terrible.

Knowing all this, combined with memories I already had of physical abuse, I feel like I shouldn’t be surprised at new memories of physical abuse showing up. And yet, memories of yet more abuse have upset me, I realize I was still trying to minimize.

I want to believe that I became a difficult child that caused the rages I do remember. Instead I must integrate that she was physically, energetically, and emotionally terrifying to me. By age 4 I knew that no one in my family would ever help me.

My childhood wasn’t that bad...

“Why?”, asks my therapist, “Because she never gave you a black eye?!”

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Trauma doesn’t make sense and yet I can’t stop my thinking brain from trying to understand. I’m getting better at realizing when I’m spinning my wheels in the deep mud of a trauma memory and I need to stop trying to make sense of it. I’m getting better at reminding myself that my Mother has a personality disorder, there is no sense to be found.

My grandmother was terrible to me and that was while she noticeably more loving towards me than my Mother. When I recall this, I’m reminded that my Mother’s mental illness was a direct result of the abuse she received as the unwanted, second child. My mental health is the direct result of intergenerational trauma, and it stops here.

The past doesn’t have to make sense and I’m learning to be OK with that.

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I’ve been away healing, growing, but have been considering that some writing best belongs here, but on social media alone.

Thursday would have been my Mother’s 77th birthday. I’m remembering how we were getting ready to take her to Hawaii for her 70th. Social media tells me I was ordering our cab to the airport about this time 7 years ago.

Yesterday I reminded my wife, “The forecast said there’s a high chance of Mom-Mopes.”

These post-death birthdays get easier, but I’m in the midst of processing a trauma memory that’s opened my eyes to the physical abuse she visited upon me as a very small child. I’m integrating how terrifying she was and how I have been shaped by this.

Glad I have therapy on Tuesday, it feels right to keep working through the memory. I'm prepared with my self care plan for the rest of the week. Physical Therapy on Wednesday. Donuts with a friend on Thursday itself. Time in a floatation tank Friday. Making art with friends on Saturday.

I’m also enjoying watching my orchid from grocery outlet store, never have seen the flowers, bloom!


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.



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