Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Midweek Holidays and Other Interruptions

Today's Veterans' Day. I thought about my Father and the tangle of bluster and myth he told about his time in the Navy and his "Service Connected Disability".

I've read paperwork that came to me when he died. He'd actually been drinking on duty, but it still came out for him. The VA's attempt to treat his back created more problems. He was also emotionally and mentally unstable his whole life, making frequent in-patient stays in the psychiatric ward at the VA here in Portland.

Mostly I tried to keep our day as even as possible. Midweek holidays throw CK off, but we managed to keep both our moods pretty even today by checking in. I was disappointed with dinner, mine was kind of experimental and it turned out edible enough.

We made some mutual progress on basement cleanup. CK continued on with her project to build us a NAS. It's already built and now she's going through old hard drives and is moving the data onto the NAS she built out of mostly spare parts! I started tackling the towers of unsorted stuff around my desk.

My therapist once suggested that my having random areas of unsorted stuff needing attention at some point in the future might not be the failing I feel it is. It might just be how my brain works. I'm not wild about this, I'd like to be a highly organized person who knows where everything is at all times.

Kitten tomorrow! I was sad to discover that while CK and I were talking about hard drives I missed the call to come pick him up today.


Extreme Wife-ing

I took care of something unpleasant today that involved talking with the IRS.

I also confirmed that there IRS still is working their way through the backlog of taxes submitted during the period they closed down last spring. Which is to say the 2017 taxes might not be truly lost, just under the pile waiting to come up.

It brought up the Shame Monster and got in the way of making dinner, I got us takeout.

CK spent time telling me what a good job I did, am doing now. That it means more than the job I wasn't able to do well before.

Obie is increasingly social and sweet. I spent some time laying by him in the yoga room.


Shame Monster Again

I tried to get 5 houses worth of hazardous materials to the transfer station today and missed the cutoff by a few minutes. The minutes I spent visiting our kitten at our friend's.

Then I got home to an IRS letter.

I know how to handle it and we agree getting closer to being caught up, but it still left me feeling like a failure and a burden.

It didn't matter what I did during the day or how grateful our made our friends, our family of choice. The Shame Monster could only focus on my not getting there on time.

The whole evening just saw my anxiety build and the Shame Monster stomping around telling me I suck.

Then I stopped my phone and it bounced across the floor and into the water bowl! It is just fine, the OtterBox helped and I was damn fast to grab it and wrap it in a towel!

I finally gave up on cleaning the kitchen, worked on art, then took as long shower. As I got ready for the shower it finally got me that I forgot to take my bedtime pills!

I'm wondering if I worker need more of the medication for my brain, particularly the part of CPTSD that creates the Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, or if I might benefit from taking it at dinner with my antidepressant.

This might help with Shame Monster's nightly rampaging.


Silence or Shame

On Thursday I watched a white woman walk in to the store I was shopping in with her mask pulled off her nose. She's walked in past an employee who let her enter despite both posted store policy and State mandate.

It was irritating, but I let it go until she got in line nearby. I asked her to put her mask over her nose.

She ignored me, turning her back on me and sighing. I note that I still want her to put on her mask.

I ask an employee to help. They ignore it.

I keep talking loudly in line.

I am shamed by another white woman for, "Talking too much and it's sending more germs out your mask!"

A third white woman faux sympathizes and tells me something like, "You can't control everyone, that's why we wear our masks correctly. Just ignore her, let it go already!"

First white woman stands with hey mask still off her face halfway, nose with fingers in ears.

I waved down the employee who had greeted me at the entrance, who let this woman in while wearing the mask incorrectly. He comes over, she FINALLY puts her mask up!

"She looks fine now.", he says.

I thank him for staying there.

I lean over to say that I appreciate that he's enforcing policy when he puts up a cautioning hand towards me to calm down!

So the white woman who was not following the rules and behaving unsafely, selfishly, possibly played the, "I'm feeling threatened by that loud, angry woman!", and I get the cautioning hand for it.

I'm tied of the way being outspoken gets other white women to pile on with the shame because I'm not being a good girl. I'm so fed up with the politics of niceness and kindness and not making a scene.

CK suggested I come up with a phrase I'll just repeat loudly about refusing to be silent and complicit on behavior that furthers a health crises.


Asking for Money

A task I am working at, so slowly, is getting a working budget together and keeping on top of the household checking account. This involves telling CK how much money to move over.

This doesn't sound at all like a big deal when I write it down. My brain thinks this is a very big deal. For the longest time I really couldn't ask, which put a lot of burden on CK to constantly have to figure out how much would cover things, on top of working a very mentally taxing job.

Today I planned to go to Costco to pick up some things, like paper products, we were starting to run low on after I'd gone in March. We also planned to invest in a Foodsaver, which they had on with a rebate deal. It was going to be an expensive trip, we planned for it.

Then I added up forthcoming bills, the money for the trip today, etc. I then texted CK the number I hoped would take us through the rest of the month.

All the while I kept feeling dread. There's all this somatic static when I'm doing these tasks. There's this fear that I'll be humiliated for needing money, for asking for too much, for being greedy.

It wasn't as hard this time after integrating the memories around being homeless at age 4 and shamed for it by my family. This is the subbasement, as it were, of shame around money for me. There have been incidents over the years that connect back to this wound, especially during my first marriage, but now that it's integrated I'm hoping all of those will loose their teeth.

It is getting easier each time I do this. CK responds with a quick, "ok", and I fret that it means she's irritated, but then she'll respond a few minutes later with a screenshot of the money moved. Later, when she's done working, she'll thank me for helping her stay on top of it.

I remind myself each time I do this again that we've had several iterations of the above routine. I ask, she responds that she got the ask, she does the transfer, and thanks me.

Eventually my Trauma Brain will trust that this is really how it works and will spare me the feeling of dread. Not quite yet though.


In Retrospect

After feeling so terrible yesterday I had some insights I’m still integrating.

Trauma Brain "works" according to Childhood Logic. Here is what seems to happen:

Students send me beautiful notes and donations for teaching online and keeping community going. Related: contribute money for my training.

I meltdown in anxiety, shame, despair, and feeling like I’m a failure and a terrible person until I'm nauseous, can't eat, & get weepy.

Further compounding the misery, I can’t ask for help. Trauma Brain is constantly reminding me that asking for what I need is A) Dangerous physically or mentally or both, B) No One Will Help, because C) You’re not worthy of having you needs met.

And then comes despair.

Today was better. I discovered a great photo I got of a bee butt in the garden and I did a hard thing successfully, I even felt successful!


Transient Beauty

All the pink faded from the apple blossoms and they were starting to wither away. Today the rain returned, I'm sure it will knock these last petals off.

Transient beauty.
Spring's blossoms fade so quickly.
Delicate as hope.

We spent the day playing games. CK asked if I wanted to get Animal Crossing a few weeks ago. It is pretty expensive, to my mind, and I was reluctant. I worried I'd get it and not really get into it and waste the money.

How I see myself as worthy of a $60 game is directly related to trauma therapy.

Homelessness at age 4 where you are repeatedly shamed by your family while you shelter with them leaves traces. That it coincides with signification abuse from my Mother, instead of loving support, makes it complicated to admit to my wife I want her to buy a game, and online subscription, while I'm not working.

The results of my scary game purchase? I played nearly uninterrupted for four hours today! It's really a sweet, kind way to just rest.

It was rainy and chilly after several Sunny warm days. Sitting on the sofa with the dogs and Obie playing a sweet game really was a blessing.


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.



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


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.