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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Since You've Been Gone...

15 years ago on April 23rd my Dad passed away.
As far as memories go that day is a blur...
I know I gave my Dad a morphine shot that day, I recall him talking to people who weren't there and counting out loud, I held his hand and heard his last breath and in the morning after he died it rained and the desert smelled sweet with creosote.
There were many friends that I relied on during that time...
Susan Kay Johnson and Nadia Hagen were stable listeners as well as my coworkers at Cafe Quebec and my Flam Chen comrades but all in all it's hard to recall much of that time and I decided that instead of reflecting on the past I'd celebrate the life I've lived because of him.
He will never know the dramas and the beauty that has transpired since he left but even though he died young his existence affected my own.
In the last 15 years as I've grown up...my little brother, Paul graduated college, secured his place as an influential and philanthropic business man, married a kind and generous woman and has a beautiful and feisty daughter, my older brother, Jon has raised two incredible children who continue to amaze me and he has grown his business to be a national leader in the mortgage industry and my oldest brother Jim, has continued to struggle, he has fallen, picked himself up but fallen again...as we all have.
Me?
My father's influence to set goals and meet them created a foundation that led me to graduate college, move back to be close to my family, follow my passion and become a yoga teacher, get married, have a son and then recreate my life to be true to myself.
He made me a tape before he died and one of the things he repeated again and again was that I needed to be true to myself so as I think about the years since he died it took me awhile to remember his words but I did and so as I hold him in my heart today, I hope that he would be proud of me and of all of us...
He brought some good people into this world and were doing our best to raise our children with the same foundations to be true, to work hard and to live.
His last years were spent doing what he loved and as they have always been...these are my last days and I hope to use them wisely.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Welcome to Crazy Town...it's just fine.


Life is short. 
Not as short as a fruit fly but definitely shorter than the life of a saguaro or an elephant...
They live a really long time, ya know?
I try live in the moment whenever I can but like anyone else...
I get lost in the past or worry about the future.
It's not a bad thing.
Often, it's very constructive.
Reflecting, planning and learning.

But, this year I turn 40 so I've been thinking about how much my life has changed in the past decade.
I think about the people that I've met and how they've inspired me in some way.
I appreciate all of them.
Even the assholes.
I know that today I can look outside and smile with adoration for the sweet life I have even though just a few days ago I was feeling despair and unable to feel joy.
It happens.
To everyone, actually.
If you ever feel like you are the moodiest human that ever lived just watch how quickly a toddler can fluctuate between glee and misery within a few breaths and you'll understand that we are ALL wired this way.
It's a relief, really.

Now, about me:
I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder when I was in my 20's.
I remember the day that I walked into the Nurses Office at Portland State University and said "I think, I am having a heart attack."
I felt like I couldn't breathe, that my heart was pounding so hard I thought it was going to explode and everytime I stood up, I got dizzy.
The nurse hooked me up to a monitor, sighed and told me that I was having an Anxiety Attack and needed to see the School Therapist.
Wonderful!
No heart attack just me being a super nut-job college kid.
Hooray, I guess?
So...?
I went down the hall and scheduled an appointment with the school Psychologist.

My first session was awash in tears, snot and brief moments of hyperventilating but my therapist was thoughtful and patient, as she should be.
She listened as I described my first sexual assault at 4 years old, the subsequent harassment throughout Junior High, the stalking and sexual assault by a stranger and another violation by an ex-boyfriend in my mother's house.
She heard me talk about seeing my first dead body in grade school as my friend, Cito laid in an open casket with half his head missing after being hit by a car on his bicycle and Whitney Houston's "I believe in You and Me" played on the speakers of the funeral home.
That song still makes my skin crawl.

I told her about the 3 other childhood friends who died before I got to High School.
Nicky was thrown from the back of a pick up truck, Raymond shot himself in the head with his parent's gun and Danny was killed riding his bike.
I told her how Danny's mother calmly said that I was the cause of the death around me...
She said I was a Grim Reaper and how if she spent more time with me she could die, too.
I told my therapist that for years... I believed she was right.
I described the 8 close family members who died within a 4 year period before I graduated Junior High and how their deaths forever changed my mother, my parent's marriage and the way I saw the world.
I explained that between the ages of 4 to 10, I was beaten on a regular basis by a mother who was unable to maintain friendships, lonely and overwhelmed.
I told her how we joined a New Age 'Pyramid Scheme' Spiritual Group when I was 12 and even though I was taught meditation, which was helpful, I was surrounded by adults who seemed lost and well...creepy.

I told her about the time that I was 15 and my oldest brother offered me to his friend, Trey in exchange for drugs and I was only spared a probable molestation because one of my parents came home.
I explained that in High School I moved out and lived with 3 other kids and watched my family crumble apart, become strangers to me and how my father got secretly married to a woman we had never met, how he started a new life with her and her son and then at my High School Graduation he got sick, left early and was diagnosed with terminal cancer 2 weeks later.
I told her that I had detached further from my family and friends and left my home for the Pacific Northwest with my boyfriend to only return home 6 months later to take care of my dying father, his mother who had Parkinson's disease and my oldest brother, who was a Crack addict.
I explained that I held my dad's hand when he was dying and how my grandmother immediately blamed us for his death saying we were bad children.
I told her that for well over a year I could not stop the nightmares of seeing my father die over and over again.

I told her that I drank myself to sleep every night but managed to go to school, finish my projects and begin a performance troupe with my best friend.
I told her that I couldn't  cry or feel sorry for myself because I had a handsome boyfriend, I had a fun life, I had friends.
So...why was I feeling so terrible?
Why didn't I trust anyone?
Why did everything hurt so much?

We engaged in 3 months of talk therapy.
I begged her to diagnose me as crazy, put me away and just be done with it but she wouldn't.
She said I had PTSD.
The talking was good, it was cathartic but it didn't stop the anxiety and panic attacks.
It didn't keep me from completely shutting down for 3 days after a guy groped me on the street of Downtown Portland and my boyfriend just shrugged and said that he would have done the same if he had seen me in the tight jeans I had been wearing.
I stopped going because as far as I could tell I had only reaffirmed my victimhood but I hadn't stopped the constant stream of bad dreams and feelings of inadequcies.

For another 5 years, I self-medicated with beer, randomn bouts of bulimia, flirtations with Yoga, Tai-Chi, Capoeria...
I threw myself into my art work and cried myself to sleep, a lot.
These outlets helped mask the pain.
They gave me a momentary respite from the grief, the anger and sadness that I was too afraid to feel without acting upon.

As my 30th Birthday approached, my boyfriend and I decided to move back to Tucson.
We had our fill of grey clouds, blackout drinking and chain smoking but we didn't have a plan so...we moved in with my mother.
For 3 months we lived in a tiny room that now serves as a closet for the new family that lives there.
It was not a good time.
I got a job working at a Mortgage Company for my older and youngest brother.

Eventually, we moved out and got our own place.
I got up every morning to practice Ashtanga yoga, meditate and then would bike to work. 
FINALLY, I had all my ducks in a row.
I got into the daily routine of being a corporate person, crunching numbers, entering data and sitting for 9 hours a day.
If nothing else...I was no longer a disappointment to my family.
I was growing up.
FINALLY.
FINALLY.
FINALLY!

Except...I hated it.
Most of the time, anyway.
I loved the competitive nature of my job, the continuous need to go, to feed off of adrenalne and to see if I could get everything done before it's deadline.
It was a productive distraction except for the way my body felt from sitting all day and that when I came home it was to a house that reeked of pot and had the shades drawn shut because my ex was convinced that being stoned and in the dark was the only way he could function.
I was miserable.
My time at work and home became overrun with anxiety again.
Dizziness lingered even when I sat down.
I had to see a cardiologist.
My heart was not happy in ANY way.
It was breaking down in EVERY way, literally.
Stress was killing me and I was still a child in so MANY ways.
I had to change.

I started to take my daily yoga practice more seriously and got certified to teach.
I dedicated myself to yoga and to saving my very broken bond with my boyfriend.
After 2 years in Tucson, we bought a house.
I proposed.
We got married.
I left the corporate job and began working full time as a yoga instructor.
I got pregnant.
We grew further apart.
He left for several months.
After our son was born the destructive and isolating nature of our relationship became crystal clear.
We fought.
We yelled.
I began drinking again, spending money we didn't have and started throwing up.
I hated my life, my body, my brain and all of its shitty memories.
I hated that everytime I walked past the place I was assaulted in High School, I would look away...
So, I agreed to continue to be in charge of Tucson's All Souls Procession Altar Project even after it was moved to Armory Park, the place of the assault.
I was going to face my fears.
I would reclaim that space and in addition I would honor and grieve the 20 + people I had lost in my life.
Yes!
I was multitasking my need to deal with my traumas.
I had a plan and it would solve everything.
I would stop freaking out and move on.

I thought that if I meditated enough I'd realize what I needed to do to make our family work because it was me, my crazy mind and my ugly body that were to blame.
I blamed myself because someone needed to be blamed and my ego was comfortable with turning myself into a loathsome martyr.
Ugh...blame.
Such a useless way to spend ones time.

When I got a pretty steady gig teaching at a resort, it became a refuge from my home life, my struggles and my pain.
My coworkers were warm and encouraging.
Thankfully they were also VERY honest and direct.
I remember a dear colleague saying that I needed to be treated better and that my husband was mean.
These two things never occurred to me.
Never.

I left him.
I gave him our house and everything in it.
I was free.
I was broke.
I moved in with my mother, me, a 3 year old, her 3 dogs and my own.
I was a mess.
My temper became short, I stopped eating, stopped sleeping and my son was stuck with two dysfunctional misfits trying not to explode on each other, as parents.
It took its toll.
Somedays, I was brave enough to be with all of the pain and beauty during my meditations but usually I abused the tools of my yoga practice to escape my reality until my son began to explode in fits of rage.
He would ask me why I ruined our family.
My son, my love...he was so sad.

I moved out of my Mother's home and into a small 1 bedroom house.
I filed for bankruptcy.
I stepped down from my position of being in charge of the All Souls Day event,  as it only made my anxiety worse.
As I look back on that period of my life, I see that I was on autopilot.
All I wanted to do was dance, cry and be loved but I couldn't seem to feel the last thing on that list.
It's was absent.
I stopped loving myself.
I had ripped apart my family and left my son confused and angry.
I would go to work, speak of enlightenment but come home and just feel numb.
Dead.
Worn out.

I hurt.
So deeply.
I wanted to love myself.
I had done it before as I found the courage to leave a marriage that was not healthy but I fell back into the patterns from my childhood.
The judgmental voices that I had heard from others became my own internal mantra.
Ugly.
I felt ugly inside and out.
I'm not.
No one is but we forget...
I get stuck in the darkness a lot and it's not always a bad thing but it's not always productive.
I like learning and exploring.
I dislike feeling overwhelmed as if I'm trapped in a tornado of anger and anxiety and I'm just waiting to be thrown out of its spiral and smacked back into reality as my body hits the ground and I realize where I am.
Reality.
It's fine. 
Even when it's not.

So...I've started to really practice but in a more relaxed way.
The hyper vigilance of an Ashtanga practice isn't for me...in fact, I do something different everyday.
I wake up and try to honor the person I woke up with for the day.
Sometimes, I'm a feisty girl wanting to move, balance and sweat it out.
Other times, I sit.
I grieve.
I stretch and go for a swim.
My teachers have not lived my life or experiences...they gave me a foundation to evolve from so I take their teachings, I learn and I try to apply them to me, my body, my brain.
I've begun to journal and to talk to friends.
I always felt ashamed and exhausted by my past stories.
I let them slip out casually in conversations but tried not to say too much because at a certain point peoples eyes just glaze over...
Much of my life has felt unreal and unbelievable.
Sometimes when I go through it...
I think, I can't have seen that or been treated that way.
It's just not possible.
I think of my life long process much like the hurried stashing of unfolded laundry, piles of paper and quick sweeping of floors when a friend says they are going to stop by real quick.
I put the mess in the corners, shut the doors and welcome them with a smile and hope they think I've got it together until they accidentally open the closet door and everything crashes down and I have to awkwardly explain myself.
Of course the thing with friends or at least good ones is that they ARE nosey.
They always look in your cupboards when your not looking.
Damn them.
Bless them.

Over 2 years ago, I left my husband, got divorced and now I find myself in a serious relationship again and those  crammed doors have been flung wide open.
The dirty dishes, the moldy food in the refrigerator....all of it has been exposed.
When we first began dating he thought I was perfect and I tried desperately to appear as perfect as I could. 
Of course, as time passed we got beyond the excitement and romanticism of pillow talk and I told him my stories.
He didn't flinch.
He hugged me.
He wept...
I feel safe around him but I didn't feel safe explaining that despite a daily meditation and yoga practice that I freak out ALL the time.
Every 'freakin' day, actually. 
There is so much, too much.
So, I hid my neurosis as if I could outwit him...except he ain't no dumby.
He's annoyingly smart, actually...
Thankfully.

It turns out that when I've had a long day, feeling tired, feeling hungry, hear a certain song, see a date of remembrance on the calendar that I can't hide my shit.
In fact, when I list my strengths...having a Poker Face is not one of them.

So...here is the thing with PTSD and especially long term and untreated traumas: 
You will find yourself triggered into a moment of panic over something that you know is not really happening but it feels like you've been pulled into an undertow.
Sometimes, I waste a lot of time struggling against it...which always prolongs the experience.
Now and then, I take a deep breath and remember to stop and just let myself float back to the surface.
I try to stay.
I try to be with what is, feel it and observe it but sometimes it still sneaks up on me.

When I see a kid sitting in the back of a pick-up truck I still find myself becoming immediately nauseous and angry even though I know that child will probably make it home safe.
When my boyfriend casually brought up my own son wanting to sit in the back of a truck...I became enraged.
He didn't understand why I started to yell at him as if he was punching me in the gut.
To him...most kids have that experience.
Was I not going to let my son ride a bicycle, either?
I've lost a handful of friend to bike accidents.
The answer is that my son will not ride in the back of a truck bed on my watch but also my boyfriend was not trying to hurt me by the mere mention of it, either.

His life has been different than mine.
More fearless, more grounded.
He doesn't understand or empathize with a lot of my experiences but he is willing to listen and learn about them.
He accepts my need to clean the house and having everything organized before I fall asleep because it is a habit I got into as a child, as my mother used to wake me up, pull me out of bed to re-dust the furniture if it failed the clean test when she ran her finger along the top of shelf.
Cleaning is a way to feel safe and is calming for me, now.
And no...I'm not for hire so don't ask.

To paraphrase Pema Chodron...I am trying to make friends with my neurosis.
I am learning not to cling to the moments of clarity as a 'A-ha! I am finally normal' certification because stuff is going to come up.
It always will.
I'm just learning to enjoy the periods of ease and appreciate when I recover from a mental tantrum more quickly then I did the same time last year.

Last night, I planted seeds in our garden and as I ran my hands through the soil and compost I thought that this is what it's about...
The scraps, the trash, the rotten parts all have value when we recognize them as a part of the process.
The trash, the used up and decayed parts lay the foundation for new growth and without them there are no nutrients, just barren ground.
As this newly planted garden begins to thrive my family will be fed and nourished and I will be grateful for the process.
Of course, the season will change, the plants will die and I will find myself mucking through the dirt again, throwing out the old roots but preparing for the next crop as I plant new seeds and start again and again and again.

All I can do is love.
Love it all.
Even the rotten parts.