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Trauma never goes completely away

My friend Spike shared a link to this New York Times article on Facebook, and since trauma and recovery are themes on this blog, I thought I’d share it here. The author, a psychiatrist, writes about how trauma and grief never go completely away.

Can’t get over it? You may now stop trying and believing that you have to or that something is wrong with you because you haven’t or can’t.

My mother’s knee-jerk reaction, “Shouldn’t I be over this by now?” is very common. There is a rush to normal in many of us that closes us off, not only to the depth of our own suffering but also, as a consequence, to the suffering of others….

The reflexive rush to normal is counterproductive. In the attempt to fit in, to be normal, the traumatized person (and this is most of us) feels estranged.

Anne Lamott on how to become yourself

lamottI love Anne Lamott. I follow her on Twitter (oh, my, she’s fierce and funny!) and have read her wonderful Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life and other books. She’s open about being a screwed-up human being, and she has a lot of wisdom to share and the writing skills to convey it truthfully, with humor.

Somehow I stumbled upon a post she’d written for O, The Oprah Magazine (does anyone ever say, “I got my copy of O in the mail”?), that I want to share.

Excerpts:

We begin to find and become ourselves when we notice how we are already found, already truly, entirely, wildly, messily, marvelously who we were born to be. The only problem is that there is also so much other stuff, typically fixations with how people perceive us, how to get more of the things that we think will make us happy, and with keeping our weight down. So the real issue is how do we gently stop being who we aren’t? How do we relieve ourselves of the false fronts of people-pleasing and affectation, the obsessive need for power and security, the backpack of old pain, and the psychic Spanx that keeps us smaller and contained?…

I had to stop living unconsciously, as if I had all the time in the world. The love and good and the wild and the peace and creation that are you will reveal themselves, but it is harder when they have to catch up to you in roadrunner mode. So one day I did stop. I began consciously to break the rules I learned in childhood…

Dealing with your rage and grief will give you life. That is both the good news and the bad news: The solution is at hand. Wherever the great dilemma exists is where the great growth is, too. It would be very nice for nervous types like me if things were black-and-white, and you could tell where one thing ended and the next thing began, but as Einstein taught us, everything in the future and the past is right here now. There’s always something ending and something beginning. Yet in the very center is the truth of your spiritual identity: is you. Fabulous, hilarious, darling, screwed-up you.

Actually, not on purpose, I’ve left out the funniest parts! Read more and enjoy: http://www.oprah.com/spirit/How-To-Find-Out-Who-You-Really-Are-by-Anne-Lamott/2#ixzz2Q5EhI88x

What got you started meditating? Here’s my story. What’s yours?

Clare commented on my recent post about meditation that she enjoys becoming still and present but wonders how to convince others.

I’m not sure what convinces people that meditation is a good thing. Plenty of people do meditate, and now I’m curious about the initial catalyst. (Because none of this have been doing this our entire lives, I’ll bet!)

I’ll share my story, and I invite you to share yours, either in the comments or via email. If you email me (mareynolds27 at gmail dot com), be sure to let me know what name or initials you want me to use if I get enough responses to summarize in a future post.

I started five years ago after a relationship ended. Even though I knew it was right to end the relationship — the other person had stopped relating to me in a way I enjoyed and had become someone I no longer knew (either that, or my eyes fully opened for the first time) — I still wanted to escape from the emotional pain of ending a relationship I had put a lot of myself into.

I couldn’t find a way to escape. Alcohol, smoking, busy-ness, socializing, travel — none of that helped. Each morning I woke up with a heart that felt raw and vulnerable.

After a few weeks of this, it occurred to me one day that I had nothing to lose if I just sat with the pain, fully facing it. I didn’t believe it could have gotten worse.

I  sat myself down cross-legged on a pillow on the floor and surrendered to what I was feeling. I brought my attention to my heart center and felt into it. I let the pain just be what it was, not wanting to be in denial about it, not wanting to make it into anything else. I actually had some curiosity about moving toward it instead of away from it.

I wasn’t swallowed up, overwhelmed, decimated, annihilated, or engulfed. I felt hurt and vulnerable in my heart center, yes. And I realized that there was more to me than that. I was bigger than the pain. But who was I?

That was the hook. Who actually was I? I began sitting to find an answer to that question.

What set you on this path?

Absorbing a loss

Last Monday I went into work, and my boss came around, closed the door, and told me she had some sad news: my colleague Val had passed away on Sunday.

Val dead? I could not imagine those two words used in the same sentence. It was truly a shock.

This past week has been a tough week, absorbing the loss of someone I saw often over the past 6 years, someone I liked and admired. During this week, I witnessed my denial and acceptance dancing together, sometimes one leading, sometimes the other.

Val was one of my favorite people in the office where I work. All we had been told was that Val was out on “temporary but indefinite” leave. Somehow I had the impression that he was taking care of a seriously ill loved one.

I couldn’t imagine Val sick. When I was walking on the Town Lake trail regularly on weekends, I’d nearly always see Val running. He and his girlfriend took wonderful vacations — hiking on the Olympia peninsula, scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, a camel ride to the Great Pyramids.

My boss told me Val learned he had lung cancer in May and took leave, that he’d been on chemo, that he’d come through the first round with encouraging signs of improvement, that he’d been in a lot of pain on Friday, had a good day on Saturday, and died Sunday due to a problem with his stent (where they put the chemo drugs in). He was 50.

I found some old emails from Val with links to his vacation photos. I found one of him in Olympic National Park, wearing a floppy hat, smiling hugely. I printed that photo and taped it to the now-closed door of his office. It  just felt right. I wanted to remember him happy.

A director later sent an email about Val’s passing and used the phrase “absorbing this loss.” I like that. Absorbing a loss is a gradual process, like a sponge soaking up water.

We bring our losses into our memories, and they become part of who we are.

I went to bed that night vividly remembering Val — the way he teased me after seeing me out on a date — how I was so wrapped up in the conversation, I didn’t notice him (Val) trying to get my attention. Seeing him running on the trail on Saturday mornings. How he laughed when I demonstrated lion pose in yoga class last spring. That was the last time I remember seeing him laugh.

I remembered many smaller moments, of passing him in the hallway, a conversation in the kitchen or across his desk, being in a meeting with him. These memories were more about remembering his physical presence.

Tuesday morning when I arrived at work, I immediately noticed a new sound, a cricket. It was in the kitchen, not visible but very audible.

For a split second, I felt annoyed, and then that feeling dropped completely, replaced by happiness that this cricket had decided to visit and hang out in our kitchen and serenade us.

On Wednesday, someone told me that more photos had been added to Val’s door. By Thursday there were maybe a dozen photos of Val. His door had become a shrine.

On Friday my acupuncturist noticed my grief. It manifests on the lung meridian. She helped me with talk and bodywork, but some part just did not want to give it up yet. It was about more than just Val’s death. It was about change: accepting change and making changes.

I took a solitary walk Friday night, reconciling, integrating, absorbing. I needed that.

I remembered seeing Val before he went on leave and noticing that he seemed stressed, tense. I thought it was about a project he was working on.

With hindsight, I know that he was feeling physical discomfort. Pain from lung cancer.

Friday night I had a dream in which a helicopter crashed in front of me. Usually that means dropping denial.

Val must have gotten so fragile in those 10 weeks of battling cancer.

Saturday I attended a celebration of Val’s life at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden. His large family and many people from work came.

Words were said, smiles and hugs shared, tears shed, photos and mementoes displayed, poems read, songs sung, and hands held, under the trees and the big Texas sky.

I am grateful for having lived through this difficult, emotional, contractive and expansive week. I am grateful to Val for sharing my path a little way.

It seems that with every death, we process every previous death and every future death, including our inevitable own. We are more fragile than we like to believe, held together by an arrangement of chemicals and electrical currents, and when our life force moves outside that narrow range, we dissolve and disperse.

I’m so sorry about you losing your health, Val. You are free of pain and suffering now, and for that I am happy for you. I am grateful that you lived a good life, of work and love and adventure, and that I knew you. Thank you for sharing your many gifts.

I am getting out on the river today, doing some paddle-boarding, and doing it for me, doing it because of the model Val provided.

You never know what the future holds.