Engine Failure & Progress

Check-ins are important. When I was in 8th grade, I was part of a dynamic, legendary song and dance group called the ShowStoppers. We wore red dresses covered in sequins, heavy nylons, dancing heels, a ton of makeup, and curls. It was epic. I was the worst dancer in our troupe, and I had gotten in on my singing voice. I had never taken dance lessons, unlike the other girls. However, I learned something about dancing in my year there–when you are performing turns, it’s important to have a focal point to reference. That way, you don’t become disoriented, you stay grounded.

Focal points have helped me stay grounded and also have allowed me to assess progress in my life. It’s been 3 months of continuous meditation, 30 minutes twice a day, 3 months of intensive trauma therapy (EMDR + resourcing has sometimes taken several hours a week), 3 months of pilates and yoga, 3 months of exploring my spirituality. And, strangely, the more present I have become, the harder it was to realize that 3 months went by so quickly. I just felt present, putting one foot in front of the other, making my pirouettes without thinking. These things in life have become habitual. Self-care has become habitual.

This past week, two incidents came into my life that were able to serve as focal points, as places where I could assess progress. I have recently started a new role in Washington DC while still living in the San Francisco bay area. This has increased my travel schedule significantly and has also put me in contact with new people. My first day of work was Wednesday, where I spent the day meeting policymakers and staffers. Thursday, I was to be in an all-day meeting with 15 people who would work together to develop policy recommendations for the new presidential administration. This is the most prestigious table I would ever be around, and I was looking forward to just being at the table to listen. I knew, however, that the woman who forced me out of my last role would also be at the table. She has been a significant trigger point for me in the last 2 years, and the last time I knew I would have to see her I actually suffered a considerable panic attack at my partner’s home in front of his group of friends just anticipating having to see her. He and I nearly broke up because I overwhelmed him with my anxiety. I was unstable. When I finally did see her, I vomited, hid in a bathroom stall, and, eventually, experienced a seizure in the middle of a Chicago street…at night. This woman really overtook my senses and shut down all my responses. Naturally, I was concerned about having to be in a meeting with her, so I discussed this with my therapist, who worked with me to process my feelings toward her. While I am still working on processing her representation in my life, that session where I could process through what was left over from this woman’s abuse allowed me to make different decisions. I arrived at the meeting place 20 minutes early, got a feel for the space, and allowed myself to feel present. When she walked into the room, I noticed that I didn’t tense up at all. When she engaged me, I allowed some small talk but also put up clear boundaries, allowing myself to feel safe and present while in her presence. When she tried to undermine things I said, I felt no need to defend myself, and I allowed myself to feel comfortable with a difference in opinion. In the moment, I didn’t notice I was doing something different…but looking back, this is the first time that I could notice a completely vanished trigger. What affected me so deeply in March had no power over me at all. I could breathe into the present moment with no anxiety about the past or fear of the future. And it was so much easier than expected.

The evening after my all-day meeting, I was to take a late night flight back to San Francisco, with a short layover in Atlanta. I had to be somewhere else in California for meetings the next morning, so I was anticipating sleeping on the plane. I love sitting over the wing, at the window, especially during sunset. Getting up to cruising altitude, our cabin heard a loud “POP”, followed by a pillar of black smoke coming from behind the right wing. This wasn’t normal. As the cabin crew prepared to make an emergency landing in North Carolina due to sudden engine failure, I could hear the terror, panic, and fear in my fellow travelers. I found myself breathing deeply, feeling personally comforted that things were under control, which allowed me, in turn, to help comfort a woman for whom this was her first flight. As I landed in North Carolina and looked on my phone to see how I may be able to get another flight back before my meetings started in the morning, I reflected on the last time this event occurred. In 2011, I was part of an emergency landing outside of Palmer, Alaska, coming home from Fairbanks. It wasn’t the emergency landing that got me panicked, but the feeling that I was going to miss one too many graduate classes, not allowing me to graduate. While trying to get a new flight, I had a horrible panic attack, yelled at just about everyone, burst into tears, and called my (sleeping) boyfriend every minute on the minute, leaving him messages. I was a mess. I made it back for my class just in time, but I had a seizure the second I was finished with that class from all the drama I had created. This time, I was able to remain calm, even encourage others while they freaked out about missing their connections. I noticed I wasn’t alone–this hadn’t just happened to me. We were a stranded collective, which allowed me to stay grounded, calm, and humble. When we got shuttled back to the airport, I calmly stood in line, calling my administrative assistant to let her know I may not be at the meeting in the morning, making contingency plans. I waited at the desk and firmly asked to be put on the only flight out that evening, stating that waiting until the morning was not my preference. I got re-planed, and was able to sleep soundly on the plane, making it to my meeting in the morning a few hours away.

Engine failure doesn’t happen every day. Neither does having to sit in a room on the other side of the country with the person who harassed you for 2 years. But little moments do repeat every day. Little moments are able to be your focal point–they can keep you grounded, they can act as a measuring stick. Awareness comes from allowing yourself to put space between those moments, put space where there was once noise. This is the gift the last 3 months have taught me that I haven’t really noticed: the gift of stillness. You see, crazy things happen to everyone. It’s really up to us to make it dramatic and traumatic. It’s up to us to carry around those moments as weights on our shoulders. Once you realize that you can’t control what happens to you, but you can control your reaction to it, you’re free.

“Spiritual progress is like detoxification. Things have to come up in order to be released. Once we have asked to be healed, then our unhealed places are forced to the surface.” –Marianne Williamson

Healing is an amazing feeling.

Love,

Blonde

xox

 

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Massage Therapy & Surrender

I attend Pilates and yoga 6 times a week, not only for a workout but to set time to meditate in a community. Yoga is a powerful mindfulness activity and also binds you to those with whom you practice. After meditating for 35 minutes twice a day for nearly 3 months, I have been feeling freer and thinking that I am completely Zen. Imagine my surprise when I attended a yoga class last week where my instructor kept saying, “Blonde. Shoulders away from ears, lengthen through the spine.” All I could think was, “MY SHOULDERS ARE SO FAR AWAY FROM MY EARS!” until she came over and gently adjusted my posture, showing that, indeed, I had been holding on to something I didn’t even notice was there. It reminds me of those times when you get a massage from a massage therapist and they lift your arm or leg and state, “you can let go. Just make your limb weightless.” Usually I think I am totally giving in to their therapy, but I actually hold on just enough to feel like I’m still in control.

We’re shit at relationships. Why? Because even when we say we trust people, even when we say that we’ve let go or given in, our neocortex is screaming for us to maintain control. Maintain the status quo. Keep social construction. Feed the ego. We’re so prideful that we don’t even see that we’re not even seeing. We build magnificent safeguards in order to hold onto the semblance of control. If only we knew how free we could feel if we surrendered fully.

“Spiritually, no action is more important than surrender. Surrender is the tenderest impulse of the heart, acting out of love to give whatever the beloved wants. Surrender is being alert to exactly what is happening now, not imposing expectations from the past. Surrender is faith that the power of love can accomplish anything, even when you cannot foresee the outcome of a situation.” –Deepak Chopra

Surrender is probably the concept I struggle with the most. I want others to be vulnerable with me, but even the act of saying that I want others to be a different way means that I want to hold onto the control. At times,  I want to pray for things to happen–for an exact answer to my questions. I don’t want to listen. I don’t want someone to make his own decision or conclusion. I ask for patience and grace from others and yet I get impatient in doing the same. However, every time I let go and receive, I receive the exact thing I need at the time. The thing that will bring me the happiness for which I long. All I can do is show up, allowing others to also show up. And there is beauty in that. These micro-adjustments are so critical in our lives–allowing someone to tell us or allowing something to make us more aware of those things we struggle to release. These daily micro-adjustments that bring awareness to the places where we still hold on are critical. They bring us back to present, to what is inside of us that can be released–removing us from the impetus to seek external changes to internal problems.

May we listen before prescribing…for even as we ask, even as we pay for the massage therapist or the regular therapist, or even as we kneel down to pray, we waste our time and money when we don’t allow someone else to be the expert. May we have more space for receiving rather than holding so tightly to the things we think are best for us.

Radiation

There’s nothing better,

Nothing brighter,

Nothing more beautiful,

Than watching that smile

Creep across your face.

The way it spreads so evenly

From your lips parting slightly

To the curling of the ends,

Simultaneously.

Even if it’s not for me.
There’s nothing better,

Nothing more like home

Than the radiance,

Shining through your eyes,

Relaxing your shoulders down your back.

Even if not toward me

I feel the sun from your rays.
You were once mine

And right now,

It matters little.

Just knowing you were once mine

Tells me I’m worthy.

For a time I held the moon!

I was enveloped by your radiance.

I was caught by your gravity;

I could let go and just…

Orbit.
And still

I feel your warm rays on my skin

Like the first day you pulled me in

Swirling in your orbit

Bathed in your radiance,

My cells exploding,

My chemistry changed.

Tangled Jewelry & Intention Setting

Over Memorial Day weekend, I attended a wedding with my partner. I absolutely love to switch up the accessories I wear, so I had brought a lot of jewelry to the 5 day affair. However, when I pulled out the carrier of said pieces, all the jewelry I brought to choose from tangled together into one giant mass. What a mess…it ended up leading me to ask for help of my partner and many of his friends, one by one, to get them untangled. What a beautiful team effort by people I didn’t know well. I felt silly passing this big blob on to others to ask for help in untangling, but it was a beautiful puzzle that many people seemed to enjoy. The woman who finally did the untangling of all the pieces did so in under 10 minutes. She was a miracle worker, and yet, her success depended on the progress of others.

A standard part of yoga or meditation practice is intention setting. Deepak Chopra says that “everything that happens in the universe starts with intention,” and so should we. Intention is the seed we plant that will grow into change. Intention allows our mind to ever wander with thoughts but to have an anchor point. Mine, recently, has been the intention to give and receive love…to myself, from myself, and to others in my life. Strangely, I ended up getting stuck on forgiving myself rather than just going to a place of abundance. I got tangled up more in the process of untangling. And this happens to all of us, but what’s necessary is to turn back to our intention. To give ourselves the things we seek.

Earlier this week, I made a huge breakthrough in therapeutic treatment: I realized that I had always been referring to my trauma as one giant mass, as trauma with a capital T. It would be like referring to my big mass of jewelry as my “jewelry,” not pointing out that there were individual pieces in there that were tighter or looser in the giant mass. Not acknowledging individual progress. Once I was able to bring awareness to the many different strands of trauma in my life, several of them were able to just fall away easily. They had become so loose that I could just let them go. I, myself, could take them away from the mass I was untangling.

This gentle and seemingly minor point of awareness has let in many small areas for self love and rebuilding. Small cracks where there were once pieces of sadness, of despair, of the intense desire to be forgiven…only to realize that there was nothing I needed to be forgiven for. Those pieces of trauma, alone, just like memories of happiness, playfulness, laughter, sadness, anger, or any other time, all are beautiful just as they are. Together, with the capital T, they seem overwhelming and insurmountable, but handled separately, they are a reminder that all facets of life are there for a purpose. So often we grow impatient, trying to untangle the giant mass all at once, when, really, if we focus gently on finding the pieces that are free, the mass will untangle all on its own. One by one, piece by piece. And, letting go of the giant mass doesn’t mean you are neglecting it…for the mass we so tightly hold onto is made of all the individual strands of jewelry. Nothing added. Nothing subtracted. Just free. And there is comfort in that.

I will leave you with a magical piece of writing today by Monique M, from today’s post:

What if everything in our lives is perfect? What if all the events and circumstances that make up each of our lives are perfect, even the ones we think are mistakes? A perfect confluence of events to bring us to this point right here… this juncture at which we stand right here, right now as we’re reading this. Perfect. No matter what it looks like in the moment, whether we like it, or not; whether we hate it, or not; whether it’s humiliating, or not; whether it’s joyous, or not; whether we understand its importance, or not; whether we understand which puzzle piece it is yet, or how it fits into the bigger picture.

What if none of it is bad? A mistake? Or wrong?

Could life be peaceful if we can accept it all? In the moment? As it comes to us? As it unfolds? As it is happening? Even when the events or circumstances seem to only bring us disappointment, mayhem, anger, and upset?

What if, even through all our disappointment with life and ourselves, we really are perfect as we are? Not a perfection of all our exterior attributes, but a perfection that is our very greatness. Nothing needing to be added, or subtracted from us. Just as we are.

We are divine. Just as we are.

True perfection seems imperfect, yet it is perfectly itself. True fullness seems empty, yet it is fully present. True straightness seems crooked. True wisdom seems foolish. True art seems artless.

— Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

 

Letting Go

5 years ago today, my life changed in an instant. It started very similar to the way this morning did: I went to a yoga class prior to heading into work. I recall hurrying into the office, still with my yoga clothes on, as I was going to head out to a little coffee date with my co-worker–an intern with me at the county health department who shared my office with me. I’d gone for 2 years not having an office mate, and I was happily surprised that it was a lovely, thoughtful, kind, funny, brilliant woman I had made friends with in my graduate program. We spent a lot of time talking, sharing stories, getting to know one another, and learning. She was a devoted mother, loving wife, and someone who understood the place from where I come. We shared the same crippling pain. The same stories. We both bonded over Sleater-Kinney (my obsession with them, her having played in a band with them), over crazy and colorful socks and outfits, over experimental punk music, and so much more. She awoke the girl inside of me who loved wearing rainbows and bubbling fountains.

Deanne and I were friends through the public health program, as our passions for transforming the world and really giving back to the place we left coincided perfectly. There was an electricity to her, an infectious quality to her smile, that reminded me of my dear friend Ashley. When we started working in the same office following graduation, our friendship and connection quickly deepened, as she helped me understand the reason why my ex-husband was an addict…that it wasn’t me. She taught me something most people in the United States don’t know: that addiction is a great mask for deep pain. She taught me this repeatedly, even sharing with me her troubles with addiction and self-harm. She told me that her saving grace was her small son, whom she loved dearly and wanted to be a catalyst for change so that he didn’t have to grow up in the world with which she was familiar. Brave, vibrant, passionate, funny Deanne.

Upon returning to my office from yoga, I noticed that my recorder was on my desk. This is the recorder I use for key informant interviews and qualitative research, especially when working on mixed method evaluation. I had loaned it to Deedee for her key informant interviews and case studies for a project she was working on with the health equity council. There was a yellow sticky note on it, reading, “thank you for sharing. xo D”. I waited in the office, checking email and finalizing a grant report for her to come for coffee. For her to come to the office. She never came.

In a text message from our other friend, the third part of the triangle that was my friendship group from graduate school, I read the news that Deanne had taken her own life. She had left behind a wonderful, loving husband and the sweetest 2 year old you’ll ever meet. A 2 year old who will never remember for himself the woman I came to call friend, who I had as a confidant and companion as I embarked on my therapeutic journey. Her encouragement made more of a difference than anyone before, because I truly saw her as a person who had made it through the darkness and into a place where she could cultivate loving relationships and even dream of a world better than the one we had experienced. In such a dark time in my life, she was the light at the end of the tunnel. 5 years ago today, that light was suddenly snuffed.

Deanne’s funeral was the first place I had ever openly grieved. I remember the wave of emotion coming over me and, for the first time, not fighting it as it washed over my entire body. I only knew a couple of people there, and they tried to comfort me in all the ways they knew how. I was inconsolable. I realized early that I was not just grieving for the loss of her…I was simply beginning to grieve all the pain I understood that lived inside of her. I could understand so fundamentally why she did what she did that I lost it. How devastating must all that pain be for one little body…and yet, I have all of the same. One by one, as my dear friends and confidants disappear to the pain, I realize that my little body is simultaneously scared to share the pain with another and also has fewer others with whom to share the pain. The load grows heavier and yet I plod on. And yet I try to process through it so that it doesn’t take me too.

Deanne was a soul sister, and every time I look at her beautiful son, I feel her soul again. Every time he smiles, I feel her alive inside of him. And that wakes me up. I wish she could have held on, I wish she could have asked for help. But I understand where she was, and that place is a place I struggle to reach out from as well. That place where she was is the place that, when shared, I have terrified people to the point of them walking away for good. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel worth it. Too risky. 5 years ago, Deanne taught me I need to wake up and work my ass off to process this pain. 5 years ago, I started to make progress on my therapeutic journey. And 5 years from now, I will be in a place that makes the dark place feel less dim, less consuming, less powerful.

I miss you, DeeDee. I am so glad you are free from this pain, but I wish you knew the pain others have shared with one another over your loss. We miss you, but we are a community. A community who loves your son and husband fiercely. A community that celebrates life and asks for help. A community that no longer shies away from the difficult emotions. A community you created. A community that is better for your child than it was for us. I only wish you could be a part of it. For you, for my gratitude, for my connection to your soul, I light a candle. For you, for his love, for his connection to your soul, your son released balloons into the sky–to try to reach you. You’ve made a difference in our lives. In many ways, you’ve made THE difference in mine.

Love,

Blonde

xoxo