Closed Doors

…can open windows to the soul

Last night, much happened. I came home from work and my beloved husband had changed out the video card in my computer. He’d also installed a programmable light switch in our media room that can be linked in to our Echo dots, so we can manage it with our voices; “Alexa, set the media room lights to 20%,” and so on. He described to me the confusion over wire colors from the old switch, and how he had to look it up, then get everything right, then he had to program it. In all, it was no small task, but he did it as he does all things he sets out to do — carefully, and completely. Yes, he has inherited that from his dad, who never gives less than his all to any task he begins.

Additionally, after 8:00, I received notification that a job I’d hoped to get wasn’t available to me. I won’t describe the whole sequence of events, but suffice it to say I think I irritated one of the managers there, before I ever got too far into the process, and I will always believe that is the reason I was overlooked; not because my skills nor anything else were lacking.

Interestingly, however, yesterday at work I had a client who put my feet a bit further on the path I am walking to open my own business. I thought, at the time, that perhaps if I got this great job, I might become a bit slack on pursuing my own business; I’d be making more money, so obviously the financial gain would help me buy the supplies I need; however, the time commitment would probably get in the way of what I’m trying to do, but because I’d be making more money overall, I’d get comfy and not push forward. So yeah, I think things happen when and how they’re meant to.

A very interesting result came about from this, though. It began as I was in the shower, and my beloved was getting himself set for bed. I decided that I needed to make sure he knew how much I appreciated his efforts, and how grateful I am to him that he takes care of these things. That was shortly followed by an epiphany of sorts; I am not the most volubly affectionate person out there. I say “I love you” only when I mean it, and every time I say it, I mean it absolutely. As I was getting ready to walk into the bedroom, though, it dawned on me that my husband, who is volubly affectionate, understands this about me. He understands the deep regard I hold for him, and he understands that I never say something I don’t mean, and always say exactly what I do mean. So when I thank him for his work, he knows I mean it. When I tell him — not as often as I should, I think — that I appreciate him, he knows from the top of his head to the tips of his toes how very much I mean it. And this is why he is content for me to be less effusive in my praise; he knows when I give it, I mean it from the top of my head to the tips of my toes.

This was followed by another epiphany, and this one larger. At this point, I’d left the bedroom to go camp on the magic couch that is guaranteed to let me sleep, and I was contemplating the perfection of the moment. A door closed, but that was ok and, in fact, it opened me up to continue on a path I’ve set myself. I had thanked my beloved, and he had glowed in the knowledge that I love him dearly, that I appreciate him, and it occurred to me that the greatest state of humanity is when we can share ourselves, so very completely and deeply, with another.

We humans, we are not meant to be solitary creatures. Even those of us somewhat reticent in our speech and affection are still designed to interact with other people. And I realized that the highest form of growth is the ability to help someone else grow. The highest state of happiness, of joy, is to help someone else achieve happiness and joy. It is not enough to obtain wealth, nor power over others — it is enough, it is sufficient, to be a valuable part of a team that works toward growth and creation. When you can share that with another, or with many others, then you are rich, you are sufficient, you are a part of something beautiful and wonderful and amazing.

That led to yet another epiphany of sorts (yes, last night was a busy night!). I was opened up to the vastness of the universe. One universe; regardless of the immensity of our universe, it is infinite, and infinite means there is no room for another; one universe. Or, in the vernacular of people whose faith is a part of their religion, one God.

Only one. Single.

But we, we humans, we little brief-lived scurrying things, we are many. And in our many, we interact, the universe within us interacting with the universe within another. Yet we are all born of the same one universe.

Is it not possible that this state of being, this physical incarnation we all share, is in fact the universe’s way of interacting with others, of seeing things through different eyes? Imagine that. Imagine one universe, all-encompassing — yet alone. Then imagine the teeming multitudes of lives on this small planet — human, animal, insect, plant. So many lives! And we, we small humans, we have the ability to interact with each other, to help each other, to build each other up, to build up and glorify all that is around us, even if it’s four-legged or six-legged or rooted.

Is it not possible we are the universe’s means of experiencing community? Think of the prefix com, which means “together” and “in association”. Then think of the word unity, which means “the state of being united or joined as a whole.” For me, this was a wow moment. A moment of depth, of realization hanging on the edge of perception. Together, united, joined as a whole.

I believe this is our natural state. I believe that we come from one source, and we return to that one source. I believe that our highest expression of our very selves is the expression that causes us to come together, to build up, to make things whole and complete.

I saw it. Wish I could explain it, but I saw the connections; the link between myself and my husband, myself and my children, myself and our furkids, myself and the stranger on the street with whom I interact. I saw these links, and I saw them spreading ever-outward, until the whole world is covered with these lines of connection. And then I saw all those links reaching out, back into the universe, and building. Ever building, ever growing.

Community. This is our goal and, for those of us who are aware of our place within that, of our responsibility to shape that community toward growth and love and harmony; for those of us who are quietly sure in our place in this growing community, nothing can be taken from us that doesn’t matter. You can take our possessions, we still have our connection. You can isolate us; we still have the knowledge of this level of beauty within ourselves. You can make our physical lives harder; it only builds up our spiritual lives, makes them stronger.

You can’t take anything from us we aren’t wiling to give, because the important things, the things that matter, aren’t tangible. They’re held within us and, when and as we can, they’re shared out with those around us.

We are part of a whole, not whole parts moving in isolation. Our strength is our ability to come together for common goals; our beauty is the universe being a part of this, within us.

All this, last night, escalating from one door closing.

On Growth

How do we cope with exceptional pain? We look forward.

For those of you who may not know me, I have two daughters. My oldest, at 28, is a mommy, so she may be able to speak to what I write; however, her son is 17 months old, so maybe there’s still some learning going on there. My youngest is 25, and she’s absolutely amazing.

Both of them, actually, are astounding women. My oldest is a scientist; she graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in Meteorology, then went on to become a water tester with her state. She spends a lot of her time out-of-doors, making sure the drinking water in her state is safe, and taking some really phenomenal pictures while she’s at it. She’s recently gone through a very painful period; her husband, my son-in-law, is fighting an addiction. Doesn’t much matter what the addiction is; what matters is the way it was tearing their family apart, and the strength it’s taken her to hold her family together while people around her just hoped (for her sake, of course) that it would fall apart. You see, much of her father’s family doesn’t like, doesn’t approve of her husband. So she’s been fighting this battle on two fronts. I’d bet it gets very uncomfortable, there, in her household; in her mind and her heart. I have to commend her for her strength in keeping her sites set on her goal of having her family healthy. Of her husband being an integral part of their son’s life. Yes, my hat’s off to her, and I find, daily, new reasons to respect the woman she’s becoming.

Then there’s the youngest. She got sucked in to a relationship with a narcissist. I, myself, barely survived 10 years married to one. I can tell you, first hand, that in most occurrences, you don’t break off the relationship with the narcissist; they break it off with you, when they’re done with you. Throughout the years they’ve been together, he’s steadily and consistently played on her guilt, tormenting her with his “love” while he berated her for not trying hard enough, not being enough. Recently, very recently, she was finally able to make that decision, to call it off.

It’s been more difficult for her because he didn’t respond with anger. He didn’t respond with guilt. He did quit his job (not sure why), and he did tell her he loves her. I’m still waiting for him to begin the manipulation game again, but I could be wrong.

But none of that, exactly, is the focus of what I’m writing about, here. What is, then, you ask? Well, let me tell you.

During our conversation the other morning, when she snuck out of her home to sit in her car so he couldn’t overhear her, she told me of the breakup. Of his reaction. Of his mother, coming in to town before the end of the month (which is when she gave him to be out of the home), and her decision to leave her own home for the duration of his mother’s visit, so she doesn’t have to deal with both of them. During this conversation, she began crying, the deep, wracking sobs we who’ve had our worlds torn apart are familiar with.

The ones that feel like they’re going to split your chest right down the middle; there’s so much pain, so much agony, that you have to wonder why the world doesn’t just end, now. Why can we feel so much pain? And she asked me something along these lines; “Do people really feel this, all the time? How do they stand it?”

Therein lies the question, or questions, as it may be.

Yes, people really feel this. This depth of anguish. This not-knowing. This sense of stepping out, off the edge of the cliff, and falling with no surety of where we will land. Yes, people feel this. And then the next question, “How do they stand it?”

How can you not stand it? In my belief, the only way to avoid feeling this pain is to disallow yourself to feel anything; that, or to be dead. There is no other way. And we all know how hollow life is, when you choose to feel nothing. Pain isn’t as much, no, but it also crimps the pleasure, the joy, the laughter we feel. It affects us now, and it affects us later.

When we let ourselves feel the pain, let it flow through us, we actually allow ourselves the grace of being human. Of being weak, frail, and needing help. We are social creatures, and as such, we rely on some form of a support system that helps us as we stumble through our lives. So, feeling this pain? It helps us, though we can’t really see it at the time. Later, when we again feel pain, we can say to ourselves, “I lived through that, so I can live through this.” Later, when we feel joy, we can pull up this memory of this time, and we can smile, with love, at our past self, and we can say “You lived through this, and now we can enjoy this new life, this laughter, this joy, this peace, this contentment.”

Growth is not pain-free; no one ever said it was, nor that it should be. But it’s also not joy-free. Everything is two sides of a coin — head and tail, top and bottom, inside curve and outside curve. For all we can tell ourselves, “Pain goes away,” and “Nothing lasts forever,” we must also be cognizant of the fact that, sadly, joy doesn’t always last, either. For the duration of your life, you can be sure that you will eventually die, and you can be sure that sometimes you will laugh, and sometimes you will cry.

But these tears, these bouts of laughter; they add up to a rich weave, a complex dance between states of grace and of fear, that make us each individual.

Our current society seems to demand tales of pain, of heartache, of heartrending fear and terror, in order to point out what people have overcome. I say that sometimes, the day-to-day living is the heartache, the heartrending fear and terror. Sometimes, the decision to walk away from something painful is more traumatic and emotionally explosive than the quiet determination to make it work. Sometimes, the height of self-care is finally, finally deciding for yourself “I am not happy, and I wish to be happy.” When I asked my daughter what fueled her decision, that’s what she told me. Nothing about how he did this to her, or he did that, or he thought that, or he made her feel bad. Just a simple statement, “Mom? I’m just not happy.”

I say, my beautiful daughter, that you have surmounted staggering odds, just in finding the ability to say “I am not happy.” I say to you, proud DaughterBeast, that you have surpassed what most of us are able to do, in your situation. It would be easier, dear one, to just let it go until he got tired, and walked away. But you? You stood up for yourself. You decided to care about yourself. You decided to take care of yourself. You made the decision that you are worthy of this level of care.

There is only one way to go from here, dear child of mine, and that is forward. Slow, fast, steady, sporadic — progress is progress. Be proud of yourself. Be aware you’re not alone, and stand fast for yourself. I am here … we, all of us who’ve trodden this road ahead of you, we are all here. We all believe in you.

And we all share your pain. We’ve lived through it, and we rejoice for that moment, in the future, when you will feel the corresponding joy and laughter.

On Healing

Note: Normally, I try to keep things lighter; this subject, however, cannot be treated lightly. Be prepared before you start reading, but make it to the end; the end is the message of this blog.

The last couple of weeks have been nothing short of revelatory. I suppose, to fully do this blog justice, I should start at the beginning, but I find sometimes that it is difficult to pin down that “beginning.” Was the beginning when I was born? Was it when I was six weeks old, and my mother attempted to drown me so my cries wouldn’t wake my father? Was it the life I lived as the older sibling, struggling to care for two younger children and to, when I could, protect them from our parents? Was it my teenaged years, when I consistently broke every knuckle on the backs of both hands, bashing my hands against concrete walls to try to contain the rage, the anger that ran through me? Was it my first marriage, which granted me two amazing daughters … or my second, which finally broke me?

Was it my third marriage, where I began to learn, for the first time, just who I was, whom I wanted to be, how I wanted to shape my life?

I can’t tell you these answers. I can tell you the results of them, though. I can tell you that I’ve lived an entire lifetime rigidly holding myself in control. I learned to distrust decisions made in the throes of emotion; therefore, I clamped down on the emotion, hid it, buried it, and made decisions from a purely intellectual perspective. I learned that talking to people about my “issues” put a burden on them; either they felt compelled to help, or they saw me as weak, and disregarded my struggles. So I found ways to project all the things I admired — strength and determination, wit, joviality — and I pushed down all the things that I saw as weaknesses — care, compassion for self, grace toward self. Pushed them down, put them in a box, and slammed down the lid. Then piled on top of that box everything I could find to keep the lid down.

I can tell you that I did what so many horribly abused women have done; I became promiscuous. I became a party girl. I learned to open my mouth and discuss the banalities that everyone around me was discussing, and to hide any higher discussions for those very, very few whom I friended who were like me … struggling to stay whole in a world we couldn’t very well understand. I hid my shame, my sense of worthlessness, behind drugs and alcohol. I sought my understanding of love in the arms of many who could love me for a moment, only.

I developed, as so many traumatized people have done, coping mechanisms. At three years old, I began compulsively eating. I would sneak down to the kitchen, in the middle of the night, open the refrigerator, and find inside the bags (yes, you could buy them in bags in those days) of Chunky candy bars; thick, dense bars of chocolate that sometimes had nuts, sometimes not. I learned how to take one, or two, depending on the fullness of the bag, and leave the rest. I knew my parents would each think the other was eating their treasures. I also, at this time, began eating my food as a convict would — arm curled protectively around my plate, fork shoveling as much food into my mouth as I could get, as fast as I could get it there.

I have always enjoyed foods. Varieties of flavors, of textures; the silk of a mousse combined with the rich tartness of raspberry; white chocolate icing the top, making a delight for my mouth to enjoy. Crispy meats, the fat still sizzling from coming off the grill. Eggs, cooked in butter, served on buttered toast; the delicious flavors combining with the myriad textures to make a delight my mouth could lose itself in. Sadly, however, I never until recently allowed myself to actually take the time to enjoy these things. It was necessary that I eat, then that I be prepared for whatever came next; protecting my brother, cleaning my sister, taking care of the dishes, cleaning up so I could put the kids to bed … so on and so forth. So, for me, the compulsive eating allowed me to substitute quantity of food with quality of enjoyment.

At eight, I took some cough medicine; I’d read the label, and took what was recommended. However, my father saw me putting the medicine back and he pounced on me; dragged me into the bathroom, slung me over the toilet, and proceeded to put his huge finger down my throat until I vomited up anything and everything in my stomach. And I clicked. I was, at eight, stick-thin, but beginning to eat everything in sight as I was growing; also, because I was a compulsive eater. My parents had begun, even then, to chide me for watching what I ate, so that I wouldn’t “get fat.” And this, this episode with my father, taught me how I could eat as much as I wanted, as often as I wanted, without fear of getting fat.

Coping mechanisms are just that — they allow us to cope with something that is bigger than we can handle, at the moment we must handle or endure it. You get beaten, then your mother covers your mouth and nose with her hand so you can’t scream, and you learn to self-soothe with the Chunky bars. Or you get awakened in the middle of the night, you and your brother dragged down the stairs to find every single dish in the kitchen laid out on the floor; you have your parents screaming at you about a dirty dish they found, and telling you “clean and put away every single one before you go back to bed.” And you learn to nibble on the bread left on the counter as you do this, offer some to your brother, so that he won’t cry anymore.

You learn that when you hate yourself, when the shame is more than you can bear — if I were a better child, my parents would love me; if I were a smarter, stronger sister, my brother would not be hurt — when the shame of constant failure becomes overwhelming, you can punish yourself for not being enough. You can eat, then you can force your finger down your throat and vomit up every bad thing you believe you are. You deserve this; you deserve to not enjoy your food. You deserve your food to be your punishment.

Coping mechanisms serve their purpose; they allow us to endure what should not be made to be endured. But when their time is past, they become a weight on the soul that drags you down. My bulimia allowed me to live my life as thought there were nothing wrong with it. We won’t even talk about the cutting; perhaps, another time, though I think maybe not.

When one pursues healing, one must find ways to make sense of what is insensible. I never deserved what was done to me; no more did my brother, or my sister. We never deserved to be beaten, to be sexually abused. To be locked in our bedrooms for days on end, with everything but a mattress removed. We never deserved to be turned out of our home, half-dressed, to march up and down our neighborhood asking neighbors if they would be our Mommy, because our Mommy didn’t want us anymore. We never deserved watching our father nearly kill our mother because she antagonized him, and he had no ability to control his own anger.

Yet, in order to manage our parents, I assumed responsibility for all these things. Let me be a good enough daughter, and we won’t be beaten. Let me be smart enough, and my brother won’t be hurt. Let me be strong enough, and I can keep my sister from suffering the same fate my brother and I suffered. The truth, however, is that none of these tasks were mine, and I could not manage them. My parents would always be who and what they were, unless they decided to change; I couldn’t change them. My brother would always be hurt, regardless of what I did, until my parents stopped hurting him.

It is difficult, but not impossible, to separate oneself from this tyranny of should, to accept what is. What does that mean? I struggled for so long to be what I thought I should be, in order to protect myself and my brother, and those struggles always ended in failure. How could I see myself as anything other than not-enough?

Recently, I took my Advanced Reiki Training (ART) class. Just before taking it, I’d reached out to one of the instructors from my school, for accupuncture. You see, I’ve reached a point in my life when everything tells me I should be happy, content. I should be able to just relax, grow in my profession, move forward … yet I found that bulimia still had a strangle-hold on me, literally. Failures, setbacks, stress — all would trigger a bout of compulsive eating; the only method I had of fighting back was to refuse to stick my finger down my throat. Not fun, that … cuz ya know what? That’s how ya get fat. And I, now, am fat, which led to yet one more reason for me to hate myself.

In my ART class we learned a technique that can help one release emotional pain and trauma. I won’t go through the whole procedure, but I will say that as I was learning this, I was crying. I could see an application here, for myself; however, I didn’t know the people in the class with me, so I couldn’t allow it to be done for me, then. I contacted my Reiki Master, who graciously consented to work with me on this.

I went to her home office, and she performed the procedure. I was frightened; I mean, we all know when you take something away, something else has to take its place, right? If I took away this coping mechanism, what would fill its place? How hard would it be for me to give up this, my earliest coping mechanism? My earliest means of self-soothing? As it turned out, it was gentle. It was … I can’t say easy, but it was definitely gentle. Slowly, I felt it diminish, this weight of self-loathing and -hatred I’d always carried. I felt it just drift away from me. She followed this technique with a Reiki session; during part of it, I felt as though light flooded me, clearing out the darkness that I’d used to hide everything I hated about myself. Where that light flowed in, I learned love. Love for self. Grace for self. Forgiveness for self. And healing, for self.

I walked away from that, literally, a new woman. I can look at myself now, see my fat stomach, and my over-developed arse, and I can touch them and say “It’s ok. I accept you. It’s ok.” My relationship to food has changed; I think it may be more correct to say that my relationship to me has changed and, thus, my relationship to food has changed. I can slow down, now, enjoy myself as I eat my food. I can stop, when I recognize my stomach is getting full, and be content. I can finally, after nearly 37 years, not feel the urge to shove my fingers down my throat and purge myself of all the perceived “badness” I’ve felt I carried, all my life.

I can just be. If you have never experienced the joy of feeling grace for yourself, find someone who can work with you, help you, help you find your light to fill in your dark places. For the first time in my nearly 48 years, I am at peace with myself. I have no expectations of myself, except that I live. That I treat everyone I meet with kindness and compassion; if they don’t wish that, then I choose to have no truck with them. For the first time in my life, my life is my own, to choose what I do with.

For the first time in my life, I am finally able to spread my wings, look into the sunrise, and choose the direction I will move in. The heights I will fly to. The shadows I’ll make on the ground as I pass over; I can choose how light or heavy they’ll be. I can choose … well. I can choose anything.

Healing is amazing. It’s a lifelong journey, sometimes a struggle to attain; but it is also just the beginning. Now that I’m here, I’m even more excited to see what each day will bring to me.