grief · trust · vulnerability

Safe Word.

9.17.18.jpgThere is hardly a conversation with my mentor that doesn’t ultimately return to the word “safe.”  How I retreat from others’ vulnerability: so I can “stay safe.”  How I limit my visibility in the world: so I can “stay safe.”  How I attempt to control the attitudes, behavior, and experience of others: so I can “stay safe.”

When I page through my personal history, there are dramatic highlights—or low-lights as it were—where it is crystal clear what there was for me to attempt to be safe from.  And while those circumstances of the past cannot be changed, the way that I have reacted and grown from them can be.

It made infinite sense for me to retreat, hide, and control in order feel safe in my world at the time/s.  Yet, as I come into greater awareness of these patterns’ domination, I notice a familiar grief that they had to form in the first place and a new grief at discovering how isolated my reactions have made me.

I cannot change what occurred or how people behaved, but that’s not what I feel steeped in today.  Today, I feel awed that those circumstances precipitated a chain of understanding that leads me to perpetually feel I am unsafe.  And in need of constant defending.

There is a sorrow, and a fatigue, in that defensive stance through life.

So while I may not, rather can not, wash the events of my history white as snow, I can in whatever ways, come to realize that continuing to use this same barometer in the world is inadequate:

What does an undefended self look like?

What would it mean to not constantly scan for the sniper?

How would I feel in the world if I wasn’t perpetually bracing for impact?

Can’t answer these yet, but noticing is a great beginning.

 

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addiction · death · grief · humility

The Cover of Rolling Stone

rolling stone 8 13 17

Last night, I attended the memorial service for an old friend.  He was 28.

Brash, brilliant, and evidently too kinetic for this world to keep onto, his mom shared this thought with me afterward:

“Everybody dies sometime.”

It wasn’t meant callously, but perhaps offered as an anchor in a sea of questions.  Or as a comfort that death is inevitable so we mourners can stop struggling against its perpetual manifestation.  Or, perhaps this thought relieves us of our self-centered individuality and apartness.

But… man… screw that.

There are some deaths that feel tragic, and some that do not.  Culturally, we seem to have created “approved of” endings, ones that feel complete for everyone and bestow dier and witness with a sense of closure and acceptance before the final breath.

Unanticipated deaths like these take post-acceptance.  They require sitting with the scorched wound of it, only later softening into resolution and peace with the past (which is truly the only way we get to court the past).

Knowledge of our universal eligibility for a sudden ending nevertheless makes many of us ungraceful when it actually occurs, tripping over our feet in a tear-stained stumble toward acceptance.

And in its wake, we tell stories.

The stories we’d written for Dez were ones of glory.  Stratospheric rises, magazine covers, and guitar riffs that broke into the hearts of more than we, his mourners.  Or perhaps we wrote humble stories, of a life well-lived with a guitar well-loved, a wry laugh, a crinkled eye . . .

But in a life’s passing, stories turn into something else: memories.  Memories become monuments.  And monuments are never who that person was anyway.

 

change · friendship · grief · love

Can I get a Witness?

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You want it to be done. You want to stop referencing cancer,
or marking time as “before I got sick,” “when I was sick.” You wanna stop the pang of knowing that “sick” was more than a bad cold. You wanna stop remembering
what it felt like. And you want it to stop being dramatic, and making you feel
dramatic.
You want the, “Oh, you cut your hair” comments to not sting as much, since no, you didn’t cut it, it fell out. You wanna feel neutral
when you see a t.v. show where someone’s diagnosed with it, and stop silently commenting, No that’s not at all what it’s like. You want to stop gagging every time you smell Kaiser hand soap. You want to stop
feeling the fear and the grief and the heartbreak you’d felt when you were
sick.
The feelings you couldn’t really feel then because you had
to just soldier up. When you were told, You could be a poster child for cancer.
When you had to be braver than you wanted because you needed to not scare your
friends.
And, there were the few friends you knew you didn’t have to be
brave with, or braver than you’d felt. There were the few who let you cry the
Ugly Cries, and the one who laid in your narrow hospital bed with you while you
napped, all wiped out from chemo. The one who went to three health food stores
to get the right kind of protein drink, since you couldn’t eat solids. The one
who bought your own bejeweled reusable cup in which she brought you green
shakes, and who packed and unpacked your hospital room with you every single
chemo round, and stayed overnight at home with you the first night after your first
release.
You want to remember the witness, and you want to forget
why you needed one. You want to offer the deepest gratitude and you want to stop feeling
gnawed by the uncertainty of that time.
You want to love the witness, and you want to stop being
reminded of what it was they held you through.
There is no forgetting, there’s only fading. And I don’t
want to forget it really; I just don’t know how to process it all still. Though it seems I am nonetheless.
I was on the phone with my mentor yesterday, talking about this one friend who showed up for me then and how, post-cancer, our relationship hasn’t
been as strong or connected. That somehow it’s almost like cancer, or acute
trauma, was the foundation of our friendship, and now that it’s passed, it
feels like there’s not much more to go on.
I told her how sad I am that we’re not like we were,
but that I don’t know that I can or if I want to be otherwise.
It reminds me of a quote from a movie that will make you
groan. But. In Speed, Sandra Bullock
tells Keanu Reeves that relationships based on intense experiences never work. (She later jokes, they’ll have to base it on sex, then. And that’s not really
an option with my friend, cute as she is!)
So, what do you do? I told my mentor that my friend was a witness
to that hardship, and about my pattern of how difficult it is for me to let go of certain things
because I’m afraid people won’t believe me. That my experience of something
will be called into question, without someone else to verify it. My friend is
my verifier and my witness. Without a current relationship, who will remember?
Without the reminder, who will believe me?
So, it’s about more than her, isn’t it? It’s about more than
needing her continued friendship as a point of reference of truth in my life.
It’s about my own ability to hold truth and facts for myself without outside
validation.
And that, is a lifetime process.
But it brought up a lot of grief yesterday on the phone (which is why there was no daily blog). The
star-pupil cancer patient. Who wore bright colored socks and leopard print
chemo caps. Who had her own stash of organic herbal teas and would walk into
the hall to fill her own ceramic mug from home. The star cancer patient who
worked so hard not to be one, now processing what it actually felt like
underneath all that “Chin Up” posturing that was half-posturing, half-I’m
totally awesome, and cancer can fuck itself.
But the friendship has suffered since I’ve been healthy. And
I don’t know how or what to do on that. I think releasing the attachment of my
friend as witness, of needing a witness
is a good place to start.
I don’t want to remember and I don’t want to forget. And
until I find a place of peace with “what went down,” that division will always
cause me unrest. 

anger · authenticity · faith · forgiveness · grief · growth · Jewish · possibility · spirituality

T’shuvah

(In my vague and limited Jewish knowledge) T’shuvah refers to the time in the Jewish calendar between Rosh Hashanah—the Jewish New Year—and Yom Kippur—when our names are sealed in the “Book of Life” by G-d for the next year.

T’shuvah literally means to return, but most interpretations take it to mean a time of repentance. A time of atoning for our “sins,” and to acknowledge where we’ve “missed the mark” of our own moral target.

I’m not one for “sins,” or for “atoning,” or for asking forgiveness from a spiritual entity. In my own spiritual practice, there is a habit of taking note of where we’ve been wrong and amending that behavior, whether through direct conversation with someone we’ve harmed or through choosing to act differently in the future.

But, the idea of asking a “higher power” to forgive me for anything at all has never sat well with me. I simply don’t think that anything that has the power to create life and death and change and love would need my asking. I believe that whatever “G-d” is, “it” is much too loving or non-personified to ever require me to ask it to forgive my behavior.

As I said, I still think the process of taking stock of my behavior and righting my own wrongs is very important to my emotional wellbeing and my personal relationships. But on the spiritual plane, G-d would never need me to ask for forgiveness. There’s nothing to forgive – there’s only love, acceptance, and a desire for me to be my best self.

That said, I have been reflecting that this week of t’shuvah has certainly been one of returning. I feel that my actions are those of a woman returning to herself and her values; returning to my true nature, and returning to ideas and hopes that were feared or abandoned.

I am in a musical. I’ve returned to that dream of acting and singing, despite the fears and self-judgments it still brings up in me.

I have officially announced this week that I am moving on from my office job. Again, a return to my true desires, my internal compass. I have stopped hitting the Snooze button on my instincts and drives.

No matter what comes of it, disaster or “success,” I am trying something brand new for me. And that is certainly a return to curiosity, innocence, hope, and creation.

I told my coworker that I boycott Yom Kippur these days. The fasting and the communal atoning of sins. I shun this day and its activities because the idea is that by atoning for our sins, we will be “inscribed in the Book of Life” for another year.

According to the Jewish calendar, in 2012 the evening closing Yom Kippur was the moment of my Leukemia diagnosis. I spent the day of Yom Kippur in an ER. And closed the chapter of that day with cancer. I was 30 years old.

I have done a lot of work around turning that diagnosis into the seeds of a new life. But I will never deny that I have a few wheelbarrows full of anger and grief that still need … sorting or composting or alleviation. Or simply time to feel them, and then to let them go, perhaps, if that’s what happens.

But for me, the idea that on one of the most holy days of the Jewish year, on the day when a person is either granted another year of life or is not, I cannot hold the tragedy of being told half my blood was cancer on that same day.

And, I imagine, my feelings toward all of this will transform, lessen, or evolve. But, for now, I boycott Yom Kippur.

I have used this week of T’shuvah to take stock of where I am desirous to return to and acknowledge and rejoice in the truth of my soul, and to note where I already am. I have used this week to affirm that life can be new and different and fulfilling.

I will never need the forgiveness of an entity that is either made of benevolence or simply is the indifferent force of Life itself.

My week of T’shuvah is and has returned me to a place of excitement and possibility. I don’t need a communal atonement to reward me for how exceptional that is.

That said. Shanah Tovah u’Metukah — May you have a good (tovah) and sweet (metukah) year, friends. And may we write our own Books of Life.

anger · body · disappointment · family · grief · healing · therapy

Rage against the dying of your light.

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So, I’ve seen this somatic therapist (Rosen Method) now about 4 times, and
each time I plan to go, I wonder if we’re “doing” anything, if anything is
“happening,” especially if anything is “changing.” I want results to
long-harbored ills, and I want them now. Or at least evidence that we’re
heading in that direction.
Damn this woo-woo laying on of hands, heal thyself bullshit
– gimme the Rx, gimme the fix, and let’s get on with this “life” business. Or
more accurately, let’s get on with the happy life business. Enough processing. More doing, more getting, more
fulfillment, more joy, more security, more ….
She told me that if I keep on trying to skip over my
emotions, they’ll still just be there. Waiting, licking at the back of my
throat, causing the tension in my shoulders I’ve carried for decades. If I put a
lid on them, feel them well up, and force them back down, … well, I could
finish that sentence with, “Then you might get cancer.”
But I’m so good at
emoting. I’m an emotional wreck! No, I kid, but I
am an emotional person, I feel
things, deeply, often, sometimes. So, where am I not feeling what needs to come
up and out?
“Anger wasn’t an allowable emotion,” I told her. I know I’m
not unique in that. But anger was modeled as a way to impose, control,
terrorize. Anger, I interpreted, is bad. It causes people to behave badly,
meanly, poisoned.
Anger, I also surmised, is consuming. When you are angry,
you are nothing else but a hot, raging ball of ferocity. No humanity, no
compassion, no faults.
I’ve worked on anger before; I’ve read Julia Cameron saying,
Anger is a call to action. It shows us where our boundaries are being crossed,
and calls us to take action in their assertion. (to paraphrase.)
Anger is healthy. Anger is right.
Anger is totally not allowed.
This isn’t to say I don’t get angry, anyway. Ask my
coworkers! But I feel it as a place where my veil of self-control has slipped,
instead of as an integrated part of my expression. I feel my anger as a
failure. Something to be overcome, overruled, rooted out.
But, that’s simply not the case, and the more I keep it separate
from myself and an integrated whole, the more compartmentalized and dissociated
I will be.
It’s not like I want to be the Hulk, or a crank, or someone
who’s angry all the time. I just want to allow it to be a part of my emotional
range, just like compassion or amusement, and like boredom or fear or apathy. I
don’t quash with visceral force even these less “comfortable” emotions; I don’t
feel shame over feeling them. Positive or negative ones.
But Anger. And grief. Get the cold shoulder. The taut
one. The tense, clamped down, forcible shoulder.
Being a somatic therapist in this way of working, it’s sort
of like reiki, only she’s not “sending me good vibes;” she’s observing how my body tenses or releases,
acknowledges “true” things, or asks me to rephrase, since that didn’t “feel
true.” I don’t know precisely what polygraph she’s plugged into in my body, but
when I do rephrase to something less “proper,” I do feel the difference.
She can feel very acutely when, this week, I began to
talk about my disappointment around work. And I began to say that it feels like
I’m just giving my dad more evidence that I’m the fuck-up daughter. He’s the
Dudley Do-Right (his words), beyond reproach and reproaching everyone else – can
you feel my anger, too? – and that I don’t have a firm career track, a
“successful” life, feels like more evidence for him that I’m the fuck-up. She
asked if I felt that way about the career stuff. And I said, no, I simply feel
like a failure. Which I interpret through all the lovely filters of his I’ve
internalized as a fuck-up. Which I suppose is the same thing, come to think of it.
You’ve heard this before from me. The antipathy toward getting
better, or simply seeing myself as
better because it would change the entire nature of my relationship with him.
There wouldn’t
be a relationship
– certainly not the one we’ve had, at least. And so for now, in fact since
cancer, there
is no relationship.
Yell at your sick daughter while she’s getting chemo, and you stop getting the
right to shame me. Sorry, Pops. I’m sitting on the bench right now.
But I haven’t walked out of the park, have I? I still want
revenge. I still want to pain him. I still want him to see the error of his
ways then and now, and be the father I
want that I’ve never had. I still have that hope. And so my anger kicks in when
I recall him to others. My frustration. My deep deep disappointment.
But only for a flash. As soon as I let myself have a moment
of anger, even now, I have this impulse to say, Well, focus on yourself, Molly, and
what you can change, and your expectations; you’re living your life
away from him, and yadda yadda bullshit.
I need to feel angry!
I need to feel betrayed. I need to rail against the fate and circumstance of
it, and I need to let it pass.
I never let it pass. Pass through me. Through my red, pumping
oxygenated blood.
She asked me as I lay (clothed!) on the massage table, Can
you feel that? Can you feel when you got angry how much energy there was? Your
voice got loud, your body got hot.
And then it was gone. And then my shoulders tense, my gut
constricts. I’m not allowed to be angry. I’m not supposed to be.
I don’t want to let it flow through me. I’m terrified of
being consumed by it like they were.
But, I have had the experience a few years ago around grief.
I was terrified that if I began to let it out, it would drown me. If I started
to cry, to feel it, it would overwhelm me, and I would be lost in it. In the
psych ward in it. So, I held it back. (I do still.) But during that time, maybe
5 or so years ago, in the presence and care of another therapist, I let myself
feel some of what I needed to. I let it pass through me, out of me, I let it
disorient me.
But it didn’t dismantle me. I wasn’t wrecked by it. I felt it. It
was hard and sad and wracking, but it wasn’t annihilating.
I will try to remember that as I go forward here, because it
feels really old and really sad to hold my body in fight/flight/freeze all the
time, and to interpret my life and myself as anything other than brilliant. 

anger · cance · death · grief · life · perseverance

Grudge Match

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I was alone on a pier in Hana, Maui when I let it begin to
fall.
The sky was an angry gray, spitting water in sideways. The
chop of the surf against the dock was ravenous, vitriolic, annihilating. And it
felt so very congruous with how I did, that I could allow it all to fall.
If you’d been on the shore a few hundred meters away, across
the cove, you couldn’t have heard my assault on the wind and water and fate.
The ocean’s temperament absorbed my rage, my indignation, my betrayal, my
despair. It opened and closed around me like an itchen woolen cloak, letting me
shrug it off and tell it off, and snug it tight around me again. I kneeled into
the dock, the waves battering the weathered and mossy posts, and I let the
grief of my cancer batter it in return.
A year and a few months later, I sat on a dock jutting out into the
water of Salem, Mass. It was like revisiting an old friend who also happens to
be your sparring partner. And I let her have it again.
Not quite as fully, but enough to let her know I think she’s
a cheap-shot, below-the-belt motherfucker. Enough to let her know that this
isn’t settled, that I’m retitling it The Woman and The Sea.
I told my companion that I simply felt that the ocean could
take it; could take my rage, could acknowledge, absorb and handle it– honestly, so that I
don’t have to all the time. The ocean somehow makes it okay for me to fall
apart a little, to let the broken, tired spit-fire within both take
some shots back, and collapse onto the ropes for a while.
It’s hard work pretending everything is alright. And,
sometimes, it actually is, and it’s not pretending, and there’s healing that
happens in that letting go, in that “moving on.”
A friend once told me that grief is not linear. And I get
that.
Some people might assume, Hey, cancer’s gone, rejoice! All
done. But, when you’ve been body-checked by Death (to mix metaphors), the thin copper taste of revenge laps at the back of your throat and you say to
yourself, Motherfucker, I will rail you back.
As impotent and impossible as you know that fight to be, you
rail and swing and charge back anyway.
Because, you sort of believe that it was that railing that
fought it off the last time. That it was the rage and vitriol and deep, aching,
terrorized clinging to Life that overcame cancer, and so you call on it again when you remember. You taste the acid again, and you spit putrid bile back against
it.
I’m grateful I know the ocean is a place I have to spit
back at. I’m grateful that it’s a place I can allow some of the armor, the shield, to fall for
a little while. I also feel as if I am known by it, and in those moments,
you’re like weary boxers who hug one another in the middle of the fight in
order to catch your breath. You each acknowledge your exhaustion and in silent
truce, hug your opponent, because they’re all you have. 

community · compassion · grief · healing · perseverance

The Tell-Tale Heart

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Written 2011:
i meet with a grad student who tells me
not to take split-level poetry because all the under-grads write about is date
rape – so i don’t tell him about the drunken carride from two strangers, later
finding an earring twisted into my shirt, or being turned away from four Korean
hospitals because rape is not an emergency.
i read an article on how to snag a
man which suggests that women think about something naughty when out because
women won’t pick up on it, but the men will – so, i imagine licking pre-cum
from a cock, which provides a lascivious revolt against public decorum and not
undamp panties.
but, in the unwalled house of my
memory, these situations sometimes mix – and the salt sours, the armor
rebuilds, and the currency of reality cripples.
In Bernie Siegel’s book, Love, Medicine, and Miracles, he reports that his research has shown that most cancer patients have suffered a
significant breach in trust at an early age.
“I will slice your face with a
razor blade/
and watch your smile fade.”
– The couplet I often recite in my head when I’m feeling
cornered, scared, and angry.
I informed you a little while ago that it seems like
repairing my relationship with intimacy, trust, and sex is probably back on the
agenda. Yesterday, after my work at my shamanic journey group, this was made
pretty apparent.
And luckily, one of my great friends in attendance told me
afterward that our mutual friend is having a hugely positive experience with a
therapist/healer around similar issues. I plan to contact her today.
In fact, I’d referred the same friend to my own “intuitive” (read:
psychic), and it’s just humorous to me that me and this group of women have
this rolodex of woo-woo witchy healer folks. And damned, if I’m not grateful
for it.
For those unfamiliar, shamanic journeying (according to my
novice understanding) is pretty much an intense meditation, but there’s a drum,
the sound of which is purported to help induce a dream-like state—it’s like a
guided meditation, where instead of listening to someone’s voice tell you to
follow down a path in the forest, you sort of follow the drum, and make your
own path through the forest. I’ve been journeying for years now, and find it to
be one of the best and quickest ways to access internal information—however
uncomfortable that information may be.
Yesterday’s overall message was that I have to repair my
relationship to trust. Yuck.
It’s like trust for me is a broken port, and until it’s repaired,
there will be glitches and sparks and melted fuses.
The thing about sexual trauma is this: you want to show
people (the right people) the wound, you want to share about it, you want to
exorcise it, you want to talk about it in order to heal from it, to release it and move on from it. You want to
expose it to fresh air so that it heals instead of festers. You want to bring
it into the sun and let the forces at work do their magic to create something
beautiful out of something horrifying.
And yet.
Because of the nature of sexual trauma as a secret, and the prevalence of people dismissing it as exaggeration… You also
don’t want to share about it. You are ashamed to bring it out, to tell anyone,
to share about it. You feel that to mention it is to invite revulsion,
rejection, dismissal. And perhaps, you have experience to back up that fear,
and so you remain locked up tight with it, and it will continue to burn a hole
in your heart.
The longer you hold onto it, the more painful it becomes,
until it becomes something so immense in your heart and head that you can’t
imagine that you can actually share it with other people, because it will
overwhelm everyone, including yourself.
This, is why god made therapists. Healers. And friends with
rolodexes.
The arrows toward healing this next came from “going in” to
my meditation with questions about my recent fatigue. Over the last month or
so, I’ve been so fucking tired, and my western and eastern doctors can’t figure
it out, except that my eastern doc said, “You’re energy center is depleted.”
Well, yeah. But why?
The information I got last night was that I have been
fighting this, this knowledge, these experiences, this anger, this sorrow, …
well, for years. I’ve been avoiding it for just as long. I’ve been fighting
dealing with it, but it’s there. Believe you me, apparently, it’s there. And
somehow my awareness has cracked open about it. Somehow, I am aware that I am
exhausted from this fight, from this constant battle to suppress, dominate, and
deny.
Some veil has lifted, some curtain shifted, and I am finally
able to experience the exhaustion.
And if I want to get healthy, then I have to heal it. And if
I want to heal it…–well, as I mentioned earlier, I’m more than a little
ambivalent about doing so.
First things first. Call my friend who’s working with
someone. Get that info.
Second thing? Ensure that I approach and treat myself with
the most radiant compassion and care that I can muster, cuz,
We’re gonna need a bigger boat.