Days 4-8: No Bat Belt

There’s a scene in Dark Knight Rises where Batman is trying to climb out of a prison. The climb could mean death if he falls- so he has a safety rope tied around his waist. He works out, gets stronger, makes the leap, and falls. The only person to make this leap and survive was a child, with nothing but desperation and fear to spur him.

Bat man’s prison mate says:

“make the climb as the child did. Without the rope.”

He doesn’t need more strength; he needs to let go of his last tether to safety. He needs to know that there is nothing to break his fall, and he’s truly risking everything when he leaps.

This weekend was a time of removing my bat belt, my safety, my rope. Strand by strand, I unraveled and dissolved it, thanking it deeply for all the times it had saved me, but also recognizing that I hadn’t yet been ready for it. I wasn’t yet worthy of a bat-belt, a lightsaber, or a spear; I needed to learn to be strong on my own, first. Leaning on the assistance had me not trust my own strength or worth, to the point where I felt helpless, scared, certain I couldn’t make it on my own.

Dark Knight Rises: Prison Escape Scene

And so, I took off the rope. It was a painful, days’-long process.

I’m preparing for the climb again now.

These days had some victories: I discovered again how good exercise has me feel. On days I couldn’t go to the gym, I went on hour-long walks, bringing my focus to breath, and the feel of my feet on the ground as they rolled from heel to toe. I canceled some friend dates (thank you for being so understanding, friends ❤️) and I also reached out and called people, and wrote to one friend, when the despair got too heavy to carry alone. (Thank you for lending your steady strength and compassion in my dark pit, friends ❤️)

I’ve leaned on trainers, a counselor, and friends – but I haven’t leaned too much. There’s a balance. There’s a time when no one can prep us for the climb but ourselves.

I realized I had been hanging onto someone as he made the climb for us both, and we both fell.

But accepting help from community with deep gratitude is an important step for me. Hitting rock bottom and not being able to show a “perfect” face to the world has had me discover that many people are understanding, kind, and empathetic. They didn’t judge me. They didn’t even seem to think twice, just held me or let me cancel…

yes, there were those who surprised me with a lack of empathy, but having no resources to deal with that also made turning away from those few, and dropping those communications very easy.

There’s nothing like having absolutely nothing left, to teach a person how to say no, and how to say thank you.

And so here we are at Day 8 of the training. I’ve bribed myself with inspiring shirts to get me in the mood to go work out 😉

Day 8: Padawan

I’ve stuck with the challenge of dietary change (I’ll put a sample day’s meals here, one of these blog posts…maybe tomorrow …), of drinking half my body weight in ounces of water daily, (not as hard as it sounds, especially if you get some exercise in,) and of exercise.

I have discovered that I am most unhappy when I don’t allow myself to be as expansive as my nature demands: so when I was living in the “shoulds” of: closed off, reproachful blame, and victimhood; when I wanted above all things to understand why, I felt sick. I don’t need to know someone’s reason – all I need to know is that they chose.

As soon as I allowed myself to do what people told me I “shouldn’t,” which is: love, forgive, understand, be okay about things, let go, be actually happy about things just as they are, AND continue to wear my rings because they mean that I belong to myself now, and are inscribed a with these words: Present and Wonder, that I must live in now,

I felt better. I feel – good.

Ready to make the climb and leap with no rope, no bat belt.

What if I fall? Oh,but my darling,what if you fly? -Erin Hanson

Going the Distance: Boxing and PTSD

There’s an interesting thing that happens during boxing training sessions.
Invariably, I’ll reach the point where my arm muscles say very clearly “Nope. Can’t move.” They feel utterly weak, as though I couldn’t possibly even lift my arms in the 12-14 oz. gloves, let alone hit a target with speed and accuracy.

When I’m working the bags alone, this is often when I stop. “Okay, I sweated, my muscles won’t move any more, I got a good workout, time to stop.”

When I’m with my trainer, I push through.  I take that one minute break and push on to another round.

Then another round.

I find that my arms WILL lift. They will lift by force of will alone, then from my feet to my hips to my core, they’ll hit hard.

Then, magically, the weakness disappears.  The muscle exhaustion and soreness is gone, like it never existed. A feeling rushes in that I could go another hour. I could go another 30 rounds if I had to. I could “go the distance.” I could get through every round, and do it with strength and speed.  I am unstoppable.

It’s an incredible feeling. sparwbrandon

This PTSD battle has been challenging in ways I could never have imagined. It’s been fascinating, too, when I remember to turn on the “observer” and distance from it.

So much is unfolding, it’s taking a strength of will very similar to that required in boxing in order to simply get through the day, some days.

For those reading this who also struggle with PTSD,

here are a few things I have learned.

It is actually not good for us to do things like guided meditations. It seems like it would be a great thing, yeah? For many people, it is. But for PTSD, closing the eyes, telling one’s self to “relax,” these actually can be harmful practices and cause deep triggers in the subconscious. It can also strengthen a component of PTSD: dissociating.**

So here’s a helpful and good practice:  grounding.

There are three types of grounding: Physical, Emotional (or Mental), and Safety.

Physical grounding is simply looking around one’s environment, naming very specific details, noticing them, feeling them. My fingers are on the keyboard. It feels smooth and a little warm. My forearms are resting on the desk. They’re in soft, warm sleeves. My feet are on the floor…

Name each thing. feel it. Get very specific. What colors do you see? Name them. It may feel elementary, but try it a few times – it has the effect of immediately bringing one back into the present moment, this place and time. It is *impossible* to be triggered and grounded at the same time.

There – that’s it – The antidote.  How to turn the kryptonite into a superpower! This may seem very elementary, but the practice of staying present every moment is a very challenging one. Our minds are like puppies- they love to run off and play with butterflies. When you have PTSD, it’s an added challenge, as our minds leap to anxiety, or ruminating over the past in order to try to “protect” us from it happening again.  The mind continually wants to “warn” us. The mind will also dissociate, or completely detach from the present moment in, again, another effort to protect.

If you’ve ever tried to train a puppy, you’ll know that chastising really doesn’t work. praise does. Gentleness and patience are required. It’s the same with the brain. When it wanders off chasing butterflies, even if it’s been a whole DAY of dissociating, notice. Whenever you finally notice, notice. Then name your present surroundings. Name what you are doing.

If you’re deep in dissociation, maybe set an alarm – every hour, if need be. When the alarm goes off, just check in. Where am I, What are my surroundings, what have I been doing?  Notice, don’t beat yourself up – save your strength for the real fight…

other types of grounding:

Emotional (or “mental”) grounding.  What am I feeling? Does the feeling have a place it’s living in my body? does it have a shape or a color? (note: VERY important – do NOT ask “why” you are feeling something. The rational mind would like to label and understand every feeling, but with ptsd it is vital simply to allow the emotional mind to be heard and recognized without needing to rationalize it. This is how the emotional mind will heal – and this is how ptsd will eventually understand that it is safe now, it doesn’t need to “warn” or “protect” us any more!)

Scan the body during emotional/ mental grounding. Name how you feel inside. If it feels safe, close eyes.

And the last technique: “safety” grounding.  This is coming a little closer to dissociation, so use with caution and keep checking in to make sure you’re in the present moment, in the room, in your body.

Safety grounding: What is my favorite color? really picture it. What is my favorite animal – is there a specific pet?  Who is my favorite person? What is my favorite place, and what is it like? Imagine details.

This is a great way to feel safe again, but do make sure to stay present.

There have been times during the day when I will say “Ok, enough. I want to bury this again; I lived with it for years, I know how to hide and bury it. I don’t want to walk this ‘warriors’ path’ of fire any more. I don’t want to heal this.”

But I look into the eyes of my friends, loved ones, parents, and I know I have to keep going – because if I don’t heal this, I’ll cruise along just fine and then there will be another storm. An argument I can’t handle, that makes me want to abandon everyone; a fear-attack that leaves me shaking and crying, inexplicable onset of worry and lack of safety…

yes, it would be easier to put down my gloves and stop battling to stay present every day and to ride out the painful attacks that are coming because I am actively treating and curing ptsd.

Yes, it would be easier for me.

But I’ve got to push through one more round. Because of the people I love – because they deserve to know me without this creature who is inhabiting my bones right now, who tells me to fear.
gloves
Also, beyond and underneath that, because I deserve it. I deserve every second of life I get to have – and I deserve it without shaking hands, without heart-stopping fear, without insomnia, without anxiety, and without self-sabotaging, hiding, isolating, dissociating or “checking out” so I’m not really experiencing my own life. I deserve to experience my own life and to really be here for it!  We all do.

i deserve to relish this life. Every day, I live in the gratitude that the moments of reveling are stretching to hours, that beautiful adventures have come my way the moment I chose to step into the ring, put on my gloves and fight this monster –

You can do it. Go one more round. Just one more.  Ground yourself in the moment, revel in the present moment, in the feeling and complete certainty that you are safe. In this moment, you are safe.

When the fear comes, keep going. Go one more round, and you will be unstoppable.ring

**information in this article is from the (work)book Seeking Safety by Lisa M. Najavits

Hope Farm

“Fall has arrived at Hope Farm…”

With these words, something rises in my spirit, just a little. There’s a glimmer like the reflection in a pond of a leaf shifting, caught just in the corner of my eye. Barely noticeable, except that my stillness in this moment is so profound, any shift is enormous.

If I move, will I break, shatter, be consumed with rage or grief or both?

No. I will not break. I have been there before, and this is not like that. This is sadness, yes, but it’s also the deep serene knowledge that I made the right choice.

When I consciously set out to heal, to learn to love myself; when I began to speak up, I also began a relationship.
During that relationship, I kept learning, growing, fighting the old shadows – and he was with me, though he didn’t always understand – he stuck with me. He allowed.
But the growth itself caused it to become apparent that there was a dynamic in our relationship that served neither of us.
It’s so ironic and so horribly sad that the growth itself that I did with him – the lessons his presence in my life sparked – those very lessons meant that eventually this had to end.

I have grown to see that the love I want has to begin with me – that the healing I have to do in order to call that love into my life is healing I have to do alone now.

It is a truth that we will accept harshness from others only equal to that we give ourselves. When the self-talk changes, the level of acceptance changes, too. This is the work, now – having the quiet strength to lovingly say no. No, I will not accept unkindness.

One day what I envision is this: a love that is solid, rooted in honor. Honorable behavior toward the world and toward each other. Trust. There will be no distrust from the beginning – that shattering wondering if my computer was searched or wondering why he’s hiding his phone … there will be no explaining old relationships or constant defending. There will be no asking who he was with- that simply will not exist because Honor will be the foundation of both of our intended energy in this life, a shared core value.

Further, arguments will be in order to reach understanding. They won’t be unpredictable storms out of nowhere with the object to quickly wound – wound first! – they won’t be power struggles or fear-based manipulations. They will be arguments with a solid foundation of knowing we love, knowing we are committed to continuing to nurture a relationship – arguments with the knowledge underneath -always the knowledge – that we love and therefore will not want to say things to hurt. There will be a kind of sparkly glue that holds us together. There will be no question of leaving, no fear of continued harm or deprivation causing doubt; no constant tests. That un-pin-downable, indefinable thing that is enduring, patient, joyful, trust-based, nurtured love.
There will be celebrations of each other’s strengths. Honoring and lifting up the good things- That is what I intend for my future relationship.

I don’t know how it will come about, but I am learning that when I set an intention I must let go of the “how.”  “How” seeks to control— and it limits.  If I let go of the knowing, if I let go of the worry of HOW I will meet this future person, I can focus on nurturing this intention. I can knit up my ragged edges with a lot of self-compassion, I can take responsibility for the ways in which I made choices that weren’t great, or caused harm; I can own my part of things and learn how to do better, and I can love myself as a person who is owning her sh*t and truly growing.

After a breakup, however it happens, the ego can get very loud and hungry. It screams at us to blame the other person – to list the ways in which they were wrong, the times they hurt us, the cruel things they said- it will even urge us to twist things around so that we might still appear in the right, no matter what! Memory shifts solidly in our favor – when in truth, everyone remembers things differently – our memories are not real. They only exist in our own minds and can transform, like the refocusing of a lens shifts a photograph. The problem is, if we give in to that, we put ourselves in the “victim” chair.  “That person did this, and this and this! and said this!” then we are in a place of reaction and anger, telling over the old perceived harms like toxic, poisonous little thorny rosary beads.  Each time we go over the cycle of harmful thought, the ego is fed but it wants more; the ego has a bottomless hunger. It makes things worse. If we look for “evidence,” whether for good perceptions or bad, we can always find it.
IN reaction, there is no empowerment.  We are at the mercy of others’ actions and choices – we are basically saying that we did nothing, could do nothing.

In a place of pain, it can feel like the right choice; it can FEEL like self-empowerment to say “I was right, he was wrong.” but if we listen to the ego and actually are tempted to think it’s showing us the “truth,” we are in for a painful road ahead and a longer time spent healing. Some people actually never really heal.

So: here’s a way to find out whether it’s true or not: simply check to see how it feels.
When I am in hurt and anger, remembering perceived harms, I feel small, tense, ready to spring; my stomach hurts, I cannot rest – there is no peace, I feel sick, and my energy drains away.

When I move away from that, distance from the ego and away from focus on whatever anyone else did, and when I focus on my own choices, I feel expanded, powerful, serene, peaceful. Even in the sorrow of loss, of endings, of breaking up — the wish that it didn’t have to be this way — the undeniable longing that somehow I could stay – there is still a kind of peace. We can choose this at any time! We can breathe, tell the ego, “Thanks, but this isn’t helping me,” and re-focus the lens. Refocus the lens to the beautiful memories, or the times in which we felt held and loved. Refocus the lens toward gratitude for those times, and the knowledge that by struggling through the hard things, by engaging in the discipline of saying “no” to toxic things, we are moving TOWARD, not away from, that beautiful feeling of wholeness, peace, love, happiness.

When I focus on the good, on love and continuing with compassion for both myself and him, I feel healthy. The energy returns.

Thus in a “growth” mindset rather than a “fixed” one, the mistakes are not things to hide from or fear to face: they are enormous, beautiful opportunities for growth and learning.

I believe we are here to grow, so I do much of my learning “out loud” in the world these days…it is my gift to my fellow humans.  Look – I have flaws, lots of them. If I can show the process of seeing them, having compassion for myself within that, owning them, learning from them and moving forward,
maybe then I can help others have self- compassion too. I think this is where much of our healing as a society will begin.

We are here to learn. I am grateful for the opportunity to do so. I am grateful for this relationship, for the companion who held up a mirror and showed me my ego, so i could do battle with it. Ultimately, it does not matter what he did or chose, or whether he can take responsibility or seeks to blame… that is his lesson to either learn or encounter again. That is where the healing comes in. In the distance from someone else and what they choose; the letting go.

I am grateful that I have grown so much in self-love and loving self-talk that my “limit” has raised – that I will no longer tolerate certain energies in my life, but will, with loving compassion, release and build a strong protective wall around my life.

I used to think that being loving meant allowing all – Chesed (in Jewish mysticism, one of the sefirot, a kind of holy chakra) – lovingkindness —
but Chesed must be balanced with, on the other side, Gevurah – discipline/strength.

sefirot

This was always my struggle.  I was never able to say a loving “No.”  No, I do not accept that kind of talk toward me. No, I do not accept this kind of arguing for the sake of wounding. No. I love you, but no – this is not the way I intend to spend my life.

And so, with a loving “No,” we both are lifted up, though we cannot maybe see it yet past the pain of change and loss.  My dear friend and companion – so much laughter. Incomparably beautiful times under the stars, the trees, seeing the magic in the world – on a beach sparkling in the moonlight –
painfully, I give us both this gift. with gratitude, I let go.

HopeFarm

this is a real farm, and it’s really called Hope Farm. with thanks to Rebecca Larken

Fall has arrived at Hope Farm. The trees magnificently blaze as they begin to let go… the chlorophyll that masked their true colors has drawn inward, revealing the rich hues of gold, amber, crimson – and so, may drawing inward for a time of healing allow each of our true colors to blaze forth as we release what no longer serves us.
There will follow a time of emptiness – barren branches –

and then: Spring.  Spring will come softly in to Hope Farm, and she will bloom as she has never bloomed, abundant and joyful with fragrant blossoms.

Parting in gratitude now for the loveliness that was you in my life, making space, examining my own stuff, drawing inward, releasing the past, and sitting bravely with the emptiness in prepation for the glorious, rioting Spring.