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Archive for the ‘affirmations’ Category

but we have been shaped by it. Case in point: Dead Girl.

That’s what I call this photo, my high school graduation picture. To my mind, there is no joy or aliveness in my face. There is image–who I was supposed to be. A mask. Was I happy to graduate? Sad? Full of pride?  Fear?  Truth is, I didn’t know how I felt, and no one else did either. Locked up, shut up, frightened, and in retreat, I’m holding my breath. If I move too quickly or spontaneously, I’ll break. There are many reasons for this, including what our society told girls about who they could be. But largely, I’m frozen due to unacknowledged PTSD, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, from infant surgery.

Next is my college graduation photo about twenty years later after a breakdown; a year living in a rehabilitation community; two years of a botched therapy relationship; four years working in therapy with a psychologist I loved; two years in couples’ counseling; a decade of living with my beloved partner Griffin; and twenty years of writing, drawing, and painting.

Ten years after my college graduation, I learned the words for what I had: PTSD. Because I can now identify my symptoms, I know that the fear, nightmares, startle responses, excessive cautiousness, frozen breath, rigid body, and panic attacks that I still cope with are not me; they are a result of PTSD. And I can transform them.

In fact, somatic and neural repatterning is happening as I write. I am literally making new connections all the time so that each day, my experience of life gets better and better. Yesterday, I floated anxiety-free on a lake under the blue bowl of sky. It was as if the sky were water and the white wisps of clouds waves radiating out from a center. When I found myself worrying about my wallet left behind in the canoe, I reassured myself, All is well. When I became concerned about my safety, constantly checking my surroundings, I told myself, You are safe. I was floating in harmony and trust with the world and the universe. I am not my PTSD. I am Alive Girl.

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I’m off to The Healing Art of Writing Workshop at Dominican University in San Rafael, California, a city in Marin County just north of San Francisco. I am hoping to make some strong connections with other writers and healers, affirm my dedication to writing, revel in the company of writers and artists who are devoted to or interested in the field of medical humanities, and learn new techniques and strategies for expressing oneself with clarity and power.

For the first time, I have submitted writing to the workshop that does not have to do with my memoir manuscript about infant surgery, The Autobiography of a Sea Creature. I wrote a brand new piece to share titled “My Mother’s Ears” about my mother’s hearing loss and the effect it had on me growing up. My mother’s hearing was damaged after undergoing a surgery at age twenty-five in which she had chosen to try an experimental anesthetic rather than suffer the debilitating effects of ether.

I had heard many times about how her hearing loss occurred, how the resulting tinnitus affected her, and how my mother attempted to rectify the problem early on. Tinnitus, according to Merriam-Webster online, is a sensation of noise (as a ringing or roaring) that is caused by a bodily condition (as a disturbance of the auditory nerve or wax in the ear) and typically is of the subjective form which can only be heard by the one affected.” The condition sounds rather benign in this definition but the ringing in my mother’s ears was so severe that she could not hear the outside world without hearing aids.

Growing up, my mother told the story of her hearing loss over and over in the same way each time. Similarly, she had a particular way of telling and retelling my pyloric stenosis story–the same time-worn phrases again and again. Repeating a story of trauma is one of the clues in identifying a person who may be suffering from PTSD. When we hear ourselves and/or others telling a story over and over in the same tone and with the same words, something is stuck or frozen. The person needs a little kickstart to begin the journey of healing from whatever wounded him or her.

I am only now discovering what it means to live a normal life, that is, one in which post-traumatic stress does not dominate. In a way, I’ve been reborn. I still have symptoms but I recognize them quickly and work with them in order to free myself from repetitive or stuck patterns of thinking and behavior. Just this morning in my meditation, I found myself frozen in a breathing pattern that I probably learned as a three-week old coping with acute pain after a stomach operation. My face above my nose is numb and my upper body completely rigid. This strategy enabled me to deal with a difficult situation as a baby but now when the pain and danger are no longer present, it is disturbing and limiting.

John Fox’s poetry workshops might help me out. Each morning at the workshop, I’ll be sitting in a circle of writers, listening to and discussing published poems and then writing and sharing poems of our own. Perhaps I’ll take this PTSD symptom on, the latest one calling for resolution. Writing a poem about my frozen head and shallow breath might free me up. In the meantime, here’s an affirmation I’ll try: I breathe naturally and fully, energizing my entire body. Breath awakens. Breath is my friend

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I just turned in the grades for the four English classes I have taught this spring at the College of Alameda. It’s a great feeling. I’ve done my best and learned a lot. Now, I’m retired, turning a page. Here’s a recent journal entry dated May 21 that speaks to where I am spiritually and emotionally. It’s a cross between a poem and a prayer:

Here before the flowing green river, I hear birdsong and feel

the breeze swing my hair. I vow to take all I have learned

from three decades teaching writing and self-expression

to help people, myself included, heal from unconscious beliefs

wrongfully running our lives. I vow to help us hear

these monsters–hurt little ones really–so we can change their messages,

for transformation is possible. Each of us is a god and deserves

to live as such–a master of his or her own destiny in this land of generosity.

Let me believe unswervingly in the human heart. Let me cherish

the liquid gold at the center of each being. And let us live

up to and beyond our potential in the name of the grass, the birds,

the air, the water, the sun, the soil, and the integrity of each and every soul on earth.

Amen.

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For the first time in my life, I took a nap. Yes, that’s right–the first time ever. As far back as I can remember, I have never napped. I would even go so far as to call myself nap-phobic. Napping was childish. Napping was silly. More honestly, I simply couldn’t do it though I’d tried.

A few days ago, I lay down around 6 o’clock in the evening. I hadn’t even made dinner yet, but the long day teaching had left me spent. I thought, I’d love a nap. (Huh?  Was that me talking to me?)  Where  did that thought come from?  Anticipating pleasure?  Unprecedented!  Besides, PTSDers don’t nap. At least this PTSDer doesn’t……until now :). As I settled under the covers, the experience felt delicious and special. And after fifteen minutes, I awoke totally refreshed. So this is what they mean! 

My partner takes naps whenever she needs to. My friends tell me they nap. When I used to fast for the holy month of Ramadan, many fellow Sufi students told me that they napped before evening events or prayer service. How could they, I wondered. When I would lie on my bed at two in the afternoon on a Saturday, exhausted after being up since four a.m. and eating and drinking nothing since five, my eyes were still wide, as if my eyelids were being held open by tiny clothespins. What I didn’t know about myself then is that I had PTSD. Of course, I couldn’t nap. I was doing guard duty, protecting myself.

The day I thought happily about a nap, the sentry in her tower had agreed to let this part of me pass through the gate. I was given a temporary pass to visit this new land. The guard leaned back, laid her weapon on the shelf, and put her feet up, enjoying the view while I headed for the soft bed of pine needles under the trees. I napped happily and when I was through, I tapped the sentry on the shoulder and re-entered the known world.

Growing up, I never saw my mother nap. Twice a week in the evening, she allowed herself to lie down on the couch and watch television with the family–“The Untouchables” Thursday evenings and The Ed Sullivan Show Saturdays. On these occasions, she actually covered herself with a blanket and lay her head on a pillow. But I never witnessed my mother napping. In fact, she slept only five hours a night, if that. As I’ve written in a previous post “PTS Parenting,” my mother was a PTSDer. I’m not saying that anyone who can’t nap has PTSD. I am saying I couldn’t nap because I had it and didn’t know it, and it’s likely that the same is true for my mother.

I am on the threshold of a new relationship not only with my body but also with life!  The affirmations are working. I am safe. I am worthy. All is well with the world. Good is everywhere. My body is my friend. I am one with my body. Just this morning during meditation, I heard my soul tell me, I’m on your side. I am letting go of control and coming home to my body in a deeper way. Dare I say it?  I am healing from PTSD!

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People who’ve suffered trauma early in life often experience a difficult relationship with their bodies. We can feel like prisoners in our own skin. The pain was probably too much. Perhaps the way we were handled was traumatic. Maybe we were even forced into uncomfortable and restricting positions in order to undergo a surgery or receive medical treatment. Often, we were separated from family, which frightened us.

Some people traumatized early in life need to know that it’s safe to inhabit their bodies now, to really be in them. They need support, maybe even touch in a place that’s frozen or wounded in time past. A touch that tells them that it is safe to return home, that they can trust the process, and that their body is beautiful and strong. We need reminding of the fact that our bodies healed and that our bodies are powerful. A ritual of return.

I’ve often wanted one for myself. Each morning as I settle in to meditate, I face a feeling of great fear that I am not safe in my body. I am afraid that if I fill myself with air and breathe fully that I will die. I’m not sure when I learned this, but I do know that my survival hinged on my not bursting my stitches. I am grateful that I was saved, but the cost has been great; I am still frozen and must thaw daily. Daily, I self-talk and breathe my way into a feeling of trust, allowing myself to know that all is well.

Many survivors of invasive medical procedures still quietly suffer. Physically we are healed or are able to cope with our physical problems, but inside we are still on lockdown, unable to extend our emotional wings. We want so badly to fly but are restrained by old trauma. A ceremony is needed, in which a lost sense of wholeness is restored, and we are re-integrated into our community, our struggle honored, leaving us to live at peace in our bodies.

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The best time to learn about how I really feel about myself and my life is when I first wake up. The other morning, I heard these words: It’s hard to be a Wendy. Immediately, I turned them around. It’s easy to be a Wendy. Then I heard another thought: It’s easy to love a Wendy.  How good this felt!

Growing up, my brother would say it’s hard to be a Wendy in a sarcastic way whenever he saw me having a hard time. In the aftermath of his comment, I felt enormous guilt about all the trouble my early illness had caused my family. My parents were so overwhelmed by my needs after the surgery that my brother was often ignored. Ultimately, they shipped him off to my aunt and uncle’s home while I recovered. I’m sure at that point it was hard to be a Wayne. That period was a challenge for all of us. But why not unite behind a difficult time rather than divide?

Obviously, I bought into it’s hard to be a Wendy. Over time, it came to mean that nothing comes easy to me. Everything is hard and I make things unnecessarily difficult on everyone around me. Well, had I died, life for my family would have really been hard. Where was that message about what a beautiful survivor I was, strong enough to fight the biggest battle and win?

It’s up to me to give myself this message. At age 59, I am learning about the pleasure of being a Wendy. The honor of being a Wendy. The sacredness of being a Wendy. Loving myself is the greatest feeling ever. I’m so grateful that I’ve lived long enough to really experience this love for myself. It’s been a long road, but the double rainbow is overhead and I am the treasure.

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When I graduated from college, my cousin sent me a doll in the mail. Without knowing why, I immediately took the scissors and magic markers to it. I snipped off the white yarn hair and drew a recored of my abuses onto its body.

My eyes are black tear drops, my jaw is aflame from gritting my teeth in pain, my scar is broadcast across my belly and my arms are black where I used to cut them with a razor in my teens.

Why would I do such a thing to a gift given in love and congratulations?  It’s like I was saying, see, here’s the real me. On the outside, I’m a successful person, but underneath, I’m a failure. I remember being shocked when I was accepted into an Ivy League college. Had they made a mistake? While a student there, I felt as if I had slipped in under the door and if I made too much commotion, someone in charge would notice that I’d been mistakenly admitted.

The same feeling emerged when I was hired as a full-time teacher. When the president of the college congratulated me, I thought, if you only knew that you just hired a crazy. I felt like I got away with something. Maybe it has to do with the unresolved feeling that as a sick infant, I cheated death–I was dying, but then the medical profession performed an emergency surgery and rescued me. Is this what God wanted? I was never convinced that I had been worth saving and that I was meant to be.

It’s up to me to accept this now at the deepest level. I am worthy. I am loved. I am lovable and worthwhile. I’m the only one who can convince myself of this now. It’s time to become my own spiritual lover.  I am divine. I am sacred. It’s time to believe what is.

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