Faith and Other Foibles, 2020

what’s beautiful is surviving struggle. what is beautiful is living to tell our stories. what’s beautiful is surviving heartbreak. what’s beautiful is not anymore about perfection…what’s really beautiful is living to tell your story and letting that story inspire others to survive the lives that they are living. ~CeCe Jones-Davis

Health

New data about the toll of anxiety and stress on the body is rolling out every year. We know now that stress and anxiety take a tangible toll on the body, down to the cellular level. Being alive during the pandemic this year, and being a full time teacher at a time when the vaccine had not yet been concocted, tested, etc., was the most continually stressful situation I’ve been in. That level of prolonged stress made me tired, and as minister CeCe Jones-Davis says, Change comes when we get tired but we have to keep going.

Thanks to the mother of a student (who has become a dear friend to me), who saw my exhaustion and physical pain, and advocated for me, I have pursued the changes that my body needs to offset the continuing toll of the trauma I experienced in adolescence, and the heavy weight of this year’s anxiety. I don’t feel that I am at 100%, but I remember there is a 100%, and it is my most holy work to get my body, mind, and spirit, back to that level of functioning and comfort.

Love

Leaving love and the comfort of another person is extraordinarily difficult; staying when it is time to go is far more so. I don’t have many words on Love–between humans–right now. I left love, I found love, I allowed my definition of love to be modified, and honestly, right now, its’ in flux. I have a better idea of what the love I want in my life to be like, but it isn’t settled, and I am allowing it to shift and move, as I and my beloved partner shift and move. I am grateful for the men who have shared my bed, for their smells, for their guarded vulnerabilities, for the shape of their body next to mine. Gabriel, te amo. Quiero pasar mi vida contigo, si Dios(a) lo quiere.

What I do know about love between humans is that sexual partners come and go. You may sign a mortgage with someone, you may not. Tried and true friendships hold. Sisterhood holds. Mentorship, done well, holds. When the romantic love you hoped for falls through, as it inevitably will in one way or another, for a time, or permanently, the relationships you made with friends, co-workers, children of friends, and your own children ( be it cat, dog, or human!) will hold. Because you invested in them. Because you chose to open your heart and your life to the beautiful people you encounter. As I had held others up, so they will hold me up, and it is an incredibly gracious and reassuring experience to fall back on the ropes of these nets you wove.

Faith

Like Love, this one is up in the air for me. I feel that I am soaring between unwavering loyalty to one tradition, over exploration of traditions from around the world, to where I think I’ll land: with deep appreciation for all traditions, but a universal perspective on the tradition that feels like home to me: that of Jesus, of the marginalized Jews and the mystical tales their people passed down for centuries.

I know that although I can’t verbalize much about my faith, it informs the way I live. My faith was there on the mornings when I opened my eyes and realized I had to do what felt impossible again. It was there when I prayed “God, help me calm down,” during a severe anxiety attack over Thanksgiving break. It, He, She, Spirit, Faith, is there every time I come back to myself, during a yoga class, a meditation, a walk through the park, a long hug with a woman who mothers me (there are many, including my biological mother, who gave me the gift of “matter to enliven,” as my osteopathic doctor says).

I know that I am endlessly grateful for my faith. It has been hard won, over the course of my years, and through tireless absorption of words from those whose faith is more mature than my own.

Friendships

This year I experienced betrayal in a more acute way than I ever have. I was treated poorly (hello, scapegoating, with whom I was well acquainted as a child) by women that I allowed to be close to me (physically, emotionally). After my anger and egotistical outraged (how could this happen to ME?!) simmered down, I learned that they hadn’t hurt me because they are bad people, but because there are decisions that I have made about how I will and will not treat people that not everyone else has made.

Attention to people who are different, honest, and naturally inclined to vulnerability: you will be the one who people try to put their stuff on and send outside of the city (Biblical reference, in the Bible it was a goat because we are the GOAT). You will be the one that emotionally immature, draining people seek to latch onto and manipulate the hardest. Resist. That is their work; you alone can do yours.

That being said, this year I made new friends. I welcomed into my life, from a 6 foot minimum distance, women from the west side of town who live in giant homes and read voraciously, introverted neighbors who I wouldn’t have met if not for the pandemic, a French family with three boys, the boyfriend of my mentee (he got condoms for Christmas), new students, old male yogis, young female yoginis, folks who were new to yoga, fellow teachers, seasoned veteran teachers, and poor homeless folks. The friends I hold most dearly are those who have aligned themselves with me, advocating for, and having fun with me for years, and those who, regardless of how long they have known me, have joined me in the work that is closest to my heart: that of making the world a more equitable place for all, starting with our children.

Service

2020: I was raised in a home where service was valued, elevated, and considered an essential part of every day life. Arguably, my career is one of service. I teach, I facilitate information processing, I listen and care. From 7:30am-3:45pm every week day, service is my identity. That’s service that I get paid for, however. Jesus’ (and other religious leaders) example(s) shows the value of service when you get nothing in return.

I donate monthly (small amounts) to Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, and Preemptive Love Coalition. My true service, however, is to walk alongside the children that I started mentoring 7/9 years ago. They are nearly grown, and I savor every moment that we spend together. It takes incredible intentionality and commitment to maintain relationships across generational, socioeconomic, and racial lines. My life, my precious relationships with these babies and their families, show that this isn’t impossible. Being a part of their lives is the most humbling, redemptive, and fulfilling experience I have ever had. Thank you, Aaliyah, and Keandre. My heart is yours forever, and I will never stop rooting for you to rise and soar in your own lives.

Professional

Until two weeks ago, I thought I may have taken the wrong career path. I thought this was where the path may split. I thought I needed to leave teaching. After deep rest, spiritual renewal, and quiet reflection, I remembered that it is important to quit my job, every day, after work. To leave work at work, care for myself, and return to the classroom with a clean-slated mind and heart every damn day. I remembered that leaning on co-workers has gotten me this far, and the amazing women that I work with will continue to be there with all their dry jokes, grounded advice, and mid-day stupidity.

Over the break, I remembered what my job actually is, why I love it, and how capable I am of transcending situational difficulties in order to find a more appropriate, functional, and successful way forward for myself and my students. I remembered why I live and breath to teach, and that I cannot do it well if I am not nurturing my own growth and learning, while also handling life’s unpredictability with unimaginable amounts of Grace.

Books

It was a 35-book year, thanks to quarantine, but here are my top mentions. The Water Dancer, Ta-Nehisi Coates. Between the World and Me, same. Normal People, Sally Rooney. Felicity, Mary Oliver. The Color Purple, Alice Walker. Everything is Spiritual, Rob Bell. Red to the Bone, Jacqueline Woodson. Untamed, Glennon Doyle Melton. Malcolm X, autobiography as told to Alex Haley. We are Displaced, Malala. Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire, Jen Hatmaker. The Will to Change, bell hooks. Relatos de una Mujer Borracha, Martina Cañas.

I’ll end my little reflection with these sweet words from Father Richard Rohr, a leader who keeps reminding me that the faith of my childhood is the most faithful home I can ever know.

Love is luring us forward, because love is what we already are at our core, and we are naturally drawn to the fullness of our own being. ~ Richard Rohr

Amen, and happy new year, dear ones. Let’s move forward into Love this year, as perilous and harrowing as it may be. We were made for this.

All There Is

When my heart cracks open, and the only people I want to hold onto, to speak to, would destroy me with one careless word,

I have nothing left. The pain burns it all away, like flesh held over a candle.

I’m the one holding my hand there, watching the tiny flames lick my palm, begging for their attention, trying to restrain myself from throwing my body towards the heat.

It would desolate me to be inside the fire, yet it feels essential to my survival (and all I’ve ever wanted is to survive). It would be easier if

these people were no longer

on the planet. Easier, if, I never had to see them again, then I could survive and it would feel like survival, not like walking through a toxic blaze. When

I am oozing out, burned to ash by my own doing, there is nothing left. Nothing but

the smiles of my students, their affectionate greetings, their “Have a good day, Ms. Bush” as they leave my classroom. Nothing but

friends who answer the phone at midnight to hold me with their words as I writhe in pain, friends who always answer my messages, who never make me feel like the problem (the way the people I feel that I need do), who gather around the table with me once a week to laugh, drink, and eat. Nothing is left but

my gorgeous eyes, swollen and bright, staring back at me, reminding me that I’ve made it through much worse, that the best

is yet to come; that the people I feel enslaved to are wax, and the flame is meant for them, not for my flesh. It will eat away the residue of their impact on my psyche, until I feel as free as I actually am, always have been. There is nothing left but

gratitude. All that lasts is “thank you.” There is gratitude that the suffering ends, that the story never ends in ash, though the flames are relentless. For every time that the pain sounds, joy screams louder. I am here, and from the ash I always rise. I am grateful that the pain cannot destroy

me, that the hatred does not overcome me, that I am, and always will be, free, free as the sparks that fly up from the fire and evaporate into the smoky stratosphere.

Who knows, if she never showed up, what could’ve been
There goes the most shameless woman this town has ever seen
She had a marvelous time ruining everything.
~ T. Swift

To Parents, For the Children

I’m not licensed to speak to parents. I haven’t studied parenting or child development in an academic setting. I do not have a child, and I am not pregnant or planning to have a child.

I have been a child, though, and I know the child I was well. I know the environment she was raised in and the way it shaped her. I know parents, too. I know parents of White kids and Black kids and Hispanic kids (rich, poor, and everything in between). I know children whose parents I have never met. I listen to parents, but more often, I listen to kids, and I understand them. I have been understanding and listening to children of all ages, races, shapes, and sizes since I was a child, and that’s why I’m writing this.

The most important words that come out of our mouths during our lives are those that we say to children. Children are precious, malleable, hopeful, naive, sacred, unique, innocent, and delightful little hooligans. Children turn the most hardened grown ups into softies. Children make us laugh and smile wider than we have since we ourselves were in tiny bodies. Children are our future, and the imprint of the child inside of each of us still shapes who we are in the world.

Children want to see their parents living their dreams. They want their parents to take (healthy) risks, even if it comes at a cost for the entire family. Children don’t want their parents to stay in rotten marriages or toxic workplaces for their sake. Children don’t want parents who keep the peace; they want parents who are willing to fight for happiness and satisfaction, and who don’t shy away from disturbing the status quo in their pursuit of something better.

I hear adults who have realized that something is “off” in their lives worry about making a change because of how it will affect their kids. I hear people say that they don’t want their kid to have divorced parents because they know what it is like. People also say they don’t want their kids to have angry and argumentative married parents because they know what that is like. People look back on their own wounds when considering the actions they need to take in their lives. That’s the wrong direction, folks. The answer to today’s question comes from within. It comes from the heart and mind. It comes from careful evaluation (based on trial and error) of what your best looks like, what will enable you to thrive, and, as a result, give your best to your kids and the world.

Kids know when they’re the reason that you aren’t happy. That’s far too big of a burden to ask them to shoulder. Glennon Doyle, in her book Untamed, talks about parental love as a river. The river can get blocked, which keeps the love in the parent’s heart from actually reaching the child. A parent who stays in a relationship, job, situation where they aren’t happy, fulfilled, or satisfied, is allowing that situation to clog up their river. The child is downstream, not worried about having the perfect family, not wanting their dad to have a flashy job, or their mom to be the thinnest, just wanting to receive the river’s flow. The child just wonders what they did wrong when the water doesn’t make it to them.

Kids can overcome anything, they just need their adults to stay in relationship with them as they work through things. Big changes upset their little apple carts, but with parental TLC they can regain their footing, and by doing so gain valuable skills for life (which we know will trash that apple cart more than once during their lives). When kids are protected from upsetting changes, they’re sheltered from the reality of life. Kids don’t need that from their parents. They need parents to teach them to be strong and resilient warriors who are able to bounce back when life’s changes and trials knock them down.

Parents who step out and face their challenges, fight their demons, and pursue their dreams, set powerful examples for the children who witness them. Parents who clear their riverbed make way for love to roll through like a tidal wave.

Let the love roll, Parents. The kid in you wants to ride the wave, and your kid(s) is there to receive it.

Trauma

Trying to explain what my trauma is like, and how it affects me, feels like trying to explain why my heartbeats, or how two clouds overlap in the sky. It feels beyond me and also to close to me to see. It is something that I cannot articulate but will try all my life to put into words, because these words call me home to myself, and may just call someone else home to herself.

There is the afterglow of intercourse, the nourishment of conversation, the clinking of wine glasses, and the smooth texture of soft cheese. Then there is laughter from the gut, there is the satisfaction of a job well done, there is the exhaustion that comes after a long, full day.

There is all of that, but only until the wire is tripped. It’s unspeakably wonderful until

the damn wire is tripped and there I am inside of the worst memory I have only I’m not there

I’m still in the moment I was in when the wire tripped, but now the moment has the memory superimposed over it like words stamped across

a poster with a photo as the background. My reality becomes the background and

the memory is the words that traipse across, obscuring

any real view of the photograph itself.

The tripwire could be a word (mine or someone else’s), a thought, the recollection of a memory (perhaps brought on by a building, or driving down a certain street, or hearing a certain stringing of words on the radio). It could be the harmless lack of a response to a message I send, it could be a

breakup. Once it is tripped, I am stuck. There isn’t texture, there’s no glow inside, I’m not sure I even have a body. 

No one has seen me, no one ever will. I may never feel anything positive again, and I am utterly, truly alone. I am utterly at the memory’s mercy, anyone it says

that I am with no hopes of being

anyone–or anything–else, ever. Existence becomes static rather than dynamic because

I am triggered. Memory clouds my vision. Was there ever a clear photograph behind the words or has it always been these blocky, irritating words that obscure anything beautiful.

The words aren’t right. The essence of trauma eludes me, even now, as it has me wrapped inside its’ talons. Mercy is that every time I trip the wire is another chance

to put into words this ruthless phenomenon that I and so many others experience daily, weekly, maybe foreverly (I don’t know):

trauma. It is ours, though, and we carry it courageously forward.

tell me

tell me

what I said that made you think

I belong to you

 

tell me

what I did that seemed to prove

I belong to you

 

tell me

how I touched you that made you feel

I belong to you

 

tell me

what detail of my life I shared that told you

I want to belong to you

 

Lovers of mine,

tell me. So I can

take it all back, spend those nights

alone and free.

The Veil & The Edge

There are times when the veil is thin between insanity & wholeness. Sometimes we think that in order to be whole, well, okay, we have to be as far away from insanity as possible. We buy the lie that in order to be anything orderly & good we must be light years away from chaos & evil.

What if we belong to the chaos as much as we belong to the order? What if we are equal parts good & bad? What if that’s okay?

I’ve heard people talk about a veil between themselves and their loved ones. We watch & read countless stories about that veil, that part-way space between here & the mystery of there. When there is a ouija board or tarot cards or a Bible passage or a loved one breathing their last breath, we want to be as close to that space as we can. We lean up against it as though it isn’t the most terrifying place to be. We do that because we are desperate for a connection to what (or who) we believe–what we know-to be on the other side.

There’s another veil, I see it now, shielding me from the brunt of my emotions. Just as death feels to us like swirling, scary chaos, so our bottled emotions can appear threatening. We pull things into the space between us and the feelings we were made to feel because we feel letting the darkness in. We fear the sleepless nights. We fear saying things to our loved ones that we will deeply regret. We fear letting anyone–even ourselves–into the dark abyss of what we feel lurking beneath the surface of our emotional sphere. We fear that we’ll be labeled “crazy”, that we’ll cross a limit where “mentally ill” will be indelibly stamped upon us. We feel we will never come back up for air; that it will be relentless darkness upsurging until we are no more. We fear that our bodies aren’t big enough to hold the pain that laces each wave.

When the emotions are strong I feel that they will overcome me & I will not be okay.

What does it mean to not be okay? Have I ever not been okay? I have felt that I was not okay more times than I can count on two hands, but none of those feelings have been final. None of that chaos has had the last word.

Some of us smoke, drink, binge, overwork, snark, or over-exercise to deflect the cloud of dark emotions that threatens to envelope us. I tend to bring people and situations and feelings into the space between myself and those feelings, rather than allowing myself to be in the present moment, and to feel those feelings I was made to feel.

I deflect and disassociate rather than face them. The fear of darkness is lodged so deep in me that I’d rather abandon myself than face that darkness with a united front.

The work is to face it. The work is to open yourself up, to let it in, to feel it all, though it drive you bonkers. There is a space where all is chaos; you don’t belong to that space, but you sure as hell have the strength to move in & through it. You might be mentally ill because you won’t let yourself feel it deeply enough. Because you’re deeper & stronger than you ever knew.

I have the strength to move in & through it. There is a part of me that says I won’t make it through if I stop disassociating & deflecting and just bow to the chaotic woundedness of my soul. The truth is that every time I have faced it I have made it through, and it has made me better.

Inside of religion we honor the veil. When we face death we honor the veil. Even our superstitions pay homage to the veil between the known and unknown.

Why not also honor it while we live? Why not fiercely move towards it, fully aware of our own indelible ability to overcome whatever we face in life? We have the ability to keep moving, and avoiding the darkness & the message it brings only inhibits the journey that each one of us is on.

What if we feel the most terrible things in the world, and stand strong in their aftermath? What if we let the darkness in as readily as the light? It may make us crazy. It may push us over the edge.

Maybe that’s because we were meant to fly.

I had Forgotten

Life is cyclical in many ways. I experience something, move to the heart of it, through it, and continue on until I return to the same or a similar experience. I face something and it brings so many torturous feelings over me that I look away. When I encounter that something again I am able to stave off the looking away for longer this time. Something small angers me. The next time that something small arises, I am able to notice my anger and have more agency over my response. I experience a beautiful setting, feeling, relationship, and then I forget. I experience it again, and I remember. I forget, I experience, I remember. I forget, I remember. Forget. Remember.

Quarantine–the word that’s shaping daily existence around the world right now–is reminding me of what I have forgotten. Ten years ago I knew the importance of being outdoors, be it blazingly hot, or bone-chillingly cold. I knew that I had to keep moving, no matter what. I knew how important it was to pay close attention to the books I read from start to finish. I knew that my friends were the most important people alive, I knew that I needed them and their hugs to survive. I couldn’t have explained to you why those were all important, nor how I knew. But I remember The Knowing, and I acted on that Knowing; it shaped how I spent my time. Five years ago, The Knowing was so strong that I spent entire weekends on the untamed riverside property between Arkansas and Oklahoma. The wildness of that space nurtured places in my soul that I had never before been aware of. During that time I safeguarded my solitude like a nun under a vow of silence. I held my beloved friends and the memories we shared closer to my heart than even the blood that surges there. I allowed myself hours–even days–with my cell phone turned off and that, in turn, allowed my mind and spirit to unwind. That time was an unfurling. I couldn’t have explained to you why those things benefited me, nor why in that moment I was able to prioritize them so (a fair dollop of privilege, yes, singleness, and no children, also), other than because I was tired of the way I had been in the world up until then. Other than I knew I had to find a different way to be in the world or my life would become toxic.

My life would become toxic. My life had become toxic again. This time, I didn’t have the privilege of time to spend away from the world. This time, I had bills and a husband and a salaried position, and a sense of importance in the world that existed side-by-side with a fear of being irrelevant and getting left behind professionally. Just a few weeks ago, those were the barriers between myself and all that I had forgotten. The responsibilities and fears stood between myself and The Knowing. Until the barrier fell. Until a literal government mandate took what I held to so tightly and made it more than irrelevant–made it off-limits. Until the barrier fell, I had forgotten. Actually, until the barrier fell, and I fought the new way of being for a week–give or take a few days. I fought it because I had traveled far from The Knowing. I fought it because the forgetfulness had overcome the memory of the way my soul unfurls when it gets what it needs.

I am remembering now the nourishment that leaves hold for my spirit: their veins and vibrancy carrying a story that speaks past my mind into my psyche. Leaves that wave under the sun, blinking and winking at whoever is or is not beneath them. Leaves that float downward without struggle, and ride the stream’s current wherever it takes them. Leaves that are green like the grass under my feet, ever regenerative and pure.

I am remembering now the essential nature of every human touch. Be it a hug, the brush of an elbow or the touch of your hand to someone else’s when they loan you a pen or a piece of gum. Be it love-making, hair-brushing, or the gentle holding between your hands the impressionable, expressive face of a little one.

It is coming back to me how close I feel to myself and everyone else when I spend those quiet, solitary hours, allowing my hands to release their desperate hold on the false security of busyness and control. I am unfurling again because life’s cycle led me back to this place where the barrier between myself and The Knowing has fallen against my volition.

I am given no choice but to remember, and the memory is sweet. Didn’t an author once say “every bitter thing is sweet”? Well, they were right.

I had forgotten, until I remembered.

 

 

 

Untitled Poem

 

Sometimes a woman must go

with herself

to a place

where she can be alive to the dark, unfriendly, & inhospitable

emotions that stir

beneath the white lie

of her smile.

 

She does this because her emotions put

her mind back into her body, where

she can breath,

create,

slither out of the snares

she walks into: naked doe dissected

day after day.

 

Every month she bleeds but it isn’t the blood that

costs her  

dignity.

It isn’t the blood that threatens her, nor is it the emotions.

The threat is the short list of predators:

ego, fear, and

denial of herself as the doe, of life

in this barren land

as the scalpel.

 

Sometimes a woman must go

with herself

to a place

where she can smile

in the dark.

The Cry of the (White) Kids

Yesterday there was a 4th of July party at my parents house. I walked in the door, hugged my mom, and willingly exiled myself to the kids room. The kids table, outside with the kids after dinner, the whole deal.

I am 23 and I have been working with kids for 7 years.

When I was in Chile, who did I miss? Right: kids.

I do not have my own kids and I do not want my own kids.

However, it is clear that I like kids. I want to be around them. I do not like them because they are small and say random things and I can boss them around and sound smart while telling them historic or scientific facts that everyone who has any sort of middle school education knows. No, actually, I like them because I respect them. I feel that by being the only ones here brave enough to be vulnerable and ignorant and small, they earn my respect. When I am in a room with adults my interior screams: WHY DONT WE ALL STOP FAKING IT. When I am with kids, well, it gets quieter.

The most shocking cultural behavior that has impacted me this year during my re-entry has undeniably been the way people in the U.S.A. treat their children. White kids, in particular, get my attention because I have only ever been one, and I know exactly how it feels to be a sensitive creature at the other end of that repremand, that painted smile, that flippant laugh.

Interactions in restaurants, at the gym, in the neighborhood–anywhere!–have exposed me anew to the egoistical disrespect with which children are treated. We have got to stop! If we do not acknowledge our children as humans, and being a human as intrinsically good, how will we love this world back to life?

The lie of badness is daily hammered into children, in all spheres of our culture. Home. School. Play. Good Lord, no wonder we are killing each other! I almost do not blame us. Except for all of the goodness I have seen, and have learned to see. There is so much goodness & we are truly all intrinsically good, accepted, loved, and valued. This darkness cannot last long. Our souls were made to be free, if not as children, then as adults.

I wrote the following piece after witnessing a particularly harrowing parenting episode in a restaurant. Parenting truly must be difficult, but I know it is not impossible to hear the cry of our children. I know it is possible for each adult in the U.S.A. to welcome their the truth of their goodness home into their deepest selves that they may pass it on. That the cry for love may be heard, and may heal the generations to come.

The Cry of the White Kid is a cry for respect & love. May we, as adults, receive the love and respect that is freely poured out on us from the Divine, and may our children absorb it and thrive.

The Cry of the White Kid

Mom, Dad,

Please dont look me in the face and tell me that I am bad.

Please dont teach me to see the patterns of my shadows–I need you to teach me to see the light that will lead me into and through that darkness.

Please dont smile at your friends and tell them how bad I am while I have tears streaming down my face.

Please dont laugh at the way I swim or only point out my weaknesses.

Please assume that I am right where I should be, instead of stressing constantly that I am behind the others.

Please dont use me to puff up your ego or make your decisions or shield you from your emotions.

Please dont always point out my imperfections–I already see them in full color. I need you to show me my perfection. No one else ever will.

Love unconditionally and with all my respect,

Future You in the World

 

Amen,

Lydia Nomad, a white kid 🙂

 

P.S. Here is a Great Parenting Blog Post.

 

Tend-and-befriender

It is odd to tell a story as if it was a thing that happened and it has an end and tra la la. This story is a chapter, it is a leaf only recently flipped over, and I am not sure which parts of its’ green vines to write, and which to leave for later.

Yet today, here, now, all I have is cute little me and my inhospitable life story and path. Here, friends, is a part.

August 2015 I am in a restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama with my best friend Emily. She is chewing red and yellow tortilla chips in the magical way only she can, and I gaze at the shiny bottles of alcohol propped on and around the bar caddy-corner to us.

“I’m just afraid that I will marry him and go to be with him and then hate it and not want to be there,” I say. Emily and I do not talk about everything but we talk about most things and all the deep things, yet somehow there is a unique heaviness to the fear I share in this moment. Emily nods like the sane, level-headed being she is, and validates my concern with restraint.

Sadly, utter heaviness was no stranger to my experience of life then, and still maintains a fairly reliable presence (always forward, always healing, always hopeful). At that point I was back from an emotionally stressful overseas trip, and had returned with a new tend-and-befriender. What is that, you ask? Using language from Teresa B. Pasquale’s book Sacred Wounds, tend-and-befriend is a defense mechanism used by someone in survival mode or trauma response. It is associated with the bonding hormone, oxytocin, that serves humans by helping us feel connected to others. It becomes nefarious, however, when a person is stuck in a trauma response and feels dependent emotionally on (often potentially hurtful) people or communities.

At the age of 21, I had spent the majority of my life (read: every second) moving from a stress response. The emotional and religious trauma of my developmental years left me stuck in frozen distress (things can get reeeeeally hairy there is distress-arctica, let me tell ya), and there I was, about two months after the difficult trip, feeling a deep obligation to return to be with someone in a foreign country who had helped me through a VERY rough 13 days. I felt that I owed him something, and that to return and live the life I assumed he wanted from or with me was the undeniable right thing to do.

I felt it not on a spiritual level, nor on a level of dutifulness, nor on an intellectual level. It was deeper than those parts of me, and now I know that when I feel that deep, guttural obligation it is coming from my very evolution. Those stress responses are a part of me because I am a part of an evolving body of humanity; sounds beautiful, sure, but in that moment, I was very stuck. Living in this kind of stress response is like trying to breath with air that is only 0.09% oxygen. It is having your insides in the fetal position when you need them to open and flourish and say things and be responsive to people. It is a jack-hammer in your mind that leaves you vulnerable to re-experiencing the abuse combined with a sense of badness that stings and prods like horse flies on the beach. It is no sleep and avoidance of every love-light ray that comes near your personal darkness.

The religious trauma compounded with this process has continually led me to my knees, trying to bargain with push-and-pull gods off in the cosmos who made me, so must want me, but also must not want me since here I am in this turmoil again.

Thankfully, the kind man who helped me when I was overseas, lived, yes, overseas. After 5+ months in contact with him, I suddenly cut all conversation–text, calls, video. He offered advice and was kind and looking back I think he must have sensed the turmoil I was in though he did not understand it either, and I said goodbye.

January 2016 I am at my part-time cleaning job the day after cutting off the relationship and the air is back to 20% oxygen. Sweet, sweet clear oxygen filling my shriveled lungs. I lift my Pledge-covered rag over my head and dance; I feel elated, happy, for the first time in months. I am happy because I see that I am mine. As the jack-hammer lifts off my mind, I am thinking over and over: this is my life. I clean this house. This is my heart. I feel these things. The fetus my insides had become is suddenly a seed of new life, rather than a posture of protection. I am mine again, independent, and my muchness is slipping back into the ghost of myself that has been living misguided and drained for the past months.

I still wonder if people without an over-active stress response system feel that elated all the time. I wonder how many times I will have to survive a response like that again until my Holy Trinity (body, mind, soul) can look a stressful situation in the face and know that I am enough, and that it is going to be okay and I am going to make it regardless of what goes down.

I never should have accessed this place of stress and trauma. I certainly never should have gotten stuck in it for so long. But this is my life. MY super unique and immense life, people. I am grateful that I get to live it, know it, figure it out. This life is path and path is where my insides and outsides come together and I experience joy and love and laughter. Here, on path, I take the hands of my loved-ones with my own, even when I feel that my hands are not worthy to be inside of someone else’s.

Last week someone I love very much was angry and I could see the anger that she was trying to protect me from as I stroked her black hair.

I could see. I have lived. It has hurt. I can see.

Live free, live inside of the Big Love.

Namaste, nomads.

 

LN