a list of healing things

I’m healing myself, again. It might be

the hundredth time, I’m not sure. Anyway,

I’m keeping a list of what works:

(it’s an odd list, I’ll admit)

 

eating three meals a day–seated, not standing, with good manners and frequent pauses–

using colorful Sharpies to fill blank pages with swirls and triangles

squishy yoga poses that feel so good I want to take a picture of myself in them and send it to someone

water, remembering to drink it (and not just right before bed when it will keep me up all night on trips to the bathroom)

ignoring calls I don’t want to take (actually making the calls I need to, too)

writing letters to people I like and putting stickers on the outside of the envelope

knowing deep down (in my bones) that I am doing what I can to make the world a better place (and thus not feeling compelled to blast my opinion socially on the social medias about the latest injustice committed in the world. The peace that comes as a result of action: that’s enough to allow my silence.)

sex. The kind of sex that doesn’t mean I belong to someone. Actually, they taught me that if I had sex without handing a man the legally binding deed to my belonging (a document drawn up by the father at any woman’s birth, they said), I would be immediately dismembered. I would be irreversibly damaged. Barbarously maimed. Beamed up, Scotty. Something along those lines, they said, is what would have happened, they said, had I have had sex without a husband. They said, with a no-husband, it would have been horrendous, horribly. Suffice it to say that somehow sex is on the list of things that are healing me. (They couldn’t have been more wrong, could they?)

books, quiet indulgent hours with my nose close to the page

walks first thing in the morning to awaken my legs

telling trustworthy friends what I need to tell them, and staying quiet about the things I’m not yet ready to share

practicing the art of to listen to (another person)

listening, also, to the bluejays and insistent sparrows

baths

taking my medicine and talking to my therapist

meditating with my legs hung over the big black cushion that I bought several years ago, which was a time slightly after the time that I last healed myself.

 

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.

Why This Christmas?

 

 

My soul has questions. It came to me like this. I’m fairly certain my soul thinks this whole life thing is an interrogation. I face questions everyday such as: why am I here? What is the purpose of my life? Where can I find meaning? Do humans all find the same meaning in life? Why are we so fractured? 

The list goes on. When I was a child the questions were a crushing weight (no adults seemed to have answers that I could hang my hat on); now, well, we get along better.

I suffered severe depression and anxiety from the latter part of 2016 until the fall of 2019. For those blessed to not have experienced this ailment of soul, body, and mind, allow me to make something inescapably clear: spirituality doesn’t work when you’re depressed. Honestly, the desperate struggle that I made to hold onto my spirituality contributed to my depression (that’s another story). 

My current working theory on this is that (western) spirituality becomes unhelpful when one is depressed because depression disconnects us from our body, and muddles the mind terribly (think slicing pain, forgetfulness, loss of will to live. You’re jealous, I know.). Traditionally in the West we have held our spirituality in the mind and spirit. See how the two don’t jive? Depression=mind muddled, disconnection from body. Western spirituality=lives in the mind and spirit, rather than in the body. See?

Leading up to and during this season of depression (not my first, probably not my last, but, hey, I’m getting good at it!) my faith slowly slipped away. You say Jesus, my mind says “but was he real? And resurrection…really? Even if it did happen, how is that relevant to my inability to get off this couch?” You say mysticism, my spirit says, “I still want to die, and no matter how much you meditate, that feeling won’t go away.” See what I mean? Spirituality just didn’t work for me anymore, so the faith of my mind and spirit, well, it slipped away. 

Not that I didn’t try to hold onto it. Desperately. If I was Jack Dawson and the door under Rose was faith, I was pushing her off to save myself. That’s how fervently I wanted to keep believing. Even if I didn’t go to church. Even if my relationships with practicing (mostly conservative) Christians continued to deteriorate. I wanted Jesus. I wanted the moral code that I had studied and followed for my entire life. I wanted to be able to read Psalm 139 without throwing my Bible against the wall. I wanted the comfort that spiritual songs used to bring me. But I couldn’t do any of it. Trying to was nearly torture. 

My beliefs in Jesus from strong, to non-existent, to a gentle acceptance of it all.

What stopped my clinging to the Christian tradition and finally pushed me over the edge, you ask?

The Christians. The people I would have called my community. The self-proclaimed gate-keepers of the Kingdom (so much for Peter, up there taking heavenly role). People who had seen me energetically greet refugees and immigrants from other countries. People who had funded missions trips I went on and bragged about my service and joy. 

I kept my distance from the entire Christian community during the course of my depression (except for a select few friends who manage to love and respect me despite our differences), not wanting to kick the hornet’s nest. Then, through a series of events involving a roommate (you know how that usually goes, damn it), word got out that I was–gasp–a universalist. 

The Christians couldn’t take it. I was met with, told I was wrong, told I was no longer invited to their community. 

A social media post about my new, more open and inclusive beliefs, that I hadn’t posted with the attention of offending anyone, was met with pages of cruel comments. I was told that I could say blank but I could not say blank. It wouldn’t have hurt, I would have written them off as your run-of-the-mill jerks, if it wasn’t people who had known me for so long. If it wasn’t the same thing that I had grown up hearing. If it wasn’t what my own blood says. 

It hurt. I was done. Christianity could die a cruel death (the tradition has a history with that sort of death anyway). 

That was, until Christmas this year. 

Of course, it wasn’t just Christmas season popping up that helped me find my way back to a loose hold on Jesus. I had remembered, over the past few months, the importance of stopping to smell the roses. I’ve never been a fan of how roses smell, personally, but it’s the concept I am after here: pauses are essential components of mental and emotional health. Pausing to absorb something good all the way into the body is a holy practice. Returning to meditative practices such as reading poetry slowly, taking walks, letting go of fear-driven action, and pausing to look at flowers, trees, my cat, etc. had begun to pull me out of the lingering fog of depression and anxiety (along with good food, deep rest, and frequent exercise) by the time Christmas decor appeared in the Anthropologie window display. 

My relationship with Christmas over the years hasn’t been particularly noteworthy–I don’t watch Lifetime movies and I’ll be fine if I never walk into another Hallmark store. 

As a child, I did love staying up late in my room on Christmas Eve to soak up the soft glow of the Christmas lights hung over my curtains. My family took a yearly trip to visit relatives that left me over-stimulated (I hadn’t yet learned the importance of 10-20 minutes per day with my eyes closed and my legs up the wall to reduce my ever-present anxiety), over fed with rich food that caused me severe stomach aches (gluten intolerance and dairy sensitivity, both unidentified until I was in high school), and uncomfortable (I have needed regular movement since I was a child, and was generally denied it on these trips). 

So, by the time I broke ties with my family when I was 18, I needed a break from Christmas. One year I was suicidal on Christmas and spent the evening in my car listening to beautiful, melancholy songs by one of my favorite bands, Gungor. Later, I spent two years overseas for Christmas (in a country that celebrates the holiday on a far less extravagant scale).

That was my break from Christmas. Last year, I felt pretty meh about it as well. 

This year is different. Oh ho ho, my friend, this year, some magic has infiltrated me. Did you know there are stickers in the shape of glittery gingerbread shaped men at Michael’s? Do you know how delectable the Holiday Spice Yankee Candle smells? Have you felt the utter joy of sitting on a couch in the dark, staring at the lights and ornaments on a two-foot-tall tree with your hand stroking a black cat’s smooth fur? 

I know it isn’t the Christmas things that are making me feel this way. Not entirely, that is. But since I have cultivated that practice again of pausing and absorbing, and probably due to the long break from engaging with Christmas, the Christmas ish is digging its way through sensations in my body, into my soul. The Christmas lights pinned against dark winter nights, the yumminess of Christmas cards, the warmth emitted by Thistle Farms candles, the exchanges of good cheer and song. It’s priceless, and it is bringing my heart, body, and spirit back together as one. 

 Last Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Church that I semi-regularly attend (per the insistence of my inquisitive soul that relentlessly longs for conversation about all that is impossible to put into words, i.e., spirituality), the Reverend Jan said something that made me catch my breath: “We need not leave behind the stories that hold meaning in our hearts.”

We need not leave behind the stories that hold meaning in our hearts.

Jesus. I need not leave behind Jesus. 

I need not leave behind Christmas–a holiday who is shrouded in painful memories for myself and many people–because it brings light into my dark spaces. I need not leave behind the stories of Jesus, and of unconditional, all-encompassing Divine Love that the Christian tradition handed to me.

Let the bullshit be as it is. Let Jesus be who he has been for you, Lydia. Let the Psalms be what they have been. Leave the rest out of your mind. 

If Christmas can be redeemed and redemptive in my life, than maybe Christianity can too. 

As my favorite Christian author, Sarah Bessey said in her new book, “I pray that you will bless the box you once needed for God and that you will treat it tenderly even as you leave it behind.”

 

There is tons more to this story. Religion and spiritual beliefs are an undeniable, inevitable part of my life (how else could I hold this soul?). I’ve experienced my greatest pain and greatest joy at the hand of religion, of this idea of Jesus, of God. I’ve read books about indigenous sacred beliefs that are arguably more peaceful and inclusive than the Bible. There is the reality that I am a white woman of European descent and I’m not sure about how I feel that my people have hijacked the holy book of the Jews. There’s a lot to this. Clearly. But for now, this is the story of Christmas season for me this year, and a splish of redemption in my story of spiritual exploration

Re-embracing the stories that hold meaning in my heart may be just as sacred and healing of a practice as staring at my Christmas tree and its’ beautiful orbs of light nearly every December evening is. Encountering abysmal darkness on the path of our lives is unavoidable. We may as well allow every light–even that of the smallest or most inexplicable candle–to glimmer over our secret souls. I can let the stories of Jesus, and my memories of Christmas, shape-shift before my eyes. Holding them loosely allows them to breathe, allows them to become relevant to my constantly changing experience.

 

That being said, I’ll leave you with a blessing:

 

May the scent and sensation of Christmas light fill your spirit. And if your spirit is lost to you this Christmas, and you are unable to connect enough with your body to feel the goodness of the Holiday in your bones, because of depression or any other suffering you face, may you experience a breath of relief and a whiff of hope on the heels of this season. 

“There is a light in us that only darkness itself can illuminate. It is the glowing calm that comes over us when we finally surrender to the ultimate truth of creation: that there is a God and we are not it.” ~ Joan Chittister

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

 

 

 

 

Do I Care?

Would I really?….

My grandmother has back pain. Terrible, crippling back pain. She literally must sit all day; sometimes she lays down if it gets intolerable. So my grandma, after a lifetime of working hard, and constantly being in motion, sits on the couch and watches TV. Unable to work full time as she always has. Unable to be comfortable. Now, her only joy in life is her family. The 5 minute phone calls that come once or twice a day; the Christmas visit. A once-independent woman now relies completely on others to take time from their busy schedules to stop by and make her smile. That’s her life.

I am young. I have much hope for my future: college, a career, kids, adventures. I have great friends, a handful of good jobs. I have a church community as well as my own truck and the ability to come and go wherever I please, whenever I please.

Would I, given the chance, trade with my Grandma? Would I turn away all the hope of my future for the sake of relieving her pain? Do I care that much?

Is she more important to me than…me?

I like to think so, but I know that I could not take on her burdens without sinning against her, and God, in the midst.

That’s the difference between me and Jesus. He did what I am incapable of doing. He looked down from perfection, saw pain and swirling torture. From my shoulders He willingly lifted the weight of Hell, and for 33 years He lived far from the perfection He deserved.

All for me.

All to free.