Monday, April 17, 2017

A View of the Ocean

I’ve always enjoyed gazing out at the ocean and feeling a sense of peace...doesn’t everyone? The warm sand on my feet, the relaxing sound of the water flowing in and out, in and out. No wonder there are thousands of paintings, songs and poems about the ocean. What’s not to love?

I started to reflect on why a view of the ocean provides such a peaceful perspective. I used to think it came from the ebb and flow’s literal representation of impermanence; a multi-sensory reminder that the life keeps moving and the world is ever-evolving, one tide at a time.  Or perhaps it's due to the horizon-wide expansive view that reminds me that I’m only a small part of a much bigger world.

But that view doesn’t include the waves.Those damn waves. I’m not a surfer and only an adequate swimmer so large breaking waves, coupled with a strong undertow, is a recipe for anxiety for me. Wouldn’t it be so much more peaceful if there were no waves? Why do the waves have to ruin the serenity of the scene!

As I thought about what draws me to the ocean, I realized it’s the whole scene together: one gigantic, crashing, flowing, dynamic portrait of life.  I’ve had my fair share of monster waves that have come crashing down and left me gasping for air.  I loathe the feeling of panic when I’m frantically trying to push back to the surface for air.  Half of the time I’m wondering how I didn’t see the wave coming in the first place!  In particular, I really resent when waves break right in a row, leaving barely enough time to catch a breath in between.

Yet each time, I optimistically pull myself back up to try and judge the next wave to successfully dodge the onslaught of upcoming crashes.  But that’s the trick, isn’t it?  Learning and growing;  becoming a better judge of how the waves break, which ones to gracefully float over and which to gleefully splash through.

It takes practice to learn how to most efficiently get back to the surface to catch your breathe when you’ve misjudged a wave that has sent you crashing under. But the beautiful thing is, when you resurface, you never find yourself in the same spot where you were before, you always land somewhere new.  Always a new starting point, always another chance.

Perhaps one of the most important parts of the experience is knowing when you need a rest. When it’s time to head back to your beach chair and simply watch the ebb and flow of the tide.

How I love sitting in my beach chair, watching the ebb and flow, so peaceful and calm, ebb and flow. I’m tempted to stay in my safe chair, wrapped in a warm, sun-soaked beach blanket.  But...I can’t be one of those people who merely observes the ebb and flow of life pass by.  Getting back into the wild ocean of life is the only way to experience the joy of splashing through waves and share the thrill of jumping over waves with loved ones. It’s the only way to truly know the uplifting feeling of floating over a big wave and the sense of accomplishment when you are safely delivered to the other side.

I could go on and on with the ocean metaphor, and tell you how, for me, it applies to parenting, friendship, dating, and career. The truth is, the ocean is so universally appealing because it is what you make of it. For me, it's brilliance is in the unfolding of challenges and responding resilience, a constantly changing landscape of joy and fear. It isn’t always safe, and it's never predictable, but with keen observation, learning and experience, I’ve become a better judge of the waves and what it takes to recover from the misjudged, unforeseen and sometimes mighty crashes.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Surviving the Tornado

I posted the thoughts below on June 28 of last year wondering how I would start being myself. I haven’t been able to post much since because a series of dominos fell creating what was the wildest ride of my life.  

I can’t say enough about how valuable the EMDR trauma therapy has been. As painful, and I mean capital “P” painful, that it was, it brought everything to the surface and cleared up crossed connections, misconceptions, mixed signals and misunderstandings until I could see the truth of the major painful experiences in my life. As a result I have a more honest and healthier relationship with my mother and cleared out many misconceptions about my relationship with my father.  I even understand why I chose the marry the person that I did, why it didn’t work out and why his choices were never a reflection of who I was or am.

But with all of that, I still had the same reoccurring nightmares - a tornado hits and I’m scrambling to find shelter and protect my loved ones, praying that it passes by and we survive.  My anxiety was still going strong and I couldn’t use my voice above a squeak because the fear that I was unlovable was still so strong.

How could that be after all of this time?  

After circling around on one central theme in the therapy, I finally admitted what I’d never said out loud to anyone and as a consequence, resurfaced a repressed memory from childhood.  As I’m not comfortable publicly discussing it in more depth, I will just say that what happened was not horrific but it was damaging. From an experience that took place 30 years ago, I created the storyline that I was broken, unlovable, fundamentally flawed in a way that no one could ever like if they really knew me. I isolated myself from friends, always felt on the outside. I felt unsafe and my anxiety spiked.  Nervous stomach aches started and I started biting my fingers and both continued for the next 30 years.

Processing the memory was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. At first I was overwhelmed at the extent of my “brokeness” - and then I started seeing the extent of my strength. All of those years I carried myself through, with protection mechanisms and a life drive to not only survive but to grow and live fully, even with a weight that felt like a thousand pounds sitting on my chest, suffocating me all of the time.

Once the memory was put into the past, the weight on my chest dissipated and I took my first deep breath. I didn’t know people could breathe like this, now I understand why everyone else doesn’t feel panicky all of the time - it is amazing being able to take so much oxygen in and breath so, so deeply. Everyday I pause and take a few deep breaths just to make sure that I still can.

It’s been about a month of breathing now. And I have more energy, I need less sleep.  The anxiety is still there and the old story lines are still in place but I’m able to view them through new eyes. Instead of them running me, I know they are merely my “flavor of shame”.

When I sat down to blog today, I wasn’t sure where to start, until I read that entry from June 28. I couldn’t figure out how to ‘start being me’ - because I still hadn’t gotten to the core of who I was/am.  

The thing about removing all of the layers of bad signals and misconceptions a painful experiences is that you end at your soul. Right at the center of who you are. And when you are living so close to your soul, you don’t have to try to show people who you are, it just shines through all on its own.

I’m still finding the balance between new energy and rest, between optimism  and old stories...but I can tell you this: I only had the tornado nightmare once in the last four months since the memory surfaced, and this time, I huddled with my dog and daughter and found layers and layers of blankets to wrap us in, so that when the tornado hit, I knew we were going to be ok.

June 28, 2016:
“Last night I shared a delicious dinner with a close friend who the universe seems to bring into my life at pivotal points and who helps me identify and take the next steps forward along my path.

Last night we talked about the pain of what was uncovered in trauma therapy and how at first it suffocated me like an unmovable weight, a shame I was too scared to share with anyone. And then eventually the past experiences began to feel empowering; I saw I wasn't broken because of things that happened my past, I was strong despite these events.

Now I'm learning to find my voice and use it when I need to speak up about my thoughts or feelings. But my voice is still shy and timing, for fear that if I use it, I might be rejected or left. That if I actually let go and am just be myself, I may look around to find that no one is left standing with me.

He encouragingly told me that one of the most important, if not the singular most important thing to a child is a feeling of safety and acceptance.  I've never felt safe, I have routine nightmares that linger as a result. He told me it was safe to let go and safe to be myself. Safe to shed the 'shoulds' and stop holding everything inside for fear of what the outside world might think of they knew what was underneath.

But the thing is, I don't even know how to start. How do you start being yourself? How do you get your verbal words and physical actions to align with your true feelings on the inside? The truth of who I am gets distorted as it tries to make its way out into the world. It is incredibly hard to just live as you, without twisting yourself into a pretzel, trying to create some version of your truth that is perceived as more acceptable.

The thing about twisting yourself into a pretzel too much is that eventually you snap. It adds resistance and difficulty to every day life. Imagine the freedom that must come with letting go and letting it flow. Not spending energy on worrying what people will think or how it will land. Letting go of the pursuit of perfection and letting flow the pursuit of being yourself.  

Living self-care, empathy, connectedness, vulnerability, and authenticity in each moment is the only healthy way to move forward, but it takes a lot of effort to learn how to put down the weight of expectations, perfection, acceptance, and fear of not being good enough.“