And yet… I will show you the most excellent way.

I take my sensitivity for granted.

Certain times of the month (read: PMS!) are more difficult for me than others. At those times, I become raw. I curl like a flower at night, protecting the stamen from the cold. My petals turn brown if they are touched.

At those times, tears come quickly. Simple and quiet things can move me, like a singing bowl rung at the beginning of a Sunday church service. Or one too many things on my schedule. The events of the past 2 weeks. Hearing the grief that seems to be coming with this season for many others, not just me.

I have decided I want to learn a new way. I want to celebrate these times where my heart feels raw and rubbed with salt. Many times, I go down the path to where ALL THE FEELS are torturing me to the verge of breakdown. That’s okay. Actually, it’s beautiful, even. Because that’s when my heart is calling a checkmate on my egoic mind. I have the chance to be exceedingly compassionate to my small, frail self.

No more taking this for granted. No more doing, doing, doing. No more perfecting myself into a tiny box and trying to be everything to everyone.

Instead, I can approach my darling little self with tender compassion. I sit at the stoplight and instead of reaching for my phone, I can reach for silence. “Hello, my little darling.”

Like the verse in the Bible that concludes 1 Corinthians 12 in preparation for the well-known words on love:

“And yet I will show you the most excellent way.”

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To Arrive, Like the Lily, At Will

Victory. It has come late, I had not learnt
how to arrive, like the lily, at will,
the white figure, that pierces
the motionless eternity of earth,
pushing at clear, faint, form,
till the hour strikes: that clay,
with a white ray, or a spur of milk.
Shedding of clothing, the thick darkness of soil,
on whose cliff the fair flower advances,
till the flag of its whiteness
defeats the contemptible deep of night,
and, from the motion of light,
spills itself in astonished seed.
-Neruda

Too often, the words “I’m sorry” pass my lips. I’m not making amends. I’m not apologizing for my wrongdoing. I’m apologizing for my visibility.

I’m sorry that you can see me, that I am visible, that I am a blip on your radar.

I’m sorry that I am a bother.

I am so deeply sure that I am a bother. This sets off two raging wars in my mind. One – I feel the need to be invisible and not a bother. To fight this invisibility, another side of me crows for a morsel of some affirmation. As a friend of mine puts it, I become an exhibitionist. And so there is a push-pull.

Hide.
Explode.
Repeat.

I had not learnt how to arrive, like the lily, at will. It’s not so easy for me. Instead, I am a jack-in-the-box. The handle winds, and winds, and winds. I stay invisible until suddenly, without warning, I pop out and shout to the world that I am deserving of praise, recognition, laughter.

I have not let the motion of light break me open yet to see that no – I am not a bother. I can shed the thick darkness of soil, without shame.

And that’s what it is, at the bottom of it all. Shame. For who I am.

But I will, at length, defeat the contemptible deep of night.

how did I ever fade into this life…

On nights like this, I don’t want to sleep. I don’t know if it’s a visceral reaction from my teenage years, or if it’s from staying up until 4:30 am after watching my sisters be murdered. Trying to avoid nightmares. I took my first drink at 16 when I was staying up late to avoid the nightmare. I ran right into it anyway. Alcohol always made my depression worse, not better.

I don’t understand at times why I am given this particular life to fit into. I get to pick up this well-fitted, soft leather jacket of a life, and find it suddenly transformed to a military uniform. How does that work? How do I start with gentility and end up with war?

I just have so many thoughts racing around, and I’m tired. Tired from not sleeping well last night. Tired from unrest. Tired from the cruel attack of the world, the strange assault that the universe has taken on little old me. Why, why, why me? Universe, tell me. I don’t understand.

I’m sorry, friends… I haven’t explained at all why I am running around in my head so much. It feels cruel to even type the words. I haven’t been at home the last two nights, because my neighbor decided it was a good idea to randomly fire a gun. And I do mean randomly. He would come outside of his apartment, fire his gun off, then go back inside. My bedroom shared a wall with him.

I left last night after hearing gunshots. Last night, I was judging myself. I thought maybe I was just hearing things. As a victim of traumatic gun violence, sounds make me twitchy anyways. Maybe I heard the wrong thing. Maybe I was just mistaken. Maybe it was the sticky front door to my apartment house. Maybe I was just being a bother to my dear “recovery parents” who were kind enough to come and get me when I freaked out after hearing a gun fired so close.

But I came back this morning around 10:30am to find the streets around my apartment barricaded, and I immediately knew I wasn’t wrong. I was NOT wrong and there had been a gun fired.

In my apartment building.

IN THE APARTMENT NEXT TO MINE.

I just don’t understand it. I don’t get it. After watching my sisters die in a horrific shooting. After then having a former student overseas die in a horrific shooting (a student who in fact gave me the teddy bear I sleep with til this day). After THEN having a friend in the theater in Aurora last year. Now this? And as my friend mentioned today, a divorce, estrangement from parents, school, poverty, and 12 step recovery to boot.

I had to make a 911 call to police about gunfire. I was asked awful questions, questions about knowing where the weapon was. No, I didn’t see the weapon. That doesn’t make it any less dangerous. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t just in my closet for 5 minutes, hiding to save my life. That doesn’t mean that making this phone call was easy – taking on the same role I had when my sisters died – that of 911 response.

I get to realize that when I was waking up at 4am or so the last couple months and thinking in my half-awake brain that I heard gunfire – I had. I had heard gunfire. I was correct. It wasn’t just my 4am traumatized brain thinking that was what I heard. It was real.

And that gunfire came from a neighbor I had been avoiding because he was just a little off.

I get phone calls from friends asking if I’m okay because they saw the story on the news. Hurray. Something involving a shooting, and me, is on the news. Again.

Oh and then I turn on the news to find out what’s going on, because for awhile I didn’t have my computer. What do I see? A tragic shooting in Washington D.C. There was no way I could watch it. I put on HGTV for most of the rest of the afternoon.

There is good in this. There is. My sweet “recovery family” who, without knowing it, put themselves in harms’ way to come rescue me last night, and their insistence they would do it again. They have no idea what they mean to me and I am eternally grateful. I don’t suppose words could describe what kind of gratefulness I have about that. And my “recovery mom” went back with me to my apartment to get things, and I am convinced I would have fallen apart without her there. I was already a shaking, upset mess, trying to make sense to the homicide detective. I think that was the worst part. Standing there, shaking. 

Then my therapist who was both kind and incredulous when he called me back earlier after the message I left. Who said he was “really, really, really, really glad” I was physically safe, and that he had hoped the universe would work with me while in my healing journey. And then my other friend who was right there with me when I saw the barricade, and when I started falling apart in front of police who probably thought I was crazy, and who listened to me curse profusely while she took me to my “recovery family’s” house.

But I’m still angry.

And tonight I want the world to go away. Somehow, I can make that happen by staying awake. I don’t understand why my brain thinks that way, but it does.

Stained Glass Windows

It has been a long week. The days have slipped by, and some days, I’ve been pushed to the edge of overwhelm. My saving grace has been that I ungracefully vomited some of my story last week at a recovery meeting. Tears and all. Falling apart in a way I never do. That moment gave me the courage to seek support when, on 9/11, I started feeling the cracks in my soul. I came away mostly unscathed. The remembrance of national disasters (and I most certainly remember 9/11/2001) isn’t the easiest thing for me to experience as a trauma survivor.

But, I am here.

Today, I am feeling something like acceptance. A quiet knowing that grief, sadness, and pain are a part of life. This little thing we live in, that we dip our toe-sies into every day, that makes us tilt our heads back in laughter or bow them forward in agony, is at once broken, yet stunning.

I keep hearing stories of pain. I am at a loss to understand why some of these heart-wrenching realities are placed in our paths. Sometimes I doubt why they have been placed in my path. A mentally ill (probably narcissistic) father, an isolated, support-less childhood and adolescence, witnessing of the shooting of my twin and younger sister, and then a sad divorce. And those are only the big, big things. That doesn’t include my Azerbaijani student who died in a shooting, or the death of my Grandpa when I was 15. My world was an earthquake! And others’ worlds have earthquakes on a regular basis. I keep seeing it. I keep encountering it, in the dear faces of people I see at least once a week. It grieves me. All of it grieves me. Sickness, death, overdose. Agony, all of it.

Yet this morning, I came again to my recovery meeting. I listened as tangled words of suffering spilled out of the mouths of people I care about. A little thought snuck up on me.

“It’s broken glass that makes stained glass windows.”

Life is jagged. Triangles and sharp stabbing corners. Maybe, though, they all fit together somehow. If we let all the pieces be gathered up by some kind of Higher Power, they get rearranged and set into a mosaic. And through the mosaic, we get the most beautiful, dappled light. Light that flows through those colored panes and makes something of our lives that couldn’t possibly exist otherwise. Our experiences color everything – including these windows. But the pieces have to be broken, first.

And maybe that’s why I fell apart last week. Maybe that’s why we all need to fall apart sometimes.

So, my heart will ache. With you, for you. For me, too. For all of us as we fall apart. Somehow, the pieces we’ve been splayed into will rearrange and become something infinitely lovely, despite the brokenness. That’s what I’m putting my faith in.

“…inside my heart’s black box…”

Once upon a time, I stood at a door. I knocked. One. Two. Three times.

The door to a small house, which had a small front room, and a smaller door under the stairs, and the smallest space where I curled myself up and pretended to not exist. I could hear them calling for me, wondering where I was. I bunched myself smaller. Tinier. Less space for me and more space for air between

me

and

them.

In the small house with the small front room and the small door under the stairs and the tiny space that I was tucked into, I heard the knock upon the big, big door. The one that led to the big world outside.

But the big world was full of light. And people. And noise. And not all the noise was good. I learned that before, once upon a time in that big world. Some noises sounded like sharp cracks of breaking ice in a pond that I fell through, all the way to the bottom.
And here I am in this room.

She’s knocking again and I’m scared. I’m scared because I feel myself expanding, pushing out, reaching out my little hands towards the sound. I missed her. I want to stay small but I keep expanding.

Warring worlds within a tiny little body. All the fighting is going to break her ribcage apart. She’s got Luke trapped in there fighting the Death Star. And Lord knows they call it the Death Star for a reason.

But she keeps expanding, I can feel it while I’m knocking. I can feel her reaching for the doorknob. She’s listening to me singing a lullaby. And no matter how much she wants to hide, the feelings are exploding. I sit down next to the door and wait. I’ve got all the time in the world for this one.

Baby, I’ve got all the time in the world for you,” I said.

You ain’t got no guarantees and this world might take you out the minute you open this door. But I’ve got all the time in the world for you, and I’m not
going anywhere, even when the world closes your eyes. I’m still going to be here.

I could hear her fingers fumbling slowly on her lock collection. First the one at the top of the door, and then slowly all the way down. Five locks. Ten locks. Twenty, maybe. This baby’s got a fortress, that’s for certain.

And this was just the small door to the small closet.

But I can hear her creeping into the big room now. And she sniffs. Something’s crawling up her throat, choking her breath away. All her locks can’t save her now and she’s trying to be brave.

I’m in the bigger room now, the one without all the locks on the little door of the little closet. She won’t go away. She’s just sitting outside the door, waiting for me. Doesn’t she know how bad I am? Doesn’t she know I’m not okay? Doesn’t she know that I’m supposed to be invisible?

She just keeps waiting. I can’t stand it. My nose tickles with something, something that feels foreign. And my throat is clogging up now. I can’t breathe. There’s something weird and wet on my face.

Suddenly I’m done waiting outside this door. That little girl is standing in there and she has got no one. She thinks she has to stay in the little closet and hide away from the world. Someone told her she wasn’t enough, she just wasn’t enough, so she’d better just be nothing instead. I can’t stand it. I can tell – she feels so sad. So lonely. And she isn’t big enough to open this door on her own.

I’m done knocking. I walk in and she’s standing there, in a nightgown, dragging her blankie, a thumb in her mouth. She’s crying like she’s missing something. But she shrinks back from me. She runs back to the closet and slams the door. I can hear the locks.

Oh my darling.” I whispered. I knelt next to the door.

Oh my darling.

There’s no other words for this one. “Oh my darling.

She’s crying. She’s screaming in that closet. All the dark things in that closet are scaring her. But she can’t open the door again.

Oh my darling.

I take a deep breath and I’m watching fingers twitching back and forth and suddenly without warning… the door flies open. A writhing little body catapults herself into my arms, sobbing. And she cries because they died and she was alone, and he hated her, and she was alone, and all the alcohol and love in the world couldn’t cover up the holes she had in her heart because she was so alone. And if she just would have been a little better – everything would have been okay.

And we just cried because it was finally okay to.