How to Respect Gun Violence Survivors on Social Media

A friend of mine requested that I write about this topic, and after seeing a video that’s been circulating my social media lately, I decided it was time.

When you are a shooting survivor, there are certain things that are hard to see in your feed. At least, there are for me, and I’ve heard the same from other survivors.

I’m not asking people to tiptoe around, always trying to figure out what to share in their feed without upsetting someone. Sometimes, things need to be shared that I personally can’t watch, because they’re important for other people to see.

But, here’s the best, BEST thing you can do. If you know that you know a shooting survivor, and you want to share something in your feed that:

  • Directly mentions a shooting
  • Depicts/discusses gun violence themes
  • Depicts/discusses graphic violence (bombings in Syria, for example)

Then I encourage you to send that person a private message, and ask – “should I share this? How can I share this?”

The messages I have appreciated most from friends are when friends have messaged me to alert me that a shooting has happened, so to be careful on my feed. Or to alert me of a particular video I should be careful watching. Or they message me to ask what kind of trigger warning they should put on something before sharing.

These all mean a lot to me and are extremely helpful, because then I can:

  • Make a decision about whether to be on social media that day
  • Make a decision about whether I am okay to view a certain video/read a post
  • Makes me feel considered and protected on my social media account because I know they are thinking about how to label things

On top of all that, I of course do a lot of my own screening for self care. I almost never watch videos out of Syria, for instance, because one of my biggest triggers is children screaming/people in distress. I can’t deal with it, so I choose not to watch it.

Even with doing my own screening, however, I can’t even explain my level of gratitude when I know that people are watching out for me on social media. I so appreciate when they send me a message to ask about how to share or whether to share something. Because one of the shittiest things for me is to be surprised by something in my feed. Getting blindsided by something is a part of a trigger for me, too… there’s a huge element of surprise and sneak attack involved in a shooting, and that’s hard to deal with. So it honestly feels PROTECTIVE for me when people are looking out for my wellbeing.

I also want to address the current video circulating. I’ve seen it mainly from Buzzfeed. It depicts a cute relationship beginning between a boy and girl scratching words into a desk. I (THANKFULLY) knew that the content required a trigger warning before watching it (Thank you, Lauren), or I would have freaked out. At the end, out of nowhere it is revealed that in the background, a student has been planning a shooting all along.

The problematic part of this video for me is the -out of nowhere- piece. There is a significant part of a shooting that is the unexpected factor; someone just starts shooting “out of nowhere.” You get blindsided. In my event, I never even saw the shooter and so there’s an aspect of “out of my field of vision” that’s really triggering for me personally, also.

If I had watched this video without a trigger warning, I would have had a breakdown. It just so happens this video is also circulating this week, and on Friday this week I have the 9th anniversary of my shooting. I don’t always know where I’m going to be emotionally during what I call “anniversary/hell week”, and so it was particularly helpful to have a trigger warning this week. Furthermore – the Sandy Hook shooting anniversary is on December 14th. There are lots of survivors out there right now.

So, with that in mind, I’m asking/imploring you to share this video with a content or trigger warning. Wording like “Trigger Warning: Gun violence/mass shooting” is helpful. Or even “themes of mass shooting.” Something to let us survivors know whether we should choose to watch it or not.  It helps us to feel more protected out in the world, which is sometimes a daily struggle. I think I can speak for more than just me when I say that we would all appreciate your thoughtfulness.

 

Terror Attack or Shooting? – A Poem

Trigger Warning: Mass shootings, gun violence, graphic depictions of violence.
I wrote this poem in response to the talk about the Pulse Orlando shooting being a terror attack because it was perpetrated by “possibly a Muslim”. As a shooting survivor, I have a lot of feelings about that.

Do not tell me what is a terror attack or what isn’t.
You do not know the ice of hearing windows shatter
You do not know the terror of hearing sister is shot
You know nothing of what bullets sound like hitting human flesh
or the screaming of your sisters
or the desperation of being on a phone to a 911 operative
begging them to come because my sisters have been shot
because my twin is lying in front of me on the floor of a minivan
with blood streaming out her nose
and she looks like she’s asleep but she won’t wake up
Do not tell me it is not terror
to try to hide behind a leather seat
to see bullets hitting windshield
to not see where they are coming from
to watch father fall to ground from one piercing him
to want it all to stop, stop, stop
but the bullets are ringing over and over and over
there is so much noise
time is so slow but it keeps going
do not tell me it is not terror
to rip a scarf from your body to try to stop twin sister’s bleeding
to have to look your twin over for an exit wound
do not tell me it is not terror to not have her answer you
to hear your mother saying “I can’t find a bullet hole
I can’t find one, oh God I can’t find one”
do not tell me it is no terror to stumble out of the car
to see other sister on the ground
with face blue from lack of oxygen
to feel your heart fall apart into your stomach as you know she is dying
to have to run from her because the shooter could be returning
to feel your soul is being ripped from your body
because your sisters’ souls are leaving you
do not tell me it is not terror
to wait for news of which hospitals they went to
to know on the way there that twin sister is gone
because you don’t feel her soul next to yours anymore
to watch a policeman speak what you already know while he is trying not to cry
do not tell me it is not terror
when father comes out of surgery, silently looks at you all
looking for the people missing
looks at you and asks where your twin is
and mother is quiet and says nothing so your mouth has to open
you say the worst words you have ever said
“Dad, Stephanie is gone.”
Do not tell me it is not terror
to stand by other sister’s bedside begging for her to come back to you
to sing all of her favorite songs in a desperate attempt for the bullet not to win
to try to cry it out of her heart and take the bullet into your own heart instead
to ask her to please not leave you alone here
do not tell me it is not terror to have the doctors
come out to waiting room to tell you that other sister is gone
that she has left you here alone despite all your begging

you say that a mass shooting is not a terror attack
unless it happens to have a Muslim face behind it
I want to tell you to fuck yourself and wait until you live one.

Doing Something With My Heartbreak

I’ve been away for awhile, but it’s not because I’m sittin’ around, feet up, with a nice cold one in my hand.

I have never been one to do nothing with my heartbreak.

I believe in doing something with what I say. The people closest to me will tell you that my biggest pet peeve is that when someone says something, and then doesn’t follow through on what they say. I refuse to be one of those people.

Remember how I wrote at the end of last year on how to support victims after a mass shooting? And how I also wrote at the end of last year about creating dialogue around gun violence?

Well, I’ve been working very, very hard on things to follow up on both of those. I’ve been a busy little bee, community organizing and meeting amazing people throughout the community.

One of the things that I am helping to head up around creating dialogue is happening this month. On April 17th at 2pm, in my neighborhood, we will be having a silent walk to commemorate victims of gun violence.

Why my neighborhood? Because I live in the Shooks Run Neighborhood, where on October 31, 2015, a man open carried an AR-15, opened fire, and killed 3 people before being killed by police.

It struck close to my heart, in some ways literally and in some ways figuratively. I had to take a month to feel it all.

Needless to say, it’s definitely a part of why I haven’t written. Heartbreak comes in waves. I had to wait out the tide. And the timing was really hard, too, because only weeks before, I’d written my letter to Congress.

Then 27 days later, impossibly, there was another shooting, this time at Planned Parenthood about 2 miles away from me. For the 2nd time in 27 days, my city was on national news. My heart broke.

But with my heartbreak, I did something. I started a GoFundMe and was amazed as the community stepped forward. We raised $1000 in 4 hours over social media to take catered Panera Bread to staff at both hospitals where victims were taken.

I needed my time to grieve… but I have never been one to do nothing with heart break.

Then an opportunity came in early December for me to join a group of artists and community organizers in Colorado Springs. They were all interested in reclaiming safe space, and I jumped at it. The overall heartfelt response from the group was an interest creating de-politicized, safe space around the common heartache that everyone shares around gun violence.

This, honestly, was the only reason I even joined the group. Since the Planned Parenthood shooting, I’ve been very careful not to have much of any political conversation around gun violence. There was so much infighting after that shooting. I wasn’t ready to speak until I had a safe place to speak in. I wanted to be part of a group that brought a safe place to explore the heartache beneath the positions.

The amazing organizers at Common Space Collective that I’m working with are creating that safe space.

And we want to reclaim our common space, so we’re going to have a silent walk.

April 17, 2pm. Corner of Kiowa and El Paso. Walking through the neighborhood taking the same route that the shooter took. Ending at First Congregational Church for a short workshop on how to listen.

This is my town. These are my people. My neighborhood. And I’m doing something like this because I believe in it. I have never been a person to just believe in something without putting action to my beliefs. This is my way to say, to myself and my community – “You are safe here. We’re here with you.”

Join me?


 

RSVP to the Facebook Event here: Silent Walk Honoring Victims of Gun Violence
For more information on Common Space Collective, go here: Common Space Collective

And stay tuned here at my site, more announcements to come!

Supporting Victims in the Aftermath of COS Shootings

On Saturday, I was approached by a community leader wanting to know victim and community impact after a shooting. As a shooting survivor, I have an intimate view on victim support after a mass shooting. And in light of both of the recent shootings here in Colorado Springs, I wanted to let the community know how victims are impacted, and how to move forward.

This is a long post in Q&A format. I kept it long because I feel these ideas are important.

How do secondary victims get help despite being secondary?
First, let’s define what a so-called “secondary” victim is. Victims can often be people you aren’t even aware of. They’re of course the people we quickly think of – friends and family of those who were killed (primary). But there are many others – “secondary”.

For instance: there were people that watched either shooter kill his victims. There were people that heard the gunfire of either event. There were people that lived on the streets where the Halloween shooter began or enacted his rampage (I happen to live on that street myself). There were the hundreds of people who had to shelter in place in the Centennial shopping center on Friday afternoon for 5 hours. There were the hostages that were trapped inside Planned Parenthood until the police were able to extricate them.

In other words, there are a LOT of victims. And it’s easy for them to go under the radar, because unless the news media exploits their story (and I do mean exploit, I’ll explain later) they are unknown to the public.

If you are friends with either a primary or secondary victim, it’s important to know that the experience most likely changed their life forever in some way shape or form. Right now is a time for you to know some mental health first aid:

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If you don’t know what to say – don’t say anything. The BEST thing you can do is to be present, gentle and supportive. Cliched statements such as “well, everything happened for a reason” are much more harmful than helpful.

If you or someone you know was a victim and need more professional help, there is a Community Crisis Recovery Center set up right now to provide resources. If the victim is in the police report, they could be eligible to have mental health costs covered by the 4th Judicial District Victims Assistance Fund (also present at the Community Crisis Recovery Center).

If not covered, many therapists work on a sliding scale – I am putting together a list of COS Trauma Therapists here. AspenPointe also has a 24/7 Community Crisis unit. And if you are on the UCCS campus, utilize the Counseling Center. They have many quality LPCs and PhDs that can provide effective counseling or mental health services.

Also, of great service to me has been the Rebels Project online Facebook group. It is a group for victims of mass shootings and traumatic events to share their experiences with people who understand. This has given me personally a lot of support when I am triggered or processing something.

If you are a secondary victim, your experience is no less important or impactful than if you were a primary victim. If you are feeling fragile and jumpy, it’s okay to get help. If you are feeling frozen or numb, it’s okay to get help. Tell close family and friends what is going on. Ask for support. Find a good therapist. The better support you have, the more likely you will be to emotionally recover.

 

How can the community engage with this somewhat new reality?

It’s important to be aware of mental health first aid, especially knowing that there are many people impacted that you’re unaware of. Be aware that people will have a variety of triggers.

Mine, for instance, are screaming, loud bangs, and men who are behaving in a erratic way. I can also get triggered by news of new mass shootings, if I read the news too much. Sometimes I have to stay off social media after news of mass shootings. I used to also be triggered by sirens, emergency vehicles, and car accidents as well. Other people will have different triggers.

If you know a victim (primary or secondary) be very aware of this. Don’t shut them down for reacting in certain ways. If they literally run away from situations, if they hide from certain things, if they freak out for no reason, this is ALL normal. Those are ALL things that I have done.

Be very cognizant of what you say. For instance, there is a lot of talk right now about how college campuses utilize trigger warnings. It helped me immensely to have trigger warnings. I went to college after my sisters were murdered, and it was by far the place I felt most unsafe. I had a professor who warned the class about a video interview with a serial killer. I was extremely grateful because then I could choose to leave class before sitting there in shock.

I also experienced one of my worst triggers in a class in which a professor made an extremely inappropriate joke about the Aurora shootings. I was dissociated and couldn’t pay attention at all for about 20 minutes. So be sensitive to survivor experience.

Another huge thing is to realize that we will be dealing with this for years to come. It’s been 8 years and I still have triggers, albeit fewer than I did even 2 years ago. As a community, it’s important to ensure that supports remain in place on a continual basis.

We often forget the massive impact of traumatic events because of the media’s short cycle. Realize the victims are probably still processing in some way, shape, or form, even years later. Churches, community organizations, businesses, and schools should be especially aware of this as they endeavor to support their members.

And for the general population – if someone shares with you that they were affected by these events and are still processing, suspend judgment and just be present to their story. Listening and providing your emotional support (without having to say much beyond “I’m here”) is the best thing you can do. But, don’t be afraid to ask what happened! It helps after the media spotlight goes away to know people still care. A good way to ask is, “Do you feel comfortable sharing what happened?

 

While many people have an experience of losing a loved one, how is this different when it is in the public eye?

This changes the experience drastically. There is a whole set of expectations that comes with your tragedy being seen by the whole world (or your whole town, state, etc). Here are some expectations I’ve had placed on me, and my responses.

People (especially the media) expecting victims to tell their storyNo one is constrained to tell their story publicly, even if the media covered the event. It’s up to the person involved. We as victims make the final call on whether we share or not. But, DO feel free to ask us as victims about what happened. A good way to ask is, “Do you feel comfortable sharing what happened?” This leaves it open for us to say yes or no. Often the “yes” or “no” depends upon how safe we feel sharing with you.

People expecting victims to react a certain way emotionally when telling their story (crying, being very upset, etc). – Everyone deals with things differently, and trauma can further distort that. Just because I’m not crying doesn’t mean I’m not upset. But if I’m crying that doesn’t mean I’m falling apart, either. Maybe I’m just having a rough day. Suspend judgment about reactions and realize all of our stories are different.

People having certain ideas about what victims are going through, based on media reports.As victims, we may or may not be shattered by what happened. We may or may not be “over it and stronger as a result.” The media does not reflect our personal feelings most of the time.

People having assumptions about victims beliefs/politics based on media reports or where the event occurred.In my shooting, just because it was at a church doesn’t mean I’m still a Christian. Just because an armed guard took down the shooter doesn’t mean I’m pro/anti concealed carry. Victim beliefs and politics are not necessarily in line with public assumption. Just because a victim’s shooting happened at Planned Parenthood, or as a result of open carry, doesn’t mean their specific beliefs/politics align with the popular assumptions carried around those places or ideas. Be careful to not assume stories based on media representation or current political climate. Let victims tell the stories. Our beliefs are not a way to further a political platform, unless we choose to use them that way ourselves.

People seeing the fact that victims do sometimes choose to tell their story publicly, and telling them that “they’re so strong” for being able to do so.What you see in a victim may not be strength or peace. It may be shock. My repetition of the story immediately afterwards looked like strength, because I didn’t break down and cry. As a matter of fact, it was not strength or peace, it was shock.

Not being able to have your private grief, because the media is looking at you – but then when media moves away, feeling abandoned – When the media is around, the public is completely involved in victim’s private grief. But conversely, when the media turns away, it can feel like the whole world has forgotten about you. Both suck. When it’s public, I felt like I couldn’t grieve the way I wanted. When the media turned away, I felt like my grief didn’t matter. It’s a catch 22. In this situation as a community, we can make sure we continue to support all victims of these tragedies months and YEARS to come (recovery takes years, my friends).

 

 

With the sharing of information at our fingertips, entities are constantly trying to beat each other to this “social equity” , up to the point of obtaining it within minutes of an incident or positive ID.  Have you experienced the feeling of someone using your experience for their gain in social capital? 

Yes. The media especially is skilled with this. I’ve recently chosen to begun sharing my experiences more in the media, in the interest of shutting down the “sides” mentality we have around gun issues and encouraging more dialogue. (This is my position, not necessarily the position of other victims of shootings) When I share, I find my words get skewed. I am often made to sound more traumatized than I actually am. People love disaster stories; I call it disaster porn.

An example: I have widely shared the Gazette article I was recently in because it maintains my greater point, but some of the material was skewed. For instance, I did not hear sirens when I delivered food to the Penrose ER on Saturday morning. [Editthe Gazette has since edited the article]

People often use victim’s stories to further their own aims or viewership. I implore you, local media – please do not exploit victim’s stories to improve your ratings. Be compassionate and aware. And as a community, we all need to be careful that we don’t exploit victims for our own ideas or political platforms.

Are victims of gun violence also a victim of the current politics of gun violence?  Can it be a double whammy (victimized from all sides)? Is there additional impact when the violence speaks from other political arenas?

In a word, yes. This is a huge area where the media can take advantage of victims. Currently, the media tends to portray sides within the politics of gun violence – pro-gun or ban guns. I personally have expressed a middle view of dialogue first, action or possible reform second. I have to be extremely careful how I word this, because if I don’t word it correctly, the media will portray me as being on one side or the other.

After I wrote my letter to Congress, many responses were revictimizing. The worst were people asking me about the armed guard Jeanne Assam that took down Matthew Murray in my shooting. Several people asked me why she didn’t play into what I wrote.

Their questions were indicative of wanting to convert me for one side or the other in the debate (in this case, pro/anti concealed carry). Problem being, they were not at New Life Church that day, and I was. Their attempt to tell me what to believe/write about was revictimizing. It was an attempt to steal my voice as a victim and to use me to further their own politics.

I can’t speak for the victims in these past two shootings. However, my experience has been that victims have a variety of political views, just like the general public does. Therefore:

It is not up to the public to assume any victim’s stance by seeing their status (i.e. police officer), situation (i.e. shooter openly carrying rifle) or where they were on that day (i.e. Planned Parenthood clinic). None of these things give us any real insight on victims’ political views or beliefs, and to assume and place labels on them is to revictimize them.

It is up to the victims of these shootings to state their political beliefs if they so choose. Until then, no assumption should be made about where they stand on any issues. All assumptions made are an act of re-victimization and the public stealing the victim’s voices for their own aims.

 

I want to end with this: Most importantly, we are a community and we need to step forward and support our victims. We need to be sensitive to what they need right now, and careful to not re-traumatize or re-victimize. Between Halloween and the Planned Parenthood shooting, there are hundreds of victims who need us right now. These are just some simple ways that we as a community can support them for the months and years to come.


 

If there are any other questions that anyone is interested in, I am willing to write a follow up post. Please leave your questions in the comments. Commenters from Colorado Springs will have priority.

I’m also interested to hear any other thoughts or in put on this – please share!

 

 

The Courage to Listen

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I’d been practicing meditation for just over a year last June when I decided it was time for a meditation retreat. A Buddhist nun here in town was holding a daylong retreat. I vaguely recall the subject being something about maintaining presence with one’s experiences. I decided to go. As I drove there, I tried to prepare myself. I knew meditation retreats were supposed to be no walk in the park. I tried to get ready for a challenging day.

The challenge I prepared for, however, was not the one I received.

There were a few of us there, 10 or less. We gathered in her little meditation room – a small building essentially the size of a tiny house that had been turned into a meditation hut. It was spartan but efficient, with plenty of meditation pillows for all of us. But instead of beginning with sitting, she had us stand.

“Let’s start with a body scan meditation,” she said.

If I only knew what I was in for, I think I’d run right out of the room at that moment. We began, making our way from our feet up. When we got to the midsection, I was suddenly gripped with intense emotional pain, so deep I wanted to curl up in a ball and sob. It took all I had to stay on my feet. I gritted my teeth and continued through the meditation.

But the pain stayed with me all day. Previous to beginning this meditation, I hadn’t felt the pain at all. Now it felt like an endless abyss of agony. I felt as if I’d fall into the pain and never stop falling.

At one point I asked what to do. It was overwhelming, and I asked how to stay with it, mentioning that I was having a hard time.

“Maybe you haven’t had the community support necessary to stay with it,” she remarked.

I wanted to throw something at her. “Thanks a lot,” I wanted to say. “Can you please give me some?” But I am a tad compliant (most of the time) so I kept my thoughts and the rest of my agony to myself.

By the end of the day I was so internally wrecked that I didn’t meditate again for 4 months, when I began my yoga teacher training. I, who had meditated almost every day for a year.

My yoga teacher training began, though, and so did the precise community support I needed to enter my body again and face the endless and myriad emotions that churned in the pit of my stomach.

My emotions scare me. Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve managed them. Everyone says I am very self aware, they’ve said that since I was at least 16. It hasn’t been used for noble purposes, though. I learned to be self aware, so then I would know my emotions and I could fix them. I’ve been perfecting this habit of fixing for quite a long time now.

As I have slowly come back to my body and simply let the feelings shake their way through me (and often, it’s fear, so lots of shaking) I’ve learned something else. My feelings don’t want fixing.

They want me to listen.

And just like when people complain they don’t want to be fixed, they just want to be heard, my heart has complained the same. Just how when people are simply heard and that becomes the “fix” but even so much beyond it, so that is the “fix” for me. Not really the fix, even… but the healing.

I have been the marionette of my feelings. Allowing them to jerk me back and forth because I understood them as the strings. All the while, I was in actuality the puppeteer.

I stopped dancing about on the strings. I began simply listening. Slowly, I have started to detach my marionette strings. Slowly, like the Velveteen rabbit, I’m becoming real.

The saving grace for me, the way I’ve stopped being puppeted about by reactions to my world, is meditation. The very thing that led me into the fire has been my savior. By coming home to what my body was telling me, I’ve been able to sit and meditate again. And every morning now for quite awhile, I’ve sat down on my cushion and watched. When I’m tempted to get in the ring with my feelings and duke it out, I step back. I just watch.

The therapist I did EMDR with last year used to say, “Notice that.” Now that is something I tell myself on my cushion when a feeling pops up and threatens to overwhelm me. “Notice that.” And instead of getting swept up in the tsunami of the feeling, I watch it crash on the beach. “Hmm. That’s interesting,” I say quietly and gently to myself.

My meditation practice has proved to be invaluable for the dialogue I’ve encouraged on my blog in this past week. In becoming adept in showing up to my feelings, it’s made me available to show up for others, too. “Notice that,” I say to myself when someone responds heatedly to what I’ve written. Notice that.

The poem included in this post’s image is one by Rumi, who speaks of going beyond right and wrong. This is what I’ve attempted to do with my letter to Congress. To circumvent the polarity of “BAN GUNS” vs. “GUNS FOR ALL.” At its core, I think Rumi’s poem is talking about meeting people.

So instead of trying to FIX the problem, I’m trying to start with listening. Because that is where truly meeting with people begins.

Learning to listen started with myself. Learning to listen has been the way that I’ve gone beyond the ideas of “right” and “wrong” that I have within, to find the middle ground.

This is what has thus far carried me through listening to you. I received comments from some of you on my last post that were exceedingly hard to hear. The thing that has held me through dialoguing with those of you with whom I disagree is the steadiness of how I listen when I hold opposing views within myself.

Still, I was wiped out by last Friday, and last Friday, two more shootings occurred. It was a rough day, and the thing that held me through yet again was my meditation and inner listening. Strangely enough, the feelings that flooded me last Friday were strangely similar to the feelings of agony I had when I had that meditation day. But this time, I could sit with them.

This also is what is preparing me for my next post that will clarify my thoughts on gun violence and what needs to be done. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking through the various approaches to gun violence, the various arguments from all sides, and inquiring of my heart what I think will work. This takes a lot of listening. I’m curious to see what unfolds.


How do you deal with your emotions? Do you have a consistent spiritual practice that carries you? How does that work help you to work with large scale issues like gun violence? I welcome your heart and your thoughts in the comments.

Growing Pains

I don certain perspectives with ease. They’re like sunglasses in the sense that they block out certain spectrums of light. Like that one pair of sunglasses that you hate that makes everything look brown.

It’s easy to see life as shit-colored.

Sometimes I wear my sunglasses at night.

That makes it even more difficult.

I was driving home from work one day about 2 weeks ago. Frustrated with myself, upset for feeling so constantly negative. A song came on that reminds me of my sisters, from The Holiday’s movie soundtrack. With tears in my eyes I wished my sisters were here, that things weren’t so hard for me all the time. I was talking to Rachel in my head as I usually do; she was my confidante sister who heard my inner life.

And suddenly I had an image of her, smilingly showing me a picture of myself. I was freaking out, WITH MY OWN HAND OVER MY EYES.

I was covering the light myself.

And I felt like she gently said, “Happiness is not as far away as you think.”

I’m still absorbing that message. Because as Brene Brown talks about, I hustle for worthiness. I hustle for love. I hustle for happiness, and I think that doing things just perfectly will get me there. In fact, one of my favorite perspectives is that IF I JUST DO THINGS PERFECTLY I won’t lose.

I won’t lose the things I desire. I won’t lose happiness. I won’t lose someone I love.

I begged Rachel, in the Critical Care Unit at Penrose Hospital, to stay with me. To be here. I repeated almost word for word the scene from Sense and Sensibility where Elinor begs Marianne not to leave her here alone. I did everything that I could possibly think of. I quoted all her favorite movies, from Harry Potter to Lord of the Rings to the aforementioned Sense and Sensibility. I sang to her. And in the end, she still left. I couldn’t make her stay for me even though I tried so hard. Even though she was the only person in my family who truly understood me, the only one in my family that I actually felt deeply connected to.

Before that, I begged my dad not to leave. I was 10 years old or so, my dad was very angry one night and threatened to go live on his own, without us. He had threatened this in the past while we had all silently frozen in the face of his rage. I changed my mind that night. I was tired of staying silent. Maybe my feelings would change something. So I hurled myself into his arms crying. “Don’t go Daddy. I love you.”

He put me away from him, moved me away… “Stop all that nonsense.”

I shrouded my heart to keep it safe. Maybe if I had held on tighter. Maybe if I had said the right words instead of “nonsense”.

I have tried ever since to hold on tighter and to do all the right things. I lost my grandpa when I was 15, and that shattered me. 6 months after that, I lost my first love, which I blamed my dad for. I lost my sisters. I got divorced. All these things, I tried so hard to hold them all together and they fell apart. About 6 months after I got divorced, I stopped drinking alcohol. A lot of my drinking had been to release myself from the vice of perfection I was holding myself in.

When I took away that crutch, my perfectionism transferred to school and to alcohol/love addiction recovery. I tried to be the perfect person in recovery. I tried to be perfect with my grades at school. This escalated and escalated until last May when I started to see what I was doing to myself. I stopped running. The instant I did, I was overcome by the deepest depression I’ve ever experienced. I’m still not clear on why… maybe because I finally stopped running from falling apart.

I’ve been unraveling it all ever since. I see it as a huge ball. I pull all sorts of strands in, but I have this huge overarching narrative that I like to believe about myself and my life.

“If I can just be perfect I will not lose.” But I can’t be perfect, so I will inevitably lose all I love.

I wish that just seeing that this is going on would eliminate it totally, but that’s not how it works. It’s helpful to be aware that this story is ruling my life, but, then I get to take action.

Which I have been, but change is slow. Especially when there are so many intertwining stories that are connected to this overarching one. And courage is hard to come by sometimes. When I don my usual perspectacles (as dear Glennon Melton calls them) and see only loss in my future, everything gets really black. I lose so much motivation to even go forward.

And so some days it takes all I have to just have the courage to believe what Source/the Universe/my Higher Power (you know, whatever I call that thing these days) seems to be telling me. To just let go and know that It has good things in store for me. Truly good things. And seriously that does take a lot of courage some days to believe. I fight myself, trying to be perfect, until I’m tuckered out and I finally give in. Then I have a cry about my losses because I need to purge the grief, and usually after that purging the world looks a little brighter again. I can see the light again just enough to find strength move forward.

I’m grateful right now for the support I have – a wonderful boyfriend who has persisted in staying by my side, my RootEd satsang who are more precious to me than I could ever put in words, and my new therapist who has valiantly gotten down in the muck with me.

After our immersion weekend for my teacher training last week, something really cool happened. I had brought a plant for the altar as an offering. As I was leaving on Sunday, my teacher asked, “Do you like plants?” and handed me an amaryllis flower, explaining that it needed some TLC. I was thrilled to take it home and put it in my sunroom/altar area. “I’m good at resurrecting things,” I said. Like I was reminding myself.

Then I walked out to my car. Tucked under my wiper blades was a bright, beautiful, colorful bouquet from my boyfriend. I offered a flower. I went home with 3.

These words sprang to mind:

“You are so full of rain,
there is so much that is growing,
hallelujah to your weathervanes,
hallelujah to the ache
hallelujah to your full, to the fall,
hallelujah to the grace,
and every body
and every cell
of us all.”
-Andrea Gibson, I Sing the Body Electric (Even When the Power’s Out)

 

Seeds grow in the dark. Even in the dark where it’s my own hand over my eyes, when it’s my own old stories that hold me back. But that also presumes they are dirt. Which presumes they provide what is needed for that seed to grow.

“You make beautiful things out of dust…” – Gungor, Beautiful Things.

There is so much that is growing. Hallelujah to the ache. To my own precious growing pains. To the sunglasses over my eyes that reveal my need to unveil myself to the world. Hallelujah to it all.

Finding Ground

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Back in February/March, I went to Sayulita, Mexico, and found myself as I have never done before. I went alone. As such, I was required to make my own self care an absolute priority, down to what I ate. While there, I encountered regular thoughts of self-hatred, regular condemnation for the lack of yoga I was doing (I’d planned on going daily while there), and general depressiveness. In spite of all this, I allowed and accepted these feelings with an equanimity that surprised even me. My big “S” Self stepped into the picture and held all the shifting in her great arms.

On the way home, I finally admitted to myself that I didn’t want to go to school for counseling, not now. This was groundbreaking, since I’d been wanting to go to school for counseling since I was 15 (so, for 10 years). What I did not realize is that this was the first of many shifts in my life this year.

I held onto my equanimity for about a month, and then my world began to tilt and I could feel my Self falling back under the influence of my scared ego. I became smaller again.

I started a supervisor position at work, which was much more difficult than I expected considering I have never been a supervisor. It was also difficult in the sense that I was officially dropping my dream of going to school.

I met a boy. We talked for a little while, then I shut him out, from fear. But this experience made me realize that I lacked spontaneity in my life generally, and that my program for love addiction was hindering me, rather than helping me. Instead of forming my own ideals about love and relationships, I was looking to others to do so for me. I decided to step away from my love addiction program, which I had participated in for almost 2 years, and in which I had completed all 12 steps required and a dating plan.

The same week I decided to do this, I moved to a new apartment. This was a mere 2 weeks after another incident at my old apartment, where someone broke into the basement below my apartment. This was the SECOND such incident I’d had in a year and a half of living there. I didn’t find out until last month (via my dad) that the 2nd guy also had a gun and fired at police. I had thankfully left the apartment by that time.

But it didn’t end there. In stepping away from my love addiction program, I also shifted my alcohol recovery. I’m not regularly attending 12 step recovery right now, though I continue to stay sober and in touch with my sponsor. I am choosing sobriety right now for this reason: I use alcohol to numb. In general in my life, what I am attempting to do is eliminate all things which I use to avoid the present and my true Self. As such I choose to continue to stay sober from alcohol at this time.

And then on June 29th, I started dating Kevin.

This completely ungrounded me. I had already had so much shifting happening in my life. From the very beginning of our relationship, I’ve struggled with massive fear. I’m not talking about the usual relationship worries and nervousness. I’m talking about flat out panic.

I am ashamed to say that it has taken me 5 months to regain myself. And there are prices to pay for not being yourself in a relationship. I am not at all proud of my behavior. I caused a lot of pain and have had to beg forgiveness. Yet on the other hand, I look at myself with compassion.

So much of this year has been about finding who I am, and not living others-defined. My entire life, I have lived defined by what others want of me. Growing up, if we didn’t fall in line with my dad’s dream of God giving us 1.7 billion dollars, we were verbally harangued. I went straight from that into a marriage that I felt like “GOD” was telling me to be in, with a dysfunctional man who was sadly a pornography addict. I finally stepped out of this, and straight into recovery programs that were very structured and I continued living by others’ ideas. I am not saying that my recovery programs were unhelpful. What I am saying is that my perception of how to “work” them caused me to again base my life on what others told me to do, when what I needed was empowerment. Truly, the biggest reason I have not returned to meetings is that I am still unable to change my perception on it, and know that I won’t until I have gained enough ground in myself.

Beginning with my decision to not go to school this year, it has been the year of unraveling living the life I was “supposed” to live, or told to live, or felt like I HAD to live… for the life that I want to live. Not in a selfish “I want to do this and fuck everyone else” sort of way, rather, in a healthy, skillful, heart-centered way. To do this I’ve had to find who it is that I am, without all the structures I’ve made myself up of.

So I suppose it was somewhat natural to go into a relationship and struggle with this very thing. Not allowing myself to feel whatever it was that I felt, out of fear that I would a) screw the whole thing up and be in another unhealthy relationship and b) cause great harm to someone else.

Ironically and very unfortunately, I caused great harm to my boyfriend, while trying to avoid it. Lesson learned. Do not abandon self, no matter what. No matter how much your feelings are scaring you, do not abandon self. Do not abandon feelings.

Thankfully, I found my yoga program just at the right time. The entire program is about becoming a teacher from the foundation of becoming your true Self. And the whole program EMPOWERS you to become your true Self instead of giving rules to follow. Through my yoga program, I’ve come back to myself.

I’ve written here about Patanjali’s sutra I.23 – Ishvara Pranidhana Dva. The sutra of surrender. The theme of the past 5 months has entirely been surrender, since the very start of my relationship. My relationship really began with the movie The Fountain, a story that I see as one of surrender, ultimately.

On Friday, I looked up at the sky and asked the Universe, please let me know I am on the right path. Make it clear, startlingly clear for me, what I need to do. Within fast succession, BOTH things occurred (I should not have been surprised). Later that day at work, I found a poem in an old notebook, one I wrote before my boyfriend and I really even started talking much, about the terror of living in an overwrought mind, and the way past it (death/surrender), that used symbolism of an exploding star (a theme in The Fountain). I took this instantly as knowing “I am in the right place.”

On Saturday, I was standing in my work breakroom and I read yet another graphic on Facebook about surrender and grace. With tears in my eyes I fell to my knees and said, “Okay. Fine. I hear you. I’m done. I will feel whatever I feel.” That night, I went to our local poetry open mic. I saw a woman walk in, and as soon as I saw her, I knew that whatever she spoke would be for me. Her poem? It was on surrender and releasing, healing wounds to heal karmic patterns. I was floored.

And Sunday, my yoga training met again. We have been doing root chakra work, lots of it, and yesterday learned a set of asana poses specifically targeted for the root chakra. We spent 2.5 hours on these poses, which was grueling and exhausting. I felt somewhat resentful that we spent so much time in them, that the teacher was pushing us so much and so quickly. But I had a series of questions that came to me as we worked together Sunday. As these questions came up, I started to feel a stronger sense of Self.

“What if I am desperately craving connection with myself?”
“How do I bring growth to that way of being?”
“In what ways can I support my heart opening?” – this, as I realized that I have to find security and strength in root chakra before I can open up through my heart.

After our asana practice (mostly thigh/leg work) and these musings, I went and hiked the Incline with my boyfriend. I was finally just there, breathing, feeling whatever I felt with him, surrendered to what is. It was a great hike, and despite all the leg work I’d already done, I had a huge endorphin high. We got to the top just as dusk fell, so we headed back down Barr Trail as it got dark. For about half the trail, I was behind him, and we alternated running and hiking steadily. And as we hiked, something hit me.

“No matter what happens with us, I will be okay.” And I knew it all the way through myself, to the very marrow of my bones. I felt like I was snapped back into my body and was instantly flooded with an intense joy, at the reunion with myself. Something about feeling the ground underneath my feet, and the burning in my thighs and legs from the hike and the root chakra asana practice (which I am convinced brought on a lot of this transformation), brought me back to myself.

I am supported. Not because someone else holds me up, but because I am enough and I hold myself. This is surrender, to myself, to the knowledge that I have what it takes to hold the world within me.

This return to myself feels like touching the solid ground after being at sea for months. There is a sense of great relief, and bliss at reunion with my true Self. I remember the woman I was from Sayulita, the one who I truly am. The one who allows and lets life unfold and is not afraid to feel it all, because I am expansive, strong, resilient.

I can’t stop the glimmer of fear that I will lose myself again. But, I will breathe, and allow the fear, and keep surrendering. I know this truth: as long as I continue to surrender, I will always find Her.

It’s been a long journey over the sea of my ego-driven self, but I am finding ground. I am finally home.

Final Note: I don’t think it is a coincidence that I am writing this on December 8th, and scheduling it to post on the 7th anniversary of the death of my sisters. This year has been one of transformation – and every 7 years, a person’s body sheds all their skin cells and gains a completely new set of them. I am in a new skin now, 7 years later, truly transformed on a physical and spiritual level. And I would not be who I am without my sisters. Deep bow to you, my dear hearts, and two of my greatest teachers.