Sunday, March 12, 2017

What's this Blog for?

This woman, Emily Esfahani Smith, touches on one of the reasons I keep this blog. I saw this on PBS Newshour today: 

“In recent years, psychologists have started looking more closely at how the single-minded pursuit of happiness affects us, and they have come to what seems like a counter intuitive conclusion: Chasing happiness and obsessing over it, the way our culture encourages us to do, can actually make people unhappy and lonely.

But it’s different when we set another goal for ourselves, when we search for and pursue meaning in life.

Human beings are creatures that yearn for meaning. When we look up at the stars, for example, we don’t see random balls of fire. We see swans and bears, we tell stories and myths, and we wonder about where we came from, our place in the universe, and how we can make our lives count.

Making a narrative out of the events in your life provides clarity. It offers a framework that goes beyond the day-to-day. It’s the act itself, and not necessarily sharing their story with others, that helps people make sense of themselves and their lives. And we all have the power to tell or to re-tell our life story in more positive ways."

I write here, crafting my own personal narrative around healing from trauma. In doing this, I find purpose and meaning in life. I hope, through reading, you think about your life, your personal narrative and meaning.  I hope you share your meaning, your story, too - we are all here for different reasons, evolving through different joys and different challenges. Learning from each other's experience strengthens us all. 😊

Saturday, March 11, 2017

finding purpose through pain

I watched this PBS NOVA episode called Iceman: Reborn.”recently; it explores the life of a 5,300 year old man found buried in ice in the Italian Alps in 1991. Researchers found 61 tattoos on his body – 61! The tattoos are mostly straight lines in different configurations and patterns.  They are grouped in specific areas on his body; in areas he was experiencing a lot of pain.

Researchers think Ötzi suffered from a whole host of painful, chronic conditions.  Like arthritis in his wrists, knees, feet, and spine.  They think the tattoos were a kind of ancient acupuncture as they were in areas acupuncture targets for inflammation in the joints and seem to be more strategic than decorative. Looking at the tattoos all over his body, its pretty apparent that this guy must have been in a lot of pain! But, he was always on the move.  Hunting, maybe trading. Climbing mountains.

I think about this man, who lived over five millennia ago, who felt the same kind of pain I do, in the same places.  I think about him climbing mountains.  I bet he felt pain every day.  Every day I feel pain, too.  I think about him walking the mountains as I slowly descend and ascend the stairs to my 2nd floor apartment, wondering how he managed through it.  Years ago I might have judged myself saying something like, he climbed mountains, you struggle with stairs.  But I’ve learned since then that pain is pain.  And the best way to heal is through compassion.  Something that made me smile was that they found him with a kind of mushroom we now know helps with inflammation but wasn’t something we thought humans that long ago understood.  We tend to put what we think people before us knew and understood in a limited place of understanding.  That seems to be a box we are continually breaking down and in the process of reshaping our understandings, re-creating.  I hope as we are continually reshaping what we see before us, whether it’s before us in the present or rethinking the past, we always leave space to expand our perspective.

Looking back at this week, it was a particularly painful.  I realized this week I’ll probably have to quit taking the metro to work in the mornings because it’s becoming too painful to walk or climb stairs in the beginning of the day.  Tuesday, as I limped into the office, I was nearly in tears not only because of the pain but because of how limited I’ve become some mornings. 

But, because of my limitations, I’ve also been given some unique opportunities to slow down. To schedule less. To be present right now. To plan each day in the moment, based on how I feel and what I can do now.  Walking and moving slowly also gives me pause to think. As I move. About many things. About Icemen and mountains and the resiliency of the human spirit – through pain.  Walking up the stairs yesterday I thought, Ötzi had to keep moving. 

Arthritis is interesting; it forces you to live in between the ashes and the flame of motion.  You have to move; enough to keep the pain from rooting in your bones and joints like cement but not so much that the you catch fire and become inflamed. 

Ötzi moved out of necessity.  And so do I.  I am strategic and judicious in how I move.  I am limited not only in how I move but how often I move.  For a few months I was pretty scared I would trip and fall on my hands.  My wrists are quite inflamed much of the time and so it’s hard to bend them and very painful when I try to bear any significant weight with them. 

I’m not scared anymore; more mindful.  It would hurt like hell if that happened but sometimes, life hurts like hell.  I bet Ötzi hurt like hell sometimes. Sometimes we fall. And even if it hurts and I fall on my hands, I’m still catching myself as I fall.

This isn’t the first experience I have with chronic pain that hurt like hell.  Before the arthritis/lupus/mixed connective tissue pain I felt pain. Deeper pain. Deeper than my bones.  Subcutaneous pain.  Internal.  Heart pain. Head pain. Soul-wrenching, falls of the spirit pain.
I feel like my whole life, I have been falling.  But not falling down, falling through and I think eventually, up.  

It started when I was very young. Each time someone used my body for their own means, I felt pain in  my body but most importantly, I felt it in my heart.  Sexual abuse is a spiritual assault as much as, if not more, than a physical assault.  It’s a stab to your heart, a penetration in the place you grow love. From wounds to the place from which we birth human life.  The place from which my son emerged into this life.   

That pain and how I learned to live with it, work through it, is the origin of this pain I’m feeling now. Today, it is just closer to the surface. Which is a good thing.  A good sign.  Despite the pain. The pain is service of something greater.  Wellness. Pain working its way out.

It started as heart pain, spirit pain. Healing the heart and the spirit requires compassionate listening, and sometimes gentle therapy. Always love. It took me a while to get to the bottom of the pain in my heart and invite love in.  You can try to do heal the heart by pushing through or with what many call mental strength but when you aren’t actually healing the heart. You are finding band aids. 

Many people tell themselves to heal. Many people treat healing as a strategic and annoying exercise. How can I maximize healing while minimizing effort and discomfort? You can’t do this with the heart and that approach will only heal the surface.  It won’t get you to the depths of pain from abuse, trauma or loss.  And those kinds of pain, after they are inflicted, live in the heart.  To heal the heart you have to listen first and thoroughly, however painful. And even though painful, it is a truly beautiful experience to heal the heart.  Healing the heart, although painful, can bring so much joy. 

Healing my heart and spirit became an urgent endeavor at a young age.  I began fantasizing about suicide by the time I was five; by the time I was ten, it was dangerous.  I’ve spoken to many people who don’t believe children can be suicidal at all. I think they imagine all children to be in a blissful state of ignorance.  And many are but I wasn’t.  Ever really.  One of the things I had to heal my heart from was loss.  The loss of my childhood.  When you are forced into very adult situations as a child with no control over what is done to you or your body, you lose any idea that life is blissful and you work fast to become as least ignorant as you can. 

There are many painful things about being forced to heal from pain at a young age but there are many good things, too.  And, if I didn’t do that work then, I’m not sure I could handle the intensity and frequency of the pain I’m feeling now without falling into a deep depression.  I struggle some days emotionally because I am in so much pain and so tired, but those feelings pass. Because I’ve been working on matters of the heart for over 25 years.  And I’m grateful for that. Not for the abuse, but for who I’ve become in response to the abuse and how that training in listening and working with my heart has prepared me to deal with how my body is in pain today.   

I was talking to a co-worker last week about having rheumatoid arthritis.
After saying, “The good thing about arthritis is that it’s often worse in the morning and gets better as the day goes on.” He looked at me and said, “I didn’t know there was a good thing about arthritis!” 
I laughed at that thinking, but there are. 

There are good things about everything.  And I think that’s one of the great challenges in life.  To see the suffering, to feel the pain -in ourselves or others - but, in the same hand, hold the light.  Feel love. 

I know there are many, many other people, now adults and children who feel pain. In their hearts. In their heads. In their bodies. In their spirits.  We are all healing in some way shape or form.  There are people walking around who have reached a place of existence where they can see and accept the pain but don’t see it or feel it as good or bad. It just is.  It doesn’t hinder their ability to experience the joys that exist in each and every present moment.  I think seeing and accepting pain in ourselves is a part of the journey to that place.  I think it takes lifetimes for most people. 

 I don’t know what lifetime I’m on but I know I’m on a journey. One step at a time. However slow. And I’m walking the same Earth with the same kinds of pain people have been walking this Earth with for millennia upon millennia.  

We are not walking alone.  We are not feeling alone.  We are also not abusing each other alone.  In each opportunity we have to heal ourselves we are also given the opportunity to heal human society. Step by step, with each life.  And I think a big part of that is connecting.  Through love, through joy and through pain.  

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Organizing the Kitchen

I'm in pain. right now. and every day. I didn't used to be. About two years ago, chronic pain became a part of my life and it's never left. In December, I learned more about what was going on.  I have more than of a few conditions that are encouraging my body to attack itself.  Like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.  

I've hesitated in sharing this online for a while. I wasn't ready to be that vulnerable.  I've accepted the pain but it's been much harder to accept how vulnerable I can feel when dealing with the chronic pain. I'm significantly limited in how I can use my hands, how I walk most days,and what I use my back and knees for. I don't like feeling limited in how I can use my body, especially in public. But, because I walk to the metro about to and from work everyday, I've had a lot of practicing accepting vulnerability in public.  Most days it hurts to walk at least in the morning if not all day. I don't mind walking slowly because its less painful; it has been hard to accept that people you don't know can tell you are in pain, can tell you are limited, can tell tell you are vulnerable. Just by looking at you. That also happens when I'm at work and trying to hold things, or open a drawer.  At this point, I'm ok with how I move alone in my home.  I've learned new ways to brush my hair or use knives because of my hand and finger pain.

But in public, it's different. I can't change how I have to walk some days, but, I've learned to look at how I walk in public differently. Instead of it being a handicap, I'm learning to see it as opportunity, to slow down. And it is. It makes it easier to pick the empowering choice when you realize you don't have to see things in certain ways. Many other people in society might see how I have to use my body as a handicap. Bu to me, it's an opportunity. To listen and slow down. And, that way of looking at it is just as accurate.

But it wasn't until now I felt uncomfortable sharing this new experience with physical vulnerability online.  I've shared other experiences of vulnerability on this blog.  And in many ways, this blog was created as a way to share how experiences of pain and vulnerability can be transformed into opportunities for strength and growth.  A place to share and encourage healing. And I'm ready to do that now with this new evolution of chronic pain in my healing journey.

Today, I was in the kitchen, trying to organize  cabinets for the first time in months. Looking at my cabinets, I knew doing this work would be painful. There would be moving and shuffling and lots of use required from my fingers, my wrists, my shoulders and my knees.  Those things were already aching, but I wanted to do it; it sounded both meditative and energizing.  And the sun was out, shining in that crisp, cold almost-spring way.  I'd rested most of yesterday because of pain and fatigue and wanted to do something productive. I wanted to organize my kitchen so when I looked around I felt a sense of peace seeing the space and organization.

There is something both meditative and energizing about things like organizing for me. Doing meditative and energizing things helps me listen and find balance between my heart, my head and my body.

I worked on part of the kitchen.  Under the sink. And was happy with it when I as done. As I tried to get up, my knees felt tight. But, they also felt a bit bruised, like the bottoms of my feet do most mornings. Standing there, I felt the pain throughout my body in that moment and I saw a picture of my body, with all the areas in pain inflamed. Red was everywhere...hands, fingers, wrists, knees, feet, neck, shoulders.. I thought about the RA and the Lupus. And the mixed connective tissue disorder. About the thyroid stuff.  About how after a day and a half of resting I still tire quickly.  And, I became scared. I thought about how the pain has spread over the last few years. I worried about what would happen if it didn't stop. If these illnesses took over. Trying to reason with myself, I took a breath and said this just means you have to be careful.  You have to take care of yourself. My body ached all over. I felt sad.

I took another breath, trying to keep positive and looked at where my plates and cups and things were. Then I looked at where I put my dry foods and had an idea that lit me up for a second. If I switched the contents of both cabinets, the pantry with the plates, it would make my kitchen easier to use while I was cooking.  My knees surged with a tight pain in the next moment and looking down at my fingers they were swollen. I was exhausted. I'd barely worked thirty minutes and needed to rest. Even though I wanted to take on this project, I faced the pain and realized I couldn't do it.

I think at a different time in my life, I would have gotten upset by that.  I would have felt more defeated.  And at times, I do feel defeated with this pain.  At times I cry, I feel like I've lost something.  I get upset thinking about what I used to be able to do.

But I always stop. Because they are stories. It's ok to feel sad or upset over the loss of something. I let myself cry. Looking to the past at what I used to be able to do doesn't help me see what I can do now. Which is why I stop saying defeat.  It's a challenge.  To face something new and however challenging, however painful, empower and support myself as I work through it.

At a different time in my life, I wasn't telling myself these things.  I was sinking into a different kind of pain. Of wound.  It wasn't in my hands, or my feet. It was in my heart.

Leaving the kitchen, I sat down at my table. And realized, it's time to share.  It's time to connect. We are all healing. We are all facing challenge. And so I wrote this post.

To myself and to those of you also experiencing pain and trying to heal: we are not our pain. We don't deserve this. There is nothing wrong with us inherently to invite this.  Pain is not bad, it is an opportunity. To listen to our bodies, our hearts and our minds. And grow from it.

We are all working through something.  We are all on journeys. Amazing journeys. And as we live, as we grow, we are challenged.  We are traveling. The more we continue to connect with ourselves and others on this journey, the more we accept everything, including hardships, as opportunities to grow, the more we work to heal our wounds and have faith we are going somewhere amazing, the better. For us all.  We aren't all practicing this. But we all can. We are all brilliant spirits traveling through space and time.   We are all given opportunities to grow.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

National Museum of African American History and Culture Opening: Sept 24, 2016

This country was built on the backs of black men and women, forced into slavery.  Our country wouldn’t be what it is today if we didn’t have the free and arduous labor black men, women and children provided in the fields and on the plantations.  How our early economy faired paved the way for American to sustain independence.  But black lives weren’t only used for economic reasons – they were enslaved for social reasons too.  Black slaves dressed their masters in fine clothes while they lived in rags. They cooked and served five course meals while they ate cornmeal, lard and molasses.  They often couldn’t even have the left overs without getting whipped or worse.  And whipped not with a belt, but a hard chord of leather that had fragments of sharp glass on the ends.  Slave women nursed and reared master’s children while their own children were ripped from their arms to be sold to the highest bidder, often before the kids were even five years old. Learning to read or to better yourself in anyway was sometimes even punishable by death.

Many people don’t know much about the lives of slaves. Most schools don’t want to talk about things that could disturbing children or parents. Society, by and large, doesn’t want to face this stuff either.  Things that make us feel sad or scared or ashamed. 

credit: Phil Freelon of
Today is an important day. Our black president cut the ribbon of entry into a museum dedicated to this important history and culture.  The National Museum of African American History and Culture. A history that we as a nation have been reluctant to face, because of our shame and our fear.  It's time to face this history and all of our history, America.  It's time to come clean. We’ve been inching forward with this mission for some time, making progress. The museum also celebrates that, too – the resiliency, the strength and the beauty of African American history and culture.  And what resiliency to have come from such a history to be standing strong today. What strength. Think about music, sports, food in American.  Church.  Much of our music today has roots in black culture.  Watch football? Or baseball? Or how about even tennis with the Williams sisters?  How beautiful, to take something so painful and build into the societies and communities existing today.  

But this is not only a call for facing that part of our troubled history.  Let’s keep the conversation going, standing not only with our black sisters and brothers, but our native sisters and brothers, our Latino and Irish and Jewish sisters and brothers, and every other race or ethnicity we've othered out of fear or greed.  Conversation by conversation. Museum by museum. Day by day.  Let’s dig up our roots and rebuild.

I’m ready to stand in front of the slave cabin, the auction block and the slave shackles the Museum has in its collection.  But, I’m also ready to stand next to Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves and Louis Armstrong’s trumpet.  Facing fear and celebrating strength. Beauty. Resilience. 

This museum isn’t just for African Americans, but for all Americans.  This is all of our history.  We all have work to do and we all have gifts to contribute.  Towards a future we all share. 


Thursday, August 18, 2016

His mom

Reading with my son on FaceTime started my evening off on the right foot. My day was ok, but after the busy-ness of work was over and I got home, I felt a little, eh. Driving to Costco and buying new contacts sounded tiring. The idea of going to the gym didn't stir up any feelings of motivation or excitement. Dinner options were, meh. Sitting there on my couch, trying to motivate, I called my son. We read the beginning of the next book in this series we love. We read, were delightfully interrupted by two of his brothers, both toddlers and read some more. It only took a few minutes for me to feel my chest lighten. As we connected over the excitement in the story, the sadness, the silliness, I felt better. Watching him giggle over small jokes through FaceTime lit my heart. When we hung up, I smiled and thanked the universe for my son. For my life. For being given an opportunity to see the beautiful things - the things that help make things lighter. Learning to see and be open to accepting those moments of lightness, in my heart, has been a journey. The existence of my son has been a big part of that. A foundational part. There have been many times as hard as I tried to see light, I couldn't. Times that were much worse than, eh. I've been practicing, for a long time now, how to see I can feel differently. Life is so many things. Before us at any moment we have material to work with - cultivated both from within ourselves and from others and life around us. Material that evolves and changes over time. Material that we shape, either consciously or not, into what we understand to be our realities. Our ever evolving understanding of ourselves in each moment of existence. And, I think, clearly and non-jugementally seeing what is before us is probably the first real step in recognizing what we can truly do with that material. My son reminded me of what I needed today to be able to face some slightly painful reflections in the material before me today. Love. And connection. To the person who matters most to me. After we got off the phone, I put on my running shoes and went for a run. I felt like I was gliding through the air, shifting my weight and balance as I advanced forward. I felt rooted. Open and connected. To the world and life around me and inside me. Going to sleep tonight, I feel my son in my heart. Beating. He comes from there and when I feel him at home, in my heart, it beats stronger. With more depth. He starts middle school next week, and although at times my heart feels heavy being so far away, it also feels light and full, because we are connected. Like this message he left me on his drawing/white board easel: "we are always connected." The green lines are the lines from our hearts connecting to one another. He wrote this for me as a message from him to me for when I was sad and missed him. I look at it everyday - sometimes out of sadness, sometimes out of gratitude. Always with love. I got pregnant at 18 and had my son when I was 19. I don't recommend this for everyone, but for me, his birth and his life couldn't have come at a more needed and meaningful time. He'll be 11 in February and I don't know what my life would be without him. I thank the universe every day that he chose me to be his mom.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Building depth

Being a distance parent is hard. Being a parent is hard. You give a lot but you get a lot, too.  You grow a lot. You learn a lot.

I think the biggest universal thing you learn as a parent is how to love deeper; and for me, that is a journey my son leads. He shows me the ways he is beautiful. He shows me his heart. His mind. His love. When he is testing me and pushing me, as all kids do, I have to learn to love deeper in another way.  And, it's those moments where he shows me the ways he is beautiful, his heart, his mind, his love, that I hold on to in learning to love deeper that way.   

In some ways, I think one of my most important practices is to learn to see the pushing and testing as opportunities to respond with more of an open-heart, through earning to empathize with where he is when he is pushing and testing.  To me, this means, stepping back from the pushing and testing and holding the space for him to feel it.  Because, if I want him to share with me what he is feeling when he is struggling, I need to create a space for him to fully feel without judgement, criticism or shame.  Just love.  Holding the space for him to explore those emotions in a healthy way. And, in holding the space, teaching him how to rethink things to maybe feel better.

My son was upset tonight.  He did something to ground himself to his room for a few weeks and feels angry about that.  I didn’t push him when he didn’t want to tell me why he got in such big trouble and I realized during the conversation, that was ok.  My job as his mom, who lives far away right now, is to hear him.  Is to support him.  Is to show him how much I love him.  

So, instead of talking about what he did wrong, we talked about things that made him happy.  Things that made him feel good.  We talked about our cat.  The one we, with my brother, picked out on his last visit in February.  And, what he said, astounded me.  Not because it was something that I was surprised by, but because it was one of those moments that I could feel how deeply I loved him. It felt like an effortless love in that moment, something so rooted. As it is.

We were face-timing and the cat was snuggling my face.  Our cat, Lynx, is a really affectionate, loving cat. He just wants to snuggle all day.  And I said that'; that Lynx would just snuggle all day.. A big smile crossed my son’s face, and I asked, “What?”

His smile was loving and sweet. “See, you have someone to keep you from getting lonely, now.” 

My son has wanted me to get a dog or a cat for years because I’ve lived alone for as long as he can remember.  He’s been worried, since he was five years old, that I would be lonely.  He lives with four brothers, two cats, two dogs and chickens.   So, I knew what he meant, I knew where this was coming from and it warmed my heart.

I said, “Yes! And you helped me pick him out.” He smiled again, saying, “I knew just the right cat that would make you happy.”

That dropped me into such a beautiful place. Of love and connection.  And, I said, “Yes, babe, you did.  You really did.”

Looking at me with a deep kindness, he said, “You notice how I didn’t say thing?”
I paused for a second, astounded again, realizing what he was referring to. “Yes, I do. Because he’s not a thing, he’s family.”

“Exactly,” he said pausing a moment. “Yep.”

We’ve come a long way, him and me. I used to struggle with being far away when he was struggling, in whatever way.  I used to not be able to hold the space, I used to need to know more because I was struggling with not being there. 

But, holding the space is for him and me.  It teaches him and it grows me.  My son is such an integral part of my, everything.  And how things have unfolded, although very difficult and full of heartbreak, have also been full of growth. And love. And learning.

And, in holding the space, I gave him a gift and he gave me a gift.  Both created out of love.

Grateful for today; not all connections with my son are this nourishing. And that’s hard when I’m far away. But today nourished me and I'm going to sleep happy. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Closer to Love

I adopted a cat a little over a month ago who hadn't ever lived in a home. To help him adjust to the transition, the first day I got home from work, I dropped everything, got down to his level by laying on my belly to pet and snuggle with him. I'd been gone from 7a to 5p and I could only imagine how lonely he was.  He needed that I think, and I made a point to show him he was safe. That I would come back and I loved him. That began a practice, a routine for us.  We did that everyday. And, soon enough, he'd settled in.  And, now, we are pretty cozy together. I can't imagine my life without my little snuggle buddy, even if he does wake me up meowing for food early every morning.

The last few days hes seemed to have more anxiety when I got home.  He didn't seem to want to end snuggling and followed me around meowing for a while.  So, I though, maybe he's becoming bored all day! So, I started playing with him longer.  Everyday, we play with those wands with cloth or something attached to it for the cat to try to catch and pounce on. He runs around the whole apartment! I throw little mice beanies for him to tackle and we end with pretty vigorous scratch and message sessions.  I take care of him like he's a life I love, because he is. He is my pet companion and I am his person one.  To me, a companion is someone who will try to listen for what I truly need and support me in finding it.  And I try to be that as a companion. 

Today, he seemed like he wanted to run around again and we did for a while.  And then I just wanted to sit. Lay down. I've been sad. Which isn't a bad thing - people hear sad and say, oh I'm so sorry but sadness has it's place. A mentor of mine once said allowing yourself to really feel sadness, to really sit in it, can allow you to experience a kind of dignity.  A kind of acceptance that feels supportive and meaningful.  

The last few days have been full of emotion - all kinds. Emotion that has helped me move forward. Not all bad but it has been challenging and exhausting at times.   He followed me into the room - meowing, pacing back and forth.  I thought it was because he wanted to play more. I said, maybe later as I sat down on my bed, checking my phone and pulling up a show on my ipad.  

As I looked down at him, playing by my feet, I realized, he didn't want to run around. He wanted to snuggle.  Sometimes, I lay on my bed and he lays on my chest, like a baby. So, I put down my phone and my ipad and let him crawl into his baby position. While he was snuggling into me, I looked at him, his little eyes closed, purring.  He was just happy laying there, snuggling. If felt like, showing me he loved me. And for a moment, I thought, I wonder if he's sensed me struggling. Sensed me sad. And he thought, and felt, let me love you.  

I realized, maybe it wasn't him who needed the extra attention the last few days, Maybe it was me. And maybe it was him, sensing I needed to snuggle and feel close to something I loved.  

So we did.
<This is from the day he came home with me and my son.