Monthly Archives: December 2014

Fuck Vulnerability.

1stphone6I didn’t want to be at the mercy of someone else so easily—nor at the mercy of my own, willingly open, heart.

“…to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen, to love with our whole hearts even though there’s no guarantee, to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of kind of terror when we’re wondering can I love you this much, can I believe in this this passionately, can I be this fierce about this, just to be able to stop and instead of catastrophizing what might happen—just say, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable, means I’m alive.”
~Brene Brown

Some days I don’t know if I can “dare greatly,” “live my vulnerability” and “choose authenticity.” I think I’ve failed miserably today at this thing I am calling my new, vulnerable, wholehearted life.

In fact, I think I fail at it a lot.

And if that shame-vulnerability goddess, Brene Brown, had been within range today… well, let’s just say it would not have been pretty.

I found myself thinking about the “slug fest” she spoke of having with vulnerability in the early years of looking at shame. “Vulnerability pushed; I pushed back. I lost the fight, but I won my life back.”

I went into fear this morning over an email, got right again quickly with the person who had sent it—oversight, human error, totally understandable and not even in need of forgiveness it was so innocently written/sent, but then spent most of the day beating myself up that I had gone so easily and quickly into fear and doubt.

Where is my trust and faith? Where is the “center” I speak of so self-confidently (so arrogantly?) when all is well, when I have not just allowed a simple email to peel me back to the quick? Have I learned nothing, then?

Where was my head and heart? Why, when things come at me seemingly sideways, do I still assume the worst? It’s one more item on the list of things I like least about myself.

I sat there, carefully reading the email over and over, wondering how I could better interpret it, trying to read the very best into it, assume good intent—and finally ended up just flat out failing, just giving in to the pain it provoked.

I sat at my computer and cried.

I am embarrassed to say that at that moment I did not want to address that email at all. I did not want to do my usual and attempt to speak not from a place of fear but try and find a kinder and more careful place from which to ask for clarification.

Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Go directly to—anywhere but here—just go!

I simply wanted to flip the sign on the door to my heart to “closed out of business,” do a quick, well-executed about-face and run—run right out the back door and not stop—ever.

And I can still see the view out that back door. That door opens out onto a depressing, wide, flat, dry plain of land with a sunset oranging and pinking its way to sleep. There are single, spaced, lonely highline poles with one thick cable suspended, scalloping off into the distance across that plain, the poles growing shorter and skinnier and finally merging with the blinding orange somewhere unseen, way off near the arc of the Earth.

I wanted to be on my way to that beckoning arc, a small, dark, indecipherable speck from here in all that flat orange glow. I’m pretty sure my mad sprint to reach that illusive, ever-retreating, seductive arc could continue the rest of my (at this point, short) life if I let it.

I didn’t want to be at the mercy of someone else so easily—nor at the mercy of my own, willingly open, heart. Wanted not to be so easily bruised. Wanted to not be so vulnerable as to be available for such abrasions.

I found myself thinking things like, “Why am I doing this to myself? Why?! Isn’t it easier to just close off and not be openhearted, not put myself in this position?”

Because sure, to dare greatly and be authentic and open is to be available for great love and depth from others and the world in general, but holy fuck(!), it also means we risk the possibility of great pain too.

To live so openly, so close to the bone, so vulnerably is a mighty risky. It is not for the faint-hearted, that’s for sure—not even for the wise. Most days I’m not sure I can conjure the guts, the courage (the foolhardiness!), to get up and do it all over again.

I could try and go back to the old self I was before I started this journey a couple of years ago—closed off, unavailable, solitary, withdrawn (read: miserable). I could try living half-assed again.

As much as I hate being in this vulnerable, fear-relief hangover I’m squatting in right now writing this, I’m also pretty sure I’m ruined now for the old me, pretty sure I’d always be looking over my shoulder in that lonely marathon to that horizon, always wondering what I’d missed out on, who and what I’d given up, what I could have had.

So I think that means (thank gawd the math is simple, at least) for better or worse:  I’m in.

“I know vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness. But it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love…”
~ Brene Brown

A version published at elephant journal too.

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Breathing Underwater.

underwater1The water was freezing and violent and I was filled with fear, but I knew that was where I was supposed to be.

I found after that day of being ambushed by grief that the only way I could do my life was to stay in meditation as much as possible. When I couldn’t do that, I walked around crying, the pit of anxiety in my gut sometimes doubling me over in pain.

Even writing didn’t help, which is bloody unusual for me.

Sunday I sat and meditated for at least four hours. It may have been more than that, but I know it was at least that. I suck at tracking time, so I’m not so sure.

I was determined to sit and meditate and not sleep, even though the sleep deprivation for the past few weeks was hard to ignore. I didn’t want to set myself up in the cycle of taking naps so that I couldn’t then sleep at night.

As I sat in meditation, breathing into the panic and heaviness, I was aware of sliding in and out of dream-like states in my fatigued condition. When I was aware enough, I kept the focus on my womb space.

Wanting to stay in my body as much as possible, I concentrated on breathing into my womb space and seeing the fire in my belly glowing brightly.

The get out-of-the-body type of meditation is a very Masculine way of meditating. I admit to using that type of meditation for most of my meditating life without really knowing there might be another way. When I began exploring the Feminine way of spirituality is when I began to focus on staying in the body while meditating.

Focus on the body, emotions and senses is the Feminine way.

While I sat that day, determined not to sleep but to actively process emotions, not just sit and enjoy a ride out of my body, I went into some sort of visualization. I don’t know if it was a past life, a dream, a metaphor—perhaps I fell asleep? I don’t know. But if I did, it was a type of lucid dream.

I was looking down at a blue and white ocean, boiling and spraying. It was violent. It filled me with fear to look at it. I was high on the cliff looking down at the violence.

I knew I needed to get to the water, but I was looking down from the high cliff and everything between the ocean and me was a steep boulder field of huge, sharp, black, slippery rocks and crags.

The waves continued to throw themselves up and against the cliff and the huge, sharp boulders. The water and spray were freezing me.

I started down, and somehow I was able to make progress down the steep, black, slick, rocky incline. When I got close enough, I launched myself out and down into the ocean by pushing off in a jump to hopefully make it out past the rest of the cliff and into the water.

The water was freezing and violent and I was filled with fear, but I knew that was where I was supposed to be.

From my high jump, I sank easily down past the foam and spray and whiteness and then kept descending without trying. It was a beautiful, clear blue-green down below the violence. I was holding my breath.

Down there, it was not as turbulent and I felt like I was being gently rocked back and forth. My feet were down, my arms out, like I was standing in the water. I looked up and could see the violent whiteness above me, but it was silent and almost calm here.

That’s when my sister appeared in front of me, smiling, her long, beautiful, curly red hair spread out all around her like seaweed. I noticed it moved to that same rocking rhythm, waving softly around her, her skin so lovely and pale, her blues eyes somehow warm in all this freezing blue water.

I was so happy to see her again! We smiled at each other and held each the other’s arms, so that we were together, but had room between us to look into each other’s eyes.

I was beginning to notice that I needed air.

She smiled a small, kind of sad smile and shook her head at me—slowly and lovingly. I pointed up and motioned that I needed air. She shook her head at me again, still smiling—patient, understanding.

I began to get frantic, but she wouldn’t let me go so that I could rise to get more air at the surface. She took my face in her hands and looked at me intensely, conveying to me that I must stay. Some part of my brain thought of the drowning scene in The Abyss.

And indeed, she held me there just like Bud held Lindsay in the movie, looking into my eyes softly, with the water beginning to fill my lungs in stabs of scorching pain as I fought her, thrashing about trying to get loose.

Even though the water was freezing, it hit my insides like white-hot heat, searing me, burning.

Finally, with my lungs on fire and with her still holding me in front of her, I took in a deep, lung-filling inhale and completely filled myself with water. Horrified and still looking at her, I realized I was breathing water instead of air at that point.

It felt heavy and laborious to breathe this way.

She was still smiling. I opened my eyes wide and shrugged to ask her how the hell this was happening. She just smiled wider, holding my gaze with hers.

I relaxed as much as I could and looked at her, ready to “talk” to her and find out why we were both here.

That’s when I noticed she was dying in my arms, becoming limp. Her gaze left me and became unfocused and her eyes slid away and over my right shoulder. I began to shake her and was yelling, “No!” at her through the water.

She was already gone though, limp and beginning to sink deeper into the darkness below. I grabbed her and held her to me there in that cold, gently swaying blueness and looked at her face. It was pale and lifeless, her eyes still open and blue. Her long, seaweed hair surrounded us in the water, weaving itself all around both of us.

My tears were indistinguishable from and lost in the ocean water.

She looked like a blue-tinted version of the body I had witnessed in her coffin—deflated and flat and thin, wearing one of her favorite pink sweaters that was now heavy and pulled downward by the weight of the water. The never-to-be-healed knife slashes and stab wounds were now apparent again on her face and neck, showing the tiny stitches.

She had kept me here and helped me learn that I could survive in this “foreign” world below the violent waves above. Then she was gone, reclining now in my arms, both of us swayed and rocked by the water, surrounded by her long, floating, seaweed hair.

I “woke up.” I didn’t know if it had been a dream or a vision or what. I concluded it didn’t really matter.

I use Bing as my home page on my computer because I love their photos. The next day when I opened my laptop, Bing’s page came up and the underwater ocean scene was the exact color my underwater “dream” had been.

The Autumn of Grief.

brenda1

I couldn’t keep from crying; the sadness kept coming in ever-increasing, confusing waves.

I had biked to work in the morning as usual, only to have to leave work after a couple of hours.

The transition into Fall has been triggering sadness and regret in me, but I couldn’t get a firm grasp on why it was so intense this year. My usual bike ride to work that morning was filled with tears and feelings of dread every time I looked up at the changing colors of the leaves on all the trees.

I found myself avoiding looking up at the trees—the exact opposite of my usual joyful practice.

Autumn used to be my favorite season, but in the last few years, I’ve noticed my reaction to the season becoming progressively sadder each year.

I’ve been obsessed with death and dying for the past few weeks. I even completed my Five Wishes, Living Will and shared it with my daughter. And while I recognized I was obsessed, I couldn’t figure out why, even though I was constantly searching for the answer.

I hadn’t been sleeping well, and when I did get to sleep, I was waking up too early and couldn’t go back to sleep. I love sleep, and I usually sleep a lot, so the sleep deprivation that was piling up was no small problem.

I could barely express my need to leave work, I was so overcome with grief and sadness. When I left to go home, I took my usual bike route down by the river, thinking it would assuage the grief and comfort me into healing as it usually does.

But I discovered that was not the case that day. In fact, as I squatted by the moving water, sheltered from view from the bike trail by the high, sandy riverbank against my back, I found the grief multiplying, and I was growing more desperate. I felt panicky.

With my face against my knees, I sobbed seemingly endlessly, my body jerking and pulsing with the those deep, silent sobs that rhythmically shake the entire body, and I was grateful for the river’s rush and roar to cover the noise of my loud, ragged, intermittent, desperate inhalations between those silent bouts of shaking.

I couldn’t seem to stop crying; there seemed to be no end to the sadness. At one point, some autumn leaves fell into the water in my line of sight, landing on the water to be whirled downstream by the river. That’s when it hit me. My sister’s death—her murder—twenty-three years ago, had occurred in autumn.

But how could this be effecting me so severely now, so long after the fact?

I suddenly and spontaneously began experiencing the shock and grief I remember going through when her murder actually happened all those years ago. I felt the panic at not knowing how I could continue life without her. I felt the hopelessness at knowing I would never see her again.

I found myself angry at the leaves for changing color and falling. If the leaves would just quit fucking falling, all would be well! I was sure of it! I cursed the leaves, yelling at them as I stood there by the river to stop falling, gawd damn it!

We had plans together; she couldn’t be gone yet. We had always said we’d live near each other and raise our children together. We’d run them all outside each morning to play and then just hose them down at the end of the day before herding them back inside for the night, not really keeping track of who was where—just as long as everyone was happy and fed, healthy, sleeping and loved at the end of the day.

We said we’d grow old together, and sit out on the back porch, drink iced tea and gossip, laughing at the memories of our early, wild days—the copious amount of alcohol consumed during our college years, the basketball and football games in high school, cheerleading, almost burning the new gym down, growing up on the farm, hoeing cotton, sitting in the sweltering heat under a swamp cooler shelling peas to get them all frozen and canned for the winter with all the women in the extended family, riding horses, showing pigs and lambs at the stock shows, riding our bikes down the dirt road to visit the two Keith boys and play 2-on-2 baseball with them.

Everyone always knew that whoever had Mickey on his or her team would win; it was just a historical fact. But we also knew Murray, the younger, funnier one, on the other hand, would elicit more laughter. Which one to choose? It was the usual pleasant dilemma.

brenda2

We’d grow old together and have way too many cats and maybe we’d even die together on that back porch, sitting in the shade and just nod off back into the infinite again, keeping each other company even then.

At the river, the panic growing ever stronger, I was beginning to worry it would never stop—the same sensation I had those 23 year ago. Some sane part of me recognized I needed help, but I was unable to focus, so didn’t know from where it would come. Panicked, it was getting more and more difficult to herd my thoughts in a good, positive direction and think; I was getting desperate.

And suddenly I knew where I needed to be. Fortunately, it wasn’t far away either. I jumped on my bike—tears, snot and sobs still all flowing freely and headed for church.

My problem was this, though: I did not have a phone or a watch, so I had little idea of the time. It was a weekday morning, and I knew the office hours, but didn’t know the current time, didn’t know how long I had squatted there by the river.

So I didn’t know if the office was still open or not—didn’t know if anyone would still be there. I tried not to think about the possibility of it being empty already—that only brought more panic.

I just pedaled—and bawled.

At one point on the way there, I was surprised to hear my own voice and realized I was praying out loud like I was repeating some sort of chant or a rosary of sorts, “Pleasestillbethere. Pleasestillbethere. Pleasestillbethere,” repeatedly and over the top of sobs, loud, jagged in-sucks of labored biking breath and wiping snot on the back of my gloved hands.

I met plenty of people—in cars, on foot and on bikes. I was careful to avoid eye contact at first, but then lost all semblance of propriety in my desperation, gave up caring and continued chanting/praying and crying.

I’m certain I was scary. I’m glad no one stopped me. I was incoherent by then anyway and couldn’t have explained anything to anyone.

I finally reached the church and felt relief flood through me to see Peggy and Leane’s cars still there. I dismounted and ran in, calling for Leane. When she looked up from her desk at me, a stray, coherent thought wormed its way to the surface, and I knew my wild, hysterical state would scare her.

I didn’t want to scare her, but the only thing I could think to say as she ran to me to take me in her arms was, “Madi (my daughter) is okay,” just before she enfolded me.

Then all hell really did break loose, because I finally felt safe enough in her arms to soften enough to allow it an opening—to let it come get me and take me away.

I wailed and sobbed and cried, and the pain and intensity of it doubled me over into her body, my chin on her shoulder, as she took the weight—both emotionally and physically.

As Leane held me, I remembered how at the news of her death, we had traveled to my parent’s house and then to the funeral home. And I saw my sister in her coffin for the first time. At my reaction, Joey, her husband, grabbed me and kept me from falling. I realize now he was expecting that, had stood there for that very purpose, ready.

He held me tightly and securely as I cried and struggled against him, unable to cry politely at the sight of her marred face, by the attempts to stitch her freckled-face beauty back together, showing the scars that would never heal, never need to.

It was not easy to look at, but I remain grateful that I got to see her lifeless, scarred body. I needed to see her that way to be able to believe it, somehow.

I knew he understood my reaction to seeing her. His sad, determined firmness as he supported and held me told me this. I knew he was already in the place I was just entering.

Did he feel, like me, as if he had failed her? I was the big sister; it had always been my job to protect and shield her from harm.

I felt like I had let her down; I hadn’t been there when she needed me.

My mind returned to the church office as a part of me registered that someone else was there with Leane and I. Someone had come to help and had their hands on me, one hand on my heart in front and one in back.

Whoever it was held tightly, pressed hard. I needed that pressure. Needed the support. Needed the strength to hold me together, because I felt like I was flying apart, little pieces of me spinning off and out in all directions.

I could feel that person breathing deliberately, pumping that breath and energy into me through her hands, through her prayers. They shuffled me in this manner to Peggy’s office and sat me down, still holding me, still breathing for me.

It was only then that I realized it was Peggy breathing for me.

Finally, the panic and depression lessened some and I looked up at them and tried to explain. They sat with me, quietly and sweetly, listening to my memories and stories, asking gentle questions—just absorbing—letting me work my way back to something like normal for me.

I eventually ran out of stories, memories and energy; I felt dry and used up—empty and exhausted. It was a blessed feeling to be so empty after having been way too full of grief. I thanked them; I can’t express enough gratitude to them for their kindness and love and patience.

I rode home somehow—I don’t remember the journey—curled into bed and slept for three hours.

A friend called me later and when I told him what had happened, he suggested I had been ambushed by grief. I had never heard that expression before, but instantly when he said it, I knew it described my day—in fact, it described the slow sneaky ambush that had been approaching for several weeks and had only finally just pounced. I could see it in hindsight.

Saturday I called my daughter and told her I was basically useless, but that I wanted her to come to lunch anyway as we had planned because it had been so long since I’d seen her.

I needed groceries and wanted to wait until the crying stopped that morning before going, but it never did, so I ended up going to the grocery store and walking around shopping while bawling still.

I didn’t know what else to do. How was I supposed to do my life? How am I supposed to do my life?!

While doing research on the subject of being ambushed by grief, I must admit to not finding a lot of information. But I came across a blog that describes it thus:

“Even as I write now, I continue to learn that grief is not a short-term spiritual, emotional, mental and even physical struggle that you just “get through”. Perhaps, this will be a lifelong journey until I reach my eternal home.”

Another one:

“You will be ambushed by grief. Count on it. If you have ever experienced any sort of loss or heartache in life, grief will surprise you from time to time.

Sometimes you can come to expect it, and then you’re somewhat prepared. Sometimes not.”

How am I supposed to do my life now? How long will this continue? Will this happen every Fall? I am trying to honor this grief and my sister by allowing myself to feel the emotions that perhaps I never allowed myself to feel before.

Why else would they return so strongly, so insistently?

I don’t understand it, but feel I must respect it as best I can and just somehow continue to walk through it. I am grateful to have such a wonderful group of friends to help with this trek.

Have you experienced a grief ambush? How did you handle it? Does it continue to happen? Is there any way to prepare for it?

A version published at elephant journal.