Nature’s Balm

Questions flood in as evening sets, the initial shock of hearing the ‘c’ word now wearing off. I sleep little, spending way too much time with Dr. Google, without any satisfaction.

Ric is scheduled to go into town a bit later, so I take the car early and head to a new trail in our town of many. Stonetown gained its nickname from the limestone quarry here. The mined holes have been filled with water and serve as recreational landmarks. The trail here is paved and extends along the riverside.

A pair of courting cardinals dip past as I exit the car, too fast for my camera, but just the sort of serenade I need to lift my spirits. Unsure whether or not my legs will carry me very far, I am happy to see many benches a long the way.

Birdsong fills the air, no doubt in celebration of blue skies – something that has been missing for a while. Woods and running water trigger a memory from childhood, and I feel suddenly comforted. This is what I needed.

I wander in one direction and stop in awe as a party of blue jays flocks over head. Can’t ever remember seeing so many together at once.

“Please stop,” I call to the birds, “so that I might get a picture.”

Silly, I know, and it is clear that they have a collective direction, but one does eventually oblige.

A shadow passes by, and I glance up expecting to see one of the turkey vultures that have been circling. A distinctive white head and tail skirt alerts me to a much more regal presence: a bald eagle!

Sadly, I’m too shaky today for any of my eagle images to turn out, but I am confident I’ll find him again. He continues to circle as I carry on, tiring quickly. I decide to have one more sit and then leave, but as I lower myself onto the bench I see a kingfisher perched on a branch not too far away.

Of course he is gone by the time I ready my camera. Kingfishers here tend to be elusive. My eye catches a pair of birdhouses and on a pole nearby the flutter of iridescent wings – swallows.

The swallows will be my last capture for this outing.

Time to go home and get some rest.

My heart is full of gratitude.

And Then There Was Hope

Three years ago today, I dragged myself out of bed, and with the aid of my walker (and likely a wheelchair), I paid a visit to a local doctor/ practitioner of Functional Medicine.

Getting out in those days was a huge ordeal, and typically entailed a backlash that would last weeks. I was that sick. I was also desperate.

I found the notes on that early visit when searching through my archives, looking for an interesting anniversary in response to this week’s challenge.

My family doctor had cautioned me against hoping for too much, but this new doctor, soft spoken, listened to me intently, and took the time to explain, and then, we made a plan. A plan for recovery! Something I had not thought possible.

Three years ago today, I found renewed hope.

(To read the original post, click here. V.J.’s Weekly Challenge is anniversary. There’s still time to join in.)

Appearances

Testing social waters –
that cherished state of interaction –
prone to revealing too much

have been homebound,
studying life without a facilitator,
now attempting to penetrate invisibility

gathering the salvageable bits –
minimal fragments of a once whole woman,
reaching out, reconnecting, reception mixed

much has passed me by –
no amount of homework can undo
this loss of sharpness, this dependent state

as achievement focused as ever –
would go back to work – my heart space –
if illness had not deemed me redundant

must be selective in sharing –
am met with disregard, my story, like a gunshot,
causes others to duck, glaze over, lack of scarring

a disappointment for those expecting
acts of heroism – scars command respect –
metaphors telling a linear story – my journey

not marked by projected deadlines –
origins of disease unknown, defies medical
knowledge, research lacking – I am estranged

who dares to question beyond the trembling
exterior, behold the opportunity that blesses me,
witness the gift of joy that comes with re-evaluation

when character overcomes strife,
and simplicity replaces frenetic ambition –
the outcome of enrolment in this life class.

(Appearances was penned in December, 2016, after two and half years of being primarily bed bound with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis.  As I gradually gained strength, my doctor suggested that I might attempt a few social outings.  What I had to talk about, when I had been out of the loop for so long, weighed heavily on my mind, as well as the fact that I have a little known disease – difficult for others to relate to.

Featured image is an original watercolour, Dreamy Coast

I submit this edited version for my weekly challenge: character.  To participate, just clink on the link. Thanks for reading.)

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Birthing The Soul

I stuff down the cookies as if the faster I eat the more I can distance myself from the misery that has bubbled to the surface.

“Write about it,” my psychologist suggests as she ushers me out of the door, our session having run past the allotted time.

I told her about the weekend I went missing.  Forty-five years later, and much of it still traumatic.  It’s the first time I’ve disclosed anything but vague references to her.  I knew it was time.  Ever since Christine Blasey Ford’s trial by patriarchy, it has been rising up in me, threatening my equilibrium. And then I crashed – physically, energetically, and emotionally – the day before my appointment.

“Anything coming up for you?” she asked cautiously, after having remarked on my apparent fatigue.  I’d previously been having some dreams that alluded to abuse.

“Yes!”  And the details rose, like a ribbon of acid, crossing an arid, unrelenting desert. She got me a glass of water and then made notes.

“So, he was a very organized psychopath,” she concluded.

“Well, I wasn’t the first according to the police.”

I couldn’t remember all the details, knew there were holes in my story, but the memories that remained were vivid.

“That’s typical of memory,” she said kindly.  “Actually, you remembered quite a bit.  Normally, it’s the moments in which the victim thought their life was in peril that stand out the most.”

“There were many of those,” I try to laugh, make light of it, but it gets caught in my throat and comes out as a sob.

“For eight to ten hours, you were held by this man, powerless to save yourself, in threat of death.  It was a traumatic experience.”

She puts it in such simple, clear-cut terms that calm the emotional vortex.

“So the police knew about this man, but didn’t do anything about it?”

“No.  They said I could press charges but I wouldn’t win.  I’d been drinking underage, and I was wearing a halter top and tight jeans.”

“That has nothing to do with it!  If he’d stabbed you none of that would have been a consideration.”

I know what she means.  I’d been over this before in my own mind many times.

“It bothers me that I didn’t press charges,” I tell her.  “I didn’t stop him.  He would have done it again.”

“Survivor’s guilt,” she offers softly.  “I can tell you as someone who has been involved in many of these cases over the years, that the police were negligent in their investigation, and you could not have made a difference.  Sadly, it’s not much different today.”

There had been no rape kit done, no trip to the hospital.  They just put a very traumatized kid back on the bus to her parents.  Told my parents I’d spent the night with a man, as if I’d gone voluntarily.

My mother didn’t talk to me for some time afterwards, and my father called me a “whore” then slammed the car door.  It wasn’t spoken of again as long as lived under their roof.

“The other thing that’s bothering me,” I start to tell her but it gets caught.  She waits.

“I had a good friend at the time; someone I was very close to.  After this happened, he asked me out, and I….I couldn’t let myself…I said no…”

“It was the shame.  Your father sealed that for you.  You felt like damaged goods.”

“Always.  I’ve always felt like damaged goods.  It’s coloured all the choices I’ve made in my life.  I dream about the friend often… feel bad that I hurt him…have regrets….It’s like I couldn’t allow myself to be happy….”

Our time is up and I leave the office still teary-eyed and raw.  Ric doesn’t ask how the session went; he can tell it was painful.

“You just want to go home?” he asks kindly.

I do.  I am exhausted on every level.  I feel battered, as if I’ve been through it all again.

At home, I sit with a tub of chocolate ice cream and read blog posts hoping for a distraction to take the edge off, and that’s when I come across these words:

readiness preludes
self-discovery; embrace
new understanding

 – Hélène Vaillant

And Hélène’s words reach through the ethers and take me by the hand, and I am so grateful for this world that brings us into each other’s lives, despite the distances.  The words wrap around me and remind me that this revelation, this time of disclosure, and the ensuing discomfort are just labour pains.  I am ready to “embrace new understanding.”

(Hélène’s original poem is here. Every week, I challenge my readers and myself to focus on some aspect of life that contributes (potentially) to our understanding and growth.  This week’s challenge is distance.)

Life With Father

“Whatever it is we need to learn from each other, I say let’s do it now, so we don’t have to come back and repeat it,” I told my father once during a period in which I was exploring the concept of reincarnation.

I imagine he lowered his chin and looked over his spectacles at me with that glare that suggested I might be treading on thin ice.

For his 75th birthday, I wrote him a letter acknowledging that growing up with him had prepared me to handle much in life, and I thanked him for that.  He said he didn’t really understand my logic, but appreciated the sentiment.

Psychiatric assessments of my father concluded (on more than one occasion) that he was genius bordering on eccentric.  If anyone had asked us children – which no one did – we would have said he was impossibly tyrannical.  He certainly knew how to manipulate circumstances, and people, to meet his needs.

He could also be inspirational, and when he wasn’t in a rage, quite sentimental.  It was confusing to be his child.  I both basked and burned under the fire of his being.  So many times, I wanted to move away and forget him, and yet, I was always drawn back, seeking more approval, longing to understand.

At the end of his life, sickness and pain mellowed him and we were able to discuss our differences.  I told him how I felt alienated by him as a child, as if I was a burden he regretted, and he cried and told me that family was everything to him.

“You had a funny way of showing it,” I said.

Then we talked about what a tortured life he’d led, and how even as a child he thought God was punishing him, and that he’d never known a moment of peace.  I felt compassion then.

It wasn’t until after his death that I began to see another side to his story, and to understand my own complicity in his suffering.  The righteousness I felt about how he wronged me, wronged all of us, blinded me to the depth of my father’s pain, and in retrospect, I see that he really was a person of courage, admirable actually, in how he carried on, despite his personal challenges.

My father may have been a bastard to live with, but he was a bastard with a soul, and that soul was tortured throughout his eighty years.

Life with father taught me to doubt myself and be wary of others, and it taught me to be tough, determined, and eventually, compassionate.

He never held it against me that I could not accept his truth.  I only hope I can one day forgive myself.

(This week’s challenge is to reflect on relationships.  As one contributor pointed out, there are friendships and blood relationships, the former a choice, the latter imposed. I didn’t choose my father, but I can’t imagine who’d I’d be if he hadn’t been in my life.)

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Healing Steps

Fear is insidious; it creeps into the psyche and buries itself deep without any conscious effort.  It manifests in anxiety, stalls progress, and threatens to define its host.

Today, I did something I haven’t done in well over four years; I went for a walk in the woods, unattended.  I took my camera and my cellphone, donned a jacket in case of rain, and headed for the trails here at Living Forest Oceanside Campground in Nanaimo, B.C.

skullrock.jpgOf course, I was not alone.  Fear taunted me at every bend in the trail.

“What if someone comes along,” it hissed.  “You are defenceless.”

“There are people nearby,” I countered and kept walking.

“Listen to how quiet it is here; doesn’t that alarm you?  What if there is a bear or cougar nearby.”

Gulp. I kept walking.

“You could fall.  These paths are treacherous, and then what?  Who would save you?  Ric can’t walk in here.”

I took a deep breath and slowed my pace, carefully choosing my steps.  “I have my cellphone.  Ric can call for help from the office.”

Fighting fear can be a step-by-step process.  I thought about my childhood and how the woods were, for so much of it, my home.  Was I not afraid then?  I certainly spent hours alone, exploring.

“The child hasn’t had the life experience necessary to develop these kinds of fears,” I thought.

LivingForestflightThe trails are well marked here.  At every junction there is a map and while I am not normally good at following directions, I made myself study it and concentrate on where I was in relation to where I wanted to go.  At the far end of the trail was a place called Eagle Point.  I wondered if I could make it there.

I would try.

The next map warned of steep slopes and dangerous terrain.  I decided to be cautious and headed instead for a break in the trees, so that I could see the water.  It was so quiet that my footfalls sent the ducks swimming below scattering.

I decided to head back, not wanting to push my luck.  I had come out without a walker, and there was no obvious place to sit and rest here.  Following the map, I took a different route back – perhaps not the best idea as I encountered a steep hill.

3trilliums.jpg“Slow and steady,” I told myself.  My heart pounded and I felt breathless, but I made it, and while I waited for things to calm down at the top, I took in my surroundings.  This forest, like so many on the island, is a contrast of the dead and fallen limbs and trunks, and varying shades of green.  White trilliums dot the velvety forest floor.  Apart from a black squirrel and the odd bird that flit by in a blur, there was little other movement.

Being independent, even for a short time, felt wonderful.  How long had it been since I had the confidence to go out on my own?  Too long.

blacksquirrel.jpgThe end of the trail was now in sight, and not quite ready to go back to the RV, I lingered a bit longer, noticing the buds on trees and bushes, trying to imagine what this place will look like in a couple of weeks.

My ankle snapped just as I hit the main road.  By the time I reached our site, my right leg muscle spasmed too.  I would head in and hit the bed, pleased with myself.

I thought of other possibilities, wondering when I’d be able to drive the car again.  Maybe even going to the grocery store alone.

Fear slapped me in the face.

Sigh.  One step at a time.

RV-Able: Magic of Sedona

For some reason, I associate Sedona with healing, although I cannot bring to mind any particular legend.  Driving through the town, there are numerous crystal, psychic, and other New Age shops, which suggests my suspicions are true.

“There are four vortexes…” our Pink Jeep tour guide starts to tell me.

“…vortices,” Ric corrects.  “The plural of vortex is vortices.”

“Anyway, these sites were originally identified by a famous psychic.  Apparently, scientists have gone to these spots to measure electrical and magnetic currents and have noted a difference, but not consistently.”

“I want to visit the sites,” I tell Ric.  If there is healing to be had, then why not? What’s to lose?

DSC03325The first vortex we visit is Airport Mesa.  We park at the base of a series of trails all leading up into the mountains.  Ric’s knees are shot, so he opts to wait in the truck, but I think:  I’m here, let’s do this thing!

A flimsy wire fence provides a bit of a rail for the first climb, the strata of rocks forming a pseudo staircase.  I make it to the landing, but am feeling dizzy, so sit for a bit on the bench provided.  The arrow for Airport Lookout indicates I need to climb farther.  There is no rail, I have no walker for support, and the path is narrow.  I realize this is not going to happen.

I return to the truck.

The next vortex looks like it will be worse, as there is a fair amount of hiking involved to get to the place.

mountaintopsedonaWe decide to try the Chapel of the Holy Cross.  We are not alone.  Cars line the winding ascent up the mountain to the chapel, and crowds of people walk along the roadway.  Now wedged in traffic, we continue as far up as we can go, and to our delight discover that there is handicap parking at the top.  From there a concrete walkway spirals up to the church – still a fair walk.

“Are you going to try it?” Ric asks me.

“I am!”

ChapeloftheHoly Cross I push my walker up the ramp.  My heart starts to race and I feel dizzy again.  The ramp is guarded on each side by concrete walls.  I can’t see the end.  I stop to catch my breath.

“How much farther?” I ask a couple descending.

“You’re almost there!” they offer.  “Just around this curve.”

ChapelgardenI will myself to keep going and then I’m at the top.  The chapel is a breathtaking:  rose-coloured glass walls allow for an uninterrupted view.  A small garden with water fountain announces the entrance to the area which is paved with flat cement benches all along the outside.  The view is remarkable.

I am wary of sitting along the edge, so pull my walker against the corner of the church and perch there, photographing the mountain views.  The rock formations are interesting, and some resemble works of art:  a mother and child, and clearly an eagle’s head, carved by nature into the side of the mountain.

EaglerockSomewhere way down below a rooster crows and the man next and I exchange looks of surprise and both laugh.

I feel okay.  No burning in my legs, no difficulty breathing, and my heart rate has normalized.  I made it!

Going down is a little more difficult, and I inch my way slowly.  Two young women approach on their way up and one is clearly out of breath.  I raise my eyebrow at her and say:

motherchildrock“Really, Ladies?  If I can do it, you can do it.”

Her friend laughs:  “We like to be dramatic.”

An older woman and her family fall in behind me, reassuring me to take my time.

Ric is waiting in the truck when I return.

“How was that?”

“I did it!”  I’m so proud of myself.

We drive to the next vortex, which takes us off road to a small parking lot.  The designated area requires a hike down to the water’s edge.  I start out, without my walker, amazed that my legs are still going, but don’t get far before I realize I’ve really pushed it today, and healing or no healing, I still need to take care.  So, I turn around and let Ric know I’m ready to leave Sedona now.

PhoenixsunsetI’ve said my thank you’s and goodbye for now.

The sun is starting to set just as we hit Phoenix, a suitable ending to a memorable weekend.

Why Write Poetry

First, a disclaimer:  I am in no way an authority on poetry; it is just something I happen to do… a lot.  In fact, my original blog, One Woman’s Quest, is dedicated to my poetic escapades.

th-1A cancer scare prompted me to start writing a blog in the first place – I needed somewhere to process the panic of awaiting post-lumpectomy results (five weeks, in my case, as it was over Christmas holidays.)   By the time I got the all-clear, I was well launched into my writing practice. Early posts are all primarily nonfiction, and based on daily inspirational readings, and then;  life turned another corner, and illness struck again.

This time, I was not so lucky – I lost my ability to work, drive, read, watch television, interact with others, and everything else short of self-care.  It was devastating, but one ray of light gave me hope.  I could still write.

th.jpgThe intensity of my grief could not find sufficient expression in sentence and paragraph form, and thus a poet began to emerge – the words, like miniature life rafts, wafted in and out of my mind begging for release.  I gave them expression, and it was as if a hidden damn had broken and images and dreams poured forth and I could barely keep afloat of the burst of creative energy.

To date, I have written hundreds of poems, some palatable, some not, but all with a very distinct purpose – to heal from within.

Today, I had a further revelation about why I write poetry.  It came after posting my latest composition:  Heartquake.

Writing poetry requires me to be more precise and efficient with my words.  It demands a standard of accomplishment, and pushes me to reach deeper inside.

When I am faithful to the art form, I am stretched to demonstrate insight and transformation.

Perhaps, most importantly, poetry is intended to provoke a response, to trigger emotion and stir the unconscious.  In rereading Heartquake,  I had an aha moment:  there between the lines, I recognized that fatal flaw of character that haunts me so insidiously.

Can you spot it too?  I won’t confess it here, the point of this post being why I write poetry.  Suffice to say, poetry has power – to inspire change –  and that makes its effort, all the more worthwhile.

 

Tired of the Same Old Endings

“I’ve started to write short stories again – something I haven’t done since I was a kid.”

“How’s that going?”

“It’s disturbing, actually; the endings are the same even after all these years.”

“Like what?”

“Me in a straitjacket, completely mad.”

“Oh, I see!”

th-1As do I – there are never happy endings, just a worsening of the situation caused by my inappropriate actions.

I used to fear I was going insane as a child – not a far stretch considering that’s what happened to my older sister.  This conversation is with my psychologist.  Just when I thought things had settled out in my psyche, the dreams have started again – not so much nightmares as deeply disturbing.

I grew up in a house full of secrets, where chaos was the reigning element, and hope, if it dared rear its head, was quickly squashed.  As a child it was difficult to see a way out of the pain, other than suicide or extreme acts of violence.  I attempted neither – was the ‘good’ girl in the family – but it doesn’t mean I didn’t fantasize about it.

“I left home when I was seventeen!” I whine to my therapist.  “It’s not fair that I’m still struggling with this.”

“How have you been feeling lately?”

“Tired,”  a ludicrous comment (I have ME/CFS which is characterized by systemic exhaustion); “I’m sleeping more than usual, which is actually a good thing, given I don’t  sleep well with this disease.  Have lost interest in food…generally depressed, I guess.”

Damn! Depression is like that elusive fly that keeps buzzing around but I just can’t catch.

“You have lots of good things going on right now; is there something that has triggered it?”

th-2In fact, there is – a conversation my younger sister and I had around Mother’s Day.  While I have sought extensive help to support my healing process, my sister prefers to hold it all in, and then every once in a while bits spew out.  Her mini revelation was enough to ignite the dreams for me.

“I don’t have a conscious memory of what she’s talking about, but the dreams would seem to indicate I was affected too.”

“Do you want to explore it further, or do you think you know enough to move on?”

I had been doing quite well – had gained enough perspective to be able to extract past wounds from present occurrences – yet, in my writing, there has always been something else lurking – another layer of hurt.

“I just want to know that there is going to be a different ending!  I need to know that there is a purpose to all of this and that my life won’t end up tragically, but right now I can’t see any other options.”

And then it hits me – this is what I love about effective therapy – my upbringing was not about love and connection, it was about survival.  I did not learn the skills that I need to have a fulfilling life experience, thus the need for re-parenting.

th-3.jpg“Do you have a copy of Growing Yourself Back Up?

“I do!  Found it the other day when I was clearing things out!”  I’m feeling lighter now, having identified the current dilemma and having an action plan in place.

No matter how innocent, children take on responsibility for the dysfunction that adults dish out.  They absorb the abuse, violence, and imposed secrets as reflections of their own lack of worth.  Consistency, enforced guidelines, and predictable parenting help build a secure sense of self, and a foundation of confidence from which a child can progress.

“Try to see the good things that have come out of it all,”  my therapist offers kindly.

“You mean like resiliency?”

“Yes, that’s a good place to start.”th-4

On Acceptance and Illness

“Grandma, when will you be better?”

It is 5:00 on a school morning, and I am sitting at my granddaughter’s bedside nursing her through a sore tummy.

“Not sure, Honey.”

“Oh,” she shrugs.  She is four and has never known me any other way.

Later, we snuggle up and watch Moana. 

“You are just like the Grandma in the movie,” she tells me.

“Because I have white hair?”

“Yes, and …..”  it is at the part where Moana’s dancing Grandmother says she’s the village crazy lady…” that too.  Will you come back as a stingray when you die?”

“More likely a bird,”  I tell her.

I love that while she is not afraid to ask questions, she is also accepting of the answers.

“I miss you,”  my mother tells me every time she talks to me.

“It’s like we’ve lost our Mom,”  my daughters remind me.

I know my husband pines for the old me, too.  Hell, I am in agreement with them all, but dwelling on the loss is counterproductive to healing.

ME/CFS is a bit like having the flu, only those days where you begin to feel better are not harbingers of a return to normalcy,  they are tricksters, stirring up false hope and an overuse of energy.  A crash is certain to follow.

Apart from the daily physical challenges, I taunt myself with a barrage of ‘shoulds’  illiciting emotional turmoil.th-1.jpg

I need to borrow a page from my granddaughter’s life book:  to know that I (Grandma) am sick and have limitations, and love me anyway.  She has no expectations for me to be any other way than how I am.  Imagine being that emotionally mature, or should I say, innocent.

Acceptance says:  this is my life, this is who I am.  Wisdom reminds me that life is seldom static, so chances are that things will change again.  Openness will help me transition from one stage of life into another.  It also keeps possibility alive.

Without acceptance, I live in a constant state of never being enough.  I think I should do more for my children, be a better daughter, push myself for my husband’s sake, accomplish more.  In other words, I am constantly facing a mountain of insurmountable  goals.  th-2

Acceptance would gift me with the power of no:  the ability to recognize what I am and am not capable of, and the courage to set realistic boundaries.  Acceptance seeks to understand without judgment.  It is a shift in perspective.

Imagine being able to find joy in the moment, without the cloud of self-chastisement.

I believe acceptance can give me that.

“Grandma, I want to come sleepover at your house,”  my granddaughter tells me as I leave.

th-3I hug her and tell her: “Soon”, and marvel that she wants to spend time with a doddery old woman like me, and think:

If a four-year-old can accept me the way I am, then surely I can too.