A Shift Towards Recovery

“Maybe there is a purpose to this struggle,” I say, offhanded, to a visiting friend.

We have just made our way to the edge of the falls, the trek difficult for me today, as my legs are not cooperating. I’m hanging onto her arm for balance.

I’d been telling her about another visit I’d had, the day before. An old friend drove up in a red sports car, her perfectly tanned complexion complimented by white blonde hair, her clothes the latest fashion. She’d been in the area to pick up something for the house – a must have for her decor.

“She’s a kind-hearted soul, would do anything for you, but just can’t find happiness,” I explained.

“I’ve seen your work on-line,” the woman had gushed. “I wish I could find a passion like that.”

I was dumbfounded in the moment by her remark, the obvious differences between her healthy, “able” life, and my chronic battle. But here at the riverside, my arm linked with another, I had a sudden revelation. I do still have something to offer.

Recovery, isn’t about the cure; it’s about the shift in perspective – the ability to find purpose in the midst of struggle, and the willingness to ride out the challenge. It has a lot to do with attitude.

“…and I’ve always had plenty of attitude”, we both laugh, as I pause to snap a few photos.

I don’t have the physical ability to rock the world, nor the energy to make a difference in the ways I used to, but I still have a medium.

Happy to say, I am recovering.

***

Our focus this week, after a short hiatus, has been “recovery”. It is nice to be back amongst the creative and inspiring community that takes part in my humble challenges.

Proscenium who always makes me laugh
Sealing Wax Notes who, no matter what her incarnation, spurs me on with her humour, intellect, and formidable faith
one letter UP whose stories are like lost treasures found
Stuff and what if… a kindred soul whose words and images always touch me deeply
AWISEWOMANSJOURNEY whose kindness and faith I treasure
Sgeoil whose creativity inspires me to reach higher.

There are others who are absent from this list but whose presence in my blog life are special to me.

I’ll be back again tomorrow with a new challenge. Hope you’ll join me.


V.J.’s Weekly Challenge #61: recovery

Surgery behind us, we shift to recovery mode – he gingerly navigating the days of healing, while I try to brush off the cobwebs of exhaustion.

As relief washes away the dregs of worry, I am still trying to sort out my emotions. Ric’s condition is black and white – a blockage requiring opening. Problem solved. Meanwhile, I just finished yet another round of antibiotics for an infection they can neither pinpoint nor explain away. I remain in medical limbo.

I chose the word recovery for today’s challenge not just because of our current situation, but also because it has been a word I’ve carried with me for years, contemplating it’s full meaning. I have a file in which I store poetry, entitled “self recovery”.

What does it mean to recover? What would full recovery look like, and is there such a thing? Recover from what?

I turn to you, dear fellow bloggers, for your guiding inspiration. Help me shake this lassitude with your creative words of wisdom, music, or images.

Look forward to your responses.

To participate, create a post on the theme, and then link back here. You can tag it with VJWC.

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.)

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.

The Path to Wellness

“You seem to be doing better; are you going back to work?”

Returning to work after time off due to flu, is expected.  There might be a day or so of feeling weak, but it’s soon forgotten as the body springs back into action.

Recovery from a debilitating illness, however, takes time.  There are, according to my doctor, stages of re-entry.

UnknownFor two and a half years, my life was defined by the struggle to just get dressed each day (a routine I stubbornly adhered to) and to manage food – preparation and consumption.  I had to depend on my husband and outside help to complete ordinary tasks, and interaction with the world beyond my bed was very limited: no television, no reading, no talking on the phone for more than fifteen minutes, and constant bedrest.  If I left the house for a medical appointment or treatment, the effort could set me back for days or weeks.

Gradually, almost imperceptibly, I started to regain some stamina – able to sit up for longer, managing to cook some of my own meals (as long as someone else did the prep work), and desiring of social contact.

“It’s important that you start to get out of the house,” my doctor advised.  “Not to do chores, but to have tea with a friend.”

My first outing, with a friend who is very understanding of my condition, ended abruptly, as having been sheltered from noise, lights and smells for so long, I felt overwhelmed, and too sick to continue.

imagesWith persistence, I learned to avoid noisy places.  When the weather was good, picking up a tea and taking it to a local park became a good option.  To be back amongst the living felt rejuvenating, hopeful.

In time, I could stay out longer, and became more adventurous  – having a meal out, or daring to venture into a store.  The first time I was able to go grocery shopping felt so liberating, even though I could only manage a couple of aisles.

Myalgic Enchephalomylelitis strips the victim of any sort of normalcy, reducing life to a bare minimum existence.  Coming back means rebuilding – slowly and one step at a time.

“Travel is the next important step in the healing process,” my doctor told me.  “Most would say work is, but work has stress and the body is not ready for that yet.”

We booked a summer getaway – two nights at a cottage – but the worry about what to bring, and how to pack set me back and we didn’t end up going.

So, my husband booked an inn, where meals were served and housekeeping available.  The travel alone made me too ill and I ended up staying in the room, but the change of scenery was wonderful and room service ensured I got the food I needed.

It took us three days to get me to a port for a cruise.  One day to drive to the airport, and then rest; the next day to fly out to Miami, followed by a crash; and the third day to board the ship.  While I didn’t get off the ship to explore the Caribbean islands, it was amazing to be on the water in a much more soothing climate.  We did, however, rule out travel involving planes, when we returned.

“You can expect a return of about 25% of your energy,” the doctor advised me.

8d52bd4ededbd515d13583bfd1f0779eI think it is fair to say I have experienced that, and on some days, maybe more.  Since we have been travelling across country in a motor home, I have discovered new passions, and thanks to my constant companion, have been able to get out into nature.   Certainly, in Arizona, I was able to walk greater distances, and felt as if healing was a real possibility.  I have  re-engaged with purpose and am starting to build new routines that inspire hope.

The question is:  Is this renewal sustainable?  As we head back into colder, more humid temperatures, my decline is perceptible.

“I feel it too,” Ric told me last night, when I expressed my frustration.  “Let’s just hope that the strength you experienced in Arizona left some lasting effects.”

“I have been talking to some people here, and we all agree if you can travel, you must be well enough to return to work,”  a friend tells me.

The remark ignites a rage in me.  None of these individuals has any knowledge of ME, nor my day-to-day struggle.  They have never had to come back from anything so tragically destructive.

Restoring physical health is just one part of the process.  I have reduced cognitive functioning to learn to deal with, as well as the inability to deal with stress (compromised adrenals) which will have to be sorted out before I can be considered employable again.

Ric just shakes his head when the conversation of work comes up, but I am not so certain.  I have worked, in one capacity or another, for fifty years.  Setting foot in a classroom again may not be in my future, but I am still leaving the door open.

In the meantime, in order to honour my body, and the healing process, I am taking it one step at a time.

Simplicity: A Noble Quest

Overcoming the trials of a confused and harmful childhood take time and the willingness to self reflect. In 1991, my mind snapped under the pressure of trying to keep up the same old role of responsibility. It turned out to be a blessing, setting me on the path of recovery:

One Woman's Quest

At thirty-one, I had to learn to change my approach to life, because the old way wasn’t working.

th-2The old way put me at the center of the family (even though I was fifth born), listening to and attempting to resolve every family issue:   Do you think your younger sister is okay living out there in isolation?  Your older sisters are not talking to each other.  I can’t talk to Mom, will you?  Why do men always leave me?  Your brother thinks I abandoned him as a child.  I can’t talk to Dad; he’ll listen to you. Your brother is coming to stay, and well, you know about his wife.   I can’t live with your Father.  And on and on.

The old way was me constantly trying to run from my problems, striving to be better, to do better, and to get ahead.  I was invested in the belief…

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Criticism Be Gone!

Sometimes looking back provides poignant reminders for going forward. This post from 2013 does just that.

One Woman's Quest

I was forty before I could finally ask my mother about her constant criticism of me growing up.   We were alone together, in the car, driving out of town.  I had her undivided attention.

th-4“Help me to understand, something,” I prefaced the conversation.  “When I was young, you always told me no one would ever love me.  What was that about?”

“I didn’t say it to be mean,”  she explained and I believed her.  My mother was not typically a malicious person.  “It’s just that you were so different from your sisters, and I was afraid for you.  I thought I was helping you by preparing you for the inevitable.”

“But why, Mom?  What was it about me that you thought was unloveable?”

“You were just so smart, and independent minded……”  she trailed off.  “I guess I thought that men don’t like smart women.”

“Do you understand that I heard…

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