Wednesday, July 27, 2016

What Do You Want & The Challenge Of Asking

What would you like? Scary question. Hard question to answer. What do you want?
I used to have a hard time answering these questions. Christmas was a special hell. My mother insisted we make lists. She then made sure to use the list as a mind game: you got maybe one thing from the list and the rest was stuff you couldn't give away and was somehow the opposite of what you figured out you wanted. You wanted a bathing suit? Here's a neon orange jumpsuit. Same thing right? You got in trouble if you cried or looked upset. My brother and I learned to act to deal with Christmas. We learned to be relieved that dad never got us anything. Nothing was better than shit you didn't want. My mother never noticed we gave it away, first to other kids and eventually to thrift stores. Make a list. What do you want? These questions became a Pavlovian trigger. I worked my way around that trigger; finding ways to get what I wanted through work rather than asking. I still struggle with asking, I try to just soldier through with the resources at hand.

A lifetime of adapting and surviving do not lend themselves to frivolity. I started working after sixth grade. I bought my clothes, snacks, books, and anything else I wanted. Ask someone and deal with a guilt trip or just work and have my own choice. Whining or not being responsible with household chores including cooking and cleaning? There was a barn I could live in or face the threat of paying rent to my parents.
I participated in all school activities, worked, and did household chores. I was a social outcast in school: too smart and outspoken to be cool. One day I stopped home to switch out of my soccer uniform to go to work. I was in tenth grade. I was screamed at so often that I do not register the words or sounds. I walked out of my room into my.mother having a screaming fit. I realized it as one of my cleats bounced hard off the wall next to my head. The cleats I had taken off in the mudroom properly. I had done nothing to trigger this. The screaming was shrill. I was exhausted. No tv shows, no fiction depicts this as healthy family reality. Anger welled up. I was next to the ironing board. The iron was sitting there.
I breathed. I quieted my heart and trembling thoughts which were still trying to figure out what I could have done wrong. Stumble. Forgot. Existing was my poor choice. The defiant egg and sperm that joined to create me were not wanted. They didn't care. They multiplied and the many cells of me were standing there facing a sad reality.
I looked at her. She paused to breathe and shriek again. I spoke. I stood.
I picked up the iron. "You will never speak to me in that tone of voice again. You will never raise your voice where I can hear it. My sister will never have to grow up with you being like this because it stops now. I work. I ask you for nothing. I buy what I want. I put up with your petty commands and clean and cook. I do not party. I do not get knocked up. (She opened her mouth and puffed up with a scowl and flushed face). I brandished the iron. There was fifteen feet between us maybe ten. My voice lowered. "I pitch softball. Problem is, when I loathe the batter I hit them in the head every time. Hard. If you came to games you would have seen helmets flipping off heads. You want to try me, go ahead. Scream one more time. I will pitch this fucking iron so fucking hard. See, its your head I have been aiming at. Make my day, otherwise turn around, walk away and pretend from this moment forward that you are normal." I stood. Iron in hand. Muscles tensed. Ready for the pitch. She could see it. She never raised her voice around me again.
That's the one time in life I can think of something I really wanted: to never hear a shrill screaming woman berating me over imagined slights again.

Fast forward to now. What do you want? Love. Kindness. Time to appreciate beauty in the world. Challenges that keep me thinking and growing. Arkham Horror, the board game. A new ebook reader. A wireless microphone set up. Pots and pans. Flooring for our carport tent. A small fridge. Eventually a generator. Finally. I feel comfortable answering the question of what I want. Now to work on asking. It is amazing to be at a point in my life where I feel I can start asking. I look forward to the moment where the fear of being burdensome in asking is a faded afterthought I can leave in a garbage can somewhere.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Secrets You Don't Know You Keep

I was three, maybe four years old. I was sitting in the hay in the barn playing with the barn cat and her kittens. My father walked in. Looked at me and stepped on a kitten. Suddenly and completely. He lifted his foot. It was flattened, it was dead. I was crushed. I cried and yelled at him. His response "It should have been you." I ran to my mother for support. She claimed I made it up. Somehow I made up the kitten. Somehow I fabricated the corpse. She mentally reduced in her reality the number of animals rather than deal with an unpleasant truth.
I remember doing laundry, as a preteen. Hoping no one would catch the stains hidden on dirty white socks. See, I didn't know what sex was, so I did not know the 'fun secret game' played in my teenage uncles' sleeping bag once or twice a year when he came to stay over. I didn't know the slick, sloppy stuff was semen.
The day the issue reared an ugly head in light of day it was dismissed. A made up tale by a crazy child, who was no longer allowed to handle guns. The sleep overs stopped. I found depression, or rather it found me. My eyes stopped seeing the world. My mother had to take me for an eye exam and the verdict was legally blind in second grade. Some days I want to see the world, most days now. Unfortunately, vision doesn't miraculously return.
Each of us has different life experiences, we have different perspectives and stories.
The challenges and hardships we face and surpass give us an appreciation for the gentle, sweet, healthy, beautiful people and world around us.
The last couple of years had ups and downs. I recount these stories not to burden you, but to free you. To free you to let go of secrets you do not know you keep. To heal and release what you are not responsible for.
I have said before not every story is mine to tell, sometimes there are many unspoken truths between lines. You can be drawn to and love someone who is unhealthy for you. You can also realize how unhealthy that is. You can assess the feeling: is it genuine love or just magnetic draw into abuse? Can you choose to heal and let go of the magnet?
I did. Instead of letting things escalate beyond being drawn into emotional pain, mind games, latent potential of physical violence I made a choice. I chose to value myself. I chose the expressions in the eyes and hearts of those who are healthy friends. I chose to set the baggage down and go.
This is the last time I mention them u less it is to talk about breaking cycles of abuse.

The first person who has to break that cycle is you. Facing your inner self and saying I am worth more than this, I deserve better than this, I do not deserve judgement or punishment, this guilt is not mine.
Say it every day. Live it. Let the loving people around you help you flow forward and heal. You deserve to be healthy, loved, respected and empowered. We all do.

Secrets allow abuse to continue. Secrets endorse it. Secrets allow abusers the power to continue, or to move on to an unprepared new target.

You do not always see it coming, it gets blamed on stress, health, finances. It is never acceptable. Never. You are not crazy.

Today I let this all go with a heavy heart. Children and pets. They get caught in the middle. People keep sharing pictures of black cats on my facebook. I love them. I still grieve Rumor. Now I grieve Sadhu as well, Danny has him. I have no idea how Sadhu is. It is the one way he can still affect my emotions. I have reached out for neutral mediation other than that, I have to let it go.
Goodbye sweet Sadhu. I hope life treats you well and I am sorry I didn't force the issue and take you to Scarborough when he insisted you stay with him.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Quit Sugar Coating.

Criticism is a tricky topic. The word itself is critical. Necessary for growth, change, life but not necessarily always wanted or enjoyable. Our perception and behavioral responses can close out helpful social cues and communication. Shut the door, slam the windows, draw the blinds and hide or point at someone else: the "They" that is cast as Villain in your life.
Emotions help us respond to the world and express ourselves. They are a two edged knife capable of energizing and empowering us with passion or paralyzing us with excuses and closing us away from the very feedback we need to grow and change. They daunt us, stress us, drive us, free us, and limit us. They are by nature, contradictory. When faced with a straightforward appraisal of areas we choose to interact with ourselves and others in an unhealthy way, sometimes they keep us from choosing to listen. They like things sugar coated, where one can suck the positive granules away from the constructive feedback and spit out the bitter truth that could have helped us grow. Thanks emotions, real helpful.
A man walked around the outside wall of a city every day. The wall was twelve feet tall. The stone it was hewn from was flat, smooth. There were no hand or footholds for climbing. There was a door, but to open the door one had to listen to the Sage guarding the door. The Sage could see your flaws. The Sage neutrally identified them, as if reading a grocery list. Many grew somber on hearing the recitation, some turning and leaving before the Sage was done with tears streaming down their cheeks like newly formed waterfalls. Others shouted, argued, or tried bribery and misdirection. The Sage was unmoved. Some attacked the Sage, only to find, the wounds they inflicted were to themselves. Some demanded they were perfect and tried brushing past the Sage, only to find themselves further from the city with ever step forward they took.
The man avoided the Sage after he walked away from him the first time they met. He despised the Sage for so casually listing his flaws. He excused his flaws and justified them more with each step he took. The man walked around the city so many times he made a dirt path around the wall. He could define the city. He knew the wall better than he knew the world. Sometimes he talked with people coming and going from the city. They told him to face himself, it would get easier and he would enjoy the sights within the city. The offered him suggestions, he always held steadfast to his excuses and path rather than try new ones.
Years past. One night, the man was cold. The wall was cold. The night was cold. He walked to stay warm. He could see his breath in the moonlight. He saw through the gate behind the Sage the orange flicker of a fire.
He turned, sighed and faced the Sage again. The Sage looked at him, exhaustion in the lines of his face. The man approached again, shoulders low and ego dragging behind him on the ground. The Sage listed his flaws. The man listened. Some were not so bad as he had chosen to see them as being, while others saddened and embarrassed him as they were worse. They talked for several hours in the cold, crisp night.
Finally, the man understood. Burdens released by choice, he stepped into the incredible City. There is a path worn down around the wall. When you walk it, you will run into others there who are stuck as well, circling and circling. Often, the encouragement they offer each other is sugar coated. Easy to digest but of little value for true progress to be made.
The hardest truths to face are the ones within ourselves that impact how we choose to perceive ourselves and shape how we choose to interact with the world. These truths offer us the most daunting but healing changes, sometimes approaching them is like jumping off a cliff; other times it is as terrifying as a walk down a dark city alley. The key seems to be holding onto the truth that in the end, awareness and positive change improve health, decrease depression and anxiety, and we are not alone. The people who care and support us are always just a thought away. Trust yourself, accept yourself, and problem solve. Painting the problem pretty doesn't resolve it, but I suppose it can make it funny if you really want to waste that much time avoiding the actual issue.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Ease Up

A bad mood curls around your neck and shoulders. You become prickly, agitated, and pressured like a summer storm. How did it develop? Gray clouds of overly critical self judgement, frustration at perception of self limitations you feel you should be long past, the internal evaluation where the interactions with others are distorted by past scars.
You catch yourself running tight circles in a ring, snorting like an angry bull tired of being led and used, ready for a tranquil grass carpeted field. Then someone reminds you to breathe. You look around and realize the arena is in your own mind. You are surrounded by love and kindness, people who encourage problem solving, goal setting, positive motivation. The people around you mirror what you feel and how you deal.
Relearning the shape of relaxation, easing up and letting healing and life happen at their pace. Relieved to be in a place where I can Ease up.
No matter how strong you are, if you live constantly tense and exhausting yourself, then you run out of strength and you fall. Pushes forward are frustrating wrestling matches with yourself, even where we blame someone else: it always comes down to us. The choices we make, how we perceive, how we react. Us.
A good friend said recently "You knew your choice in the relationship you were last in was not healthy: it's why you never asked any of us closest to you about it. You dealt with what you needed to, you're talking again, so you are making healthier choices."
Silence means there is a raging inner dialogue, where analysis and emotion are trying to reconcile with perceived reality. Neither one is particularly good at driving, both certain they are, and unfortunately, life tattered their road map. Instead of pushing them to figure it out, I am learning to work on figuring out a better map for them, letting it be easy like a sunny summer day. Blue skies, no rumbles and no unexpected rain.

Freedom is Gold

The Superstition Mountains are best known for the Legend of the Lost Dutchman's gold. A miner came to town boasting of a big find, with a chunk of gold to lend credence to his words. He died before anyone could get the exact location of the hidden gold mine. People have searched for over a hundred years, some dying on their quest for the lost gold. There are tourist sites in Apache Junction that recount the legend and offer the actual history. You can visit Goldfield, a ghost town that used to be an active mine. The Superstition Mountain Museum, Lost Dutchman State Park, Peralta Trail, Weaver's Needle, Apache Trail, Canyon and Apache Lakes, and Tortilla Flats are some of the golden nuggets you can enjoy as you explore history and desert.
The Superstition Mountains tower about four thousand feet above the desert valley. I have hiked to the highest point, I have hiked them in rain, snow, and at night by flashlight. I have watched lizards, seen petroglyphs,  and marveled at the forests of cacti. Sat in the night watching traffic at night in Phoenix. So close to the city but remote.
This year I arrived lost in my heart, soul heavy with sorrow, searching for myself and a direction. I went with the wind, except the aspects of my life that were burdensome stayed with me despite hopping planes and changing names and lives. I kept coming back to the desert. I kept going back to the mountains. There is an ancient indian myth of a white lightening woman who came from the sky and toppled the enemies attacking the tribe from the mountain. A spirit of a woman protecting a peaceful farming tribe, her legend set in my heart. She was their freedom.
I watched sunsets. My thoughts and feelings were the loudest sounds I heard, overpowering the night calls of crickets and coyotes. I was not happy. I felt diminished, stressed, helpless. I did not feel valued by the person closest to me and when I expressed this it was to receive ridicule and rants. Like the desert scavengers, I was surviving. I felt a kinship with the bold coyotes and the ranging ravens. If they could survive I could too. My choices were not helping me heal but they seemed to help my significant other. He needed help to live- I could be strong enough to survive that, couldn't I?
Golden light setting the cholla on fire, the fierce warrior  becoming desert royalty wearing a crown of sunset with robes of peach, rose, and wine colored clouds. Each night the clouds silently danced in different colors and patterns. Would you miss the beauty in their graceful performance? Many evenings I watched their performance and it gave me heart even when my emotions were drowning me. The sunsets circle the sky rather than only occupying the western side. It is impossible to avoid exclamation at times, the beauty stretching to see if it can outdo prior exhibitions. The best antidepressant is a moment of gentle beauty.

At Fish Creek Canyon, I played in a waterfall that would be gone in a day, just a black mark trailing down hundreds of feet of mountain.  I felt the ice cold water and wondered about the choices I made.
Listening to the wind, I felt it move through the canyons. Life is a series of paths, sometimes we reach a point where we find our best, healthiest option is change.
Wind, rain and ice wear the mountains down gradually. I have camped on primitive land in the Superstitions in years past, the mountains quietly stand. They've let me lean on them before when my life was heavy with change.  They call me to climb and explore, or was it the Lightening woman calling me? Was it her nudging me to chase myself down trails, around cacti and through washes? Such an irresistible curiosity, renewing my energy and spirit. More trails, sunset vistas, my feet kept going forward. Swimming in ice cold Canyon Lake, I realized life was a path and the one I was on wasn't right for me. I could change. I could be free!
I could stop letting someone dictate my life. Each of us is responsible for ourselves. I was surrounded by beauty, and if I chose to stop letting a toxic person paint my world I could heal. I became myself on the morning I drove away, freshly reborn east of Phoenix.
To me, the Superstition Mountains are freedom. Many die lost in the Superstitions, some fruitlessly searching for gold even now. I found myself there, found the audacity to pursue my heart, to reach past anxiety to strive for my dreams. I call that gold.