I am the landscape of feelings abandoned

This country of resensitization is foreign to me, its landscapes and even its sky unfamiliar. In this borderland between trauma running amok in my body and mind, and a newfound sense of awareness and ownership of the damage done, I am finally experiencing all the feelings I locked away for so long. Sometimes I feel that all I’m doing is complaining; I rage about the atrocities visited on my body and soul, keen the losses of time and relationships and myself.

Sylvia Brenton Perera writes of complaining in her book, Descent to the Goddess:
Complaining is one voice of the dark goddess. It is a way of expressing life, valid, and deep in the feminine soul. It does not, first and foremost, seek alleviation, but simply to state the existence of things as they are felt to be to a sensitive and vulnerable being. It is one of the bases of the feeling function, not to be seen and judged from the stoic-heroic superego perspective as foolish qvethcing and passive whining, but just as autonomous fact–“that’s the way it is.” Enki’s wisdom teaches us that suffering with is part of reverencing.

The Online Etymology Dictionary gives the origin of reverence as:
revereri “to stand in awe of, respect, honor, fear, be afraid of; revere
It also explains that the suffixed root wer comes from the Proto-Indo-European root meaning “perceive, watch out for.”

Living in this body that has so much to complain about, I feel I have to somehow get my head around the process of becoming one being, rather than a physical form full of pain and a mind that wants to avoid the suffering. The moments of intense feeling, in which I can touch the still tender wounds, do feel like something to watch out for and perceive, rather than turn away from and pretend they don’t exist. My judgemental mind tells me I’m indulging the pain by bitching and moaning, but I feel the truth in Perera’s words; when I complain, I am expressing things as they are, without trying to alleviate anything.

And I am in awe of the feelings. They are ginormous and when they arise, they take up all the space in my body, and so they should; they have waited a lifetime to be seen and honored. I can’t say that I feel particularly welcoming towards them yet, but I aspire to be able to perceive their arrival and offer them reverence and acceptance.

In this time of transition and growing awareness, I walk in a place between; I move from the being who did everything, anything, to survive and escape the past, to a new entity who sees and accepts all that other being carries and slowly aims to discover who she is. There has never been time or energy for me to know myself. Now I have both, as well as the agency with which to embody the pain without breaking apart.

This landscape is mine; it is me. All of it. I am all the messy and painful feelings, aching to be known. And I am the trembling joy of movement and song. I am the woman who talks to her plants, appreciating and encouraging them and the one who coos to the birds. I am the one who jitters when driving, as well as the one who notices these feelings and responds with acceptance and skill. I am the rage, the desire to destroy and the one who holds it all with grace, as much grace as possible, so no more damage is done.

I will roam about this place until every feeling is noticed and felt, even if I must spend a lifetime doing it. I have already lived through violence no living being should have to endure. I don’t often feel courageous but I’m beginning to know that I must be, otherwise how could I still be here at all? Perhaps, amongst all the other abandoned feelings, I will find and feel awe for my bravery.

Rage

I am a bundle of feelings this morning. Not ALL the feelings. Mostly, anger. Rage even. I can feeling it dripping down into my hands, making my chest feel tight. I almost feel as though I AM rage. And I don’t know what to do with it. I’m afraid of it, really. Afraid of what it might do if I release it.

Rage had left me for a time. Or had burrowed down under the rotting leaves of my marital tree. Trying to find warmth, a safe place to sleep until it was fully formed and ready to come out into the light and shed its skin.

The arguments in my head are making my stomach turn. I have to attend a meeting with my son’s school district this morning and I’m thinking of just sitting quietly while other people decide what will happen with him. But I know I cannot. The mother in me rages, maybe most of all. Am I, after everything I’ve been through, lived with and worked to heal, angry with myself as well? I hate self-loathing and yet I know it lived in me, tried to eat me from the inside out. I want to be like the screaming girls in the Witcher series and scream until everything around me gets blown away and torn down. I want to tear everything down. And since the self-loathing was born from the hands of men, it’s their world I want to pull down. I would see everything they’ve ever touched turned to dust.

Guess this post has turned into a vent, which is ok because, after all, I did name this space a vent blog.

There are a few things troubling me now. One, what do I do right now? How do I attend this meeting and not vent my rage at the people trying to help my son, even if their help comes within a system that the patriarchy created and maintains? Two, what do I do with this rage when I come home? I’ve waited all these years to own it as my own. I thought it had maybe left me, not simply slept until I had the strength to hold it. It feels like a right I’ve earned and at the same time a curse. Yet another thing my father and the others who hurt me have left me to deal with. I don’t give a fuck if they’re out there dealing with their own shit. Why do I have to hold another thing they’ve left me with?

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

I had to stop writing and let myself cry the rage out a bit. I think I’ve been waiting for it to bubble up and that’s why I’ve been listening to my instinct to do restful things and have a lot of space. I was still taken by complete surprise when it finally arose. It’s big and deep and wide and I don’t yet know just how vast. I took a shower, planning to pull myself together for my son’s meeting but there’s ice on the roads and apparently my tires are bald. So here I am, back again, right where I need to be. And I’m listening to an old friend’s first album, the album I listened to over and over again while I was writing my Master’s thesis on incest survivors and dreams. I haven’t listened to it for years because she hasn’t put it on Spotify but it’s as familiar as my own breath and sings about the trials of being a woman and she does it with grace and insight.

I need so much space right now (that need feels as vast as my rage) and I feel intensely protective of what I’m giving myself. The slightest perceived transgression of that space sets off my rage, especially if it’s a man stepping into it. I don’t want anyone, particularly a man, wanting anything from me that resembles romance or sexual intimacy. In the story of the Handless Maiden, the maiden submits to the devil’s will and the poor bargain her father made. She submits without anger or trying to escape. What the actual fuck?! And yet, I do understand. It’s not as though I started fighting back against my own father until I was in my mid to late teens. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of Women Who Run with the Wolves, writes of this part of the story:
The daughter has done remarkably well considering the circumstances. Yet we are numb once we have passed through this stage and realize what has been done to us, how we surrendered to the will of the predator and the frightened father so that we wound up being made handless.

I get it and it’s also frustrating to me that not once in this story is the maiden referred to as angry or resentful against the predator, her father, or the patriarchal system that has created the circumstances in which such a horrific thing could be done to an innocent child. Maybe that’s part of what she does while she’s at the house in the woods. Estes says this part of the story was lost. She also says nothing is lost in the psyche, so we can reconstruct what is missing. She believes the work done there was one in which the maiden comes to know herself and to regenerate her hands; part of that work is learning to let oneself feel and express feelings. I have to assume that learning to rage was one of the tasks the maiden takes on.

In her book, Descent to the Goddess: A Way of Initiation for Women, Sylvia Brinton Perera writes that when Inanna returns from her death in the underworld,
Inanna comes up loathesome and claiming her right to survive. She is not a beautiful maid, daughter of the fathers, but ugly, selfish, ruthless, willing to be very negative, willing not to care.
That seems like a more reasonable and accurate response to being sacrificed and left to rot by the patriarchy. I relate to that. I feel ugly, messy, selfish, demanding my right to survive and filled sometimes with negativity and ruthless uncaring. It’s all fueled by rage and underneath that a rooted knowing that I have a right to exist as I am, that I stand firm in. Along those lines, Perera also writes:
We know this demonic return of the repressed power shadow. Although it stands ultimately for life, it often erutps in birth and takes a lot of taming. It may be a “rough beast,” or it may, indeed, merely feel fearsome when a woman comes out of hiding to stand her ground–to herself and/or those around her.

I am a rough beast right now. And I will not give up my territory of grief and rage. I will prowl them like a hungry bear wandering the boundaries of her land after waking up from a long winter’s hibernation, ready to roar in the face of anyone wandering too close. I will find trees on which to rub the dead fur of outdated ideas. I will find the berries of new ways of being and gobble them up by the bushel. And when I grow hungry for something more sustaining, when the time is right, I will make my way down to the salmon run, growl my way past other bears and take my up my position near a small waterfall where the clear, cold water will refresh my spirit and the fish of life-sustaining activities will practically jump into my mouth and I’ll grow stores of fat to help me through the lean times to come. I will move, solitary, across the mountains and valleys of my past, moving towards a now in which I can rest and hibernate again.

Big feelings welcome here

My head hurts from crying and my eyes are sore. Meanwhile, the blue jays near the creek outside my window are calling to one another, not with their raucous shrieks but with sweet whistles. My dog has settled into a doze on my bed after ministering to my tears. This work is exhausting for both of us.

The feelings seem to arise out of the most mundane moments but I’m beginning to learn to stalk them as they make their way to the surface. It requires a lot of space in which to listen and focus, which in turn requires setting boundaries with the people in my life. I am a tracker of my own wild emotions; I need to walk softly through the forests of my heart and mind. Some of the feelings I shadow are almost as old as I am, some may be older, remnants of intergenerational trauma. Some have been compounded by multiple transgressions against my body & soul.

I have spent my life avoiding all of this. I used to think it was out of fear alone, but now I realize some inner wisdom knew that much healing needed to be done before I could touch these tender places within. So here I am, tending a fire of self-care and stalking feelings so they can be held and felt.

I alone will know

There’s an Iris Dement song that has touched me for years. My mom introduced me to it when my eldest child, now nineteen, was two. It’s called When My Morning Comes Around:

When my mornin’ comes around, no one else will be there
So I won’t have to worry about what I’m supposed to say
And I alone will know that I climbed that great big mountain
And that’s all that will matter when my mornin’ comes around

When my mornin’ comes around, I will look back on this valley
At these sidewalks and alleys where I lingered for so long
And this place where I now live will burn to ash and cinder
Like some ghost I won’t remember


When my mornin’ comes around, from a new cup I’ll be drinking
And for once I won’t be thinking that there’s something wrong with me
And I’ll wake up and find that my faults have been forgiven
And that’s when I’ll start living
When my mornin’ comes around.



I think my morning has come around. Up until I started therapy at the trauma center, listening to that song conjured up a moment in which I would finally be free of the abuse and its effects. I longed for it like a swan migrating towards its nesting grounds in the Spring, feeling as though a string from that place of full healing was connected to my soul and would draw me closer and closer until I finally reached it and could rest. But that is not how recovery works; there’s no end to the work. Knowing that now, I still feel as though my morning has come around, but my ideas about what that means are far different from what they were.

Some of feeling that sense of arrival has to do with acknowledging the ways in which I’ve grown and changed and remade my life. I have taken ownership of myself and the trauma. My father and the others who abused me are still responsible for the horrors they inflicted on me, but it’s not about them and their role. Only one of them has ever returned to me and offered not only sincere apology, but also stayed in my life and showed me that he respects me and regrets how he treated me. Even if they all came back and asked for forgiveness, the work of living in my body, whose very cells carry the traumas, would still be mine. I have accepted that challenge. I accept it over and over again every day, sometimes multiple times in a day.

What still feels more complex, messy and in process, is my acceptance of the fact that I will never be someone who wasn’t abused. It’s part of who I am to the core. I do as much therapeutic work as possible (the bulk of that work happens outside of my therapist’s office) so I can be in control of the trauma, rather than it controlling me. That means staying in my body when feelings get big, letting my body move in the way it needs to in order to release the energy that has been created by the feelings. It’s being vigilant and aware of automatic negative beliefs as they arise, challenging them and then seeing the world/myself/others/life as they really are, rather than twisted by years of experiences which I could not, at the time, process. It is also knowing and accepting that I will still sometimes get very triggered and either go into a hpyer or hypo-alert state; both are extreme states in which trauma takes over for a while and it takes skills to bring myself back to a place of groundedness and embodiment.

In the last year of trauma therapy, I have shed the notion that I will one day be free of the abuse. That’s part of the healing process–coming to know, understand, and deeply accept that we are who we are because of the trauma, but more importantly, because of our commitment to having agency over our lives now and the effects of trauma that still arise. This brings me back to the metaphor of the Handless Maiden. When we are in a state in which our trauma reigns over our lives and we are subject to its movements, we are handless, have no agency/control with which to mediate the states we experience. We have no choice but to submit to the panic attacks, dissociative episodes, emotional disregulation, somatic symptoms, derealization (feeling reality is unreal), suicidal ideations, etc.

We regrow our hands as we do deep and difficult trauma work. Little by little, with much practice and failure, we begin to experience agency. For instance, one year ago my extreme symptoms (night terrors, dissociation, flash backs, etc.) felt like a tsunami when they occurred. I could not step in and reduce the severity of them or bring them to an end because I had no practice doing so and didn’t even know how to begin. But last night, I slept poorly and this morning awoke and began to go straight into a dissociative episode. In less than a minute, I was out of bed, in my body, and headed downstairs for coffee. My commitment to the practice of intervening is paying off. I felt myself slipping away, shifted my posture and said ‘no’ out loud. Sounds simple but it took months to develop a strategy that works and putting it into practice takes awareness and will power.

So, here I am, standing on that great big mountain alone and feeling that only I, in all the world, truly know how difficult and dangerous a journey this has been. I look back on my life and relationships, and everything other than my sense of self, children and a few close family members and friends, have burned to ash and become ghosts I can mostly forget. The physical and emotional nourishment I’m drinking in every day is new and I’m finally believing (more often than not) there’s nothing wrong with me. I think I’m going to build a little cabin up on this mountain top and soak that in for a good, long while. This is a big, big moment.

Evolving Sense of Worth

I’ve been doubting myself. There’s a voice in my head that’s berating me.

When are you going to get to that trauma work you so desperately wanted this space and time for?

What are you doing with your time? Is coloring mandalas everyday really necessary?

Why aren’t you feeling more, staying in your body more, attending more to this self-growth and healing you’re always going on about?

Why can’t you let yourself feel empathy for your children when they are sick/feeling worn down by the world/struggling with trauma or divorce?

The list of questions this voice asks goes on and on. My instinct is to avoid these questions and the voice that asks them but not attending to it doesn’t make it stop asking and ultimately, the voice becomes an insidious soundtrack playing in the background of my daily existence. One that undermines the work I’m doing.

The questions condense down to one bigger and more important question.

Do I have worth just as I am?

And that’s a big, big question. A “vulnerable question”, as a fellow survivor put it. It’s the kind of question I have to circumambulate. Jung introduced this therapeutic method of approaching a problem because by circling a problem or issue, we can examine it from different angles and the process itself becomes a distillation that can bring one to the issue’s essence. For me, this process is intuitive; I have learned to trust that my instinct to wander around feelings/issues always leads me to a deeper understanding of myself, and sometimes some alleviation of suffering.

I think I’ve been circumambulating this question for some time. Certainly, my automatic negative beliefs about my self-worth have been a topic in therapy for months. But with the confusion and pain I was experiencing while living with my previous partner, I wasn’t able to explore it on a deep level. Working with the question, and beliefs around it, is more accessible now that I live in a space of my own and have every other week with no young children to care for.

More accessible does not mean easier, though. With the quiet and the free time and a room of my own, I’m more aware of my feelings and they are big and ever present. I still sometimes dissociate when my body gets activated by feelings. If I notice myself slipping away, I let my body shake, my feet stomp, my hands quiver. And some of the feelings move and I get some relief. If I don’t notice, or if I’m too tired to intervene, I leave for minutes or hours and when I come back I feel numb and tired. It’s a relief of a sort, but not as clean and pure as letting the feelings move.

Several things inspired me to write today. The first was reading a post by a fellow survivor. They wrote about society’s expectation that survivors should get better, have a happy ending, fit into a society who’s narrative is based in colonialism and the privilege of the few. They were asking the same question I’m asking. Do I feel I have worth? The second event that brought me to my blog today was acknowledging that I’ve been struggling to take full, deep breaths for weeks. I’ve come to recognize this as a sign that there are big feelings I’m not attending to. It began as a protective mechanism that helped me hold back feelings when I wasn’t in a safe space or capable of navigating their expression. My oldest kiddo, wise as a crone sometimes, listened to me voice my concerns about what’s going on with me right now and their response was informed by their own experience of trauma and immensely helpful. They said I’ve only been in this new phase of my life for three weeks and my nervous system is still adjusting. In other words, my doubts, all the coloring and movie watching I’ve indulged in, the feelings I’m holding in, are all just fine. They see clearly that this is a huge transition, that I’ve never had my own space and that all of this is going to take time to adjust to and for me to know how to be in it.

And that brings me full circle back to the question of my belief in my worth. I looked up the etymology of the word worth this morning and my sense of what it means is subsequently shifting to a more positive understanding, one which I believe I can better dwell in. In Middle English the word was worthen and it meant exist; come into being. In Old English weorpan meant to become; be made; arise. In Proto-Germanic werbana meant come about; happen. I always thought of self-worth as static, something I had either had or didn’t have. It was all or nothing. Exploring the origins of the word is helping me understand self-worth as something that is active and always changing. It is a reflection of my growth, the work I’m doing in trauma therapy, and my own journey of becoming and arising. Perhaps I can have worth simply by existing and without any requirements. That last one feels more challenging to accept.

I’m still uncertain about the answer to the question: do I feel I have worth? And I’m ok with that. I have begun to create a new meaning for the word worth. One which resonates with me and supports the work I’m doing to trust myself and become/arise/be made. I am emerging as the creator of myself and that feels like a process I should be tender with. I committed myself to spending as much time as it takes to know myself, learn to stay in my body and allow my feelings to exist and be expressed. If I can have worth because I am doing the work of becoming, then I can honestly tell that nagging voice in my head to settle down and follow my lead. I am doing the work of integrating and reconnecting with life. I just have to own that and allow myself to take credit for the incredible challenges I’m facing head on.

All that being said, I can say in this moment that I feel my worth. I believe it. And I can allow that feeling to ebb and flow.

As long as it takes…

I am a collective of children and we are physically and energetically bound together by some evil force; we cannot move, we can never escape.

I am a collective of older children. We are 6 now, still bound together, and our feet are disabled by the binding that was done when we were smaller. We want to get up and run away but our feet could not carry us even if we could break the bonds.

The above, along with another dream about hiding under a table to escape a nuclear bomb, were written one year ago. I was poised to begin trauma therapy. Two weeks later, I wrote the following:

I think it’s kind of like running from a dangerous wild animal; you start running and you run as long as you can with only quick looks back over your shoulder to see if the animal’s gaining on you. If the animal is potentially deadly, you might continue running even once you’re safe because you don’t feel you can risk stopping and discovering you’re still being chased. The difference is, if you’re running from a traumatic past, you were actually mauled to the extent that, if it had been an animal attack, you wouldn’t have been able to physically get up and run. You’d be dead. The kinds of abuses I experienced do kill some people, whether as a direct result of the physical harm done or because the victim actively or passively committed suicide.

I think I’ve come to my friend’s farmhouse because I need a place to stop running and catch my breath. I can’t run anymore. I haven’t needed to for a very long time. The thing about stopping is that you suddenly have the time to think about, and take in, what you’ve survived. So far that feels overwhelming and exhausting. Maybe that’s why the handless maiden stopped at the small, forest inn and stayed for 7 years. That will have to be a metaphorical 7 years because I don’t have the luxury of weeks, let alone years.

I’m not running anymore. I’m not sure when I stopped running because there’s a sense of timelessness to recovery. And here’s a truth I see now that would have devastated me when I wrote the above: When you’re an abuse survivor, luxury has nothing to do with how long you get to stop running and recover. That process is governed by necessity. You don’t stop running only to take a break before running again; you stop to assess your wounds, allow your breath to return to a gentle rhythm, and spend as much time as it takes to let your bones set and the muscle and tissue repair and scar over. You stop for as long as it takes.

I will stop for as long as it takes. I’m no longer in the crisis that is highly active C-PTSD. I am now in what is known as Phase 3 of trauma work. Reconnection and Integration. I won’t rush through this because it is my opportunity to redefine my life with a new sense of purpose, purpose that is not just survival. I have to learn how to be in my body and stay in it, and practice setting boundaries, choose who to let into my life.

Grief came bubbling up when I reread my posts from last January. Grief for the child/children/young adult who were harmed so heinously. Sorrow for the me I was one year ago, so desperate to save a marriage I know now had to end. A very deep well of sadness for all of the pain that has seeped out of me and into every crevice of my life. Heartbreak for my children, especially my eldest, who are growing up with a mother who not only can’t always be fully present with them, but who spent most of their lives having active symptoms of C-PTSD.

I took a walk with my dog this morning. Past the corner townhouse where 2 dogs went wild with barking. I smiled to myself when their mom came out and gently scolded them back to their breakfasts. Out into the field where a pair of crows with outspread wings spent a long moment gliding down to the earth. At this point my eyes were brimmed with tears and I thought about everything I’ve lost. Across the bridge and listened to the water moving under the ice. Down the path that’s across the creek from our townhouse. I watched two flickers doing what must be a courtship dance, interspersed with their short whistles while tails touched the ground. At the corner, a dog named Sparky, came out into his yard and barked and his mom called him back into the house. I spent a moment at the street bridge, smoking the butt of a cigarette and letting the nicotine dampen the grief enough so that I could return to my house without feeling overwhelmed.

It is hard work to be in my body and feel whatever arises in the moment. This morning it’s grief. Witnessing the life around me is both a balm and a reminder of the separateness I still feel from what I want living to be. If I were an animal that had narrowly escaped a predator…but no, I am not. I understand the helpfulness of that metaphor in reminding us about the importance of moving our bodies after we have big feelings. If anything, I’m like an animal who was horribly mauled by a predator and then found a way to drag my body behind me while continuously falling victim to more predators.

It reminds me of the abused dogs I’ve adopted. One, two years old when adopted, tried to kill every dog she met and spent her life hiding under beds and couches when she heard yelling or someone got the broom out. The other, a 12 week old puppy who’d been found alone on the side of the highway in Kansas, was quiet and cautious when we met her; she spent most of the time in the greeting yard hiding under benches. Both were empaths who comforted family members when they were hurting and both were extremely sensitive to what harm might be done to them, long after they were safely with me. It’s no wonder I felt such a strong bond with the first dog; the Humane Society told me she’d escaped her abusive home three times, only to brought back the first two times. I imagine she ran thinking she’d find safety, only to find herself inexplicably back with her abuser. She was happy with me but her instinct was always to run when the opportunity presented itself. The smallest gap in a fence, a slightly loose board, soft dirt at the base of the fence-line all told her there was a way out so she could run.

I still run sometimes, but not for very long. Part of what I’m learning is how not to run. Part of healing is being gentle with one’s self. So I try not to fuss at myself after I run by dissociating or having a drink to numb the feelings. I see myself making the Herculean effort to stay, to land in one spot for as long as it takes for me to come to know myself as I am now, and to learn what it means to live inside, and with, a body. I will stay for as long as it takes.