My Inner Worlds
When Hurricane Florence became a real threat to the Carolinas last weekend, I pretended to not care for one whole day. Then a deep-seated panic gripped me, and I joined the throngs at the grocery store to find only empty shelves. We were still over four days from predicted landfall, and supplies had already sold out. I returned to the store every day at different times, buying what little had come in from delivery trucks since my prior scavenging. Were we prepared enough? How could you ever prepare for the unpredictable nature of a storm? Do we need to evacuate? We live in a flood plain and everyone says we should leave, so why doesn’t Matt seem affected? My incredible rock of a husband told me I could lean on him—that we’d be fine. And we are. My fear drained much of my energy this week, and I’ve determined it’s just not worth it to live like this anymore.
For the past four years, I have consciously worked on facing my fears. I stopped writing creatively at that time because a gripping terror waited for me two paragraphs into a new story. In order to embrace my writing, I had to leave it for a while. During this break I’ve used various tools to delve into my psyche to understand why I freeze in terror, like I’m that little girl again who can’t control the dangerous environment she hides within. Each method of self-exploration has been deeper, grittier, and has taken me to places that I couldn’t have touched without the previous tool that got me to the next level. I’ve made phenomenal progress in 2018 with integrating parts of myself that either fractured when I was a young child or that I just couldn’t have reached without doing my inner exploration. So why did I still feel crippling terror this past week even as the sun shone overhead in a clear blue sky?
My friend Sherrie Dillard posted the following on FaceBook two days ago:
I took the invitation and determined I would use Hurricane Florence to overcome this fear of inclement weather and storms. As the hurricane made landfall, a realization came to me that storms are like the void where I create. I’ve panicked for many years when I see that darkness where my writing takes me. It really looks like a void, an emptiness that is actually filled with possibility. The paradox where my creative being yearns to free herself, but my conscious self fears to enter, much less linger and play with the potential that exists there.
Knowing this creative void is truly what I have feared, and not a weather scenario, I hope the next opportunity to experience ice, a flood, or whatever else Mother Nature brings, will find a calmer Me, a more accepting emotional place. Maybe I will learn to channel the ferocity of a storm and weave a beautiful flow of delight and tension into a fictional place where many may find refuge.
Before my morning yoga class I found seven feathers in the parking lot. I gathered them with care and gratitude. Feathers often come to me, and I see each as a gift from the unseen world. I treasure them all and keep them in a special blown glass vase. Since my heart is filled with blessings and thankfulness, I’d like to share that energy.
One year ago I began my yoga practice at Raleigh Yoga Company and have transformed my body and mind into something I wouldn’t have imagined back then. I’m far from where I want my physical and spiritual forms to be, but I’m on a path that works for me.
One year ago I also began writing this blog, starting the journey to find my voice and let myself be seen and heard. It’s been scary, and I’ve had to struggle with the whisper in my head that tells me I’m not good enough, I’m not clever or interesting enough, or—you get it. Each of us has a voice or two that says different things depending on who we are and what we want to become, but the effect is the same. We can listen to it and not break through our imagined limitations, or we can fly free and see the world through new eyes.
Almost six years ago Matt and I started hosting a monthly gaming day with a group of friends I’ve grown to cherish. Not only has our friendship blossomed and intertwined among the five of us, role-playing Dungeons and Dragons characters has helped me break out of the Sarah construct and explore new ways of expressing who I am and who I can become.
Ten years ago Matt and I traveled for the first time to the United Kingdom and Ireland with two of our dear friends. Since that initial voyage, the four of us have traveled twice more to those magical lands. We are now planning our next trip, to hopefully occur in spring 2019 to the mystical site of Machu Picchu.
These are four of the gifts for which I’m grateful, yet I found seven feathers. Does that mean I have three more beautiful things coming into my world? I certainly hope so.
Thank you for being part of my journey. May the feathers that bless me also bless you and your path in life.
The integration workshop last month kicked me harder than April's module. While I can't write about it—still processing the awesome things that happened—I can post pictures of the natural beauty Matt and I got to experience in Sedona and the surrounding areas.
While in Phoenix for training, I noticed a red poppy theme and captured photographic evidence:
We spent five nights in Sedona after the workshop, not realizing we would need the calm, healing space that Red Rock country provides. Matt and I were both hollowed out when we arrived, and we benefited from quiet hikes and not being in our normal environment.
Below are two friends I met during our hike in the Secret Mountain Wilderness. I enjoyed quiet meditation next to both of them.
Two weeks ago I realized I couldn’t live with my frayed purse strap any longer. I bought my current handbag three years ago around my birthday. I had splurged, not really needing a new one back then. I probably don’t now, but I feel like my professional demeanor is called into question if my accessories are less than perfect.
I spent a miserable hour in the mall looking at ladies bags and the gaudy trend some of the really expensive ones have this season (or maybe it’s always been that way). After much obsessing, I purchased one black purse a little bit bigger than what I want, and one deep red wristlet that just looked too cute to pass up. This is why I don’t often shop—I base my decisions on “cute” and “I could use that for this one random event I might go to in the next year” instead of using my trusty logic.
When I make a decision, I usually feel good that I can click a task off my list. Not so with this purchase. It opened a pandora’s box of insecurities within me. This purse will represent all that I am to strangers. My professional competency will be judged based on this black shoulder bag, and you know what? I’m better than this Coach Chelsea cross body.
So I pulled up multiple browser windows and spent an entire week searching for the bag that represents all of me. Matt watched my crazy, frenetic behavior from the sidelines as I ordered yet more purses so I could judge them side-by-side and get their feel. Is this one me? Does it say, “You just hired me for a consulting job and paid a bunch of money to fly me cross-country and I’m worth every penny?” Sadly, no. The purse didn’t. Because purses can’t.
Matt, my beloved husband, an incredible therapist, and a deeply intuitive man gently asked me one evening as we walked the dogs, “Have you thought about what a purse might represent?” I gave him the blank stare. No, I obviously hadn’t searched my soul for a deeper meaning as my OCD reigned. But dang it. As soon as he said that, my little inner voice flashed a picture of the creative space deep in my belly that’s just waiting for me to put my valuable stories, words and energy into it. I saw the orange fire casting a comforting glow in what I named my “creative cave” a few years ago when it presented itself in cold, dark gray. It now has an incandescence that somehow has grown despite my inattention.
The compulsion I’ve felt to find the right purse was a misplaced need to put my treasured gifts and talents in the safe and nurturing environment of myself. My inner confidence and ingenuity represent who I am, not a fancy leather bag to heft around crap I don’t really want with me.
I’ve decided to train myself to use a clutch purse that barely fits my phone, sunglasses and keys. I returned the large shoulder bag I bought and gave the red wristlet to my sister, who oohed and ahhed over it because she needed a new one (and it really is cute). A perfect ending to a story about a woman finding and accepting her personal power.
Do you have a happy ending to an issue you’ve struggled with? Are you still encountering blocks or denial on your journey to wholeness? There are plenty more in my bag of tricks, but this one is enough for now.
Tomorrow marks 48 years of my breathing this planet’s air, consuming nutrition grown on its land, and hydrating from the vast water supply on the sphere we call home. It also marks the day when I honor the call I’ve avoided for the past several years. My creative nature must rise from the hidden dark corner where I stuffed it in my first decade on Earth. I use logic and reason to restrain its growth and expression, and guess what? Like any neglected child, it now has issues and requires family therapy.
When Matt and I signed up for a series of personal integration workshops this spring and summer, I knew changes would happen. Why would we invest in flying to Phoenix, AZ not once, but three times if we didn’t think there would be benefit? Our first training module occurred in mid-April and flattened me for an entire week. I could barely think and felt extreme exhaustion. The second week I felt better physically, but all the trauma and distress I thought I’d dealt with from my childhood came back. Not just to revisit the old material—oh no, I got to see new stuff. You know, the second season has to outdo the first or else the audience will get bored and no longer watch the show. I remembered more blocked experiences and had to process them. I woke from a dream last Friday morning that left me unable to eat much of anything the entire day. I’ll spare you the details. By Saturday I felt better and thought I had processed what the dream meant.
However, today I woke feeling ill because yesterday I did everything “old Sarah” would have done to hide from her feelings. I completely skipped meditation, yoga, and bodywork, while indulging in food, wine, and binge-reading fiction (which ironically was about a grown woman who remembered she was raped as a girl—even in my escape, I can’t escape). I’m tired of avoiding my power, my creative nature, my gift to those who are meant to read what I want to say or write in whatever form it manifests.
Yesterday was a taste of the life I’m trying to leave. I don’t want to be numb anymore. So my gift to myself is to stop running and hiding. Running away doesn’t work, and I’m only making myself and those I care about miserable. I have a structure in place to face my inner self and allow her to shine through the visage I allow the world to see. Do you like the conceptual art that aligns nicely with how I see that inner light?
Dear Tia left her physical body one week ago this morning. It’s hard to reconcile the loss when I sense her presence almost every day. Not everyone believes in life after death, or if they do, they may not have the sensitivity to know their loved one is near. I’m grateful to have that sense of knowing who from the other side may be around, whether it’s my grandmother or my beloved animal companion.
This week has been easier than I anticipated, yet harder in some respects. Aden, the baby brother, lost his pervasive happiness two nights ago and deeply grieved. Matt and I are okay with our own sadness, but seeing a child experience loss for the first time is unbearable. Aden’s smile is ever-present, like he can’t help his mouth hanging open in a goofy grin. However, nothing we did or said gave him any respite from not having his sister with him on the couch. He wouldn’t eat. He sniffed the edges of our duvet where Tia would sneak a nap in the warm luxury of Mom’s bedding, and we could feel his confusion, almost anger, that Tia wasn’t with him. Then he just settled on the couch in an unhappy lump of unmoving sadness where we unsuccessfully tried to cheer him.
His demeanor changed yesterday back to the bright boy we know and love. When I drove up to the house after work, Aden jubilantly raced down the front stairs and ran to my car as I parked. The problem? Our children aren’t allowed outside by themselves. From my peripheral vision I saw Gypsy, our escape artist, madly running down the street towards me. She was a block away, yet her instincts know when Mom is near. I laughed to see Aden so happy and back to his joyous self, captured my errant daughter, and checked on my husband.
Matt was lying in bed, drenched in sadness, and had no idea how our back gate had become unlatched. No dog could open it—I can barely force it open most of the time. To help break Matt’s mood, we went out for sushi, one of his favorite foods, and then watched a three-hour movie (not my preferred activity).
When we arrived home after our spontaneous date night, I opened the door and greeted Gypsy and Aden, while automatically looking to the corner where Tia would have been. I started crying, surprised that I had forgotten she would no longer occupy that space.
We’re one week out. Tears and sadness are normal. But I want the grief to be over. It’s much easier to comfort others than it is to comfort myself. Being in the moment and fully present with my feelings is not pleasant. There is no alleviating the pain except through time. The tenet of Yin yoga is holding an uncomfortable position for a period of time. While I have a physical Yin practice at the studio, I now have a real-life scenario where I get to practice Yin in an emotional place.
I’m grateful for my life—the good, the pleasant, the yuk. It’s this blend that makes me who I am today and creates the potential for a most incredible future me.
This post was written by my husband Matt this morning. Because I just can't.
I promise this post is about my dog, but allow me to provide some background.
My first therapist gig out of grad school was in a very rural county of the Appalachian mountains. It was rural enough that the county could compel me once per month to do a 24-hour crisis shift. That meant if anyone in the county wound up in the hospital's emergency department impaired by drugs/alcohol, or by mental illness, I would have to drive there and assess them. The doctor could override my decision (it only happened once) but it was typically my call if this person would be sent home, to jail, to a psych ward, or to a detox center.
Here's one example.
Whenever possible I like to talk to the client before I get info from family or staff, so without any foreknowledge I am led to a room with a 73-year-old woman dressed casually at about 3am on a Saturday morning. She has a pleasant smile and is quite chatty. In a sweet voice she is complaining that people should leave her alone in her own home, and let her do what she wants. "I wasn't hurting anyone. There's no reason to drag me here." Her body language is energetic, expressive. Her voice lilts and slides very persuasively, commanding a measure of compassion and respect.
Her tangents are about family who have abandoned her, friends who've died, and the lack of direction for this stage of her life. However, she always reigns that in quickly, then tries to develop a connection with me from a very rational, unemotional voice. I know she is trying to find what frequency I'm at. Am I a soft-hearted social worker? A detached clinician? How can she get me on her side? This is not a good sales person. Operating in this situation at 3am, this woman is a great salesperson. "So you see, they should just leave me alone," she says, referring to a neighbor who got the police involved.
But you don't wind up with a police officer standing outside your emergency room door for no reason.
I excuse myself a moment and exit the room to get more info from the armed guard outside. A neighbor complained of very loud music coming from the home, and found this woman singing and dancing in the middle of her living room, a glass of wine in one hand as she emptied a container of gasoline all over the floor and furniture. As the woman lit a match, the neighbor called 911 and responders arrived to find a fire slowly consuming the carpet, the woman dancing in its light. Her blood alcohol level was .360 when she arrived at the hospital -- four and a half times legal intoxication -- though she demonstrated no signs of slurred speech or loss of balance or coordination. This highly experienced drinker would have passed as simply "quirky," were it not for the small blaze about to consume her entire home - with her in it. That was the plan she finally admitted. Nevermind it might have taken thousands of acres of forest with it.
That was one of the easier and more pleasant cases. On one Christmas shift I spent twenty-four hours handling thirteen different people at the hospital. Each one requiring paperwork, endless faxes to various psych wards, and phone conversations trying to sell my cases to these facilities. I spent all week with severely mentally ill people and needed my weekends to rejuvenate, so you can only imagine my enthusiasm. I was forced into these despised shifts for about three years.
Unfortunately, just as I reinforce with my clients, a bad attitude only makes everything worse. The whole thing felt heavy, full with resentment and an internal voice that invented profane insults like nothing you'd ever heard. I had never hated a job so much. Something had to be done.
I worked through numerous solutions, including distracting myself with the Internet, writing emails, and so on, but none of it worked. Finally I discovered that my entire attitude changed if I sat still and imagined my dog Tia in my lap for a few minutes. This was more powerful than anything else I came up with. It worked every time I did it. It was impossible for me to be angry with Tia on my lap, as her lively energy and warm, loving kisses instantly brought a smile to my face every time. So that's what I did each time I had to go to the hospital, for over two years of these monthly shifts. On the rough shifts I'd have to break every hour or so and do this exercise. It made life a lot easier.
My little hero was chosen from a litter by Sarah, who identified her as the most active and playful of the bunch. This later translated into Alpha dog. She would fearlessly launch all twenty pounds of her at any dog or child within ten feet, no matter how large or threatening. Probably the Chihuahua part of her. The same part that makes her such an impossibly loving and loyal part of our pack. When Tia sits her cute little butt on you, you know you're being sat on by one of the greats.
And this is where the heartwarming tone of this blog post must end.
Eleven-year-old Tia is experiencing chronic back and kidney pain, isn't eating much, and is laying still. We could probably leave her in this body another month or so, but we don't see the point in watching someone who has been so good to us suffer day after day. We cannot do that to her or to ourselves.
The time has come to send this wonderful companion on to her next project. We send her with medals of honor, passionate testimonials, and all the love in our hearts.