Archives for posts with tag: trauma

I imagine people cry in Las Vegas frequently. It seems like the sort of city that could provoke it, under a variety of circumstances.  The experience of  Las Vegas is intense; there is just so much going on, continuously.

Las Vegas at Sunset.

Las Vegas at Sunset.

I’ve had a great time in Las Vegas, so far. Great accommodations, and in another post, on another day, I’ll link places that impressed me. This is not that post. It wouldn’t be fair to all the wonders of this city, or this hotel, to do that here, because right now I am crying in Las Vegas.

I’m not even sure these are ‘my tears’. I’m tired. I’m overloaded with new information, professionally. This is a very busy and very successful conference, and I’ve learned a lot that has value, and rates further contemplation, and future action.  I am, however, crying right now. I’m not even fighting it. I got back to my room before the wave of emotion overtook me, and there’s some comfort in that, because I can just give in to the tears. Perhaps another time I’ll write more about those, too, but there are already many strong voices on the subjects of rape, of gender, of parity, of suffering, of the everyday lack of decency, consideration, and goodness.  Those strong voices are already shouting into the wind. Right now, I am not that strong.  I’ll cry awhile instead, splash some cold water on my face, and get back to work.

This trip has been ‘all about people’ in a beautiful, very open way. That’s worth celebrating. So, I’ll cry awhile longer, and consider the people I’ve met here and the stories they have had to tell. Eventually my tears will dry, and I will once again feel a smaller part of a much larger whole, with my own story to tell; and words rather than tears will flow.  In the meantime, I’d like to introduce – Las Vegas people.

Hotel staff...

Hotel staff…

...Of all sorts...

…Of all sorts… all hours.

…at all hours.

Practical work that goes on almost continuously...

Practical work that goes on almost continuously… the sun, in the heat, in the background.

…in the sun, in the heat, in the background.

Shopkeepers with a dizzying array of goods, open almost 24/7.

Shopkeepers with a dizzying array of goods, open almost 24/7.

Street performers...

Street performers…

...girls in costume, and more. (Superheroes, cartoon characters, celebrity look-a-likes...)

…girls in costume, and more. (Superheroes, cartoon characters, celebrity look-a-likes…)

Las Vegas is a city of illusions for sale, for business, pleasure, and consumption.  It’s still a city. These are still people, each with their own story to tell.  Each storyteller bringing something to the tale of humankind that is worthy of a moment of attention; honest, heartfelt, and fearlessly engaged.

Not every story is a fairytale.

Not every story is a fairytale.

Today is a good day to say thank you. Today is a good day to be grateful. Today is a good day to be aware that we are each having our own experience.


[Trigger Warning; discussion of nightmares inspired by sexual trauma, child abuse, domestic violence and war. Be kind to yourself, my words are not worth ruining your Sunday.]

We sleep. We must. Sleep is non-optional, even for the sleep-challenged. We sleep, or eventually, we go mad, and we die. I have difficulty sleeping, and struggle with a number of ‘sleep disturbances’, and have since I was very small. My biggest sleep challenge is returning night after night to ‘The Nightmare City’ when my sleep has entered a period of prolonged and frequent bad dreams; the first day or two it isn’t an issue, but after a few days, in spite of clearly understanding how necessary sleep and rest are, I begin to fight the need to sleep, to avoid the nightmares. Yes, nightmares are that bad.

Oddly, I rarely have nightmares if I nap, during the day. How strange is that?

I do all I can, all I have learned how to do, to ensure that when I wake from a nightmare I can quickly recognize I am no longer asleep, no longer threatened, and re-orient myself for sense of place and time, and begin to make willful use of mindfulness practices and meditation to calm myself. It’s nice to have that going for me, these days.  My physician is concerned about my difficult sleep. She’d like me to do a sleep study. Sure, okay, no problem.  She’s a good doctor. I listen to what she has to say.  I know, though, from a lifetime of experience, that medical care will not lock the gates of The Nightmare City.

It’s a quiet Sunday morning. I’m not in much pain as the day begins. My sleep was mostly pretty restful, not dreadfully disturbed.  I woke thinking about cartographers, chaos and damage, the trauma wilderness that so many of us seem trapped within, and it took my consciousness by surprise to find myself fairly calmly ‘looking over the wall’ into The Nightmare City without panic.  Shall I show you around a bit?

Light without illumination.

Light without illumination.

One prominent feature of The Nightmare City is that no matter what the lighting, it feels dark. It is somehow always night, even in nightmares that seem set in day time hours. The darkness is about more than a quality of light. The lights illuminate nothing, they are simply points of other colors, of varying intensity.  Beauty generally seems ‘at a distance’ or in the periphery, illusory and unattainable.  Madness, anger, hurt, fear, confusion, and doubt are generally imminent, and very visceral. The behavior of other creatures and beings in The Nightmare City don’t follow common social convention, or the laws of physics.

Last night the streets of The Nightmare City were empty, deserted; I was alone. I walked, hearing my feet crunch as if walking on icy snow, or egg shells. I did not look down.  The cityscape seemed quite familiar, this time, and very urban. Also vaguely threatening. I felt that eyes were watching me, that ill intent was everywhere, and that the moment was on the cusp of imminent terror. I walked. The air felt icy, and my lungs ached. I found myself wondering if I were holding my breath in my sleep, and realized that this time I was aware that I was asleep, and this was The Nightmare City.  The terror pulled back a bit, receded; demons no doubt checking their calendars for conflicts.  Nightmares are far less terrifying when I am aware I am sleeping. There is a lot of value in lucid dreaming, and I breath a moment of gratitude for awareness that actually has a feeling to it, a feeling of ‘awake’ ‘alive’ and ‘well’ being pulled into my lungs, fortifying and restoring me. In my dream, my phone pings, and I have a calendar alert from a cadre of demons advising me that we’ve rescheduled. I wake briefly, hearing myself laugh out loud, and return to sleep.  I am regularly and firmly schooled by my sleeping consciousness, pwnd by dream world hackers, or taken to task by my demons, and waking only to return immediately to The Nightmare City is pretty routine.

The Nightmare City has streets lined with decrepit town homes and row houses, retail shops, alley ways. There are rarely any cars, not even parked cars.  For some reason, cars generally only show up in pleasant dreams, for me.  I saw a car in The Nightmare City, once, bearing down on me at a high-speed, and me with nowhere to go, back against the wall… waiting. I woke breathless and frightened, holding my breath in the moment before death… waking was a relief.  I don’t trust the sight of a car in The Nightmare City.

There is machinery and industry in The Nightmare City. My oldest nightmare that I can recall, which was a recurring nightmare well into my 20s, when it just stopped, was one of gigantic bees, with huge stingers, operating a system of huge metal gears grinding together. The bees wore pickelhaube-style helmets.  This is a nightmare I think I first had sometime when I was younger than 5 or so. I found it quite terrifying, and incomprehensible.  The bees were operating the gears – and I was caught in the gears and about to be ground up. The worst of it was that I, myself, was directing the actions of the bees from another vantage point, as myself, but separate from the me about to be ground up – but aware that I was one and the same and the outcome would apply to the me directing the action as much as the me being ground up. Quite incredibly terrifying, to the point that I still recall it in detail.

The Nightmare City has cafes, too, and places to stop for refreshment, parks, gardens, neighbors – not any of which are to be trusted or taken at face value. Sitting down to a coffee with a group of women who seem friendly, quickly becomes a nightmare festival of mocking laughter, derision, and meanness driving intense insecurity, fear, and a desire to escape, usually in the face of no ability to do so.  A stroll through a beautiful park in The Nightmare City may seem innocuous, but trust me on this one – the park is filled with demons, and re-enactments of trauma, and oh hey – more derision and mocking laughter.  A good evening stroll through a park in The Nightmare City would be one that was peopled with nothing more vile than mean remarks, and maybe some little old ladies spitting at me, or angry little dogs. It could be a whole lot worse.

Lately, I keep walking up on a very young me, huddled in a white flannel nightgown, weeping and rocking over something held tightly in her arms. I want to help; I recognize she is me. I walk toward her, but my steps bring me no closer. She is so distressed, and as my frustration builds, she cries harder, and her nightgown starts seeming to have a bit of blood soaking through, where it is tucked tightly around her, and touching the ground. She wails, and I keep trying to drawn near to her, to hold her.  She doesn’t get any closer however many steps I take. There’s more blood than I realized, and the nightgown is soaking up more of it. She cries – I cry out to her. She doesn’t or can’t hear me. We don’t seem to be ‘in the same place’. I reach for her, anyway, hoping that the dreamscape will let me reach her. I see that there is blood on my hands, although I still can’t reach her. There are tears on my face, and blood on the white flannel nightgown I am also wearing… I feel so small.  I start screaming and screaming “Please!! Please!! No!” I wake from it, as often as not, still huddled small and tightly, rocking, something trapped in my firm panicked grasp – usually a pillow – and struggling to breath through tears, choking on snot.  “Unpleasant” doesn’t begin to describe it.  This one has been coming up a few times a week for weeks now.

Some of the oddities of The Nightmare City are just flashes of memory; painful enough, they need no augmentation. I get some of the usual human primate fare, as well, dreams of falling, dreams of showing up to work naked, dreams of loss, of insecurity, of frustration, of grief. There was a time I did not understand that those were also nightmares, they seemed so benign in comparison to other things in The Nightmare City.

Last night though, I just walked through stillness. As if the city were largely abandoned. Doors that often opened at a touch were locked last night. The air was cold, and most of the time I felt I was breathing air; sometimes it is poisoned.  There was no one else visible, just that feeling of being watched as I walked.  Perhaps that, too, was only me, noticing myself.  I thought I heard voices in conversation and turned to face them, all was dark and I was alone, and somehow in my room, sitting lotus on my bed (which I knew wasn’t likely with my knees in the shape they are in, and that alerted me I was still dreaming). I looked at my bedroom door suspiciously; my bedroom also exists in The Nightmare City. Trust me when I tell you opening that door is a very bad idea…although it’s been a long time since I was tempted to do so, and I no longer know with any certainty what might be on the other side.

I woke myself with the observation that the candle on my nightstand was out, but the room was bathed in light; confirmation I was dreaming, and that is often what it takes to wake from The Nightmare City, gently. When I woke I knew that I had, because the candle on my nightstand is battery operated and still flickering, and some odd details immediately adjusted from ‘dream’ to ‘real’, like the pillows being just pillows, rather than huge piles of unfinished paperwork – which hadn’t seemed odd when I was actually still asleep.  I used the waking moments to calm myself; it wasn’t exactly a bad nightmare, as nightmares go, but my heart was still pounding, my hair still damp with sweat, and I was shaking with fear; my ‘to go bag’ from The Nightmare City.  I meditate for a few unmeasured minutes, then get up in the night, like a child, for a drink of water.  Bare feet on hard wood, standing in the kitchen, I still feel so small, so young, so vulnerable… as if for the moment I am not me-now, as much as me-then.

I return to my room, to my bed, to the dimness of candlelight, and to sleep, but not to The Nightmare City.  I dream, instead, Dave Matthews’ love songs, breathing the scent of a loved one from my pillow, and wake later, feeling whole, and content, and well.

Today is a good day to share and to trust. Today is a good day for compassion, and not just for others. Today is a good day to open doors, and enjoy gardens. Today is a good day to change the world.

I’m really counting down the days, now.  In 29 days, I am 50.  I feel a bit unprepared. lol.

Finally finding my way...

Finally finding my way…not yet 50!

My partner photographed me last evening (the picture above wasn’t it), during a moment that was a bit… well… I wasn’t feeling great about ‘things in general’ and I was definitely feeling a bit fatigued and annoyed with myself for not taking better care to meet my own needs in recent days. The picture he showed me was a photo of a middle-aged woman, rather more average looking than not, and… from my perspective in the moment, looking quite… old: overweight, lost in thought, vaguely dissatisfied, skin really showing signs of age…not my best look.  I found myself wishing I hadn’t seen it, because it doesn’t capture how I feel about myself, right now, or in general these days, and it provided a perspective on myself I didn’t care to experience.  He deleted the picture before I asked him to, and when I did ask him to delete the picture, hearing him quietly say “I already did” in reply caused this strange little moment of pain, and I suddenly felt very… out of date and replaceable.  Most days now I feel more beautiful than I remember ever feeling at earlier points in my life; seeing that picture left me feeling unsure of my experience of beauty and self, and tempted to yield to the immediate internal attack on my sense of self called ‘photographs don’t lie’…

…I got past that moment, and the sting of not being ‘picture perfect’ as I approach 50, because I remembered that while ‘pictures don’t lie’ – human beings do, and when they lie to themselves it is skillful and sometimes difficult to spot.  I’m unmistakably a grown woman of some years, experienced, and in some photos perhaps tired, or suffering, or lost in my own challenges – but I am who I am, and I am beautiful, vibrant, and talented.  I have my father’s charm, and my mother’s wit and willingness to play whimsy against intellectual rigor for poetry’s sake, or for humor, or a new point of view.  I am a woman of great depth of emotion, and of great insight.  I am experienced, and open to continuing to grow and change, and willing to share what I learn about life and love.  I am learning to be as aware of what I bring to the world around me, as I am learning to be aware of what the world offers me. I am learning a new way of understanding life and valuing it, building on compassion, kindness and encouragement, by choice.  I am learning to speak up for what I matters to me, and learning to communicate without attacking, or defending.  There is value in who I am, and excitement in who I am becoming.  Age isn’t especially relevant to any of that, nor is it relevant to my experience of life, except perhaps where the phenomena of aging present themselves one by one over time, and I don’t see that those are all that profound in and of themselves (yet).

Still, I will be 50 in less than a month. That has meaning for me.  I am facing a life that lacks ‘history’ in a way that sometimes wounds me greatly, from within.  I am, in a remarkable way, something of a stranger to everyone who holds me dear.  My longest friendship, at this point in my life, is with a buddy from my Army days…we’ve ‘known’ each other since 1981.  Since we’ve met we’ve actually spent less than 2 years of actual time in each others presence, and for many years now, rarely actually communicate. I haven’t seen him since…1988? Does he really ‘know me’? Me? Me, now?  Probably not.  I have a decently large circle of friends I cherish, people I value and of whom I would say ‘these are relationships that matter to me’… not one of those relationships is longer than 18 years…I’ll be 50.  My family, I suppose, has something or other like a historical perspective on ‘who I am’… except I was estranged from my family for many years, and to this day rarely visit family members in person; they live quite far away.  My dear sister and I, although our lifespans overlap by 43 years, have actually only spent 8 years and a couple short visits together, and reconnected much later in life, when I was past 40.  (She wrote me while I was at war, though, and her letters from that time remain among my most treasured possessions.) Even my partners have shared little of my life’s journey…my longest long-term relationship in my current experience is just 3 years and 3 months and about 3 weeks long, to date; although we met many years prior as colleagues we didn’t maintain any sort of connection when employment changes took us different places in life.  I’ll be 50 in less than a month. We’ve shared so little time together… how well do my partners actually ‘know me’? Hell, how well do I know myself? I have very few memories of my life before I was about 12, and those memories are really just a handful of snapshots of experiences, some of which I’m often unsure are ‘really my own’ – since many seem to be recollections ‘from the third person perspective’, as if they are things I was told about, and memorized.  (I remember trauma pretty clearly. Lucky me. lol.)  People have come and gone.  My challenges connecting well and developing relationships over time are coming home to roost as I face my half century – no one ‘knows me’ in that broad historical way that old old friends or family may share.  That is the loneliest piece of my understanding of myself – the subtle and pervasive awareness that no one really knows me, because they just haven’t been around for very much of my experience.  My dearest female friends – women I consider ‘old friends’ and who I hold more dear than most lovers – are women with whom I’ve shared less than 4 years of real-time together in most cases.  That’s a small piece of 50 years.  My longest standing female friendship is with a woman of many years association, and even that dear friendship, due to geography more than anything else, is someone with whom I’ve really only spent some fractions of a couple year’s time really in the same space.  How sad.  Sadder still that I have to get this far in life to notice the lack of historical perspective on myself, from anyone but me.  ‘Lonely’ describes the feeling, and it is a feeling I haven’t had much exposure to, honestly, or I suppose I’d have noticed sooner… it is definitely an emotion I am glad to be able to simply observe, and let go.  It is, however, a powerful life lesson on the value of connections and a reminder how little time there is to waste in life.

Less than a month from now, I will be 50.  It feels like a big deal to me.  I have some ideas about it, even what I might like for a birthday present.  What do I want for my birthday, really?  I want to be known, loved, accepted as I am for the woman I am now, and am becoming… but sometimes I don’t know if that is a reasonable desire, because of the lack of history… but damn, what would be a more beautiful way to celebrate this amazing being I am, the life I have lived, the journey I have taken and that stretches before me, or to celebrate this fragile vessel, and all that it means to be human, to be a woman, to age and grow, and gain wisdom, develop insight, and to love deeply and truly, than to feel the warmth and honor of being recognized and valued? To be understood and cherished? To be loved?  But I don’t know how to put something like that on a wish list… I don’t even know how to ask for it… I’m not sure I’d know how to recognize it and feel the weight of it with certainty. F*cking brain injury. Damned PTSD. Cursed slow march to menopause.  I hope I have a pleasant birthday, loving and feeling loved. It would be enough. More than enough.

…At least I can say I started really healing, and practicing mindfulness, and finding my own way – before I turned 50!! 🙂

Fearless Flowers

Fearless Flowers

Today feels strange. Mindfulness feels difficult. My heart wants to run away from home. I don’t mean to hurt inside. I don’t mean to ‘be bad’ or be broken or be less than I could be or to hurt unexpectedly over something good…but sometimes I do. Today, I am feeling incredibly grateful for the new trend toward providing ‘trigger’ warnings. I see more bloggers doing it, more documentaries that have them, more popping up here and there all the time. It’s a huge value add for survivors of trauma who still struggle with their pain in their ‘now’. I’d love to see more trigger warnings, because it can provoke hours or days (or weeks) of pain and emotional turmoil to be taken by surprise by a triggering event, or sound, or phrase, or experience…and if you are fortunate to have the emotional resilience that you just don’t understand what I’m talking about, please take a moment to appreciate that.  Me personally, I have several triggers that are pretty close to ‘everyday things’ – difficult to avoid, harder than hell to explain to someone else when it comes up. Some examples? Sure, why not – some of my triggers include the sound of footsteps on a hardwood floor outside a closed door, the sound of a loud aggressive knocking at the door, being awakened from sleep by a question, the sound of a woman screaming or crying, the sound of yelling from another house during the wee hours of the night, being prevented by another person from leaving a room, a hand being raised suddenly seen out of the corner of my eye, being asked to take off my glasses, excited unleashed dogs, being mocked when I am angry, seeing images of domestic violence, seeing images of torture… those are just the obvious things that occur to me without taking time to consider the question. There are more. I imagine it must be very tough to live with me.

People keep writing about rape. It keeps hurting me. Every time I read another article it re-awakens old pain, throws me off balance, leaves me vulnerable to a level of emotional volatility that carries a loss of dignity I can’t adequately describe, and pollutes my experience with fear. Fear sucks. Little girls are born fearless. The world, society, our cultures, our religions, and some very bad people take turns teaching them fear, by hurting them, by demeaning them, by continuing to infantilize them well into adulthood, by robbing them of free will, by reducing them as beings to physical bodies and demanding a standard of perfection that isn’t achievable, and by sending a pretty steady message that rape is their own fault.  By the time I was ‘an adult’ I wasn’t even sure any more what ‘consent’ meant for me, since it didn’t seem to me that saying yes or no was actually up to me at all, much of the time.  I definitely got the explicit message that nice girls don’t get raped, that choosing to be sexually active means anyone can have some, and that if I think I got raped I must have chosen the wrong clothes – and by the way, how can I put that man’s future at risk with such an allegation? That’s just not ok. Hell, I get angry thinking about it, and feel like I should apologize for that. It gets ugly in here, sometimes.

I keep dragging my feet on doing the paperwork for my MST claim… ‘MST’. What a relief! Conveniently I don’t have to say I was raped in the military! I can fall back on a politely sterile abbreviation that doesn’t force other people to think about my rape! I think I may be angry about that…but I don’t want to think about it, either.  I don’t want to think about any of it, and can’t figure out how to write about it without thinking about it…and certainly don’t want to acknowledge that mindfulness – which I am practicing and committed to – is the opposite of ‘not thinking about it’.  I don’t want any of this to be part of my experience, or part of who I am – I didn’t choose it, and I’m angry as hell every time I try to think about it, and that anger never seems to dissipate.  So…I’m looking at making reservations somewhere close to home, to hole up alone with my pain and my rage to write about rape.  I don’t know how else to approach it candidly, openly, accurately and with vulnerability, and not risk laying waste to the emotions and hearts of everyone dear to me while I do.

I need to be alone with my rape history.  That’s a hell of a thing.  The enormity of what is stolen from us when we are raped is hard to share.

Soon I’ll go to lunch with one of my partners, and this will fade into the background again, to be considered further later. Like it or not, even in the background, these experiences are part of who I am as a whole being.  I will keep practicing mindfulness, and perhaps someday the meaning and value of these things that hurt so much will be more clear, and maybe I will even move on from the pain and the rage.  I sort of have to, don’t I? It isn’t as if I can really talk about it.