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Lesser Deaths

Trauma

To wreck, to wreck, to wreck
Did I build this ship to wreck?

—Florence And The Machine, Ship To Wreck

Long before I lost people who I loved, I lost myself.

My younger years were punctuated with lesser deaths that thwarted a more grievous death in the making. There’s some kind of “hair of the dog” joke in there somewhere. I’m not sure what kind of luck it is, but it tastes cosmically ironic.

The scars, evidence of crimes committed against myself, are carved into my flesh. A permanent testament. Undeniable. Irreversible. Unlike the accompanying emotional scars, they can’t be hidden in the folds of my mind or be resolved. They simply are, and always will be. I am not allowed the comfort of forgetfulness.

The body will tell the story the heart and mind resist to acknowledge. This I know is true.

September, 1986.

I remember worrying that I would not graduate from high school as I lay in the dirt on the side of a rural road. A deep coldness crept over my body and my senses had a strange disconnected quality but imminent death wasn’t a consideration. My friend, who was riding on another motorcycle behind me, had just driven away the one I had crashed. It was his, but technically it wasn’t—it was stolen. Before he left he told the blond-haired woman standing over me (whose car I’d almost hit head-on) to not let me look at my hand or let me move.

I didn’t want to move but now I definitely wanted to look at my hand.

The tip of my right middle finger had its flesh ripped away revealing porcelain bone. There was no pain.

Shit, I thought.

As I lay waiting for help, I watched popcorn clouds that dotted the grey sky above in an uncanny uniform fashion. It was too perfect, artificial. How does that happen, I wondered. Then paramedics materialized out of the air. One started cutting my clothes off and one interrogated, shaking me and demanding to know my name. “Who is the president?” Snip, snip, snip. Aw, man, I just bought this jacket. “What year is it?” Snip, snip, snip. Fuck, not my new jeans too! Cabot. Reagan. 1986.

I hadn’t worn a helmet.

Why is she here, I asked myself. I could hear my mother’s voice before I could see her. I only remember the unconsolable horror and grief that had hijacked her face. Our house was a mile away and my friend had driven the stolen motorcycle there to stash the bike as much as to deliver the bad news.

One of paramedics asked “what the hell is that?” as they slid a spine board underneath my body. Apparently I had landed on a long-dead dog or sheep or whatever. The remains of my death’s doorstep were too decayed to identify.

Surgeons burned many hours to save my life.

Besides my finger, which required a skin graft, I had deeply lacerated both forearms. I had lacerated my liver, bruised my pancreas, ruptured my spleen, destroyed about 3-4 feet of my large intestine, damaged the small intestine just beneath my stomach and broke a bone in my right wrist. I also made a sizable withdrawal from their blood bank.

Ask anyone who has been in death’s embrace. The worst thing about almost dying is not dying.

I woke up on a ventilator, the most agonizing life saving device invented. I’m sure the eternally damned are issued one upon arrival to Satan’s wonderland.

I was less a spleen and half my colon. A drain stuck out of my skin to drain the fluids oozing from my repaired liver. My remaining colon had been rerouted through my skin just to the left of the drain. My initial panic to the news of my colon’s relocation set off all the medical equipment alarms but turned to uncomfortable relief when the doctors said the colostomy was temporary.

I went from 180 to 133 pounds and spent a week and a half in the ICU. Docs said the only reason I survived was the fact that my heart kept beating. If anything, I’m persistent I guess.

August, 1989.

I was roommates with my best friend and his wife. They were first cousins. This was arguably wrong, but definitely abnormal—at least for California. Their paternal grandfather, a Hell’s Angel, was in charge of dealing meth for Northern California.

To say I started snorting meth wouldn’t be shocking, would it?

I remember going to the grandfather’s house. Bad juju, man. I could feel it the moment I walked over the threshold. Everything was a little darker. It felt present, like something watching unseen. All the walls but one in the living room were lined with authentic old-fashioned slot machines. I didn’t count, but there were at least ten. We sat at the kitchen table as his younger and chemically weathered girlfriend grabbed a bulging, gallon-sized Ziplock bag out of the freezer and asked us casually, “How much do you want?”

Family tweaked for free. It was a fucking Merry Methmas whenever we wanted. I never met their grandfather and I never went back to that house.

And then one night I had the brilliant idea to put meth into my ridiculously large convenience store soda like a chef’s seasoning. It ate through my weakened and surgically altered stomach and intestines like battery acid. Paramedics wheeled me out of the bathroom on a stretcher the next morning after my body forcibly purged black blood out of my mouth and rectum at the same time. I performed this dramatic exit at the Columbia School of Broadcasting, where I was toying with becoming a radio personality.

The docs opted to cauterize the bleeding with an endoscope. They get you pretty high before the deep throat.

After, I had a friend’s state-of-the-art portable CD player and LL Cool J’s album Walking Like A Panther to keep me company as I recovered in my hospital room. I was feeling good, even after all the blood I had lost. My pee was dark as grape juice though.

“How long has your urine been this color?” a doctor on morning rounds asked, unable to hide his panicked shock. “I dunno, a day maybe? I feel fine.” Nurses flooded the room and began jabbing the veins in both arms to attach a parade of IVs so my kidneys wouldn’t fail. My body was rejecting the blood transfusion.

The docs shrugged as to the cause. Something about antigens maybe, they offered. Anything other than broaching the possibility of giving me the wrong blood type.

I was probably pissing a gallon an hour as they replaced each of the saline bags as soon as they emptied. Plastic urinal containers hung in lines on either side of my bed. My ears and eyes were all that I had left to expel blood from—bodily feats I had no wish to experience.

June, 1990.

I was visiting a friend in unbelievably hot Phoenix. They had to shut down the airport when the temperature reached a record setting 122 degrees, melting the runways. The record still stands.

I witnessed Captain Picard being kidnapped by the Borg, who had just begun their invasion of Federation space and I felt a pompous satisfaction that I was watching Star Trek, The Next Generation’s season finale days before my friends in Sacramento could. I found out you stay inside during a dust storm. I bought Brent Bourgeois’ first solo album and a fanny pack. I had a burgeoning meth habit—despite my past consequences.

We were driving to a party in Tempe and I knew I wasn’t going to make it. Days prior, I had snorted the last of my meth stash with the intention of it being the last time. It would be, but not how I intended. The night before, I hardly slept because my stomach hurt so bad and I had the chills. It was a familiar feeling but I denied it with all my might. Even that morning when I noticed the black, tarry, and uniquely putrid streak on the toilet paper, I denied it.

I said I needed to go to the hospital. Everyone laughed. I barked at them that it was no joke. I was bleeding internally again.

“I am bleeding internally and need to see a doctor immediately,” I said to the effeminate man sitting at the ER receptionist’s desk at St. Luke’s hospital. He rolled his eyes and pushed some forms at me to fill out. Nausea jumped up my throat and I told him I needed something to throw up in. Now. He pointed to a small trashcan at my feet, startled. I snatched it just in time as black blood shot from my mouth and nose violently.

As I fell to the floor, I remember the look of horror on his face as he shrieked like a little girl. I didn’t have to fill out forms.

Within a few of hours I was in surgery. They followed the road map of two previous incisions: the first to save my life after the motorcycle accident, the second to allow me to use my rectum as it was designed instead of crapping involuntarily into a plastic bag attached to the side of my abdomen. The path is a straight shot, sternum to pubes, except for a tight turn around my navel.

What started as a thin footpath then a two lane road would now heal into a superhighway.

They cut out the ulcerated tissues, improved the intestinal plumbing and removed what the surgeons described as “a ton” of scar tissue. I wonder sometimes how much more of myself can actually be discarded and leave me functioning normally. Probably zero.

The rest of my Phoenix stay was spent in a hospital bed recovering, alone and far away from my home, family and friends. I had Stephen King’s The Stand: Complete and Uncut Version to read and air conditioning. It was better than the terminal alternative.

I waited to be picked up by my friends at the Oakland airport for almost an entire day after the docs in Phoenix released me to go home. I worried that they forgot. No one answered the phone at the apartment we shared. I sat waiting, depressed and lonely, on the space between the up and down sides of an escalator near the airport’s entrance. Hundreds of faces past me while I waited. Some stared, most ignored.

A feeling of being utterly lost grew in my mind like a creeping shadow.

The sun was low when my best friend’s wife found me. I hadn’t been told she was pregnant when we moved in together. It was obvious now. She burst into tears and gave me a hug. Her embrace felt good but I was too disconnected emotionally by then to truly comfort. I’d end up having a brief affair with her. I think the real reason we did it was to hurt the one we both betrayed. We were paying him in kind. The worst kind.

I pretended to be happy as we walked to the parking lot. Friends poured out of a beat up white van to greet me. They told me the van broke down on the freeway and how one of them stashed a bag of pot behind a tree while they fixed it, afraid that a cop might stop to see what was up.

Then they couldn’t find the pot because they were too stoned and there were too many trees. But hey. There was still beer and acid, if I wanted.

Someone certainly had meth but that was strictly off the menu now. I knew I wouldn’t be allowed a fourth strike. I don’t remember if I drank but I desperately wanted to escape from my empty and lost feelings. So I took a hit of acid. It ended up being a bad trip at the end of a bad trip. Poetic.

Late that night the muscle aches began as I came down off the acid. It felt like a sword was twisting in my gut. I told myself I needed to get away from my friends.

It’s true that meth almost killed me, but not the conventional way. You would have never guessed that I used. Had I not been in that motorcycle accident and suffered the injuries that I did, the consequences would have not been immediate. It’s probable that I would have eventually binged on meth for days on end, scratched sores into my flesh, lost teeth, and burned out my brain’s pleasure receptors. Shit, it was free and in endless amounts. It’s not a stretch of reason.

Did the dog’s hair almost kill me or save me? It’s a riddle, but clearly my spirit animal is a cat.

Fed up with all that LSD
Need more sleep than Coke or Methamphetamines
Late nights with warm, warm whiskey
I guess the good times they were all just killing me

—Modest Mouse, The Good Times Are Killing Me

Photo Credit: Wikipedia
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Through a Keyhole

keyhole

my
mother
was
my first country
the first place I ever lived

-Nayyirah Waheed

Mother’s Day.

A day whose origin is wholly 20th century American. More than ever it is commercialized, turned into a day of material obligation and expectation—of chocolate and flowers and cards, of restaurant dinners…sterilized of authenticity. A tool for profit.

And yet it holds sway in deep ways.

It’s easy to forget the sacred in today’s world. We are overstimulated, isolated. Busy. Always busy. Our familial foundations awash, diluted by the buzzing mundanity of modernity.

I imagine for some a kind of blessing.

Then the day.

From the radios. From the televisions. From the publications. From the Internets.

Don’t forget Mother’s Day
Don’t forget Mother’s Day
Don’t forget Mother’s Day
Don’t forget Mother’s Day

We are left staring at our consequential maternal reservoir, pleasure and pain in all its iterations leaking through the dam’s cracks. What should been allowed to flow as river though our lives, in then out, now threatens to become a deluge.

Sometimes we scramble to patch the leaks with romanticism. Sometimes demonization. Sometimes escapism. In these extremes we dodge the complexities of the human condition. To face and reconcile the light and the dark, to acknowledge and embrace both equally is a birth itself. The heart is pushed through a keyhole. There is pain. Blood is shed.

For those that don’t this day is not welcome.

The footing of our lives begins with two people. This, the first chapter of our origin story. Much of it is penned maternally…nine months, give or take—a connection the masculine is only capable of being witness, even if they are brave enough to embrace it fully.

The inexorable intimacy of those first words marks the soul, both mother and child, regardless of outcome. Regardless the theme or count of the chapters that follow.

Mom died the third of May, 2011. The day before she called me while I was working but this time I didn’t let her call go to voicemail like I had so many other times. Somewhere within me I knew. 

I rushed to her house and called an ambulance. I was the last to speak words to her, to see her conscious.

This is gift and curse.

But oh, those precious words were wasted helping to explain medical protocol to her. I didn’t say I loved her before they put her under sedation. She’d never wake up again.

Mother’s Day came five days after. After. My grief was too fresh for that first one so it didn’t register. But they’d all be after now.

The next couple of Afters were difficult. Anger, shame, longing, resentment, forgiveness, regret—a court trial for all the words said and unsaid between us. These Mother’s Days would be the exclamation points in the processing of my grief. They were violent tugs on the unspooling of everything about her that lived within me.

The Afters since passed by with relative ease. Or did they?

This year is different. Something I hadn’t expected happened in February. While at a retreat organized by the Hoffman Institute, I drained an abscess of rage and resentment towards my mother that I had no idea existed. She’d caused me deep pain, pain subconsciously denied for decades out of adoration and fear, a wounding gone septic.

It explained much.

It explained why I wrecked my body in my teens, and then more times as a young adult. I had no insight to the source, let alone a path to vent what was held inside me. All I had was pain. So my subconscious sought somatic means. I expressed my anger and resentment left by her trespasses with the only thing I could control. I’d break what she held precious.

I wouldn’t be her perfect little boy anymore. I’d shatter him, scatter his pieces. I’d leave him permanently scarred, a breath from death. Over and over. This resolved nothing of course. My body expressed the pain but the suffering remained.

At the retreat my body had a second chance.

I was armed with a wiffle ball bat, a giant pillow before me as I sat on the floor. I was instructed to think of the things that had happened in my childhood that I resented my parents for while hitting the pillow. They told me to hit hard. They told me to separately imagine my mother, my father, my stepfather before me. They told be to tell them everything they’d ever done that hurt me and to do it ruthlessly. Curse at them, call them awful things, they said. Do not stop.

There were 38 others in the room doing the same.

None of us wanted to do it. We were scared and embarrassed, ashamed of what was held within. But I was committed and did as instructed even though I was more focused on my surroundings than the task. The enthusiasm and technique varied between us but what started out reluctantly began to thaw as the physical exertion took hold.

I thought it’d be dad I would be most angry with. He abandoned me as a baby, leaving absence as his only presence. My stepdad would come next and then maybe, maybe, some would be left for mom.

That was until I started thinking about her.

It was glacial at first, but my surroundings began to fade and then my inhibition. When I thought of mom my swings hit harder and hot tears began running down my face. My accusations turned into growls then howls. My emotional moorings slipped, slipped…then fell. A fury ripped from my lungs that rose above the chaos around me, the force of it blooming into a stabbing pain behind my eyes that threatened to cleave my skull.

“FUCKYOUFUCKYOUFUCKYOUFUCKYOUFUCKYOU FUCKYOU FUCKYOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOOOOU,” I roared.

I wailed, snot running unchecked down my face, my swings hitting the pillow, whap whap whap whap. I didn’t stop. I couldn’t. The avalanche of rage had turned involuntary. I could taste blood in my screams. I choked back vomit. My arms burned, sweat stung my eyes. I did not stop.

For 15 minutes we did this. A five minute break spent with my chest heaving for air and then again. Three sets in all.

Each time we’d start I’d think, there can’t be more, and then and I’d lose my shit. Again.

By the last round my voice was a rasp. Every scream felt like breathing fire but the sound only held the power of an old man bitching. I screamed anyway. Mom was gone now, lost in the emptying remains of my decades-long stuffed emotion. My swings into the pillow were slower, spaced. A rhythm.

My heart was through the keyhole.

I buried my face in the pillow. We were only halfway through the last round but I was tapped. Something new was rising.

At first it came as a whimper, then a sad cry that turned into a grievous wail. I choked and spattered on the mourning that escaped past my lips. An instructor came to my side and asked why I’d stopped. My reply was lost in tears.

“You’ve got to keep moving,” he said. “Keep moving.”

So I rocked as I knelt, face still planted in the pillow as grief and loss gutted me. My racking sobs filled the void.

“FIVE MINUTES LEFT, GIVE IT ALL YOU GOT,” the instructor commanded. And with that I found the strength to sit up and hit the pillow again as snot swung from my chin. I wanted to be sure. I wanted to be bled dry.

For the past few months I’ve felt good. Dare I say happy? I mean, to notice this is a big deal. Things are still tough. The same challenges face me. Doubts are still lingering, fears still nipping, but I’ve changed. Some of my shift is profound…yet subtle. Its gravity only detected in hindsight.

So when I started feeling sad and not knowing exactly why a couple of weeks ago I was at a loss. The anniversary of mom’s death is coming up, is it that? Maybe. Not exactly, but in part maybe. What is it then? What’s different?

The anniversary came and went without an answer. Then Mother’s Day came and I felt uncomfortable so I started writing. In that stream of thought, the words you are reading were born. Basically you are reading my process. This plus this plus this. What’s it equal?

I’m different. Mother’s day feels different because I’m different.

From the space that emptied during the retreat a peaceful grief flowed for the mother who’d brought me joy. Nothing specific, just longing. I fought it at first with my go-to coping mechanism: comic relief. I was afraid that I’d end up with my face in a pillow again, writhing in the jaws of grief.

I gave it up to the words. I always follow where the words go anyway. They’d know.

I shed some tears along the way. They were good tears.

“All we can hope for as parents is that we’ve done more good than bad.”

-Mom

Photo credit: Chris Evans/Flickr
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Change

floating heart

Change is a land I choose to roam

Sometimes the ground traveled is welcoming
as if it consciously opens itself before me
Sometimes it offers itself reluctantly
sharp-edged and uneven
Sometimes it’s a chasm that stretches
as far as my vision can imagine
Sometimes it’s quicksand
swallowing my will
Sometimes it’s a rock that I sit upon
my legs weary

Always I ask myself
Is this new land or old?

Most among the soul-family that I shared the Hoffman Process with were high-functioning professionals, driven people full of purpose. I hadn’t been allowed to indulge in knee-jerk social labeling (none of us were) until the end of the retreat. We were instructed to not say what we did for a living during our time together. It made sense. Culture teaches us to stratify worth and establish identity through a bended lens of “success”. The compulsion to compare is crippling and we were all trying to heal.

I felt small as each stood before the rest at our graduation and revealed what they “do”. I had no “do” and only two dollars to my name. I’m a writer, but it’s not a “do,” it’s who I am, have always been. I’ve never made a cent being who I am and have only spent the past five years living my truth.

What’s a career anyway? Why identify with and pursue a life that isn’t a reflection of our authentic self?

I’d forgotten that despite so-called status, we were all here because of some sort of life dilemma. While the severity and type of crisis varied, we all were looking for some transformative change. Shame kept me from taking the podium until almost the last of us had spoke.

“My job is doing whatever the fuck I want”, I tried to say triumphantly. I immediately regretted the words. Whatever you want? You don’t know what the fuck you want or where you’re going, I thought. I’d whitewashed my authenticity in a charade of rebellious pride.

I said more things after that, but I was out-of-body. I don’t remember my words. Someone else was speaking from my lips.

Had I been authentically vulnerable, this is what I would have said:

“I waited until the end because of shame. I’m a writer and I don’t know what the fuck I am doing. I’m lost. I’m fucking 46 years old and I’m lost. I mean, I don’t even know how I’m going to eat when I leave here.

I’ve learned a lot, I’ve healed, I have tools now to help me navigate. But…I’m afraid it will all be lost in the scramble to survive. I’m afraid I’ll abandon my true self in managing the crisis that is my life.

And I’m tired. Bone-deep weary. I was taught only how to survive. I was taught how to navigate minefields, not avoid them. I don’t know how to function outside of crisis. If it isn’t present, I will create it. And I hate it. It’s insidious.

It’s my darkest pattern. I know this. Especially now. As much as I’ve grown in the week I’ve been here, I can’t beat it on my own. Maybe that’s defeatist, maybe self-prophetic. It’s just the truth of how I feel.

I am terrified of leaving here, of leaving all of you. I have crisis waiting for me to return home and I don’t want to be swallowed by it.”

I’ve figured a way to eat now: a way of survival, a foothold, just wide enough to hold on to but precarious enough to steal all effort to maintain.

Old land, desolate of meaning.

There was always the odor of strife in my family home. An earworm song of crisis played, at times so loud the walls shook. Worry was tidal. A cliff’s edge lurked behind every door. And in this way my mother raised soldiers. She taught us how to survive. She taught us the art of eternal struggle.

It’s sewn within. Involuntary, like breathing.

There’s nothing quite as maddening as being compelled to do something that I know doesn’t serve me. Effort that is meaningless at best, destructive at worst. Especially when it’s required in order to survive. Especially when I know that’s also a childhood bedtime story read to me out of compulsive tradition.

Survive.

Survive.

I’ve lost so many years to survival. When do I start living?

I’m at a point where, again, survival has consumed my vision. I feel choked for breath. Old memories rise, pulling unwelcome feelings to the surface. The deep groove of yesterday’s spiral-patterns beckon to be played. Frustration and despair weigh my thoughts.

Choosing change is complicated. Part of it is intentional crisis—I knew I wouldn’t start dancing unless I jumped right into the fire. Part of it is a Mutiny of the Soul, a call for authenticity that refuses to be ignored. Part of it is societal enlightenment, a book that affirmed the murky feelings that haunted me. Part of it is a need to sever the generational suffering I’ve inherited, a legacy that I do not want to pass to my son.

And part of it is time. If I’m lucky, I have half a lifetime left. But no matter how much time my meter holds I want spend it thriving, not just surviving.

It requires heaps of imagination that I’m not sure I possess, Herculean leaps of faith that I’ve never had in myself, rebellious courage to carve a life outside the margins of our soulless societal metrics.

It means failing. Epically. Repeatedly. Uncertainty is my bedfellow and doubt my pajamas. The fiddle of my old patterns plays incessantly in the background. It feels like repeatedly launching myself at a cement wall hoping, begging that this time, this time, I’ll stick.

I guess that’s why I’ve denied myself for so long. Lonely is the frontier of thought and spirit that has always called from the purity of my true self. It’s a journey that requires navigating two worlds, a foot in each. One foot is blind, stepping onto terrain that creates itself only the instant before footfall. The other shackled to the mechanisms, the operating rules and imprinted legacy of a dying land that is brutally unforgiving of dissent.

I want, dare I say need, help. I ache for the unselfish support of visionary mentors, not deadworld teachers, coaches, counsellors, clerics. There is no future in the lies of tradition.

The temptation is to attach shame to this need. This is a need I am supposed to fulfill myself. This is a need born from weakness. Right and Wrong beg to war over the thoughts. I struggle to simply accept what I feel at any given moment, choose to be present, aware, not deny or diminish or judge.

If this is all just part of change, god, I’m ready for the flourishing part. Or at least the part where the wise guide takes my hand. I feel silly. Shouldn’t I be the wise old man now?

Can I create a way to provide for myself and my son that allows me to be a present father and pursue my life as a writer? Can it be done without compromising principals? Will a call to spirit for help be answered? Because, shit, my call is more like a scream.

I know abundance exists even though I was taught the cupboards might be bare tomorrow. Yet the din of survival robs me of time and imagination.

Change means breaking patterns, abandoning beliefs, confronting the programing that holds me hostage. It means admitting that the greatest oppression lies within.

None of that is comforting.

Photo Credit: A. Pagliericci ♦/Flickr
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Home

life’s story

Nostalgic scents stirred as I inhaled your words
Memory’s touch grazed over every sentence,
felt the warm presence of yesterday’s sunlight
as echoes of old footfalls sighed from every chapter

I feared your life was a book in which I would be lost
but as I read your pages they only lead me home

Photo Credit: Tom 7/flickr
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What I Remembered

Dream’s Window

Your smile and the sun
the blue-green surf
this, what I remembered
waking alone in my bed

The rocks that rose out of sand and sea
into a spotless sky
loomed, casted shadows
as I watched
unseen from a wave-carved cave

My heart

Laced in happiness
a selfless rejoice
for You
Wrapped in hurt
a page you hadn’t shared…
maybe whole chapters too?
Filled with sadness
four chambers of grief
pumping howls of longing
and all of it
Burning
oh, the burning
in wretched jealousy of He

Playing, swimming
afloat, embraced with He
odd though, the waves were rough
not matching the day
the rocks too close
slapped, awash in angry sea froth

I held my breath
afraid you’d be thrown
torn on stone’s jagged outline

But you were smiling
laughter spilling from your lungs
bliss beaming from your eyes

I craved to bathe
in that gaze
to know its shine
the fall of its warmth on
my hungry soul
instead cursed
to wonder how it felt
for He

An ugly urge to walk
to ocean’s lapping
for you to see
to see me see you
to see your joy dulled
to steal your light
for you to see my broken hurt
my loneliness

Then
desperate the need
to run reckless, senseless
away, till body’s scream
far,
till memory clean

Yet feet held fast
stare unbroken, I watched
eyes stinging, tearing
until my pain swelled, spilled
drained into the sand
only then
had I the courage to turn
the shimmer of your voice fading
with each retreating step
only then
with lips curling bittersweet
did I smile

Because you were free.

Photo Credit: Shepard4711
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Yes

healed heart

Finally on my way to yes
I bump into
all the places
where I said no
to my life
all the untended wounds
the red and purple scars
those hieroglyphs of pain
carved into my skin
my bones
those coded messages
that send me down
the wrong street
again and again
where I find them
the old wounds
the old misdirections
and I lift them
one by one
close to my heart
and I say holy
holy

—Pesha Joyce Gertler, The Healing Time

yinyang

It ends on Valentine’s Day, which is cosmically appropriate.

I find myself between two giants. One stout as the trunk of a gentle redwood and one wiry, brimming with a wild energy. I hug both goodbye with a little desperation.

I’d just shared nine days with these two, and 42 others, in the most utterly vulnerable and healing experience of my life. We are the last to leave, and goodbyes are hard. Maybe we are the last because it’s less painful to say farewell to a few at a time. This is certainly my truth.

Then another makes a surprise return as I head to my car. Love beams from this one, matching the neon-yellow glow of his shirt. I like to think he is the herald of my departure, his presence transforming my melancholy into a bittersweetness. It’s mostly sweet.

With eyes leaking for the bazillionth time I hug him and say, “I love you, motherfucker.”

In the rearview mirror they shrink, shrink, shrink as I drive away.

yinyang

I surrendered at the doorstep of the Hoffman Institute with a fried brain, a heart running off fumes, and clothes smoldering from trials of fire.

This was it. My last throw.

On day one, my Intellect didn’t feel challenged much. It had figured out most of the dynamics of my past and their influence on the present.

Yeah, yeah, I get it.

Then they said I could give it space to rest. They said there were others who had roles.

Others? What others?

They said I had an Emotional Self. They said it was stunted, caged, neglected.

Well, duh. I’ve got emotions. But they are under control. Usually.

They said another was the Body. They said not only was it the vehicle, but that it stored a wisdom of its own too.

Again, duh. But I don’t know about that wisdom part. That’s my job.

And then they said there was this part of me called Spirit. They said this was my guide in life, the holder of eternal wisdom.

Intellect stopped resting with this announcement.

Wait, what? I drive this vehicle. I’ve ALWAYS driven this vehicle. It’s my damn job. I’m not giving it up to some woo-woo invisible dude.

This is when the teachers bombarded me with so much emotional and physical expression it blew Intellect’s mind.

Holy shit. I can’t keep up with this.

Every day built me up and tore me down. Over and over. But I never had a sense of insecurity. I was safe. Accepted. I was loved.

Loved? What in the hell is this place?

I accepted everything they told me. Whatever they asked of me, I did. I did all of it with senseless abandon. To hell with ego! I told myself I came to get down, not fuck around.

And in this way I began to heal.

yinyang

The weather was gorgeous. Spring had made its announcement: I was going to bloom whether I thought I could or not. Arriving “tight in the bud” meant I’d spend most of my time during the Hoffman Process with a dog-paddling mind, sore muscles, and a less-than-sexy rasp of a voice.

Of course this was by design.

The group came from all over the world. New Zealand. Dubai. Paris. Berlin. Monaco. This was something I hadn’t expected. They came from all walks of life. A few were retirees. The majority of us were somewhere on either side of forty, but there were a handful in their early thirties. This made me jealous. If I’d only come here when I was 23.

Ah, living in the past. It’s a negative pattern in my life. One of my favorites. Turns out I have a shit-ton of negative patterns. Thanks, Mr. Hoffman.

The writer in me read my classmates as we all sat in a big “U” listening to the teachers. It’s an affliction that I can’t turn off. Some of their stories were written plainly on their faces. Some their bodies. Some of them gave up their pages in the way they spoke. Some were mirrors.

I instantly loved every one of them.

During this, another adored pattern clambered forth and screamed to be heard like the ping of a goddamn radar. The Caretaker. The Rescuer. Women, especially if I found them attractive, were this pattern’s mythical sirens….

SAVE US, COMFORT US, FOR THE LOVE OF THE HONKY-GOD LOSE YOURSELF IN US SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO DEAL WITH YOUR DEMONS.

I literally had to imagine myself with eyes tightly closed and fingers shoved into both ears while yelling LALALALALALALA. I had to visualize this a lot. It probably didn’t help that I’d stopped masturbating about a month beforehand. Perhaps that act was a little overzealous. Did I mention that extreme acts are a personal pattern?

ALL THE FUCKING PATTERNS.

I didn’t do any personal writing during the process. It was impossible. Oh, but there was writing. Every day. The funny thing was, the writing that I scrawled as part of the process was kid-like. It’s hard to put words together when your intellect is sitting in the corner, rocking itself for comfort. When my kid-self was angry, he was prolific. The words just gushed out like raging flu vomit.

Adult-me was jealous of that little punk. HELLO, PATTERN.

And then there were personal revelations that came like a sucker punch. POW. Often this happened in some kind of spooky synchronicity with someone else’s dawning recognition. Better yet, the things I was still in denial about refused to be avoided. Every damn time I made a conscious decision to avoid an uncomfortable truth or situation, I’d be foiled by circumstance.

The weirdness of it all was inexplicable.

Throughout the week classmates, one after another, thanked me. They said I’d helped by just being near them. I didn’t know how to feel about that. I wanted to discount their appreciation—in other words, I wanted to PLAY OUT ANOTHER PATTERN.

Instead, a voice in my head responded that I was being of service. It felt like a bell rang inside my heart. It felt like a call. A gift unused?

Whether any of us recognized it or not, we carried each other along towards enlightenment and healing. Does the Universe find pleasure in such shenanigans? If I were the Universe, I would. Is that a pattern?

Day one became day nine and we had to say goodbye. Where did the time go? We were told that we’d probably never see each other again. My head was still swimming, unable to comprehend the gravity of change I’d undertaken. I was a seed when I arrived. Now I was a tree. How could this be?

I don’t do goodbyes well…I’ve had so much grief and loss in my life. My insides squealed like a piglet being pulled off his mother’s teat. My eyes leaked like crazy. I felt like I was seven years old.

Don’t you dare ask if that’s a pattern.

yinyang

Sad songs were not allowed to play while I drove home.

I started to wonder how I’d share my experience back in the “real” world. Should I explain everything in detail? Should I recommend the Process to others? I still had so much work to do.

I’d certainly not been “saved” like some holy roller. I couldn’t spontaneously levitate. I still hated math. The challenges I’d left during the retreat would be there to greet me with open arms when I got home.

But there was one thing. I loved myself. Completely. On motherfucking Valentine’s Day.

I now know I’ll love myself for the rest of the days I’m allowed to live.

I’ll let my actions speak for my profound experience.

Some of my new family are returning home as I write this, crossing continents and oceans. I know they are feeling just like I am.

They aren’t “doing good.”
They aren’t “fine.”
They are happy,
and sad.
Hopeful,
and scared.
Confused, anxious.
A bit lonely, maybe.
Grateful, surely.
Healed, definitely.

We gave ourselves permission to be vulnerable. Authentic. Raw. We cried in front of each other with snot running down our faces. Screamed in rage. Shared our grief.

Reveled in joy.

And in that our hearts bonded.

I miss them. Terribly.

Photo credit: Neal Fowler/Flickr
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The Thing Under the Thing

Onion Layers

You were laying on the carpet
Like you’re satin in a coffin
“You said, “Do you believe what you’re saying?”
Yeah, right now, but not that often

-Modest Mouse, Satin in a Coffin

I fell down the mountain hard last year. I thought it wouldn’t end. Now my psyche is splayed out on some tenuous outcropping of life all twistedbroketorn, hoping that I’ve stopped.

Just hold on.
Hold on.
Hold on.

My ex-mother-in-law once told my son right in front of me, “God gave you diabetes for a reason. He wanted to make you stronger.”

And then my hands were squeezing her arms, bruising bone, shaking her until her teeth shattered. Screaming at her face until my spit was blood.

That’s what I wanted to do but thankfully didn’t.

When it is suggested that we look at times of challenge, failure, and loss as a sadistic benevolence from some invisible force or as disguised good fortune, I want to kick every adorable baby creature the Earth has to offer. Right in the face.

When you utter words like “every cloud has a sliver lining” or “everything happens for a reason” a baby dolphin has been escape velocity punted right in its ever-fucking cuteness. Remember that.

Nothing of actual import changes, you know, the deep shit, the things that live in us subliminally, unless there’s some pain. Sometimes it takes the kind of pain that breaks you.

I cleared the board of my life clean. I intellectualized myself to the atom. I tried to love. All my efforts failed. The pain was epic.

I’m broken. I’m at the end of all things.

Maybe that’s what was necessary. Like how the giant sequoia tree needs fire to thrive.

It’s all motherfucking inside, man. It just keeps manifesting outside—in the people I dance with, in my habits, my beliefs, my circumstances….the ones that repeat, the ones that dog me.

The ones that make me suffer.

It’s not the thing.

It’s the thing
under the thing
under the thing
under the thing
under the thing.

This thing.

Others have forced the child-me to swallow bad seeds or wounded me through their own wounds. But no one is now. The adult-me is still tending what’s grown inside over the years as if not a single day has passed. What’s grown is distorted and fractured. Oppositional. Knots in knots in knots. A riddle I told myself but don’t know the answer to. A path that circles back on itself. A deep deep hurt.

I can’t let it go. I can’t banish it, hide it, deny it, numb it, run from it. I have to embrace it. It’s time to reintegrate my shattered Self.

It’s time to heal.

I love you
but damn it hurts

Some of the pain is
a sweet sacrifice
an unselfish bloodletting
Some of the pain is
an empty silence
that leaves me starving

The hunger makes me wonder,
was love fed to my child-heart
as a small note pinned to my skin
that read:

Take this, eat it 
let it be enough
or else
or else
or else I’ll leave.
Then who will
who will
who will love you?

Maybe love shouldn’t hurt
unless its vocals are off key
unless its form can’t find balance
unless the curve of its line draws
a circle that never closes
unless the cost is
loss of Self

Maybe love shouldn’t hurt
I think that might be true
but for now
it’s only theory

Photo Credit: Flickr/rawdonfox
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Built for Chaos

Untitled

I built a boat when I was a child
The land was sinking
and the ocean violent
I did what I had to
I splintered
Self became selves

The Captain steered with brutal will
determined to survive at any cost
Blood offerings
the faithful Deckhand gave,
sea’s blessing hoping to receive
The crow’s nest Sentry guarded
against rogue waves’ ambush
The Jester made fun of it all,
a desperate footing
for perseverance

The Poet-child
the precious cargo
locked away in boat’s hold
in darkness
in silence
for his protection

Sail ragged,
boat’s wheel stripped,
all surrendered to wind and wave
Years, for years the seas raged
and in this way
they became
the stormy sea

Then the worst—
A sea settled
befell them

Waves smooth instead of fist and claw
Wind gentle instead of punishing squall
And most terrible of all,
a brilliance left them wincing
Kissing their skin,
its warmth
Dancing on ocean’s face,
its light
Where curtains of darkness hung
Now where blue of two hues met
One above, one below
Far
Far
Away

Then came a pounding underfoot
A pain-laced voice calling for release

The captain howled in alarm
Mend sail and wheel!
Quickly, to flee this treachery!

Fear nipping at their roles,
the bow lurched
Towards ever-darker grays
Towards wicked seaspray
Towards danger’s threat
Towards their purpose
Towards their birthright

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Girl and Snake

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Through branch thick, fighting
over thorned fences, climbing
into icy waters, stepping

This, her storied ever-memory

Then smoke seen rising
then brambles clearing
then green grass stretching

‘Round a leafless corpse’s last stand
yellow, trimmed white and four cornered
roof-capped where chimney’s grey tail floats

A window
A door
A chair-perched porch

Feet dew licked, grassblood stained
approaching wary, unbelieving
a mismatched staircase greets her

Numbered short, a flight of three
decayed, grey paint curl-flakes
above, the well-kept porch beckons

They will betray me…yet there’s only three.

Beneath wormwood step, first of three
her wild-weight offered carefully
its rot confesses with hollow groans

Don’t stand still on lies.

Woodmoan rattles memory’s chains
whispers what always comes next
she steps quickly to second of three

Don’t run, child. Be brave.

Handrail falls, snapping in her hand
second cracks underfoot, arms reel
third then, before second swallows

NO!…is this another carrot trap?

The treachery openly plain on three
Splintertoothed voids, broken board maws
and through the gaps something lurks

Her footfall careful turns stutter-step scream
a serpent winds out of the secret dark, peeking
up through the falsework, eyes squintless

“Easy, I’m not what I seem,” the snake offers.

“A lesson men taught by devouring my flesh,”
she counters.

A slow hiss-sad recognition escapes his length
his glossy sunbathed blackness turns iridescent
as he stretches long, emerging fully

“But men they weren’t…just hiding their truth.
Beneath suit and skin, lay fur and fang, yes?”

“True, but what of you then,” she asks, frozen.

Blue-black and legless he crawls
creeps he up past three, to porchtop
his darkness curls, pauses

“I once was a boy, I think,” he ponders.
“Before I was force fed the shadows of long-dead rats.”

Three’s crossbeam shatters, a gunshot
she tips backward, cries out, fights balance
as fire blooms from her eyes, she lunges

Arms and legs splay as she lands hard
face first, sliding across the solid porchtop
greets a scaly vision too closely

Her’s tigerflecked, his a blank milky-blind
locked stares as time stood, waiting
his restless forktongue first to set time moving

“Do it. Strike me. It was your plan,”
she surrenders bitterly.

“It certainly was not. I feared you lost.
I have not arms to catch nor eyes to see.”

The snake yawns wide, an offering of human teeth
her terror deer-feral shifts to flee
the abominable horror worse than fangs expected

“What are you?” She barks, bolting upright.

“A lie, I think.”

“I know lies. Wolves never reveal themselves
until they dine. Deceit is their lie.
But your vileness is obvious…
a lie you tell yourself?” She reasons.

“Yes. I think so.”

Warmth remembered of a sun forgotten
presses skin and scale, almost painful
this place sharp with peace, a biting oddity

“What is this?” She wonders warily.

“A warmth was what beckoned me out the chilled dark.
This is all I know. What do you see?”
Her question answered by
eyes lidless and smoke-filled.

Old companions, her long skirt floats above bare feet
to gentle curtain-framed glass, she peers
her face softens from its harrowed lines

“A rug loom-wove bears a pillowed couch,
a stone hearth cradles flame
through a window I see.
A door wooden with brass knob the entry.
A table chair stands with us on a porch.”

“A home? Knock, would you?”

Door greets with an unowned welcome,
delicate fingers curl as hand raises, knocks gently
shawl falls from arm’s catch,
unveiled skin a tale of struggle’s scars

The door answers with silence. “Try the knob,”
the handless serpent coaxes.

“To try feels wrong even as the door whispers to open it.
I shouldn’t.”

“You tell yourself lies too. Try.”

Heart begs as old voices sing favorite refrains
Hesitant fingers wrap warm sunsparked brass, twist
unyielding answer blows a familiar cold soulward

“It’s locked, and the door without keyhole.”
She says in a sigh laced with tears
as she collapses in the lone chair.
“I don’t want to go back to the woods.”

“Nor I to the shadows and cold.
This is enough, for now I guess.”

“I guess,” she echoes in agreement.

Of their fate resigned,
shared silence the evidence
stilled even is the shadowed wood
past pasture’s green borders
its ever-gnawing presence muted,
unknown whether in wait or respect

Snake uncoils, tongue sensing where she rests.
“I have an uncomfortable request,”
his voice hinting a tremble as he slithers to her feet.
“Would you be brave enough to hold me in your lap?
Cold’s callous indifference
my memory’s only known companion.”

Bending down her hands scoop
with unhesitant surprise
pulls him to her lap,
her touch reading more of his story
scalebare scars wander down his shape,
skin under scaleskin fleshy

“A molting of sorts I hope,” he confesses.
“My vision lost, as it began.”

“Yes, I think you are shedding your lie.
Forced to wander by loss, like me.”

“Yes.”

“Will you stay here with me,
however long we are allowed?”
The words fighting to be spoken
as she braces for pain’s reply.

Without a word Snake slides from her lap,
gently wraps his length around her waist
and swallows his tail.

Photo credit: Wikipedia
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Trauma

We live our days within a culture of trauma. Its destructive nature wounds deeply, leaving us to struggle generation to generation.

Born into this
Walking and living through this
Dying because of this
Muted because of this
Castrated
Debauched
Disinherited
Because of this
Fooled by this
Used by this
Pissed on by this
Made crazy and sick by this
Made violent
Made inhuman
By this

-Charles Bukowski, Dinosauria, We

This is his way. He must paint himself with words.

Too much lifetime has passed. He’s 46 and he’s tired. He’s been struggling for the majority of his life, a life that has incessantly felt like scaling a wall that he can almost but never climb over.

He finds himself thinking he’s a touch mad most of the time. Contradiction defines his wounds, and he spends much of his time walking flat land like a tightrope.

He’s analyzed his childhood and choices in adulthood over and over, pieced together why he’s struggled with depression and intimacy. He has clarity. He thought that would mean he would be able to transcend these obstacles, move on with his life and grow. But he continues to flounder and that has left him intensely frustrated and sad.

He wonders, why do I still feel stuck, chained to my past?

He wonders, why do I still feel stuck, chained to my past?

He thinks he might have found out why.

◊♦◊

He turned around to face his mother
To show her the wound in his breast 
That burned like a brand
But the sword that cut him open
Was the sword in his mother’s hand

-Sting, The Lazarus Heart

He was raised by a woman. She adored him and he she. But she failed him at a critically vulnerable moment that would leave the deepest wound in his heart. Her volatile nature forced him to navigate around her emotional extremes: at once angelically nurturing and giving and then viciously critical and mean. Love and betrayal would now be inexorably wed, warping his ability to experience love with women. While she held him high, she was stained with resentment by wounds inflicted on her by men and it would undermine his vision of his gender. And in this, a war against intimacy and self was seeded in his heart.

I will never be safe
I will never be sane
I will always be weird inside
I will always be lame
Now I’m a grown man
With a child of my own
And I swear, I’ll never let her know
All the pain I have known

-Everclear, Father of Mine

He was abandoned by his father. He was molested by an older boy, having his innocence stolen. Men were manipulators or brute authority. Men didn’t protect or inspire, they didn’t teach or lead. Men didn’t love. Men were competition. Men were predators.

Rejected from birth and with no solid guide into manhood, he would doubt himself and his place in the world. He’d have to be his own guide, one angry and untrusting of his kind. And in this, the war against himself bloomed. This would lead him down dark paths, ones he barely survived.

Children waiting for the day they feel good
Happy birthday, happy birthday

And to feel the way that every child should
Sit and listen, sit and listen

Went to school and I was very nervous
No one knew me, no one knew me

Hello teacher tell me what’s my lesson
Look right through me, look right through me

-Tears for Fears, Mad World

He grew up in a family that he never felt was completely his own. He felt abandoned, lost in new dynamics when his mother married a man, a stranger suddenly holding the title of father. And their marriage would be chaotic, abusive in word and thought, a minefield he’d have to traverse daily, a rollercoaster he had no choice but ride. When his mother would fall apart, he’d pick up her pieces, be the good son, a child supporting an adult that he could never completely appease.

And so he hid his heart away, dared not expose it even though it ached to be held. In love he’d choose safety, never risking a chance to have what his heart truly desired. He’d rather betray himself than allow another to hurt him again.

Babe, there’s something tragic about you
Something so magic about you
Don’t you agree?
Babe, there’s something lonesome about you
Something so wholesome about you
Get closer to me

-Hozier, From Eden

It tore away protective layers of himself and exposed emotional framework he’d tucked in a blind spot of his mind.

Now he’s sweeping up the ashes of a romantic relationship where he finally found the courage to offer his heart in a vulnerable way. It’s left him reeling, deeply hurt and coping with emotions he’s protected himself from feeling since childhood. Its season was short but intensely passionate, like a violent thunderstorm. It tore away protective layers of himself and exposed emotional framework he’d tucked in a blind spot of his mind.

Ah, those chains. They are still there, he thinks.

He fears that his script is etched in stone, that he’s stuck on some track that will just present the same situation again. And in desperation to avoid another painful head-on collision with all his past trauma, he’ll just let his heart grow cold, accept solitude or choose relationships that aren’t intimate in order to cope.

But he knows. He knows there’s no use hiding anymore, not if he wants to sever the chains of trauma that hold him fast to the past, not unless he wants to repeat the same painful dance, not if he wants to love and be loved.

He knows that he’s learned something vital in the midst of his heart’s devastation.

◊♦◊

So here I am.

As much as I’ve wanted to let it all go, my thoughts keep returning to our relationship. There’s this nagging feeling that there’s something important to note, that I found a key to a door I didn’t know existed.

That key is the suspicion that I may suffer from PTSD. And if not that, it’s clear that my mother did and that I’ve grown up in the shadow of her undiagnosed illness.

It wasn’t until I found myself in a relationship where I stopped avoiding intimacy that these sleeping issues began to reveal themselves in a new light.

I have never considered that I may suffer from PTSD, not until now. I’ve always focused on my struggles with depression and attributed it as the cause of the majority of my pain. But I’ve spent most of my life successfully choosing paths that kept me from confronting and moving past my traumatic childhood. It wasn’t until I found myself in a relationship where I stopped avoiding intimacy that these sleeping issues began to reveal themselves in a new light.

During my study of PTSD online I found Heidi Hanson’s blog about her journey of recovery. Unlike other resources online, I found her’s more accessible and engaging because it’s from the survivor’s perspective. She wrote a three-part post about PTSD and relationships and I started to find connections to my past and how they had revealed themselves in the stormy relationship.

I saw old blog posts of mine in a new light. The expression of my thoughts, the words and descriptions used, the traumatic events and my struggles…a pattern that mirrored the symptoms a person suffering from PTSD experiences began to emerge.

And then Heidi sent me a link to this podcast and I was blown away by the similarities of my story and the host, Daniel Vitalis. The story he shares is authentic and vulnerable. I am not affiliated to him or his guest on the podcast, but whether you are a man or a woman, I urge you to listen to it if any of my story relates to you. I think you will find what you hear valuable.

In following articles I will share my story in greater detail and I invite you to join me.

Click this link to continue to part two.

This article was first published on The Good Men Project
Photo credit: Porsche Brosseau/Flickr
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