Tag Archives: listening to triggers

they bite down hard and don’t let go easy

Good morning good morning. Outside my window right now it is still grey with morning clouds. I’ve got hot water with lemon and honey, and I am trying to remember how to breathe. I am trying to remember the point of this process. I am trying to remember how my limbs and lungs learned to function. I am trying to recalibrate after a deeply triggering experience and a week in the throes of — not flashback, exactly, but a deep and embodied re-memorying of what it was like to be a 22-year-old person trying to get away from a man who had brainwashed and abused her, and terrified for her life.

Last weekend, at the Survivorship conference, I had occasion to learn some new information about the man who sexually abused me, and in the aftermath, I have not been ok. I crashed. I have been sad and scared and triggered. I have been hopeless. (And yet, I want to say that the conference was, overall, a powerful and good experience for me, and I am so grateful to have been able to participate!)

Part of the crash was trigger, and part of the crash was a feeling of hopelessness, of sheer powerlessness to change any of the conditions that allow kids to continue to be harmed by the people who are supposed to care for and guide them. I don’t like to write here when I am in that place of hopelessness — I prefer to offer a sense of possibility and hope, even if it’s thin and fragile; I know how easy it can be to fall into despair, and I don’t want to be a part of that for anyone else. But this week, most of what I felt was despair: people do terrible things to children (and to other adults) and most of those who do will never be held accountable for their actions. Other adults will protect them. Our system of government will protect them. Even we who were abused will protect them — because we love them, because we forget, because we are afraid for our lives and the lives of others we love. This week it feels like violence and desecration are a part of the human constitution — how can we undo what people with the power  and money fight so violently and tenaciously to continue to have access to?

So this week I’ve had to go slow. I’ve been offline a lot, in the quiet, reading and thinking and remembering. My inclination during these triggered times is to hide deep in a hole, get as far away from everyone and everything as I can, which generally leaves me feeling lonely and isolated — and so, as I was able, I reached out, talked to beloveds, spent time around humans who I know are kind and generous and loving. I baked. I worked in the garden. I spent time cuddling a pup. Radical self care was hard work this week.

This is what I wrote on Monday, during our Write Whole group — the prompt I used at the beginning was a quote from Carson McCullers:

“All we can do is go around telling the truth.” I want that to be enough. Today I do not feel hopeful even though I feel that hope is meant to be my job, my vocation. Today I know that telling the truth can help an individual or damn her to confinement when she tells a story that people more powerful than her want squashed. We have to be inside out and sideways in our telling. This isn’t what I want to say. What I really want to say is that I am disheartened by humankind today. I know that people, that survivors, are resilient, that if we live through horror we usually are able to heal, if given the chance, and I also believe that in my lifetime, and for generations beyond my death, there will be no end to the destruction of children in the service of adult’s desires. I want to believe that there can be a change. I want to believe we can set aside our bloodthirst. I want to believe that we can be a different species— but children have been violated by adults since, it would seem, the beginning of time. What makes me think we could end such an entrenched practice and entitlement with just a few years’ outcry and naming?

I hear that President Obama wants to end rape on college campuses — how can that not be commendable? He forms a task force, and he names the issues in his speeches, and he encourages more study and research on the problem. Meanwhile, girls are still being assaulted at parties and in dorms by “friends” and classmates. Is it because boys need to be educated? Is it because we truly believe that the boys involved believe that their behavior isn’t wrong? How could we possibly believe that? It’s because they know their actions are normal and culturally acceptable — that this is part of what they get access to by virtue of being male. Mr. President, can we get a task force to undo that sense of entitlement? And while you’re at it, can we decommission the military and undo federal recognition for the catholic church while we task force the institutional sexual violence out of those sanatoria as well? Don’t you know that ending sexual violence on campus means changing the way that we as a culture make boys and make girls? That it means either arming the girls or actually training boys to be different kinds of people? How is your task force going to accomplish that,when it’s almost certain that there are persons on the very committee who will decry the heinous treatment of girls and promise to stop at nothing to root out this evil force veining its way through our campuses, and will then go home to a child bent over their homework, hiding in their room, crossing their fingers that tonight he won’t demand to give them “just a back-rub” that they know will end in something worse?

Today I am not optimistic, even though I do know that things can change. I know that men can change. I know that women can change. I know we are fighting a terrible battle when we attempt to take children’s bodies out from between the teeth of people who have been groomed to believe they are entitled to them — they bite down hard and don’t let go easy. I need some hope today. I need help from other eyes and minds, to be reminded what is possible.

Let’s be as easy with ourselves as possible today, ok? This work of recovery and lasting change is long and we need to sustain ourselves. Today I send you adoration and gratitude, and I take myself to the seaside for succor. Thank you for your breath and your stories. Thank you for your words.

in the now and also in the Then

graffiti: red heart and the words (faint): the way is in the heart

"the way is in the heart"

(A bit of this morning’s post gets into some specific details around sexual trauma — just be easy with yourselves as you read, ok? xox, -Jen)

It’s a wet Saturday morning here in NorCal — puppy is learning to handle wet feet.

There are things I want to say today about a deep kind of patience, a hollow place called faith that opens in the body and hurts like hell, present and ready to be filled with successes and joys.

There are some stories that feel the most terrible, that ride in us like nausea and hunger, that carry our guilt and shame in stony lodgings all over our body. There is a story I want to tell you. I have told you a little about my first dog, how do I tell this story, I have been trying to understand the overwhelming anxiety I’ve been feeling since first falling in love with our Sophie at the shelter two weeks ago (has it really only been two weeks?). It’s been thick and constant in me, totally out of place for this situation — too much — clearly older than now. Do you know that feeling, the dual-body feeling that happens when you’re triggered, when you’re in the now and also very much in the Then?

My first dog, back in secondary school, she was not my best friend or companion, she was the only one. We would take endless walks around the neighborhood together: It was my escape from the house with my mother and stepfather. I would walk as long as I thought I could get away with, would talk to Katja, and would talk to the air. This was about trying to be free, about getting free, about taking the air back into my lungs — as soon as I walked into the house again, the air got removed, this is no time for the passive voice, he, my mother’s husband, took the air back from my lungs for himself. I’m not sure if that’s a metaphor.  Katja was a solid black lab-husky mix who scared every boyfriend that walked through our front door with her barking. She was barely trained and unspayed, eventually getting pregnant — my mother’s husband said he took the puppies to a farm, and I allow myself to continue to believe that was true. (Every one of these sentences is its own story.) Her coat held most of my tears and many of my wishes, dreams — the ones I would let myself say out loud, I would say to her. I’d wanted a dog my whole life, and now here she was, my heart’s only companion. I distinctly remember a time (when I was home from college, it must have been, maybe freshman year) that he wanted to rape/have sex, and I couldn’t talk my way out of it and Katja was in the room. We were all on the floor. At this time, the room that had been my bedroom through high school was now the business office for our family company — the one that ostensibly paid our way through college — the girls’ bedroom was by then down in the basement, far from where my mother slept. The carpet was light colored, there was computer equipment all around. Katja whined and growled at him — she wanted him off me, like I wanted him off me. I don’t think I told her to stop. I hope I didn’t. My heartbeat didn’t tell her No, like it isn’t now. I want to say that he got up and shut her out of the room, but there’s a good chance he made me do that. What I hold on to is how she held on to my breath, was the growl that I couldn’t make, was part of the body of my resistance.

When I was a sophomore in college, home again on vacation, he demanded that I take her to the pound. She was 8 years old. After my sister and I were both gone from the home, my dog spent nearly her whole life down in the basement, away from any natural light, away from people. He was mad because she was pissing and shitting in the house, mad that she barked, mad that she was a dog and that I loved her.  I lived in the dorms and couldn’t bring her back to school with me. My sister drove me to the animal shelter because at 19 or 20, I still hadn’t been allowed to get my driver’s license yet. The woman at the pound was honest with me, forthright, she’ll have a week here to get adopted. I was trying to keep a straight face, to kill the thing in me that was screaming, that looked at my dog’s face and had to leave her in that fenced concrete horror. I said I understood. I understood. I asked if she thought it was possible that Katja could be adopted. She tried to be kind and clear with me at the same time. In the concrete parking lot, bright sun blaring off ever car and window, I fell apart. My sister tried to comfort me, but there wasn’t any way to comfort the place in me that broke. I’m still wailing there in that place. Just a few months later — fewer than 6, I think — I moved out of the dorms and into an apartment. I repeated to myself and to friends: she could have come with me. I could have brought her here.

There are reasons I haven’t wanted to love another dog, reasons that I’m terrified, reasons to want to do it right. I breathe deep into those ancient aches, that horror of shame that craws still up the inside of my skin, I take her muzzle in my face and apologize and ask forgiveness and ask for help now.

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

There are the old stories that ache to be written and shared, and are terrible to write and share. Is there one you are thinking of now? You can take it in small pieces. 10 minutes, let the words and tears and/or rage come out onto the page, breathe it true, and then let yourself do something completely different — make an amazingly delicious breakfast, take a good hot bath, go for a run, watch a fantastically-terrible movie. This is about positive reinforcement: we can do the hard work, and get rewarded for it.

I am grateful for the ways you carry your history, your old and true loves,  in and on and under your skin, even and especially those you, we, have betrayed. Thank you for their stories, for all of your words.

talking to the triggers

Italian graffiti poem: "La verità è che non sanno cosa vogliono; piccolina, lasciali stare, non ne vale la pena. Ti vedi bella; sei bella!!"

"The truth is that they don't know what they want, sweetie. Ignore them, it isn't worth it. You see yourself beautiful, you're beautiful!!"

Good morning! Today has been morning pages on the floor of my office, candle-lit, at 5:05, then a dawn-break walk with the puppy, where we were serenaded by an owl. Now it’s nettle-mint-skullcap tea and settling down for some quiet time. We are learning the different ways to be with each other.

What next? The sun comes up. I wrote in my journal, “she wakes up like morning in a new town.” I’m afraid of becoming one of those pup-parents who only talks about her dog — and then I remember that it’s only been three days. Yes, it’s ok to still be obsessed.

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

Quick reminder: Registration is still open for the 8 week summer workshops! Regular registration rates are in effect until June 5, so connect with me as soon as possible to sign up for either Write Whole: Survivors Write (open to all women who are survivors of sexual trauma or violence) or Declaring Our Erotic (open to queer/TBLG/SGL folks of all genders!) or both!

For any of you up in the Sacramento area, or who want to travel, there are still a couple of spaces in the Erotic Writing as Liberating Practice workshop this Saturday, 5/28!

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

This is still a day of wrangling with fear, fear of good stuff, fear of following through on decisions. I would like to get back to writing about writing, about surviving, maybe even about desire, but this is where we are right now: Trusting my gut, the messages that rise up sharp from my intuition and I still so often question them. I was going back through a couple of previous posts that touched on this process, relearning to trust self, and being ok with our responses — trusting that, too. Trusting the self-doubt, the self-questioning.

What about that? What if I sat down with all the panic that’s been bubbling through me, all the worry, all the fear, offered it all some tea and said, “Ok, right on — tell me your stories.” What would those voices say? Would they talk about body memory of puppy time back in the house in Omaha, when I got my first dog ever in the place that would become a prison for both me and the pup? Would they talk about relationship worries, would they sing old songs of wanting freedom, what would their breath smell like? Would they say what it feels like to walk face first into a decision with 20-year consequences? (But don’t most of our decisions have long-lasting consequences? I just don’t pay attention to that all the time — here, though, is a body to show me that reality.)

This feels a little jumbled, not as clear as I would like to be — still, talking to the triggers, the sore spaces, the fear-voices, that’s not a clear process either. But it’s a worthwhile one: for me, everyone calms down inside a little bit when they’re listened to, the sore spots get a little soothed, swelling goes down. This is a trauma aftermath process: listening to the stuff that got us through, even when it’s not serving us anymore — and saying thank you. And so, right now, I’m saying thank you to the panic, to the fear and old memories that live beneath and breathe life into that panic, for the messages it wants to be sure that I remember: I might not be safe if I love too much; people might get frustrated if I have to change my routines, my habits, my life around for this new addition; I am going to make mistakes and sometimes they’re going to be big — and I’ve gotten in trouble for those before.

It’s important for me to listen to those voices, be present with what’s underneath and inside the triggered stuff, let it come to and through me, bubble up to the present with my intuitions, let us all pay attention to each other, and learn new ways together. This is something I’m learning through the somatic practices I’m participating in: expansion instead of foreclosure. I practice new ways of responding to and through old patterns and trigger-responses, and let the trigger-responses know, too, that I’m not abandoning them, that I have needed them in the past, that I may need them again — but we are also learning and practicing new ways.

It could be a prompt for today. What do you think?

Be easy with you today, ok? And I will practice the same. Thanks for that, and for your words.

walking with helplessness

graffiti of a woman holding a loaf of bread and a boquet of rosesEarly in the morning, and I am getting back to work — AT&T finally allowed us to get our internet access setup at home yesterday, after being here for almost two weeks. I’m grateful to be back at my desk with you.

I wake up with a feeling of dread, and then as I thought this morning, also of utter helplessness — like nothing I can do will change what’s happening, what’s coming.

What about that feeling of helplessness that lies on the other side of terror?
I pull a couple of motherpeace cards this morning (from an incomplete deck), and I get a 6 of discs (Generosity, healing others) and 6 of swords (Clarity. Tough but right decision, understanding consequences & necessity).

Tough decisions.

Some mornings, the helplessness hits me hard, I wake up in it like I’m washed through, like its seeping out of my pores, like it’s all I live within. That old feeling of, this is never going to get better, this is never going to change.

There are ways we learn helplessness, just to survive — if I quit acting like anything I do makes a difference, I can get through this awfulness faster, less scathed. What else is there? I should have started the blog writing sooner. Now it’s late, and how do I write about what I want to write about when I have to be in the shower in 10 minutes so that I can catch the bus to get to my day job? See this feeling of helplessness, like I’m not making the decisions, like forces outside of my control are shaping my will, like nothing I do can change anything. Like all that’s ahead of me is awfulness.

Yes, this can be a part of ptsd, this sense of helplessness and dread, this long training into and against someone else’s control. How do I let my body, my deep inside, know that we can make our own choices for our life now, and that we will choose what’s good for us, that we can be trusted with choices?

Here are some things that can undo/shift the experience of helplessness, in my experience:

  • writing it out
  • taking a long, scrubby, sudsy shower
  • calling a friend and telling them about it
  • going for a walk and telling the plants and hummingbirds and circling hawks about it
  • making a list of things that need doing, and then doing one or more of those things
  • writing out a list of the things I’m avoiding, or that I’m having a hard time making a decision about, and then writing some about one or more of those things (either a pros and cons list, or just writing openly about one of those hard decisions)
  • Write, asking the helplessness and/or dread to tell me its stories, so that I can honor how they have helped me survive, and so that we can walk together into the choices and agency that I have now, as an adult who isn’t being controlled and abused anymore.
  • What else?

Today is International Women’s Day. We can talk about how helplessness has been bread and borne and beaten into generations and generations of women, or we can talk about tough decisions and generosity/healing, organizing and speaking out, striking for bread and roses.

A couple of ideas for writing today: how do you (or your characters) walk with your (feelings of) helplessness? How do you move through that feeling, or against it?

How are you marking International Women’s Day? What does it mean for your characters that there is a day devoted just to honoring women’s work, and bettering all of our working conditions? What is women’s work? What is your woman’s work? What do you want it to be?

Thank you for the ways you are gentle with the things you want to change in yourself, for how you hold what you are most impatient with, how you are present with those deep, old lessons that still live in your heart and, some days, still move your hands. Thank you for your constant creativity with/in your healing/life. Thank you (even when I’m not here to say it) for your words.