Ingredients for Post Traumatic Growth (or Turning Trauma Into Meaning & Beauty)

“The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe. Resilience does not come from avoiding pain, it comes from feeling pain and finding the support you need to keep your heart open in the midst of it all. When we face our fears head-on, we transform the power they hold over us. When we allow our hearts to break open, we increase our capacity to embrace the inevitable changes and challenges of life.” Joanna Macy

eros and psycheI am in the midst of grieving and healing one of the greatest losses of my life. Everything that I put my heart and soul into the last three years disintegrated, except for my relationship with Eros. I am pretty damn certain my Sexy Man is the primary reason I am not losing my shit.  It’s a strange paradox, Eros and I are healthier and happier than we’ve ever been, partly for navigating together the tragedy that befell us over the holiday season. We are learning from the emotional violence that destroyed our adoption triad and learning how to better hold space for all of ourselves and each other. We are gentler with one another and give each other the benefit of the doubt more often, rather than assuming the worst and acting out of that fear. We are learning how to care for our traumatized selves so that our pain does not rule our lives. And we are happier for it. While we’re navigating big hardness, we easily find joy with one another.

A primary aspect of my self care is focusing on the potential for post-traumatic growth. While I have come to recognize that I have PTSD related to long term and recurrent emotional abuse in my past, I know for certain that I have a much stronger propensity for Post-Traumatic Growth. PTG is positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or traumatic event. PTG explains my life story.

I transmute my suffering and pain into healing and beauty. That’s what I do, who I am, and in a way I think it is my purpose in the world. Or maybe I just need it to be my purpose in order to find meaning in a life filled to the brim with emotional hardness. Before I even heard of Victor Frankl I knew that meaning is vital to resilience, so I always sought ways to transform my traumas into some kind of positive meaning, growth and healing for myself and others. I was a single teen mom that partnered in creating a home for homeless teen moms at 19 years old. I kept and raised my daughter conceived in rape without letting that experience tarnish my presence as her Mom or her identity as a person, to the degree that she developed a relationship of her own authorship with him, her half-sister, and her nephew in her late teens. The Yoni Endeavor was an art and web project that turned my woman-based  traumas into writing and art that reached thousands of people. I turned my stagnation with my marriage into The Conspiracy of Blessings, which likely helped catapult me out of that dysfunctional relationship once and for all. The Impropriety Society addressed a whole slew of deeply personal relational issues for me to grow through and support others in growing through – self acceptance, belonging, community, healthy relationship, vulnerability, identity, polyamory, power, all aspects of sexuality, etc.

I know I will transform this latest trauma into something beautiful. I’ve already started by focusing on the opportunity for growth. I may not have faith in some God outside of us, but I do have incredible faith in myself. I even have a recipe for this, a recipe I’ve been following since my late teens, adding and subtracting what works for me in my current stage of April-ness.

Ingredients for Nurturing Post-Traumatic Growth

  • Getting Lost in Novels That Make Me Feel All the Feels – the grand stories and complex family histories of Isabel Allende (House of Spirits is my favorite), sci-fi and fantasy stories by Dan Simmons (the Hyperion/Endymion series is expansive and thought provoking), and the artful rendering of the extraordinary in ordinary humans with Alice Hoffman (known for Practical Magic).
  • Music – All The Music.  I have over 150 playlists on Spotify, some with specific albums and/or artists, some cultivated playlists (like Women I Love), others are a random compilation of the most recent artists I’ve discovered, or a combination of a few artists who elicit similar feelings in me. The current mixed list includes: David Bowie’s Blackstar, Amanda Palmer and Jherek Bischoff’s musical love letter to Bowie (the string arrangements are phenomenal!), Jherek’s solo album Composed, Anna Calvi, Kan Wakan, Borns, The XX, Todd Terje (psychedelic mix of old 70s-ish lounge with modern composition and beats), Rob Dougan (best known for Clubbed to Death), Kishi Bashi, Fink, The Few Moments, Jonsi (lead singer/guiarist from Sigur Ros, one of my forever favorite bands), and Sia’s new album This Is Acting. It’s fair to say that my tastes run toward the unique and very far from the mainstream most of the time. Musicians, and artists of all kinds, that are authentic to their unique, surreal, and strange expressions resonate with me the strongest.
  • Singing as Long and Loud and Often as I Need to Express All The Feels
  • Time at My Altar – Prayers and Intentions Spoken Aloud
  • Rest – Lots of Rest in My Soft Bed (especially late afternoons when my energy lags)
  • Candlelight and Strings of Little White, Pink and Red Lights (rather than glaring lightbulbs)
  • Burning Palo Santo and Sage – Purification of Self and Space
  • Touches from Eros – Soft kisses, Hugs in the Middle of the Room on Our Way to Somewhere Else, Holding Hands and Snuggling as We Watch TV, Spectacular Sex (Every. Single.Time.)
  • Reaching Out to Heal Other Relationships – My Sister and My Daughter
  • The Grace of God Between Us – Kindnesses from Friends and Coworkers
  • Honoring and Expressing My Anger Safely When It Comes – Trusting It will Move Through to  Grief, Compassion, and a Greater Understanding of My Boundaries
  • Letting Go, Letting Go, and Letting Go Some More
  • Daffodils Breaking through the Soil on the Verge of Blooming – Knowing that Spring and a Million More Flowers are On Their Way
  • Watching Ducks Play in the Creek
  • bridal veil 2The Roar of Waterfalls and Breathing Forest Air
  • Taking Walks Outside with Eros (even when I don’t want to)
  • Reaching Out and Trusting in Others even though it Frightens Me to be Vulnerable with Anyone
  • Trusting Myself – My Insights, My Intuition, My Emotions (which are different than feelings!)
  • Living with Integrity – Living My Values No Matter the Consequences
  • Trusting the Long Game – Choices Made Now May Become Different Choices Later
  • Following My Creative Impulses – Right now it’s (I don’t like crayons.)
  • And as Always -Writing Like a Mother Fucker

 

The Heroine’s Journey: I am an Emotional Mountain Climber

540361_10201504920558445_1441567995_nI am struggling as I live between two opposing forces – the desire to build community with my son and his adoptive parents, and the desire to run as far as possible from the birth mother bruising of mine-and-not-mine every day. My heart is being pushed and pulled between conflicting needs, a daily wrestling match that leaves me emotionally exhausted and withdrawn.

I crave this family, the belonging, and the sense of purpose I have found here. And my heart aches daily as our son simultaneously cements his preference for Mommy and shifts toward the independence of toddlerhood.

Despite the perception in popular books and movies, the Heroine’s Journey looks different than the Hero’s. Women undergo journeys of awakening and self definition, but it is often an internal process that happens through our emotions and our intimate relationships rather than through confrontation with forces in the world. Heather Plett says that feminine rites follow a pattern of containment, transformation, and emergence (vs the masculine rites of separation, transition, and reincorporation). I am currently between containment and transformation, waiting for emergence to occur.

I have come to understand that I am an emotional athlete of sorts, an emotional mountain climber. Much like people who train to endure, and even enjoy, the growing pains and discomfort of intense physical adventures (marathons, surfing, skiing, etc.), I am trained to endure and enjoy the growing pains of seemingly unbearable emotional circumstances. The traumas that often damage and break other people are just added weight to the barbell my powerful heart can bench-press.

I experienced life as deeply emotional and profoundly painful from an early age. I score at least a 7 on the ACES test regarding childhood trauma, although there are many more traumas that aren’t listed. I also have an unusually deep capacity for empathy, meaning I feel other people’s emotions in addition to my own. Imagine what that is like when everyone you are a developing child/adolescent and everyone you love is suffering in a significant way. And I’ve worked to recover from Borderline Personality Disorder, also known as Emotional Intensity Disorder. I am running a lifelong marathon to maintain my sanity, emotional regulation, and the chance to thrive in a healthy family dynamic.

My Heroine’s Journey is a map of how to navigate the world with a raw and open heart. I don’t wear emotional armor to protect myself. I don’t know how. Instead, when I am too raw for exposure I hide in my bedroom, my sanctuary, away from people. I am not interested in fighting – not other people, not my own demons, nor the world’s evils. I am passionate about creating and nurturing justice, reconciliation, and belonging through acts of love and generosity. As part of my training, I strive not to turn words into weapons against others when I’m hurt and angry, whether beloveds or strangers. I’ve spent my entire adult life disarming the triggers that can transform my typical gentleness to verbal violence.

One of the primary challenges for people with Borderline is that we have difficulty living with opposing truths, called dialectics. The term’s dialectical means a synthesis or integration of opposites. This is why Dialectical Behavioral Training (DBT) is vital to recovery. Through my research I’ve learned that I consistently provide my own DBT by confronting opposing truths over and over, often on purpose, in order to learn how to regulate my thinking, feelings, and behavior in relationship. For instance, my experiences of polyamory required embracing the opposing truths of my desire for big open love and my abnormally strong fear of abandonment (another BPD trait). I could simultaneously feel compersion and jealousy. I could be deeply frightened and keep choosing love anyway.

Physical masochism is also a dialectic. I surrender my body to experiences of pain from someone who cares for me. Pain, pleasure, love, and fear usually weave together to carry me into ecstasy. But sometimes the physical pain gets wrapped up with my heart pain and I have an emotional release, where something that causes me deep heartache becomes more bearable as the pain is pushed through me with a flogger or a cane. This happened over the weekend when my fiance and I played a relatively mild BDSM scene,  the day after I read a memoir excerpt from a birth mother in an open adoption. Seeing myself in the mirror of her particular words and phrases brought my pain to the surface so that the slightest stimulus rubbed me raw and left me sobbing.

The emotional strength training I put myself through the last 20+ years gave me the ability to make an impossible choice – to give mommyhood to a beloved friend and  retain my place as a different sort of mother in my child’s life. I live the dialectic of mine-and-not-mine with my son every minute of every day. I feel the biological and emotional pull to be his mommy and I keep my distance to allow another woman to be the foundation of his safety and belonging. I ache because he favors her now and I am immensely grateful that I don’t often have to endure all of the hard parts (irregular sleeping patterns, tantrums, etc.).

I try to nurture connection and distance at the same time, both with my son and his adoptive parents. I truly crave the intimacy of chosen family and intentional community. I also choose to live with them because I desire to lighten the burden of full time parenting and help them afford a nice home in a good neighborhood with all of the related benefits. After so many years as a single mom, I don’t want our son’s parents to ever feel alone in their care and responsibility of him.  Yet as my relationship with our son shifts I become more withdrawn, spending less time with the family. I focus my attention on the parts of my life that aren’t so painful and complicated, like my relationship with my fiance and my book creation (and a good dose of television).

I am living in this family dialectic, navigating it mostly with grace, and yet I worry that I am not doing enough. I worry that I am not present enough, connected enough, or co-parenting enough. Because my work in the world is now focused on belonging, I am learning about the psychology of community and the practices that are required to keep community functioning in vibrant ways. Yet I refuse to act on these knowings with those closest to me because I am frightened of my own vulnerability. I don’t know how to be this raw with other people. In my journey to find emotional stability I have always lived in my own head – and bedroom – when in pain. It is how I contain myself, keep my emotions from overwhelming others. I have no idea how to be in this strange place I now live between love and pain in a home and intimate relationship with other adults.

Some days I feel like a fraud. Who am I to write about courage, connection, and community when I can’t yet find the strength to bring my own vulnerability to the table with those closest to me? I was able give a child from my body, I can give my work to support my family, and yet these past few months I can rarely share myself with them.

The focus of my self work these days is to hold myself in the same compassion and acceptance that I give others. I am working to stop beating myself up for falling short of my own high standards for conscious living and relationship. The truth is that to evolve from suffering a mental illness that will not allow opposing truths to living peacefully in a situation that is built of opposing truths is a significant accomplishment. It is in recognizing how far I have come these past 20 years that I  see I need to give myself patience. I am in the endurance race of my life. I will be living in some form of this dialectic with my son and his adoptive parents forever, whether or not I continue to live in the same home with them. I have plenty of time and safe space in which to build my emotional muscles with people who love me no matter what I bring to the table on any given day. I am already enough simply by choosing to be here and contributing in this home with this family.

*

Image by Flickr Artist Christian Thompson

Exploring Our Triggers to Discover Our Needs

poster-triggersMy family has come up on our first significant conflict since reuniting in Portland this year. It’s a conflict that can easily be traced to triggered reactions – fear buttons going off in individuals because of proposed changes to our collective relating. It’s an opportunity for me to live into my values and my most recent self work around triggers.

I’ve come to believe triggers are really important to address in family and community because they are the source of most conflict and avoidance. We lash out at each other when we’re triggered. And it’s the triggers we know people have that keep us from speaking the truth of what we feel – we consciously or unconsciously know it will “set them off.” If we learn how to sit with our triggers in curiosity, figure out what our needs are and how to get them met, rather than withdraw or act out from them in fear, we wouldn’t take each other to these hurtful places. If we could learn to hold each other in our triggered spaces and help each other get our needs met, our joy and connection will grow individually and collectively.

Triggers are buttons of fear built up over time from past experiences. They are not rational, which is why it’s so easy to go to the ugly, irrational places when they go off. We act out or withdraw because we are trying to run from the triggered feeling – fight or flight. What we need to do with triggers is sit with them in curiosity so that we can understand them and give ourselves what we need to heal them. We need to figure out what we’re really afraid of (some kind of pain), re-frame the past stories that feed that fear (how we were hurt like that before), and recognize our need can be met in the present – which all aids in disarming the trigger. It’s hard work and it hurts, but not as much as projecting our pain onto each other and having these harmful breakdowns again and again if we never address the triggers. Or the hurt of losing the relationship because we can no longer bear the pain caused by trigger reactions.

As passionate as I am about community building, I’m simultaneously struggling with huge fears because I have triggers around tribe rejecting me, publicly humiliating me, turning on me and/or letting me down. While our Imps tribe was wonderful in the ways that it was, it was also full of people hurting each other because not everyone was willing to be conscious of how their behavior impacted others or vulnerable with their difficult thoughts and feelings. We either set off each other’s triggers in terrible ways, or we became afraid of setting off each other’s triggers and avoided vulnerability. Our relationships mostly broke down because of it.

I don’t want to repeat those patterns, which is why I want to go deeper in community building this time, and I want to build from the deep trust that already exists in our circle. I desire to take the conscious, abiding, mostly healthy love that my partners and I have nurtured into the larger community relationship. I want everyone who comes to the circle to feel true belonging, to know that they will be seen, heard, held and loved *no matter what.* But I need to grow into it more slowly and carefully this time. I need to take care with whom I make myself vulnerable, because not everyone is careful and conscious with vulnerability. I also need to continue building thick skin – an ability to not take things personally so that other people’s behavior doesn’t trigger me.

Everyone has needs that are seeking to be met. Triggers go off because we’re afraid that’s not going to happen. I believe if we could come together in our families/communities and articulate our needs to each other with the intention of making it work, we could figure out how we can meet them all, at least most of them most of the time. I believe if we become conscious of our own triggers and can catch ourselves in the moment that the button goes off, we can prevent worlds of pain in our relationships and actually heal these places in ourselves.

What we’re attempting to create in my family and community is very special…and precarious because it’s taking every one of us some place we’ve never been before. As much as it can be joyful and fun, it can be awkward and uncomfortable. We’re committing to huge vulnerability. Resistance is inevitable. Growing pains are inevitable. However, I believe our love and commitment to the relationship is bigger than any obstacle we will face individually and collectively. I hope the others believe this, too.

triggers

Let Me Tell You About the Love of My Life

946826_10200456737015402_1774682442_nA significant aspect of my spiritual practice as a Radical Mystic is conscious relationship. I believe God is in everyone. I use relationship as a way to deepen my experience of the Sacred in All of Life and deep, abiding love. I also use it to deepen my spiritual and psycho-emotional growth.

One of my radical relationships is with my partner, Eros.

I spent 20 years desperately seeking a partner who would match my capacities for love, intimacy, communication, and conscious evolution. Someone who would share love and relationship as a spiritual practice, one that connects us to the Sacred and provides the safety in which to bare our wounds and illuminate our shadows so that we can heal and grow. Someone who would be a partner in every way. I experienced a lot of heartache in that search and nearly gave up.

I met Eros 7 years ago this Winter. Friends brought him into the original formation of The Impropriety Society and he was our lead DJ for every single event thereafter. His dedication to his work and to our organization was one of our greatest assets.

I felt Magic with him the first time we met. He had a partner, but they had an open relationship of sorts, so I thought I had a chance at something. I flirted with him, flirted with all the sexy femme strength I could muster, but he never gave me more than a kiss. Not until after his relationship ended three years later. I learned after we started dating that he didn’t pursue other relationships because all of his energy went into helping his addict girlfriend survive.

We hooked up at our first Imps event following their break up. It was early morning, when things were slowing down. He and I locked eyes as I danced in front of the DJ table. I started dancing for him. He took a break and took me to a bed. We had incredible sex, and a ton of laughter, before we had a conversation. It was just that kind of Magic.

I was actively exploring polyamory as a single person at the time we started dating. He was one of several lovers I was exploring possibilities with. Over time the others fell away, until just he and one other remained. I faltered for a bit and stopped dating Eros in order to focus on the other connection, a crazy D/s power exchange that ultimately broke me open in hard, painful and necessary ways. Eros continued coming over for dinner and movies, because we really liked each other’s company. When my heart was crushed by my dominant few months later, Eros was there to help me pick up the pieces. We shifted back into being lovers. It was fun, comfortable and tender, and we had lots of remarkable sex.

But I wasn’t totally in it. I didn’t think it was going to last. I thought Eros was too much into partying and not enough into conscious evolution. I didn’t realize at the time just how much I had shut down after being crushed by so many friends and lovers during my time with the Imps. I was over being vulnerable and generous and giving myself away. I didn’t believe I would find the kind of partner I had dreamed of since my teens. And I didn’t recognize what I had in Eros.

Until we got pregnant and had the baby that we share with the Mamas. He moved in with me and took care of me best he could during the pregnancy, even though it was something he had never wanted and was deeply frightened of. Then he held me as I grieved leaving our son in another city with the Mamas. During all this time he loved and supported my teenage daughter as she transitioned into adulthood.

He showed up.
Every single day no matter what came.

That is a really big deal, because there are a lot of men who don’t show up for their families. There are a lot of men who turn their back on their children. Until Eros, that was the only reality I knew as a daughter, as a mother, and as a wife. He shows up for me, and our son, and my children that are not his, and our son’s Mamas.

He didn’t just show up. He kept trying to do better and be better when things went awry. It turns out he’s fully committed to conscious growth and becoming a more loving person, and supporting me in doing the same.

He forgave me when I was triggered and fought with him. He forgave me when I wouldn’t let him into my heart. He forgave me when I was cranky and critical and controlling about our home space. He didn’t just keep loving me, he kept choosing me. No one has done that before. I have a whole sad story in my past about not being chosen – by my mom, by my multiple fathers, by many lovers.

Eros chooses me. That’s the basis of long term relationship. Choosing each other over and over again as life changes our individual and collective shapes.

More importantly, he chooses Us. The Us that includes my kids that came before him and the child we made together and the Mamas and our partner Camille and all the others we are drawing into our circle of belonging in the present and future.

After living hundreds of miles apart for 6 months, our love for each other has deepened. And inspired us to take greater care with each other because we really appreciate what we have now that we’re together again. We are disarming triggers and learning how to communicate through hard things with kindness and compassion, choosing responses instead of reactions. We are more accepting of the funny quirks and little annoyances. We are kind and affectionate on purpose, every day. We are really listening to each other and supporting each others’ dreams. We are dreaming together – of the home we’ll share, of the community we’ll build, of the experiences we’ll seek out, of the travelling we’ll do.

I am grateful and excited that I get to marry this man one day. We haven’t set a date yet. I need an income and we need to move into our house first. We are hoping for next year. We had originally hoped for Spring, but we never imagined it would take this long for me to find work. So we wait. But it doesn’t really matter when a wedding happens. I don’t need a ring on my finger to know that Eros will keep choosing me and showing up for me. It’s who he is. The Love of My Life.