Wednesday Wisdom: Sensibility

Trigger Warning: Content contains sexual violence/trauma

The author Jessica Stern has been a huge influence on my writing work. She has written many books on terrorism (which I have not read, sorry, Jessica), but her memoir continues to inspire me with a single line. She wrote, “This is the worst impact of severe trauma: the victim loses faith in the evidence of her own senses.”

When I read this, I practically lifted my butt out of the chair with elation. Somebody finally understood me!

My story is not Jessica’s. Her memoir, Denial, A Memoir of Terror, reveals her journey as an expert on terrorism and her resilience to fear despite the extremely dangerous situations she willingly immersed herself in. Her investigative questioning to understand this resilience lead her back to her teen years when she and her sister were violently raped in their childhood home. As an emotional response to endure the incident, young Jessica willed away her fear. Afterwards, there was no memory of the event, as the trauma blocked her perception from her reality. She went on to live with a depleted sense of fear, which would explain her later obsession with danger. She wanted to feel something.

Trauma robs our perception of reality. This manifests in normalizing abnormal situations/behavior that we would typically avoid. The emotional wall meant to protect us has taken over, and rises each time the behavior occurs. We see it often in others, but it is much harder to see in ourselves as we have adapted to our own devices of self-protection. For whatever reason, this is a concept I continually obsess over and find absolutely fascinating. My own memoir delves into this notion, and whereas I have no expertise in the neurological manifestation of denial, I get it. I understand how emotions can be erased.

The way back to sensibility is through honesty, scrutiny, and one of the toughest jobs of adulting, emotional inquiry. We cannot arrive on the other side of trauma without the detective work into our own pasts. This requires guidance, support, a tribe, a community, an expert on trauma, loads of self-care, and absolute and endless loyalty to ourselves. It is not easy work, but when we regain our sensibility, we repair the broken link to the fullness of our identity.

Know that wherever you are in the journey, you are not alone. There is great power in each of us to immerse in healing, and many sources and methods exist for support. I like to think of myself as a friendly delegate. I’m happy to share links I have found helpful. Please email me if this interests you. Most of all, be kind and love yourself. You are so worthy of love.

Wednesday Wisdom: Patterns

Language learning in children is an exercise in reciting patterns. Initiating the sequence of knowledge begins with counting from one to ten, the days of the week, the months of the year, and grows with conceptual associations in and out of the classroom. Each step is a launch forward in learning a larger scope of the world.

We humans learn emotions in much the same way but without the classic structure of instruction. Our childhood emotional education is a process of discovery, blindly steeped in the world at home before our interactions with others. Many sad tears of mine were a result of new insults or new defenses that would not go unpunished. Despite my efforts to connect or protect, I was taking steps toward learned behavior.

When we enter adulthood, we have unconsciously adapted to the emotional instruction as a norm, but fortitude comes when we question these beliefs. Not everything we learned was for our benefit. As adults, it is imperative that we become adept at noticing our emotional patterns because it is in repetition where we find our contributions to the situations we are immersed in. Emotional health, often closely-related to physical wellness, relies on the need for positive reciprocity in our relationships. If you’re uncertain about a difficult relationship, keep in mind that every abuse is a pattern. Does that feeling arise again and again? Take notes on how, why, when. Soon, you will see the repetition.

Emotions leave scars, left by insensitive or wounded hearts who would not see their own power. Life is not perfect. When we take the role of observer in our emotional patterns, we more acutely see each glitch and the behavior on the other end. Abuse is often hard to detect when it has been normalized in our lives, unless we prioritize our own emotional safety and implement a system of documentation. Guilt can prevent us from establishing boundaries in toxic relationships, but it is empowering if you think of it as confronting behavior. Changes in pattern will diminish your fear, anger, and shame, and grant space in your life for beauty.

We can create a more harmonious world for ourselves. Healing has allowed me to choose the patterns that sustain me, to fill my life with the beautiful repetition of sounds I love to hear: a friend’s inimitable laughter, my husband pouring me a glass of wine and talking about our day, my daughters’ voices, the keyboard as I process my own thoughts to understand who I am on this journey. In filling my life with the patterns that reinvest in my worth, I am able to launch myself further into the scope of what lies ahead.

Just like children, the discoveries of our past can shape our future. You are never too old, too unskilled, too reliant on another (financially or otherwise) to neglect defending your emotional needs. The courage to make the leap is not only a step away from fear and shame, but also a step toward the scope of you. You are worth so much more than pain.

An empty robin’s nest will be repurposed the following spring.

Wednesday Wisdom: Uncertainty

On Monday morning, I woke up feeling energized and ambitious so I went for a run. It was short. A change of pace in my week, I hadn’t run in years, ever since it had proved challenging to my joints after giving birth to Kid A, (yes, a reference to Radiohead) but I ran with the mindset that nobody was judging me: I was slow and a little knock-kneed and, because of my life, a little nostalgic.

Now, eighteen years after giving birth to my first daughter, I am feeling uncertain as she is about to leave the house for college and begin a life of her own. I’m afraid of what the household will become without her, afraid of who I will be to the world—this woman with one less role visible to my friends and acquaintances of an identity I had sacrificed a career to become.

Stripped of this identity, who am I? The uncertainty is crushing. To be known as a mother is a privilege in which one doesn’t anticipate loss, but loss is a mother’s playground, an interpretation of growth and change weakened by the fear of feeling incomplete.

I am sad and I am grateful: grateful for being there to see her first smile, her first steps, her first tumble, and the many more that would follow. She was ambitious and alive and it was exhausting to keep her safe. In fact, keeping her safe was my career, but now I must retire.

Where do I put my energy? Where do I put my worry? It would be crazy-making to worry about her and I trust I have done my job well enough to forsake the helpless act of fearing the worst.

I must move forward. So it is here, in these words, on the page, where my identity finds me. It is here where a map to understanding my own emotions makes sense of the confusion. In two days, I will be a different parent, a different spouse, a different writer. I will be an identity both old and new, wisened, and free. Isn’t that the point life makes over and over? That freedom still possesses sacrifice and uncertainty? That we must continually move forward because it is the only direction to go?

‘Wonderland’ by Jaume Plensa, Calgary, Alberta

Beautiful words on parenting: The Last Time

Wednesday Wisdom: Family Ghosts

Many gaps exist in my family story. In trying to piece together my parents’ younger years for my memoir, I am befuddled by the complexity of mistaken timelines and the absence of information. One example that surprised me was the fact that I had always believed my mother was twenty-three when I was born. I have done the math. She was twenty-four.

What difference does this make? A lot. The mind relies on every bit of information as one navigates the world. My stories have built me and I process life through the filter of my understanding. Finding an error in what I have believed to be true means I must recalibrate my truth to a different and unfamiliar understanding. Seeing things differently forces me to step back and question my own beliefs and preconceived notions of how I fit into the world.

With more gaps than I had previously realized, I have to question how much I know my family. As I’m seeing it now, it seems to be very little. The more I delve into photos and years and events, the more wary I become of my relationship to the people who raised me. Certainly, if I don’t know a lot about them, then there must also be a lot they don’t know about me. It is evident to me now that many of my childhood struggles circulated around the feeling of ghosted by family.

Writing is a process of discovery. We write to learn about ourselves, but finding the truest meaning of ourselves also means discovering the truest meaning in our relationships. Merging into this territory is dangerous, difficult work. Now, I am able to do this because I have a strong support network which has taken years and courage to build. My husband and the world of creativity are the backbone of my emotional health. It has taken commitment to my own well-being and letting go of previous truths to undergo this process, and I am so grateful to have people to hold me up when I want to crumble. My fortitude has grown with the belief that my story matters, because even with loneliness, no person’s story exists in isolation.

Perhaps I was called to writing because I never felt understood. Or, maybe I always wanted to be known on a deeper level. Humans need connection. Like so many of us, all of us, in fact, the layers of identity are deep and tragic and uncertain. Loneliness is a trap we can release if we take the initiative to identify what we seek. Generating creative work provides meaning in an otherwise shallow life and illuminates our blind spots. Still, I am realizing that the gaps in my family story were never there to be filled, but to be examined. It’s through the existence of an incomplete that I see myself more clearly as my parent’s daughter. Stubborn. Hard-pressed to finish what I start. I’m finding my connection to them as I write. Present or not, they are here with me.

My paternal grandfather, Robert Wallace. A grandfather I never knew.

Wednesday Wisdom: Success

When I began writing my memoir, the question most often asked was if it would be published.

In the beginning, I was adamant. Yes! Why else would I write? It was like asking if I intended to eat the plate of food in front of me at the dinner table. I was ravenous for indulgence.

Another year went by. I wrote as consistently as I ate. Writing was part of the day, something to sustain me. It gave me a voice and a safe place to reveal my fears and I grew less afraid of what I might discover about myself. Some days brought feasts of time and some days, a snack, but overall, a reliable practice built trust between my voice and my story. I honored the time I had carved out of the day for myself and my intentions softened. I was no longer anxious about life’s uncertainties or the book’s completion. Writing is like coq-au-vin. It needs time to absorb the flavors.

In the past five years, writing has opened my world. I have shared my story with others, who in turn have shared their own hard stories with me. Vulnerability is less threatening when you trust yourself. With writing, I have grown in authenticity, courage, and compassion, and in return, my tribe has grown enormously on social media and in real life. I am grateful for the tenderness that surpasses familiarity, and witnessing strangers in support of strangers is one of the most amazing aspects I have found through memoir writing.

Today, I was honored to be interviewed by Karletta Marie, in Australia, about the importance of sharing our most vulnerable stories. We spoke for an hour and a half. Our conversation was ignited with passion for the experience of renewal that memoir writing provides. Her mission to interview authors and professional writers about their growth stories is an act of compassion. She has witnessed the fear that holds people back and her work provides inspiration with narratives of courage.

But will my book be published?

Yes, although I don’t know when. At this point, it doesn’t matter. My measure of success is no longer a book deal, a monetary figure, or even a hard copy of my work. My goals to connect with others in honest and gritty exposure of fears and truth without guilt or shame was something I hadn’t considered at the onset of my writing journey. My prerogatives have changed. The book will be done some day, but I am successful today.

Seeley Lake, Montana