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: 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: 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

Wednesday Wisdom: Creativity

I’ve created good writing the past two days, shirking off exercise and other balancing activities that make me a mostly well-rounded individual.

Creativity requires stepping away from the world to dive deep into the needs of the project. Much like a newborn baby, art demands its needs without a language.

It isn’t until you’ve spent hours and hours agonizing over the possibilities that you begin to understand a project’s needs. Sometimes, the writing wants a detail, the color red to call attention to this spot here, or action, an explosive shift in the plot’s direction there.

I know the struggle and joy of being pulled toward my writing. When we burrow into art, we burrow into servitude. The ebb and flow of creative work requires strong communion with our state of being, opening ourselves to a place of potential and possibility, trusting that we’ve created a sacred harbor for self-expression, no matter how limited in time and space, within our immediate world.

Building the sacred harbor takes courage. You might have to push people away, people who bring toxic and negative energies that deplete you. On the other hand, that space will soon be filled with support and respect for the art that only you can make. Giving ourselves permission to feed creative impulses becomes not just a want, but a need, to engage in communion with our emotional and spiritual landscapes. Often, we are afraid to admit these needs, or, we don’t know how, because we haven’t learned the language.

The art will speak for you. I was forty-two when I began to write. When I allowed my voice to fall onto the page, my world transformed from fear to courage, hate to love, shame to pride. It’s never too late to reinvent a lifestyle based on art or to adopt a new way of living in service of your needs. It only takes courage to try.

Wednesday Wisdom: Identity

Often, our childhood conditioned us with negative messages sent from well-intentioned parents, relatives, teachers, siblings, friends, and acquaintances. Immersed in the world with small bodies and minds, we absorbed the unseen coda via behaviors and patterns that garnered repetitive responses.

“Be quiet” was a common command that came from adults in nearly every arena. Sometimes, it was delivered as a reminder, but most often, as an order.

As an adult, I’m aware how the delivery of our words provides the meaning. I can’t remember the last time somebody verbally told me to be quiet, but usually I’m present enough to follow social cues. Being present is awareness of the setting, tone, and expectations in a given situation. Failure to respond at an appropriate level results in social deviance, or the lack of conforming to social norms.

This lack of conformity implies that the person is seeking attention. A child. I know now that we are all children in the process of growing up for a lifetime. Our unmet emotional needs portrayed by our social skills evolve and change to the breadth of our experiences. Remaining sheltered and holding onto an identity does nothing for maturity.

When I began writing memoir, I had to release myself from the inner child who felt afraid. My childhood years sent me the message of incessant threat, a factor delivered by many people, adults and children alike, who failed to see their own behaviors as hurtful, and myself, who practiced self-destructive behavior as a response to depression. Moving beyond my child-self was an excruciating process, done with therapy and intensive self-care, until my parent-self earned the trust of the inner child.

Often, we are afraid of the world when it is ourselves that we fear. In order to trust ourselves, we must display the emotional and physical attention we would offer our own children. The first rule in medical practice is Do No Harm. Self-talk and toxic energies are often the most destructive barriers to our wellness. Meditation and limiting my exposure to toxic people have improved the quality of my life, and writing has offered me a safe place to voice my experience.

Many avenues exist for finding inner harmony. Former identities don’t have to define us for a lifetime, and we are free to pursue the person we want to be. Respect comes naturally to those with authentic personalities and who have braved the waters of self-reflection with honesty. Change is hard, but it is our adult responsibility to carve away the set-in-stone ideas that hold us, and our children, from achieving our greatest potential. We are more powerful than we know.