Embodied Heart

When the Best Option Isn’t Good Enough

I’ve spent a good bit of time the last few months waging the battle we each face between seeking to change things in our lives that we don’t like or deciding to accept them for what they are, which I’ll be unpacking in today’s #EmbodiedHeart post. A flash of insight recently occurred that showed me some of the areas in my life that feel the most frustrating to me exist because there is a wide gap between what would be “good enough” for me as a person in terms of meeting my needs, and what the best option out of the choices I could make right now appears to be. In other words, the choice that outweighs the others is still below the threshold that would satisfy me. It may be possible that my personal growth as an individual can slightly alter what feels “good enough,” creating flexibility to allow a range of solutions to meet my needs instead of one or two outcomes. At the same time, I believe that a circumstance such as my housing that feels quite far away from good enough is not going to allow me to grow as quickly or effectively as I could in a place that more fully meets my needs and may actually add to my burden in life because of the triggers it contains.

A major hurdle that can trip people up prior to my current dilemma is feeling helpless, stuck, or trapped in unpleasant situations. By and large, once we are adults, we are very rarely genuinely trapped or helpless. To believe we are can flow naturally from an experience of childhood trauma in which we were stuck and unable to improve our lot in life. Once we’ve grown up, though, we almost always have other options to consider. The choices or changes we might acknowledge are there for us can be daunting in terms of the sacrifice and time required to realize them, and they may provoke quite a bit of anxiety because they require us to take risks. By and large, things we dislike do not need to stay the way they are. As someone with a rock-solid internal locus of control, I am challenged by my difficulty empathizing with people who readily share a litany of excuses as to why life sucks but can’t be made better. I embrace change as a necessary part of seeking satisfaction in life.

Despite my ability to see that change is possible and that I do not have to keep at things I dislike, I have been hitting against limits in certain areas of my life, mostly my living situation. In regards to my housing, the most reasonable and realistic decision is to “stay put” for a few years, even though I am on the verge of hating where I live. Guilt bubbles up as soon as I acknowledge how unhappy I am, because a good portion of people would find my situation more than satisfactory, and because there are plenty of things about my house that are perfectly fine. That’s the thing about “good enough” though—I perceive it as a right-brained, gut-level knowing deep within me that, although perhaps being slightly malleable, is relatively fixed once enough data have been collected to provide an assessment. Some part of me discerned very soon after moving into my house that it wasn’t going to be my “forever home,” but it took the rest of me quite a while to fully acknowledge this reality.

My primary solution to knowing that what I’m choosing to do (to stay put for a few years) is the best but also an unsatisfactory decision, is to accept my circumstances for what they are and to make effective use of my time. I want to become significantly more self-sufficient and to reduce my impact on the environment. There are so many tools I need to acquire and skills I need to learn. In that context, there is a tiny sparkle of gratitude in me that my goals of moving to a location that more fully meets my needs cannot yet be accomplished, because I have to prepare myself for the life I envision. I’m good at learning on the spot, but something tells me actions such as raising chickens or transforming an entire lawn into permaculture are probably much less overwhelming and susceptible to failure if a person has taken some time to become informed and to practice skills ahead of time. Maybe we can only see why our needs felt thwarted and our progress slowed once we have arrived at the milestones ahead. Maybe the path I’m on will head off in directions I cannot yet conceive. It could be that it’s only in a backwards glance that I will able to rejoice in by the drudgery of my present place.

How do you reconcile situations when all of the choices you can see are less than what you know you require to meet your needs? When life limits you, what do you do with the time before you can take the next step you are craving? How do you come to know what “good enough” means for you? Is your concept of “good enough” amenable to change, and, if so, how do you alter it?

Embodied Heart, Surviving n Thriving

The Walking Wounded: Struggles in Recovery from CSA

Today’s #EmbodiedHeart post feels particularly vulnerable as I take a hard look at my potential for recovery and functioning as a childhood sexual abuse survivor and as a person with multiple chronic physical and mental health conditions. The insight I’ve gained from this personal reflection has allowed some of the internal distress and discomfort that’s become particularly acute for me the past six months to make more more sense to me. My insight has not yet led to a particularly workable solution, so I am hoping to learn about how my readers have handled similar situations. I will say that ideas like “look on the bright side” or “remember others have it worse,” although not entirely without merit, are typically experienced as invalidating rather than as useful in most situations like mine.

I’ve unfortunately set myself up in a situation where I need to maintain a high level of performance across a variety of domains in order to stay on top of my finances and to preserve my living situation. My job is high stress and demanding. I have sufficient funds coming in but face an uphill battle to get my student loans paid off. I have to stay in my job at least a few more years in order to have the possibility of my loans being forgiven realized. As a homeowner, I am solely responsible for the upkeep and repair of my house. Without my family in my life, maintaining close ties to friends and acquaintances takes on a heightened sense of importance. My health is assisted by the fact that I stay active and eat a decent diet, but both of these behaviors require constant effort and monitoring. In short, I feel overwhelmed by trying to keep up with the demands of my life, while simultaneously becoming increasingly aware of the toll it is taking on my mind and body. I know that the situation in which I am in is largely my own doing, but that sense of “choice” doesn’t mean much when I can’t see a quick way out to a lower stress environment.

Despite the external and internal pressures under which I find myself operating, I’ve kept on keeping on for years. Recently, though, I’ve heard a loud “no more” from inside. Parts of me feel as though they are holding on to dozens of tangled strings, attempting to contain my mental health symptoms and body sensations. They are threatening to let loose of all of them at once, which I can only imagine would mean a severe deterioration in my functioning. I had a few years of significant impairment in my 20’s. At that time, my internal system believed I was in a safe enough environment to let go and then found out it wasn’t. Now, though, the issue is less motivated by hope and more by exhaustion and frustration.

I had a breakdown in therapy last year in which I shared with my therapist that I perceive myself as having full-blown PTSD and other disorders, but the pressure I feel to maintain my functioning is so strong that I can’t even allow myself to experience the acting out of the symptoms. Instead, I think I dissociate further and tuck away any loose articles that might tumble out of the overcoat of “I’m good, I’ve got this” in which I blanket myself. Something always gives, though, when we dissociate, and the hollowness and joyless outlook with which I am currently struggling is one such outcome.

There are steps such as a slightly reduced workload and more vacation time on which I’ve embarked to attempt to rectify the situation. My fear is that I won’t be able to fully placate the parts of myself who are completely fed up by my inattention to my inner needs and who almost seem to desire for me to “lose it” so that everyone else will witness the folly of my attempt to appear to have it together. I keep reminding myself that, as a general rule, decompensating to the point of needing intervention is very likely to be retraumatizing and brutal, not the posh vacation with room service which pieces of my mind seem to believe it to be.

My internal imagery for my experience one of running a race far beyond what my body and mind can take, with my single-minded focus on the finish line obscuring from me the fact that my shoes are torn beyond repair and my skin is crusted with salty dehydration. Now that I see the state in which I am, I know I need to recalibrate my intention and take some rest periods, but I also realize I have to keep moving forward, albeit at a slower pace. There is no reasonable option in which letting myself sink into the sandy landscape surrounding the track will do anything for me other than cause me to wither to a helpless shell of myself in the blazing sun. There is no one coming to save me, just as no one came to save me a child in an abusive home. Now, though, I believe I can look to my fellow travelers for at least encouragement as I plod along.

What have you done in situations where you felt you were in over your head? What resources have you leveraged to reduce your burden? How have you found the energy to keep going?

Embodied Heart

To Name the Loneliness

I wrote the reflection below during a time of feeling particularly in touch with aspects of isolation. I do not always experience myself in this way, which complicates the presentation. At the same time, I think giving voice to this side of who I am is valuable during times when the themes of family and celebration are ever-present, and so I decided to share it as an #EmbodiedHeart post today.

There’s an ache in my bones when I’m lonely. The fibers of my being seem to be stretched thin and taunt, pulling me along without offering full support to my frame. It’s physically painful, mirroring the emotional pain I feel inside. And, always, the snide little voice in my head reminding me that I “chose” this path by separating myself from my abusive family of origin.

Chronic loneliness and social isolation affect many trauma survivors. For those of us who have experienced incest, feelings of isolation can come in waves. The estrangement from family members who refuse to acknowledge the truth. The holidays endured, rather than celebrated, without a place to truly call home. The pervasive sense of being “different.” The awkward social interactions, stumbling to learn the rules of human communication without a guide-map from childhood. Romantic relationships which crash and burn the moment any semblance of betrayal surfaces.

I marvel that those who are able to wade through the deep waters of dark family secrets and make it to shelter and communion. Their hearts and hands seem mended. Tender moments and genuine healing seem to be the foundation on which they rebuild their lives.

I have brief instances where I surface and see the shoreline, but each mad dash towards it only seems to pull me further from land; more isolated, more guarded, more convinced I’m incapable of loving others. I tug myself onto a patch of sand, surrounded by water, and build castles of schemes and projects. I’ve retreated from seeking sails of potential connection on the horizon.

It is not without irony that I consider my greatest fear for my future. It is not dying alone, that I think I can brave as I’ve braved birthdays and graduations and other major life events bereft of acknowledgement and company. Instead, it is losing my independence. I envision myself one of those crotchety old-timers beating off the nursing home attendants with a cane. As much as my isolation can harm and does harm me, I wouldn’t trade it for subservience, compliance or enmeshment for a moment. Some things taste bitterer than the salty tears I shed on the seashores of my isolation.

Embodied Heart

#MeToo As an Incest Survivor

For today’s #EmbodiedHeart post, I want to share a personal reflection on recent events related to bombshell after bombshell of accusations of sexual impropriety. I rarely comment on things in the news but I’ve been hit hard by both the hope of a tidal wave of change in this arena as well as the lingering doubts about whether anything will change for those of us who suffer abuse at the hands of family members rather than famous people.

As I’ve read numerous stories of women standing in their truth and being taken seriously, as well as some of the accused realizing the gig is up and admitting to their behaviors, I find myself simultaneously triggered and grounded. Triggered in bearing witness to accounts of the myriad of men who chose to exploit their power, often at the expense of those who were vulnerable and young. Grounded in a growing chorus of righteously angry people who are no longer willing to demand we apply the stringent expectations of a court of law in proclaiming that the person is “innocent until proven guilty” but instead allows a well-corroborated story to stand on its own and recognizes the courage it takes for women to find their voice.

I am an incest survivor, one who experienced sexual abuse at the hands of biological relatives. Yet, decades on with so much suffering and difficulty in everyday life, I doubt my story constantly. My recollection of what transpired in my childhood was implicit until I reached adulthood. A series of events unfolded, including my estrangement from my family, after which all the horrific details began to make themselves known to me. My family denied everything.

I doubt myself not because I doubt myself, but because I have no confession. If my family members admitted to their actions, I would have a sense of closure. Without that, I feel perpetually in a “as if” state, knowing what I know but unable to move on. I feel accused rather than being the accuser. That’s it, I feel as though my family members, those who destroyed so much in my life, get to stand in judgment of me for being a “bad daughter.” As I’ve shared previously, my mother could look at me after crying for days and tell me she was always happy. How does one define reality with a person like that? Someone who cannot see despite having perfect vision. All this time and distance, and I still can’t fully shake their grip on what is absolute and what is right. A tiny part of me wants to pursue a court case simply for the verdict. If it went in my favor, perhaps I could hold on to that as truth.

The larger controversy about delayed memory also weighs heavily on me. I was once on an interview only to have the individuals conducting it mock people like me because of this issue. My paranoia said one of my references had tipped them off as to my struggles while my spiritual being was washing with waves of gratitude for being granted the foreknowledge that allowed me to dodge the bullet of working with such heartless people. Needless to say, I declined the job offer.

I find it highly ironic that people with limited connection to their abusers are finding acceptance and are being believed, while those of us who have been betrayed in the most intimate of relationships are still by and large questioned on every front. My hope is that this is truly a tsunami, not a tidal wave. That what has started with the famous and the infamous, the wealthy and privileged, can grow to such heights and carry such intensity that all the walls of denial and basements of buried secrets are flooded and thrown asunder. That the resulting disorder and disarray can serve as a catalyst to finally hear and see the truth of the terror that strikes not only the choir boy and the swim team member and the actress, but also child after child in the privacy of their own homes.

Embodied Heart

When Even Silence Buzzes

I’m not a music lover. The pulsating rhythm of most concerts leaves my ears feeling like they are bleeding, not an experience I desire or seek. In general, I hate sound much more than I find it pleasurable or interesting. I remind myself frequently that I should be grateful for the fact that I can hear unaided, and should find joy in the beautiful noises in my life such as birds chirping or squirrels chattering. But more moments than not, “be quiet” is on my mind. In today’s #EmbodiedHeart post, I will be exploring my experience with sound in the context of struggling with PTSD.

I do not recall a time where I used my ability to hear in a way that enhanced my life. I grew up with many siblings in an old house with poor insulation. Every noise made by a family member echoed and reverberated through the wooden structure. After puberty, a sudden shift took hold, mainly around the dinner table and while driving in a crowded van. The sounds of others eating or my siblings inventing little melodies absolutely enraged me. Researchers still puzzle about the scientific validity, but having lived for decades with it, I am convinced misophonia, which is the hatred of certain sounds such as “mouth noises,” is a real condition. Noise that cannot be blocked because it causes physical vibrations as well as sound waves (such as bass music) sends me into a full-blown hysteria every time.

Difficulties with sound processing have been linked to conditions such as PTSD. In addition to misophonia, some individuals suffer from hyperacusis, which means they experience certain noises to be louder than they actually are. Phonophobia involves anxiety in reaction to loud noises and may be related to misophonia. A central feature of most of these problems is that certain sounds become connected to negative emotional events; the noise itself can then provoke the emotion.

When I am finally in an extremely quiet environment, the buzzing starts. I have tinnitus in both ears. It is as if my brain is never satisfied with quiet, and the expectation of disrupted peace evokes the appearance of it. I did have an ill-fated attempt several years ago at wearing earplugs overnight after showering, resulting in severe outer ear infections, so I did myself no favors there.

As I write this, I realize how little effort I’ve put into seeking professional assistance in combating my hearing problems. When I have gone to audiologists, they’ve offered no help beyond testing my hearing; they have generally disregarded my experience of difficulties with sound processing. After my latest visit, I was diagnosed with abnormal auditory perception, which means, in addition to my intense reactions to normal sounds, my brain also has difficulty putting together the sounds it is receiving. This explains the problems I have at times understanding others when they are speaking to me, and why I frequently ask them to repeat what they’ve said.

I’ve spent many hours online alternating between researching cabins on 10 acres in the woods and camper RVs so that I can escape at a moment’s notice. I know that neither of these possibilities offers any guarantee of silence. As I sit with my experience, I find it odd that silence represents something different from “peace” and “relaxation” to me, instead, it signifies the absence of suffering. I equate being able to hear other humans and the noises they generate with suffering and with pain. Certainly anyone who’s been trapped in at a child’s birthday party for too long can attest to the realness of desiring some time without shrieks to think, but my experience is such that I spend a good part of my time every day dreading potential sounds as well as clinging by a thread to my sanity when the music gets going or the gum chewing begins. This awareness is leading me to see that I need to more fully pursue interventions to reduce my suffering that allow me to live in greater, rather than less, peace with noise.

Goddess spirituality and Pagan practice are filled with sounds. Dancing, chanting, drumming and the like send up bursts of energy to Goddess in worship and adoration. I vacillate in my ability to access the well of spiritual blessings these noises contain depending upon my emotional state and general level of hyper-vigilance. Given the power and potency of sounds to ward off and call in and name and release, I now desire to have a greater ability to both disregard noises that are irrelevant to my experience and to tune in to and celebrate those that enrich my life. In doing so, I hope to learn from others about what has worked and not worked for them. What is your experience with sound? How does it affect you both positively and negatively? If there are noises that you dislike, what have you found helps you to ignore them? What allows you to enjoy the sounds you prefer?