Embodied Heart

The Mind of Trauma: Everything’s Preventable?

“This is painful, therefore, there was more I could have done to make sure it didn’t happen.” My constant mantra whenever something—unexpectedly or expectedly—goes wrong in my life, especially if it’s a repeated stressor. I’ve been processing my trauma history directly as of late, and have come away with the knowledge of a core belief around which I have centered much of my interaction with the world. For today’s #EmbodiedHeart post, I will be delving into the ways in which this belief has colored my life as well as acknowledging the falsity it contains and tracing the evolution of my self-talk in relation to it.

By Chance but Not by Choice

For much of my adult life, I’ve conceptualized fate as the lazy person’s excuse for poor choices. This judgment has been aimed both at myself and at others. I’ve held tightly to the idea that it is possible to avoid negative experiences through a three-step process, which I repeat dozens of times a day in relation to current stressors: 1) Contingency plan—If this happens, then this could happen. If that occurs, then what? Continue the decision-tree until all possible events and outcomes are contained; 2) Check on the progress of events frequently to determine how far along the contingency plan has progressed and which possible outcomes can be discarded; 3) As soon as one of the outcomes on the decision-tree is activated, move to the next step. Do not consider alternatives, do not wait for confirmation, do not breathe. Act immediately, as if your life depended on it.

Processing events through this lens contributes greatly to my struggles with anxiety and degrades my physical health by pumping stress hormones through my body. Waves of visceral intensity hit me as the internal cursor blinks, waiting for a line of code in order to move the plan to the next step. Imagine overlapping screens of these scenarios running simultaneously, all with alarm bells going off intermittently and a giant clock (counting down to what?) beeping. That’s how I handle interfacing with daily life.

The entire apparatus I’ve constructed seems aimed at one goal—to keep bad things from happening. What if, though, the seeds of all that terrifies us were planted in the garden of our lives before we were born? What if there are fixed experiences through which we must walk on our individual timelines no matter how much we try to avoid or disavow them? What if I was always going to suffer some amount of abuse and trauma in my childhood, whether I told someone outside of my family of origin immediately, or (as it actually happened), not until I was a fully-grown adult? I have no proof that the answers to any of these questions is “Yes, that’s how it works.” I do realize, though, that conceptualizing at least some of my most difficult experiences through the prism of fate rather than as the result of my own failure to plan is a less shaming and constricting way of approaching life.

Belief So Centrally Flawed

With unlimited resources of time, physical strength, emotional maturity, money, social support and foreknowledge, perhaps almost all negative events in our lives could be prevented. We do not, of course, live in such an environment. As a child being sexually abused in my own house, I did not have any of the beneficial supports listed above on my side. With the limitations I faced, I could not have prevented what happened to me. I had no choice but to endure what occurred until I got myself to a place of safety and freedom where I was able psychologically and emotionally to start to unpack the horror I had faced. It isn’t so much that I struggle with it being my fault as in thinking I caused or elicited it, instead, it seems like it should have only happened once if it was going to happen, because I should have then been able to problem-solve my way out of it happening again. I was genuinely helpless and trapped. All the problem-solving in the world doesn’t work if you are six years old, without a single adult who is “on your side,” trained to see outsiders as corrupt and evil, and extremely socially anxious. My fate was unavoidable at that time.

Where Choice Abounds but Fail-Safes Falters

Thankfully, childhood trauma survivors rarely remain helpless once we are adults. I felt a surge of fire go straight through me when I listened to Kyle Stephens, one of the first survivors to speak out against Larry Nassar, state the following at his trial, “Perhaps you have figured it out by now, but little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.” The ferocity of this statement for me is a woman standing in her own power with whom no one dare trifle. By and large, as adults, we get to make our own decisions. We can grow our resources to a place where certain kinds of terror are unable to stalk us. I choose, for instance, not to be in communication with my abusers. In doing so, I’ve removed their ability to dictate how I speak my truth. Layers and layers of shame and self-restriction have fallen from me as I’ve grown in my awareness of just how much freedom adulthood can hold.

There is though, unanswered in me, the question of fate. What if, even as a person who owns my mistakes and takes responsibility for my actions, things are going to happen to me that are beyond my control to prevent? Or even experiences that are my destiny to transit? For me personally, the rebuttal to “everything’s preventable” being a statement in need of many caveats is not “God is in control.” Rather, I’ve settled for now on “life is absurd.” Life is absurd when a person does everything possible to be healthy and ends up with a life-threatening disease. Life is absurd when callous and conniving graduates of privilege abscond with profits torn from the soiled palms of those who toil for their bread. Life is absurd and the world is not just.

My conceptualization of Goddess does not extend to believing She is in charge of everything, that it will all “work out in the end.” Does an entity exist that has my best interest in mind and the ability to bring good to fruition? The child in me, the one that thought it was her job to keep bad things from happening, desperately wants to surrender control of her fate to this belief. The adult in me, however, believes that even if there is no grand contingency plan, no clock in the sky winding down, there may be moments of trouble from which none of my scheming will have saved me, and through which I can endure and even thrive. Life is absurd and I break myself open to its whims, releasing myself from the need to stack the bizarre shapes in which it comes into a semblance of order. I desire to smile at the hand of Fate, whatever She brings me.

 

Magic & Phrase

Generosity

Be generosity to the weeds embedded in the edge of my heart.

Nurturance and tenderness to their prickly stalks and tiny flowers.

 

Not all memories held within are solid or kind.

 

Unicorn pastels roses lace teacups encircled neatly in the clearing.

Now.

Sharp thorns of musty basement arm shoved down choking shame blindness from fear poke through.

 

Garden gate swings inward.

Here ruins and pretense in sculpted and cultivated ornamental lawns lie.

 

Entrust me my wildness and tangled thickets.

Remain the weak, the poisonous and the brambles of pain.

Spare also the daisies.

 

Devour in earth time all of me.

Now.

No more vines plucking out. No more saving the pretty from the dirty.

 

Heartside welcomes the full shape of my past spiky and curved.

Showers of calm and breezes of affection settle in.

 

Weeds and flowers together run riot in the growth of my remembrances and I belong to all of it.

Goddess Thealogy

Deepening Study and Practice

Roughly the first decade of my life was spent without access to a television. No video games, no cell phone, no computer or tablet. Without electronic distractions, I entertained myself largely through reading books. I could completely lose myself while engrossed in a story. In addition, unlike many of my classmates, the information I learned in school did not bore me, instead, I had a voracious appetite and keen ability to absorb facts and ideas. My love of learning sustained me and persists as a stabilizing element in my life. As I’ve matured, embodied knowledge, that which is practiced instead of mentalized, has become an increasingly vital aspect of my education. For today’s #Thealogy Thursday, I want to share some of the learning experiences which I am pursuing this year that are deepening my spiritual walk and relationship with Goddess. Part of my motivation for doing so is to offer specific resources and ideas for you to consider as well as to open a conversation about what my readers are doing in their lives to enrich their spiritual walks.

Inner Work: Mystery School

I am just starting my second “realm” with the Goddess Mystery School In Her Name. I completed the Realm of Self and am now delving into the Realm of Sacred Balance. It took me significantly longer to complete the first realm that I expected, but it was a good lesson in persistence and provided practice in being gentle with myself. If I continue through all the Realms, the last one will involve a decision regarding as to whether I wish to dedicate myself to a particular form of Goddess. I really appreciate that there is time and energy that has to be produced before making this choice as I do not think it is something that should be rushed.

Group Dynamics: Practical Priestessing Class

I had the pleasure of meeting Molly Remer at a spiritual retreat last year and am so glad I did! She shared with me about a revised Practical Priestessing class she is offering that is a 6-month intensive on priestessing. I am still wrapping my head around the term priestess and debating internally whether it is something I will become comfortable “trying on” but I cannot wait to dig into the ceremony and celebration of spiritual leadership from a Goddess-honoring perspective.

Goddess and Spirituality Books

I have amassed an unsightly number of books related to Goddess Spirituality that I have not yet opened or read. This is unusual for me and I’m not quite sure why my appetite is larger than my “stomach” for reading. If I’m being honest, some of the artwork on the covers has drawn me in just as much as the concept the books convey! The most recent book I’ve read is:

Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home (by Toko-pa Turner) This book is everything. As someone who is estranged from my family, I get very nervous to read books on these topics because I expect judgment and to be told to “forgive.” What I read the brief author biography on the cover and saw that she lives on an small island, I figured it was worth sitting with this book. Her writing is incredibly lyrical; I anticipate many lines from her book becoming mantras by which I live. She facilitates an online course in dreamwork which I may take at some point this year or next.

In addition to readings that I will complete for the classes I’m taking, additional books I’ve moved to the top of my reading list include:

Goddess as Nature: Permaculture Class

Permaculture is a new pursuit for me and one that I have not shared about previously because I am in the early part of the learning phase. In case you are unfamiliar with it, it is a system of design for people that works with nature instead of against it. It is focused on ecology and deep observation of natural patterns.

This is a class I am taking in person; it is not a full permaculture design course but is intended instead as an introduction to permaculture which meets over the course of several months. I love the “hands-on” aspects of this class. We trimmed a pear tree that was sporting some kind of fungus. I got way too excited cutting off all the damaged branches; it felt cleansing! I’m also working to find an area of my backyard where I can start a fruit tree guild.

Connecting with Nature: Forest Bathing

I will be taking part soon in a series of forest bathing sessions. I believe this practice originated in Japan and involves intense observation and mindfulness while walking slowly through the forest. One of the places I feel the presence of Goddess most acutely is in the woods, so I am anticipating this to be an excellent way to be both more fully embodied as well as attuned to nature. Many of the practices espoused by priestesses of Goddess Spirituality include developing a deeply-rooted relationship with nature, so I am particularly encouraged that each session of forest bathing will take place in the same location.

Sacred Women’s Work: Women’s Circle

I recently joined an in-person Wild Woman women’s circle that practices on the new moon. The particular circle I’ve found blends group and individual experiences quite seamlessly. I have taken part in and then moved on from a few women’s circles in the past; there is something incredible about the gathering together of women in an authentic and vulnerable manner that I see as a lived expression of Goddess.

Having listed and described my current pursuits, I feel a bit overwhelmed! These are all experiences I’ve welcomed into my life in addition to the mundanity and stress of everyday life. I struggle deeply with a feeling of alienation, worrying that I am too much in my head and not out living life fully. I also chronically perceive myself as not belonging and not having the same richness of relationships that others experience. What feels amazing in looking over my catalogue of interests is seeing that what I’ve taken on this year is well-balanced in terms of some pursuits being very focused on community and some being more centered in inner work and individual in nature.

I hope to hear from you with anything you are curious about related to my involvements, and especially to learn about the interests in which you are engaging. What goals have you set for yourself related to your spiritual practice, or what needs are speaking to you? What are you pursuing in terms of classes, books and interpersonal experiences to deepen your walk?

Magic & Phrase

Acceptance

She attends all that life offers with open hands, releasing the spent wings into the breeze and sheltering the fragile perches in her palms.

Nature gladly alights upon her and receives from her, knowing both the soft surrender and sturdy welcome will endure.

Undulations of blossoming and withering that would unsteady the outstretched grasp of another are met in her embrace as a heartbeat.

Her fingers dance the rhythm as her arms rise in exaltation of a moment–this moment–felt, breathed and held in full sunlight, just as it is.

Embodied Heart

Releasing the Narrative

Everything was planned out. Flying high in an aerial yoga class. Sporting a new haircut, shopping and hitting the town. Sacred ritual and intuitive creativity time. My vacation was going to be epic! About 48 hours into it, “disaster” hit in the form of a positive flu test. Based on the myriad of bodily dysfunction which ensued for the next week and counting, I can safely say I’ve never come down with the actual flu before. All the good times I was going to have, the stories I was going to write into my life experiences, had to be tossed or at least postponed into choppy, disjointed future moments. Building from this experience of having to rewrite the script, for today’s #EmbodiedHeart post, I want to spend some time with the themes of how we narrate our lives, and, in doing so, will focus on telling the story as it is, rather than as it should have been or should be.

I feel confident, likely too confident, that I know the story I would like to tell of my life. The one that would wrap up the loose ends and redeem the broken parts of myself. I feel shame and a desire to hide though, when I start to consider the content of the real story. Not solely because of failures on my part, but also because the deep wounds of my childhood are still ragged and visible to anyone with an eye for such things. I am not healed and all is not forgiven. Justice has not been served.

What harm it does a person, when betrayal throws off any veneer of civility and cracks any illusion of someone being in charge. Especially when the soul-shattering betrayal comes first, not after a long string of snapshots filled with love and protection to build up one’s defenses. I knew from a very young age that no one was going to shield me from pain, and that terrible things happen in the dark.

The themes of my life—meagerness of love, betrayal, self-preservation and reinvention—seem to lend themselves to a never-ending cast of characters. I dig into a relationship, hopeful that it will meet my deeper needs. The inadequacy of it to do so eventually starts to make itself known in the majority of cases. In time, I choose myself over the relationship, and we are on to the next casting session. I will always choose myself in the end, because I have seen time and again the destruction that results from favoring the relationship over one’s wellbeing.

The parts of the chapters I want to highlight and foot-note and dog-ear are the ones where I don’t have to choose; the person with whom I’m in relationship and I are well-suited enough for both of our needs to be met to a substantial degree. For some reason, I continue to expect every new entry, each new buildup of an individual with whom I think there could be a connection, to be worthy of reading and re-reading. But life doesn’t work like that. Sometimes we spend years writing and crossing out the same few lines, thinking that if we just say it right or pause at the correct moment, it will flow perfectly, when in fact that particular association was never going to be worthy of more than a passing mention.

It seems easy in hindsight to want to edit, to go though and delete or redirect entire storylines, but the only way the story can ebb and flow and has any chance of building to a moral or crescendo or at least a worthy conclusion is to recount it as honestly and promptly as we can. In my case, I have fallen far short on this account. I denied the abuse I suffered for a few decades, burying it in the recesses of my mind while attempting to keep my family as a part of my lived experience. I always knew the story wasn’t a pleasant one, but the degree to which there were skeletons in the closet proved quite significant. And, at least at this point, I am the only one interested in cataloging the bones.

Many of my interactions hold this thread. Whether it is (on my part) intellectual arrogance or intuition or both, I tend to believe I can see right through most people I meet to perceive the cracks in the façade they present. The unpressed seam or askewed collar of their narrative glares at me, begging to be noticed. I then wish in earnest for them to tell the story as it actually is, not as their defenses would have it rehearsed, and feel like my efforts are wasted when they repetitively turn the same three pages they’ve convinced themselves are worth reading.

Denial of the nature I faced in my family and through which I had to pierce, once deflated, has proven intolerable. These are the people I want in my storyline—people who see themselves and their situation for what it is, and whose acceptance of it spurs them, as it does me, to both tell the truest story possible of their past and to write into being the most hopeful and evolved version of themselves. To what extent does the metaphor of a narrative connect with how you conceptualize your life experiences? Whose narrative are you proud to recite? What signs let you know someone belongs as a central character in your story? How do you respond with compassion to your own or other’s denial?