Translated Psyche

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via Daily Prompt: Translate

When I was a kid, something very traumatic happened to me. The details are not important. Suffice it to say that it was something soul-shattering.

As in, as it was happening, parts of my soul literally broke off and went somewhere else because the pain was too great. Being so young, 5 years old, I simply had no way to cope with what was happening to me.

So my psyche did what it had to do in order to survive. It translated parts of itself. It sent the most vulnerable parts of itself to safer places and left the parts of me that could withstand the trauma better behind to live through and manage.

That’s pretty amazing I think.

Now, at the time, of course, and for decades afterwards, I had no idea that this had happened, that parts of my soul had translated to other climes.

I went about my life, growing up, maturing as best I could as a person with crucial parts of themselves off somewhere else. I cobbled together a way of coping, and moved through childhood into adolescence and into adulthood.

I managed to make a life. A life held together by skewed logic and broken-hearted, suppressed pain, but a life nonetheless.

My pieced-together life was less than ideal. On the outside, it may have looked pretty good. I had a loving family, friends, education, opportunities galore, and the resources to live well and pursue my dreams. I do not want to minimize my gratitude for these.

However, my soul was missing core parts, so my experience of life through all those years was lacking in ways that are hard to explain. I was always feeling slightly off. I had generalized anxiety all the time that I could not define or understand. A seemingly bottomless well of sorrow and a constant sense of an inner hysterical feeling just below the surface accompanied me through even the happiest of experiences.

Suffice it to say that when your soul parts have translated elsewhere, and you don’t even know it, there is an internal confusion that can be terrifying, complex and, at times, overwhelming. It can feel like you are suffocating or in danger of disappearing into nothingness, into the void.

Until I understood this, I did my best to drown out this overwhelm. This led to some pretty messy behavior and a great deal of “lost” time.

Thankfully, I was lucky.

One day, in a voice lesson with a very wonderful man, I happened to mention to my teacher that I thought a part of my soul had been destroyed by what had happened to me. He told me that the human soul could never be destroyed, was beyond human touch.

Something in his words struck me to my core. I literally felt as if I had been gently punched in the gut. And though my mind was cynical, my body resonated the truth of his words.

My journey was forever altered for the better that day. I eventually found assistance and came to understand what had happened to me. With that assistance, I have been able to heal the wounds from the trauma. And grieve. Not only for the original trauma, but for the lost time and the years of moving through life as a kind of ghost of my former self. That kind of loss is real, too. And worthy of grief.

I have learned how to create, over time, a strong and loving core from which to invite those missing parts back. And in time, they have come. Not all at once, but bit by bit.

It is an astonishing thing to actually feel a part of your soul fly back into your psyche.

For me, there is a rush of sensation within my heart and solar plexus accompanied by a kind of flutter of excitement in my belly, followed by a warmth that spreads throughout my body along with a rush of intense emotion, a blend of ecstatic bliss at being reunited and tremendous grief for having missed it for so long. I imagine it is like being reunited with a long lost parent or child.

I cannot adequately express the sensation. Maybe it is what being touched by an angel feels like.

I am left with a sense of wholeness. In time, the new part integrates with the rest of me. I feel more and more like who I really am meant to be. These parts that have returned contain elements of my spirit, my soul, that I haven’t lived with in forever: bubbling joy, innocent playfulness, open curiosity and more. The difficult parts have come back too: rage, terror. But I’m equipped to handle them, unlike the child I was. I can honor those parts too and find compassion and healthy ways to address them.

It is like I was living with 3 crayons and now have 98 to use. I was a walking sieve and now I feel like a whole, flowing, glowing mass of life. I was a lone prisoner in my own skin, and now I feel connected to all of Life. I was blind but now I see. It may sound mystical or hokey, but it is my truth. I do not believe that I am alone in having experienced this, either.

I have come to view the human psyche as an intricate and miraculously brilliant thing. It has the power to survive the unimaginable and come through the other end with even more depth and richness than before. The soul cannot be destroyed or even truly touched by human hands. But it can translate. And return again. And for that, I am truly grateful.

#thebrillianceofthehumanpsyche

Daily Post: Translate

Triggers and Pink Pussycats

Illustration by Artist Laura Baran 20117

I have been hard-pressed to write a blog since before Inauguration Day.

Like many, I am still processing significant losses that were, for many, contained in the recent election: the loss of President Obama, the loss of the America I thought I knew: the loss of the America of my own personal dis-illusion.

It took until two days after the Women’s March for me to realize how triggering the Inauguration and ensuing Presidency have been and are for me. I think I was operating in a kind of denial until then. While at the march, after first feeling incredibly hopeful, I began to feel uneasy. And after seeing that the march seemed to have had such little effect on the administration, it hit me.

I was triggered. Feelings of powerlessness were flooding my system. I was feeling overwhelmed with the sense that my truth, my voice was falling on deaf ears and was of totally no consequence. That things happening were not of my choice, and I had seemingly no recourse to stop them. Reality mirroring crucial traumatic events from my past blasted open the floodgates of remembered trauma.

I know I am not alone. Anyone who has been violated at some point in their life may be triggered again and again in the next four years.

So what can we do about it? How do we survive the daily onslaught of confirmations and executive orders and hard-won laws being threatened from powers-that-be?

Thankfully, I have found some very helpful posts that address this very issue. And if I cannot bring myself to write about usual things right now, I can write about why and I can share what I am doing to address the problem.

One of the best I have read is “How to #StayOutraged Without Losing Your Mind
Self-Care Lessons for the Resistance” by Mirah Curzer. Some great things to consider as we move forward, together.

Another article has been very helpful to me. N Ziehl’s “Coping with Chaos in the White House”. The author shares their experience of living with a person having narcissistic personality disorder (NPD.) I am not diagnosing anyone here. But this article spoke to me. It made a great deal of sense and gave me some helpful insights.

What I have been feeling are awful feelings to re-experience. But it was a relief to recognize that they are happening: to know that though there is a present reality that is indeed traumatic to me, there are many other layers happening that are from wounds from the past. Knowing this, I can let the current situation be “right-sized,” and then process the past triggered pain so that I can take good care of myself today. From this place of awareness, I can then take actions to do what I can in order to stay empowered and able to persevere the next four years.

I am finding for me, in addition to practicing the best self-care I can, taking actions each day that help me stay informed and connected to the lawmakers that I voted for, as well as those I did not, is crucial. These actions – calls, emails, letters, non-violent protests and marches, donating to re-election campaigns and organizations that I believe in – they keep me sane.

I am careful as I digest the information that pours forth on social media. I check in with my body, a lot, especially after getting shockingly bad news, such as the “alternative facts,” the travel ban, the recent confirmations, the silencing of Elizabeth Warren. I never know when something new will spark a trigger. I take deep breaths and ask my body what is going on, and I listen closely.

And I lean on my communities. I stay connected to like-minded people who are also active, because it is too easy to begin to feel hopeless as all of this unfolds. We can remind each other that there is power in love and that our actions and our voices do matter. They can remind me of the headway that is being made in our causes when I am feeling low. Together we can persist.

My artist friend Laura Baran created the “We are One” illustration at the heading of this post the weekend of the Women’s March. I keep her beautiful image near to remind me to keep love at the center of all I do.

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I also reach for my “Don’t Sass the Cat” tee created by another friend, a clothing designer named Jacquie of jqlovesu. It reminds me to keep a sense of humor and to remember the power of love and of people who love people. I run and I sweat and I cry and I sleep and I work to stay hopeful no matter what by taking action.

I am a Lover of Humanity. I am an American. And I want to be a part of the solution. It will be work. But I have never been one to shy away from a challenge.

#neverthelessshepersisted #pussyhat #dontsassthecat #weareone #beapartofthesolution #loveaboveallelse

Altered

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The course of my life was irreversibly altered in miraculous ways on a Wednesday night in January 2011.

The dictionary defines the word “alter” as the following: change or cause to change in character or composition, typically in a comparatively small but significant way.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you may have noticed that I am very interested in (aka obsessed with) the seemingly small moments that occur in life that often end up holding huge significance. Meanings that are unknowable at the time later reveal themselves. The course of history is changed in those small moments, the sometimes seemingly random decisions we make.

This is the story of one of those moments for me.

I had been having a tough time in the latter third of 2010. The whirlwind of my wedding and its aftermath had finally settled down, and the events of the years leading up to the wedding finally really hit me. I’d lost my mother, my brother and my father in succession, and I just sort of imploded.

That December, somehow, an email made its way through my inbox. (To this day, I am not sure how). Perhaps the angels sent it to me. It was about a movement class taught by someone named Erin Stutland. I had been unable to get myself to the gym for a year or so, and felt as awful physically as I did emotionally. Something in the description of the class spoke to me. It wasn’t just your typical workout class. There were affirmations involved. What?!

Something made me sign up. And on that Wednesday night of January six years ago, I went. Little did I know that meeting Erin would be the gift that just keeps on giving. Erin believes that movement in your body creates movement in your life and that all good things flow out of a deep self-love. I have seen and experienced firsthand the power of her philosophy in action.

Not only did Erin’s class start me on a new course in terms of movement for my body, but it helped me begin to make shifts in my relationship to how I thought about so many things.

And if that weren’t enough, I was welcomed into a community of women and men there, amazing people, many of whom I am still in contact with today. The work we did with Erin created powerful change for so many of us.

I have watched as people in that community made their dreams become reality. Major life changes such as weight loss (one woman lost 100+ pounds), career path changes (one woman fulfilled a dream she uncovered while in the class of becoming a minister), recording artist dreams realized, dream roles acted on stage and film, cross-country moves to dream jobs and cities, dream soul mates, marriages and babies born, and more.

One of my goals in the class was to find my inner athlete. Two NYC marathons and countless half marathons later, I can say I found her. It has been a deeply gratifying journey that continues.

My other goals had to do with my career as an actress, and finding more belief in my talents, in what I had to say through my art. I can actually say that the creation of this blog had its seeds in her class. Much of the positive movements I have made in the last 6 years grew forth from the mindset and the tools I found there, and were supported and nourished by the community there. That support and that community continues to this day.

I am so grateful for having met this beautiful, extraordinary and dynamic teacher, and for all of the gifts she has given to me.

I want to introduce you to her, too, because she is on the rise, and someone you should know. I am so proud of her and excited for her! (And for the many, many more people who will soon be benefitting from her expertise.)

You can find out more about Erin at her website here.

Erin is now a co-host on an exciting new show called Altar’d (perfect name!) that is set to debut this week!

Altar’d follows 6 couples who are looking to not only transform their bodies, but more importantly adopt healthy lifestyles and habits before they come together for the most important day of their lives, their wedding.

The first episode will be airing THIS TUESDAY, JAN 17th at 8pm on Z Living. You can read more about this show here. Take a look at the trailer below:

Here’s how you can tune in! To make sure Z Living is available through your cable provider, click here.

I cannot wait to see how this remarkable woman helps to shape the worlds of so many more as she gains exposure and continues to co-create the platforms to share her gifts.

I celebrate the growth and movement I have made in my life with Erin’s help since wandering into her class that fateful evening six years ago. I took a chance and I am so glad I did.

#erinstutland #altar’d #powefulchange #takeachance #loveisthekey

Word for the Year

2017

I came to 2017 eager to find the word that will be my north star, my guide, as I navigate through the unknown terrain of the year ahead. I found a wonderful exercise last year through the work of Susannah Conway, and through it, I have have dug and delved to discover the words to serve as my anchor for 2017, that encompass what my spirit needs.

Last year, my words were EXPAND and CELEBRATE. I chose these words because I felt I needed to start going beyond the ingrained Protestant-shaped boundaries from my upbringing that were keeping me modest, careful, polite, protective, cautious and introverted. I wanted to get more comfortable with putting who I really am and what I really think and feel out there. (This blog was a big action in that regards.)

In my work as an actress, I wanted to go deeper and start letting myself be seen and heard on a deeper level and to a greater scope. To start to go beyond what and who I knew. To expand my circles.

In my relationships, I wanted to connect more with the people already in my life, and allow myself to make more genuine connections with people who I wanted to get to know.

I also wanted to begin to really focus on celebrating all that I have and am, and that I do in my life. I tend to focus on what I have not done and what I feel I am lacking. I really wanted to develop the muscle of celebrating my accomplishments and all that is working in my life. My strengths. Even my so-called failures. To celebrate my life, my self, what has happened, is happening and that I am working towards. Little things, big things. All of it.

I can see now that these focuses really were a through-line for me over the past year. It has become second-nature for me to recognize the good in what I am doing each day instead of only seeing what I have not gotten to. I can more easily have difficult conversations. Certain interactions are becoming easier and I feel much more authentic and seen and heard. I know that I have been getting to some exciting work within myself in my acting. Going deeper than ever before.

I have more work to do in these areas. I am a work in progress. But much movement was made, and it was exciting and gratifying. Very gratifying. Sometimes blissful even.

This year, after looking at how the year unfolded and making plans for what I want to bring into 2017 and create more of, and doing Susannah’s exercises, I discovered my words for the year.

(It is always a bit of a challenge for me to pick just one word. Thankfully, there are no rules around this, so I get to do it however my soul sees fit! I chose a main word, and also have a supporting word, along with many words and phrases that these mean to me for my life for the next year.)

After much soul-searching, I had narrowed it down to five:

Curiosity, Courage, Stretch, Soar, Creativity

In the course of the exercise, I found that DARING really encompasses all of those words for me. I am a big fan of Brene Brown, so when I started to create a Pinterest Board to support my Word for 2017 and the name of her book kept coming up, I knew I had found just the tweek my word needed to make it THE ONE!

DARING GREATLY. I am in love with this phrase and it just lights me up.

I want to put myself out there personally and professionally in ways that go deeper and more authentically than ever before. I want to soar, to go beyond expectation, to extend, to reach out, to amplify, enlarge, expand. To live full heartedly and be willing to take risks and try out new methods, ideas and experiences. To utilize courageous behaviors in order to find out more about the things that I am passionate about. To doubt my fears and my judgements and be brave enough to be curious instead to find out what limits really exist, if they even really do! To live from my curiosity and not my fear.

I am keeping STRETCH as a supporting word. Just saying that word makes me want to move. I want to use everything I have learned to the fullest extent of my capacity and then go even further until I reach the point of failure so that ultimately I keep stretching that fullest point further and further. I had a taste of that this past year when filming the lead in a feature film. It was amazing to use everything I had and go farther than I imagined I could and be in the space of beyond-the-whole-of-what-I-knew. From that place, I could keep truly learning and growing. I realized that that is the path of the artist, the craftsperson, and I do not want to turn back from that path.

Not just for my professional life. In my personal life, too, I want to be adventurous and go deeper. Push the limits of my comfort zones. See how connected I can feel to the people in my life, and nature, the world, even. Daring greatly and stretching to be truly intimate in my relationships and in my work.

I created this through Tagul.com to use as a reminder of what these words mean for my year:

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It is my touchstone as I move through the year’s unplanned challenges and unexpected opportunities for growth (aka when the shit hits the fan.) It is my guide as I choose how to spend my time and the way I choose to feel as I spend it.

What will your word for 2017 be? Happy digging.

#findyourwordfor2017 #susannahconway #daringgreatly #stretch

Home

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Growing up, I always felt like a fish out of water.

I couldn’t wait to flee the country of my birth…Texas.

Yes, I know Texas isn’t a country.

But in feels like its own country. Maybe because of its size. Or its history. (It was its own country for awhile: the Republic of Texas, from 1836–1845. That independent spirit remains, albeit subtle, after all these years.)

But feeling like it was its own country wasn’t the real reason I wanted to get out.

I just always felt like I was not in my natural habitat. Nothing against it, but Houston, the city of my birth, is very large and flat. Everyone drives everywhere. When I was growing up there, there was no real center to the city, no downtown destination (then) that you could drive to and feel the life of the city the way you can in many major cities.

I felt so…alone. Millions of people lived in the city, but I could never get a sense of where they all were. I’d only see some of them passing by in their cars. Everyone seemed to be going off to places, but where were all the places? There were tons of restaurants and stores and cars and buildings and neighborhoods, but I couldn’t feel where all those people were. I can recall that feeling in my body to this day. It’s an empty-dread-panic that rises from my belly and settles into my chest, squeezing my heart. It makes me want to cry, and my breathing starts to feel pinched off. It literally made me want to run screaming into the streets, looking for, I don’t know what. Some kind of connection. Some kind of belonging?

Yes, I could go to a mall and find a lot of those people. Maybe that is part of the reason that as a child I loved to go to the Galleria, which was a big deal when I was growing up. It had a huge skating rink in it’s center (It was just the Galleria then — has since expanded.) There I could feel some of the people. Unfortunately, being a mall, it was a rather empty-feeling kind of community. I mean, the whole premise revolves around commerce. But it was something.

Sure, I had family and friends. I had some communities. I went to my best friend’s church youth group for awhile. Throughout school, I was in choir and that was a major source of connection. I participated in clubs and such. I eventually was part of a wonderful group of friends in high school and we made our own community, our own clique.

But even with those connections and communities, I still always  just did not feel at home. I literally felt anxious and uncomfortable. Now, there are many reasons for that having to do with other givens of my life. But I am talking at a pure animal level.

Whatever animal I am, my natural habitat is not Texas.

When I was 16, I accompanied my parents to NYC for a big business trip. It was December, and we stayed in a swanky hotel right on Central Park South. And it snowed while we were there. My room overlooked the snow-laden beauty of Central Park, and I will never forget looking out of my window and seeing that winter wonderland. We rode the elevator down one morning with Dudley Moore! I saw five Broadway shows, which forever changed my life.

I was smitten and giddy with the flush of first love. NYC stole my heart the way it does for so many of us. I could feel the people. There was life everywhere. I could stand in the center of the life and know I was there.

Its glittery grime, its sights and sounds, the faces — the diversity! — and the raw urban-ness of it just got under my skin. I just could not stare enough at all the people, their varying energies and manners and expressions. You could argue that because I am an actor, an artist, I was destined to love a place like NYC. But it was more than that.

I was home. I could breathe easy for the first time in my life. I felt like a fish put back into its tank. I was with my people. I was where I was supposed to be. And as quickly as I could manage to, I moved to NYC. And NYC is where I have since stayed.

Today, I enjoy Texas. I appreciate Texas. I like to visit there. Many people I love are there. I see its beauty and its gifts.

But I always come home to NYC.

#NewYorkCityisMyHome

A response to the Daily Prompt: Flee

Holiday Panoply

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This week’s blog is a few days early. I wrote this in response to a word prompt via Daily Prompt: Panoply.

My mother was one for panoplies. Not as in the historical definition of “panoply:” a complete set of arms or suit of armor. But as in “a group or collection that is impressive because it is so big or because it includes so many different kinds of people or things.”

She was quite mad for decorating for holidays. From my earliest recollections, she put time and effort into decorating our house for each holiday.

It began with a small Manzanita branch which she spray-painted white. From its branches she would hang little ornaments and such. Perhaps she had seen something like it in one of those women’s magazines of the 1960’s with articles of how to be a good mother, wife and hostess. Those same magazines provided the recipes for many of the staples that she came to cook for us, too. Lots of recipes utilizing canned goods, as I recall. Things like Spam casserole and meat dishes with sauces made from Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup.

My mother had grown up in a rather eccentric household. Somehow, she and her twin sister never learned how to cook. My Grandma, their mother, did not cook. Their father, an active alcoholic, did the cooking, sometimes. I am not, to this day, sure how they all managed to feed themselves. But once my mother was married, she underwent a self-education of things such as housekeeping and cooking. With knowledge gleaned from the resources at her disposal then – women’s magazines, popular cookbooks and recipes from newly forming friendships – my young mother forged her way through the early years of starting a family.

At first, the Manzanita branch was decorated for the major holidays: Valentines Day, July Fourth, Thanksgiving and Christmas. But soon this expanded beyond just the basics to the other less widely decorated holidays as well: President’s Day, Easter, Halloween, Graduation Days, even Veteran’s Day.

We all teased her about it. My friends through the years would always comment upon seeing the tree and its adornments become more and more elaborate. But even in the midst of our jaded perspective on it all, there was also a sense of amazement, too.

The Manzanita branch holiday tree became a central figure of whatever house we lived in. From the first little house in the Sharpstown neighborhood of Houston, TX, to the house in Dallas, TX where we lived for a year until my Dad’s business venture failed and we moved back to Houston. To the Briargrove neighborhood house where my Dad started a new company and went back to night school. To another house a few blocks away in Briargrove as his business grew and thrived. And finally to the really nice house my parents bought after I was off to college in the higher-end neighborhood of Memorial.

How it made all of those moves intact is a mystery to me. Those branches are fairly delicate things. But somehow, it survived, and was always a symbol of something constant amidst the changing environments of our family’s life.

Once in that really  beautiful and much larger home, the home that was to be my parent’s last house, my mother’s decorating could really take flight. The Manzanita tree took a much less central role, bowing down alongside the growing collections of decorations. It would still be decorated, but it sat on the kitchen island, a more ordinary display in comparison to the dining and living rooms, which were transformed into holiday wonderlands that could have competed with any department store displays.

I came home for holidays and though I am sure on some level I appreciated it, I never stopped to think about the effort she put into it. (And I never once thanked her for doing it, which I feel regret over to this day.)

I didn’t reflect on any of this until after she and my father died, when my husband and brother and sister-in-love were going through that big, beautiful house, processing our parents’ lives and deaths by going through all of the things they had amassed in their lives together.

The hours she must have spent collecting each item. Putting them all out. Then taking them down and packing them all away again.

The love she must have had for us and for the doing of it. It takes true love to accumulate a Santa collection that literally has its own room. Closets for each season…with shelves and drawers filled with bunnies, Lincolns and Washingtons, hearts, witches, black cats, pumpkins, ceramic figures of patriotic people, stars of congratulations, new baby banners…

It was so hard to let go of those collections. I did not have the room in our small New York City apartment to store or even use all of those beloved objects. But I could feel her in them, as we sorted through and discovered her hiding places for even more of her collections.  I imagine my father must have tried now and then to get her to promise to stop buying things. It was clear that she hadn’t. The joy she must have had in finding each one. The love she must have felt for us as she imagined creating each holiday wonderland for our enjoyment.

I chose to take one object from each of the major holidays. I cherish them today. We found the Manzanita, and thankfully, my sister-in-love (who is much like my wonderful mother in her ways and in her heart) expressed a desire to keep it. She and my brother have a larger home in Houston. I know that my mom would be so happy for them to be using it.

My sister-in-love also chose to keep many of my mom’s holiday panoplies. I now get to enjoy them on our holidays together visiting their home in Houston. I walk amidst the Santas, beautifully displayed and lovingly put up now by my amazing sister-in-love. I take time with each one, appreciating them, remembering my Mom, and her love.

The Manzanita branch is there, now stripped down to its natural color. It is still a symbol of something constant amidst the ever-changing world and our family in it.

#holidaydecorations #manzanitabranch

 Panoply