Nesting

With a blog named “Life on the Skinny Branches,” you might surmise that I have a thing about birds. And you’d be right.

I have always felt drawn to birds of all kinds. I think the connection began when I was young when I was first introduced to the great poem by Maya Angelou, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

The free bird leaps

on the back of the wind

and floats downstream

till the current ends

and dips his wings

in the orange sun rays

and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks

down his narrow cage

can seldom see through

his bars of rage

his wings are clipped and

his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings

with fearful trill

of the things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze

and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees

and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn

and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams

his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream

his wings are clipped and his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom.

Maya was speaking of many things, experiences that I do not pretend to know about. But also, for me, she spoke about something that I knew firsthand: feeling locked in a cage, grounded, longing for freedom. You see, I, too, know why the caged bird sings. (Maybe in some ways we all do.)

Perhaps that set up my lifelong affinity for and sense of connection to birds, and flying.

In 2016, my words for the year – for what I was calling in for myself – were: Emerge/Celebrate/Express/Reveal. It was a year all about self-expression, growing confidence in myself. And it definitely was that kind of year. I started this blog last year — it was a big deal for me to begin to share my words in a public way. I began intentionally living on the skinny branches, and it has been thrilling.

This year, when I soul-searched for the words to guide my year, they were: Daring Greatly/Stretch/Curious/Creative/Depth/Credibility/Courage. So I expected to be soaring, having jumped off those skinny branches. I expected to be flying high.

And the year started off strong. I was in a play. Then a play reading. I did a short film. Took an incredible trip to Spain.

And then, in March, I was suddenly grounded.

Literally. My whole system shut down.

It was if my body went on strike on behalf of my spirit and said “No more, sister. You are gonna stop and sit for awhile.”

I was forced to stay home. A lot. This was not easy for me. I have always been driven. Have always sort of hurled myself through life, a bit desperate to make up for lost time.

It was humbling to have been so completely drained of vitality that walking down the street was a challenge. But that was my reality.

So I had to stop many beloved activities. And somewhere along the way, I began to listen to whatever it was that my body and soul needed me to hear.

(I also sought professional medical help, and received it. I made many changes in what I was putting into my body and began to look at how to approach my life better, aka how to lesson the internal stress I create for myself as I interact with the external world.)

I am realizing now that it was in this being stopped, it has been in this time of recovery and healing, that I have learned to appreciate the nest.

When I got stopped, I got quiet. I had a great deal of solitude. I have been depressed before. This was not that. It was…me with me. (It was awful at first because a part of me feared I was “losing” more time. That part of me fears it is already too late. That part wants me to run around like a chicken with my head cut off. That part is misguided. I help it along today with a firm but loving hand. No more shoving myself through the world.)

In time, I began to see that this being stopped was helping me to ask new questions and to also really listen to the current answers of old questions. The answers have changed since the days I first asked them. Who knew my body was so very wise? She made me listen. She made me pay attention. She had lots for me to re-cover.

And slowly, I began to heal, and my vitality began to come back. I can say with joy today that I am almost 100% back. But I am not the same.

I cannot run around like I did before. I could, but I do not want to. I am finding new ways to do the things I want and need to do. I am giving myself more time to do these things, to process, to absorb. I am nipping stress in the bud — I simply do not want to waste my precious life energy on certain things any more.

It is a new day. It is a new me. I am finding out all sorts of things. I have much to do, but it will be on new terms. I think they are much better, frankly, than the old ones.

I appreciate the life force that calls me to soar, to live life on the skinny branches and beyond. It is a huge part of who I am.

But every bird also needs some sort of place to call home. A place to hatch their young. A place to refuel.

And so, it is so very clear to me now, do I.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: nest

Mistaken Identity

I thought I was broken, thought I was missing

Thought parts of me had just died

Made friends with the holes that I thought you’d made

Made peace with what was left inside

 

Turns out I was wrong, nothing of me was gone

Certain parts just learned how to hide

I am whole, I am thriving, I am filled with myself

And that truth just cannot be denied

 

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: identity

Ch-Ch-Changes

Four months ago, I wrote a whole blog about my experiences finding my inner athlete and how important that has been for me, for my healing. I meant every word.

I called it Athlete, Interrupted because my story really was of how the innate joy of being in my own body had been interrupted in my childhood.

I discovered running while I was on a quest that had begun in 2011 to “rediscover my inner athlete.” From July 2014 until around February of this year, running, training and races were a huge part of my life. If you’d have asked me a year ago if I would ever consider stopping running, I’d have said, “No way!”

I can’t believe it, but something has been shifting in me, and I’ve found it confusing.

It began with the last half marathon I trained for. I trained for 10 weeks, and loved it. On the morning of the race, it felt like any other. I had no idea what was coming.

It was a gorgeous but chilly January day in Central Park. I found my corral, and the race began. This particular race was two laps around the park.

Towards the end of the first lap around, right at the half way point in the race (6.5 mi,) I suddenly realized that I didn’t;t want to run any further. That I truly didn’t care if I finished and had no desire to do so.

Now, over the course of the years since 2012, in training for two marathons, and countless half’s, I’ve had the desire to stop while running. That comes up a lot. You push through, and you are usually the better for it. Sometimes, you really might need to stop, especially if you have the tendency to overtrain (as I have had.)

This was not one of those situations.

I felt so compelled that I ran off the path and let myself stop. I immediately felt overcome with emotion. Something in me was finally being given my own attention, and was so grateful.

But I felt guilty too. And sad. What was happening to me? How could my desire and commitment change so radically?

But was it truly radical? If I’m honest, looking back, I had been pushing myself to keep on running as intently as I had been for at least a year.

I had gotten so caught up in the running culture. It had given me so much joy, and such a respect for my body and its abilities. Awe for my own will and what I can accomplish if I decide to.

How could i be considering letting that go? To what? Run just to run? No more longer distances? No concern for pace?

Who was I to go from 5 days and 30 miles a week to 3-4 and 10- 18 miles? Wasn’t I going to go to hell in a hand basket? How could I change now? What if I reverted to before?

Yet, my spirit wanted other things. I was wanting to bring more creativity in my life. Not revolve my life around my training and running anymore. I felt a drive to write, to create more and revolve my life around that.

I wanted to simplify. I found myself craving other kinds of movement: Gyrotonic, Pilates. I had let those things fall away the last year.

My body was revolting! Calling me to wake up.

I fought the messages it was sending me. I didn’t trust them. What if it was laziness?

But I wanted to move, so it couldn’t be laziness. I even still wanted to run. Just not like I had been since 2012.

My body had to literally break down in order to get my attention. That is another blog when I have more distance. Suffice it to say that this was The Summer of Being Slowed Down. My body made it so that I had to listen.

I am still unraveling why I found it so hard to listen and trust my body. Why I held on so hard to running’s place in my life.

There’s always a part of me unconsciously looking for a formula. If I find something that creates happiness in my life, I want to keep doing A+ B to equal that C. As if as long as I just keep doing A+B, I’ll get C.

I think it has to do with my relationship to change. I mean, I know cerebrally we are supposed to change and grow. Still, some part of me gets scared that in letting go of something good, I will lose the good I have gained.

I guess that reveals a scarcity mentality. Some part of me fears losing what little good she has managed to get, so she thinks she can never change, or else she risks returning to the misery of before.

I am trying to work with the fears of that part of me. Help myself trust that change is good. That I am still being athletic, but in a different way.

And new – different – is good. It brings new – different – experiences. And that brings new information.

And through the new information gained in the experience, I become different. More.

I will help myself meet the change with trust and excitement instead of resistance and fear.

It means I am a living thing, that change-induced growth. Not a computer that can be programmed and set to repeat.

After all, I am always a work in progress. And that’s the way it is supposed to be.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word prompt: athletic

Unlearn Me

Such a good girl

Learned early on that love is earned

Don’t rock the boat

Don’t step out of line

Now I know

I disobeyed my own instincts

Pushed away what made me me

Learned to sit on my own impulses

Well, I’ve started a reeducation

Gonna free me from my self

Gonna be a good girl to my own girls

Get a masters in following my own heart

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: disobey

To the Core

I used to hate myself.

Seriously. I hated just about everything about me. I was fixated on the way I looked: I felt like a monster, something grotesque, misshapen, disgusting.

This was painful, and difficult. It is hard to relate and be in the world when you have that kind of hatred for your body.

But as I look back, the most painful kind of hatred I felt towards myself was the hatred I felt for the ways I felt and thought. I felt tormented by my own mind and feelings and sought escape in every way imaginable, including close contemplation many times and one failed attempt at ending my own life. I could not get away from this internal self I so hated. I felt like a freak trapped inside a monster’s body.

I wasn’t born with that kind of self-hatred. It developed slowly over time in my early years following trauma that created a kind of split from my own core. Losing connection to my core made me vulnerable to the outside world in a way that was devastating.

With a healthy core intact, dealing with bullies and the other social pressures at school is painful and impactful but does not warp one’s self-perception.

With a healthy core intact, a person can withstand the challenges that exist in most childhood homes where there are people with untreated mental issues, and where there are emotional, sexual and physical abuses or neglect as a result of parents who themselves were abused or neglected.

Without a healthy core intact, the affect of these kinds of external forces become stronger, louder than one’s own innate internal sense of self, sense of well-being, of any innate self-support. As a result, these events, people and experiences bend and shape one’s sense of inner and outer self and reality.

The best way I can describe living without that connection to my core sense self is to have been like a tissue blowing in the wind, this way and that, getting stuck wherever the wind took me.

I do not have multiple personality disorder, so I cannot speak to what that experience is like, and I do not mean to offend anyone who does. But I have sometimes imagined that what I experienced was somehow related. I could not hear my own internal voice most of the time. I was “hearing” the world, and it was loud and dangerous to me.

Living when you are disconnected from your core is terrifying. It is suffocating. It is lonely. It is deadly.

I am lucky, because even though that connection was severed, there was always somewhere deep within me some sense of something to keep fighting for. One tiny shred of connection to a core that I could imagine if not feel or often hear. I didn’t trust it or understand what it was. But it was there and I could sometimes hear it in the very darkest moments.

Like the moment some years ago now when I had the razor blade that I had bought and planned to use in my fingers and held to the skin of my left wrist, ready to end my suffering. That tiny shred began to whisper to me, “What if I am wrong? What if it could get better?”

That tiny shred, and the realization in the moment that followed that I was reneging on a promise I’d made to my two cats – whom I loved desperately – that I would always look after them, that they would never know fear or be homeless again after their difficult early lives feral on the streets of NYC, saved my life that day.

I have written about coming home to my own core within myself in previous posts Dormant Child and Cutting the Cord.

The work of healing my fractured soul has been profound, difficult and beautiful. It is on-going work, but I have come such a long way.

To re-connect with and then feel a permanent connection to my own core self – to know my own essence – has been at times a shockingly powerful and painful process. And at the same time, the most intricate, exquisite and intimate experience I have ever known.

One of the greatest gifts of this this connection to my core, this freeing of my inner selves (every age I have ever been) and this healing of the traumas of these selves into wholeness, has been a growing love and appreciation for my self.

I have learned to love my body for what is does, not how it looks. I have grown a gratitude for my physical abilities and strengths, and try to find joy in moving my own body, using my own voice. Today, I have reverence for all that my body contains. It contains multitudes and is wise beyond my mind’s own wisdom. It holds the Truth, and it never lies.

I look for the miracles within and without, and because I have cleared away what I can of the detriment that is not of my true essence, I find them. The detritus that remains from my past does not clog my joy as it once did. I love the detritus, too, for it holds important information. There is often even gold to be found in what remains.

I genuinely enjoy my own company today. I like the way I experience the world: my own peculiar sense of humor, the unique way I think and feel. I am no longer tortured by my own thinking. I am no longer tortured by being me.

This is huge. Not to say I do not experience anxiety, racing thoughts, negative or critical thinking (the Inner Critic, the Critical Mind, the Ego, whatever you want to call it.) I do experience all of those things and more (panic, depression, the pull towards self-destruction.)

But I am no longer a tissue blowing in the wind.

I am a mighty tree, strong and constantly expanding into the world around me. Yet I am flexible and can withstand whatever weather comes my way because I am rooted, and those roots go deep. I take nourishment from the elements that support my growth. I no longer look for sustenance from sources that can not provide what I truly need to thrive.

I live in light today. There is darkness, yes, but it is a different kind of darkness. I no longer fear the dark places, because I am always there. I trust myself to see myself through whatever comes my way.

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: peculiar

With much love and thanks to the gifts and work of Suzanne Connolly.

A Critical Juncture

I am a recovering perfectionist.

In “A Skin Horse Awakening”, I wrote about my perfectionism, and what I believe the genesis of this “ism” to have been in my life. (Or perhaps I should say “who.”) I don’t believe I was born with the affliction of perfectionism.

Let me walk this back. Perfectionism is bandied about a great deal these days. People jokingly refer to themselves as a perfectionist, and we all think things like “Oh, they work really hard to get things right,” or maybe that they are a bit anal (as in detail-oriented,) maybe a little bit OCD.

According to Wikipedia, Perfectionism, in psychology, is a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting high performance standards, accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.[1][2] It is best conceptualized as a multidimensional characteristic, as psychologists agree that there are many positive and negative aspects.[3] In its maladaptive form, perfectionism drives people to attempt to achieve an unattainable ideal while their adaptive perfectionism can sometimes motivate them to reach their goals. In the end, they derive pleasure from doing so. When perfectionists do not reach their goals, they often fall into depression.

When I say that I don’t believe that I was born a perfectionist or with a perfectionist gene, I am saying that I learned to be hyper-self-critical. I guess maybe perhaps you could argue that my being extremely sensitive is genetic, and therefore in a way that part of my perfectionism is genetic, as in I am extremely hard on myself and yet I am very sensitive to feeling like I am being criticized…maybe that being “so sensitive” is genetic?

If such a thing even exists. I can never know another’s internal experience, what life feels like for them through their nervous and other systems. I can only know my own.

So really, how can anyone, from my family (“You’re too sensitive!” “You are so sensitive.” “Don’t be so sensitive!”) to psychologists/people we label experts at such things be able to say that someone is “highly sensitive” or whatever? What do they mean? Are they really saying we are very emotional? More emotional? What does that even mean?

(I think perhaps it means that they are uncomfortable with our amount of feeling so they label us as “highly sensitive.” A label to explain away their discomfort.)

And if someone doesn’t “feel life”the way I or someone else labeled sensitive does, are they “insensitive” or unfeeling? Just because they do not seem to experience life the way I do, they are less sensitive? You see what I mean? (It is somewhat crazy-making for me, actually.)

Anyhoo. Perfectionism. Not genetic, in my humble opinion.

I learned to be hyper-critical of myself and to expect extremely high standards of performance from myself. I learned to care deeply and to depend greatly on what I thought others’ were thinking of me. To value other’s evaluation of me above all else, especially my own.

This relationship to myself and the world and myself in the world was learned. I learned it from a master, my father. I am not sure where he learned it. I am quite sure he suffered as much from it as I have. I am also sure that he had great regret later in life around the price of his untreated perfectionism on his relationships with himself, the world and the people he loved.

I am so grateful that I am in recovery around this. I do not have to suffer at my own hands anymore, or cause undue suffering in my loved ones out of my perfectionism.

One of the most tremendous sources of help around this for me has been the work of Brene Brown. You may have heard of her TED Talk on Vulnerability. If you have never watched it, I highly recommend it. Seriously, stop reading this and go watch it! Then come back ; )

She has been on my mind the past few days as she posted on Facebook from Houston, where she was volunteering her clinical services, making a plea for donations of clean, new underwear for those recovering from the hurricane. First things first, please take a view.

Here are three ways to give NEW (still in package) underwear. Please keep in mind that we need a variety of sizes for men, women, boys, and girls, including XXL.

1. https://www.amazon.com/…/2O89ZX93O…/ref=nav_wishlist_lists_1

2. Collect new, packaged underwear and mail it to the address below. It’s our local Hillel and they are collecting for us. This is a really great neighborhood or school project. If you’re purchasing, we recommend Hanes or Fruit of the Loom. UFE doesn’t process or give out anything but underwear!

Undies for Everyone
1700 Bissonnet St.
Houston, TX 77005

3. Give cash and Undies for Everyone will purchase wholesale: https://secure.lglforms.com/form_e…/s/uFpr61ITEItxPeN4Lo9zpA

Brene is an amazing woman. I could write blog after blog about her and how she inspires me. It has been through her work that I have had true shifts around my perfectionism.  I mean, I could understand before that I was one, but then what? What do I do to help myself out of it? Through it? She defines perfectionism a bit differently, and that difference has made all the difference in my being able to make shifts and heal. She defines it so:

Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: “If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”

She writes further:

Perfectionism is defeating and self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal. Additionally, perfectionism is more about perception – we want to be perceived as perfect. Again, this is unattainable – there is no way to control perception, regardless of how much time and energy we spend trying.

Perfectionism is addictive because when we invariably do experience shame, judgment, and blame, we often believe it’s because we weren’t perfect enough so rather than questioning the faulty logic of perfectionism, we become even more entrenched in our quest to live, look, and do everything just right.

Feeling shamed, judged, and blamed (and the fear of these feelings) are realities of the human experience. Perfectionism actually increases the odds that we’ll experience these painful emotions and often leads to self-blame: ‘It’s my fault. I’m feeling this way because I’m not good enough.’

To overcome perfectionism we need to be able to acknowledge our vulnerabilities to the universal experiences of shame, judgment, and blame; develop shame resilience; and practice self-compassion.

When we become more loving and compassionate with ourselves and we begin to practice shame resilience, we can embrace our imperfections. It is in the process of embracing our imperfections that we find our truest gifts and strengthen our most meaningful connections.” B. Brown (2009).

Wow. I mean, just yes. And yeah, this is a daily practice. It is a struggle one day, a breeze for the next three days, and then the shit hits my internal proverbial fan and it feels like I am at day -4. And then I feel free of it again. But Wow and Yes. And I’ll take that over interminable suffering in the depths of the hell of my own mind being run by unchecked and uninformed perfectionism.

If you know of what I speak, I recommend her work and any of her books.

It is a lifelong process, but it is truly gratifying to find true relief.

Oh, what a journey it is, this coming to life. This learning to relax into all of the things I used to hate so about myself. To even begin to embrace and yes, even find love for all my parts. Especially the ones most imperfect.

To pull my own self down off the self-built marble column I had constructed so long ago into the real world where I can be with others, be a fully-fleshed human being among human beings. To smash the statue-like full body persona I had so carefully made and let the flawed imperfectly beautiful person I am start to live and breathe and love.

 

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: critical

Inhabitant

This body o’mine

Through her I’ve met the world

She’s been gentle with me

But her, I’ve pushed and hurled

She’s taken hard knocks

From without and within

I’ve treated her rough

Lived a life full of sin

She’s asked little of me

Given me all that I’ve asked

Less-than-loving I’ve been

At times, she’s been trashed

I’ve wasted so much time

Hating parts I deemed flawed

The time has come to make peace

And to treat her with awe

I see her now as she is

A miraculous home for my soul

I thank her daily and nurture her

She’s a beautiful part of my whole

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: inhabit

Palisade

I built a mighty fortress high

To shield my stricken soul

Lived days and nights in solitary

Untouchable was my goal

Walls kept life out and kept me in

I wandered through alone

A maze that kept me coming back

To where I was unknown

And then one day from a crack there shone

A light from within one wall

I saw a way out, I saw the way in

One by one, bricks began to fall

And from the ruins I made a house

With a door that can open wide

Now life can flow freely, as I see fit

I no longer fear what’s outside

 

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: solitary

Lifefall

I was covered in prickles
The barbs of life's sharpness
Had entered my peripheries
Pierced underneath, to my core

In time, I grew around them
As a tree around wrought iron
In my humanness I adapted
They became part of my selfscape

Then one day, one fell away
I felt the freedom remaining
So I extracted with care and love
Each well-known thorn, reborn

Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Prompt: prickle