Healing, Healing meditation, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Afflicted

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“My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “Gone is my glory, and all that I had hoped for from the LORD.” The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases…”   Lamentations 3:17-22

 

Meditation

Bitter thoughts. Stewing from down below. Gurgling with stomach acids. Bubbling up. Burning the esophagus. Causing throat and breath to sour.

The writer of Lamentations uses strong metaphors. Wormwood, a plant smelling and tasting bitter. Gall, another name for bile. Words filling the air and us with pain’s felt presence in and out of our bodies.

But in the midst of severe affliction this writer dares to hope? What is it that this writer “call(s) to mind?” In the midst of smells so intense, so permeating that the writer curls. Caves in. What glimmers enough amidst affliction to speak of “steadfast love”?

 

Healing Practice: Glimmers

What gives you even a small glimmer of hope? A pin head of possibility? A fleeting thought of future?

What or who steadies you right now? Your therapist? The mail carrier showing up every day at the same time? The noon time factory whistle or downtown church bells?

Name these. Write them down. Even the smallest of the small.

The writer of Lamentations puts hope in God. Maybe you do too. Maybe you don’t. Or maybe God is a glimmer of what can be.

 

Prayer

God of what can be, bring breezes filled with fresh air. Blow away bitterness’ smell. Settle my stomach. Give relief to my soured throat. Spark my imagination. Fill my thoughts with hope’s tiny glimmers. Amen.

 

~~~

Biblical translation: NRSV

Image by Evgeni Tcherkasski from Pixabay. 

Healing, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Trauma Trembles

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(This post also appears at https://compassionatechristianity.org/trauma-recover/)

July 2018. Time spent past 23 months attending two types of trauma healing therapy each week. In between sessions poring over my late husband’s professional books on healing trauma. Reading Bessel van der Kolk early evenings when all I could do was go back to bed. Now, one month before grief and trauma’s second anniversary, open Peter A. Levine’s Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body.

Knew my insides still held vestiges of traumatic experience’s bodily chemicals. Better, yes. Stable-looking from the outside. Many days, more calm from within. But not protected from resurging cortisol and adrenaline making me crazy shaky on the inside. Also felt disconnected to others. As if I was an island of pain misunderstood by the world. Levine’s words made sense. “…Trauma is about loss of connections—to ourselves, to our bodies, to our families, to others, and to the world around us.” (p. 9)

Read further into Levine’s book. About discharging hormones causing fight, flight, or freeze. Through shaking. Like animals in the wild. Human tendency to stop this natural response. Deny surging chemicals release after traumatic experience. Risking instead trauma’s entrapment in our bodies. Causing life sentences leading to all sorts of internal and external havoc.

Knew all about captured chemicals. Arms throbbed in pain for months after Tony died. Still did in high stress situations. Mostly gone because of a combination of somatic movement therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Yet something remained. I could feel it.

Our refrigerator magnet reminded me of something. Magnet found in Tony’s office. After he died. Amidst the chaos. In a space dedicated to healing trauma’s afterlife. Magnet bundled home. Stuck in place confronting me daily.

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Decided it was the time to go through Levine’s twelve phases of healing exercises. Found in his book laying open on my bed. All phases providing a reunion of sorts between mind and body. Through gentle exercises reclaiming our innate healing powers. Beginning with “safety and containment.” (p. 38) Concluding with “settling and integrating.” (p. 68)

At twilight one night, snuggled in bed, I reread the “shower exercise” found in phase one. (p. 40)  Asked the air, “How hard can this one be?”

But felt my stomach flutter in response. Causing me to pause before taking a big breath and throwing off the covers. Don’t remember walking into the bathroom. Or turning on the shower. Yet still feel the steam filling the room in fading light. And climbing in saying, “Here I go.”

Stood for a moment in water’s stream before placing both hands on my head. Tipped my head back. Felt my hair dampen. Brought it out repeating Levine’s suggested words. Tipped my head back again into the water. Took another deep breath. Moved on to face, neck, shoulders repeating actions, words, and breath. Each area filling with something different. Perhaps a new sense of lightness.

Right below my collar bones, after allowing water’s warmth to rain down, I again repeated Levine’s words. “This is my upper chest. I feel my upper chest. It belongs to me; it’s part of my body.” (p. 40)

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Something released. Opened an internal door. Sending sensations up through my neck, face, and into my eyes. Forming tears falling hard. Showing me this part of my body contained held pain. Wounds still hurting. Suffering buried without my knowledge. I began to breathe hard. Shake. Tremble.

The shaking did not stop. It went on and on, warm water mixing with tears and trembling. For what seemed like suspended time. Until the tremors slowed, disappeared. My body, my whole body, breathed. And a sense of peace filled in the empty spaces formerly occupied by trauma’s leftovers. Well-being replaced fear. Goodness replaced evil.

With joy, shared my experience with both therapists. Thinking they would find it amazing and a little bit humorous as I did. But both women wore looks of something beyond concern. My EMDR therapist leaned in. “You need to tell me when you are thinking of doing trauma exercises on your own.”

“Oh my gosh, Jennifer! You can get stuck for hours in a tremor,” my somatic movement therapist said.

“Forever?”

“No, not forever. But it can be lengthy and scary.”

Point understood. Trauma recovery needs trained, certified, in-person clinicians walking with us. Knowing what we are up to in our own exploration of healing methods found outside the therapeutic office. My curiosity, part of life’s force waking up in me. Something to be celebrated. Yet shared with my healing team like writing down prescriptions and supplements for a new doctor.

Because healing is not a rogue endeavor. In trauma’s aftermath, the disconnectedness we feel and as Levine writes about, can tumble over into our therapeutic relationships. Trained healers are there to work with us and watch out for us. Every healing method, including help we find through books, podcasts, and social media, needs connection with our human healing team. In a “medical alert” found on his book’s copyright page, Levine urges readers to find professional healing. He also writes in chapter four, “this work is often best done in the presence of another person.” (p. 37)

Peter A. Levine’s work continues to impact me and all those involved in trauma healing. He is a courageous pioneer with an intense commitment to infusing new life into the evils of trauma’s aftermath. All his books are testaments to the possibility of living on and well. I continue to read, reread his books, listen to interviews with him, do his exercises, and some nights even wonder what it would be like to study with him. Mostly though, I just want to thank him.

“Thank you, Peter.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grief, Healing, Trauma recovery, Writing

Writing Tools

IMG-2135Once I wrote every morning. Upon waking. In dawn’s first light. Under cover’s warmth. Hidden. From world. Not long ago. Life laying low. No reason to rise. Except for brief moments. Fixing food picked at. Not fully ingested by three souls, sitting with silent, wailing hearts.

Still scratch away most mornings. In bed, abating cold under think downy comforter. Or at kitchen table, sky brightening over Eastern tree tops.  Or at desk, feeling grown-up and professional. Even in yoga pants and sweatshirt.

No longer all dawns though. Not now. Life’s varied actions taking over sacred word space. Words watching as I cook, clean, study, parent, build and rebuild relationships, love in verb form, plan ahead, make lists, pay bills, run errands, exercise, sleep.

Words sidelined. Pent up. Waiting. Nagging. Prodding. Agitated. Resentful. Impatient for cleared moments meant only for them. In stolen time away from all else. Thoughts, emotions, connections released from inner captivity. Swooshing out with sighs.

IMG-2118Write on drawing paper. Bound in books, not tablets. Large ones for home use. Small for travel. Not the blank books given at birthday or holiday. No glossy or smooth inspirational cover art or quote from famous author. No place inside front cover for printing name. Making words official if only to self. Instead simple black cover. Woven texture. Raised weave masking cardboard beneath. Square holes punched along left side. Two strands of black wire inserted and spiraling down. Holding innards together. Inside thick paper. Heartier than blank books. Strong enough for frequent erasure.

IMG-2122Write with pencil. Beginning long ago with a DIXON Ticonderoga 2 SOFT. Boxes left over from sons’ elementary school days. Specific request on school supply list each August. Boys calling them “sturdier.” Me, grumbling about extra expense. Left now with boxes of them. Many pre-sharpened. Popping out of clear plastic containers smelling of pencil. Wood wound around graphite. Odor lingering in our collective noses from early on. From beginnings of formal schooling.

Along with sounds of manual pencil sharpeners found in every classroom. Near the door in the front. Drilled into cinder block walls, drywall, or ancient plaster. Leveled at a certain height. Increasing with grade. For standing in front of. Glimpsing the  world outside enclosed space. Teacher eyes waiting possible escape or eruption. But doorway blocked by budding sense of internal boundaries for many. Most turning back toward sharpener. Adjusting hole’s size. Sticking pencil in. Pushing crank. In circular motion. Away from self. Hearing grind. Wondering how pencil will come out. Broken tip or point?

IMG-2109Electric sharpeners buzzing with own sounds, vibrations, issues. Too quick for the lingering, dreaming school child needing small break. Have one of these machines packed away somewhere. Lost in boxes of what was and is no longer. Instead rummage each morning in kitchen junk drawer. For small plastic, pastel colored pencil sharpeners with dulling blades. The kind put in zipped up pencil bags for school.

This fall, new pencil entered my life. A Palomino Blackwing 602. A birthday gift christening another year lived. Marking healing, love, future, me-as-a-writer, another’s belief in me. Pencil, slate grey. Quote written in italicised, gold lettering. “HALF THE PRESSURE, TWICE THE SPEED.”

IMG-2133Topped with gold erasure cup. Not green. Holding flat, rectangular, pink erasure. For erasing on the horizontal instead of in a spiral.  Gift accompanied by utilitarian sharpener. Small with two holes. One to sharpen. Another to fine tune the point. Small door for emptying shavings.

Discover new pencil’s feel on page different. Softer. Smoother. Words gliding instead of stumbling. Flow like a felt-tip marker. Easy. Simple. Color sitting on top of paper like velvet. Not ground in, etched, or engraved.

IMG-2210A few weeks ago, a seminary friend gave me a pencil. Unsharpened. Along with a smile. Full of shared knowing. About life’s desire for tactile experiences. Our senses, in seminary, needing release from heavy frontal lobe exercising. Our emotional brains, the place where we feel God, crying out for attention, movement, freedom. My new pencil, a PALOMINO ForestChoice 2.

Pencils different than blank books of bound paper. Both necessary equipment. Paper, a receiving tool. Pencil, an active instrument. Paper, the noun. Pencil, the verb. A delivery system creating conduit through which emotions and thoughts merge into words. Uniquely placed on paper forming voice, my voice. Pencil point sailing over page. Blankness filling with lines, curls, dots, and shapes.  At morning’s dawn. Pencils containing memories, stories, healings, hopes. Ticonderogas, discovery of myself as writer. School days for sons. Life in a different community. Late husband’s work. Writing to breathe. ForestChoice, life in seminary in fellowship with others saying “yes” to God’s call. Blackwings, new beginnings after years of therapy expanding self, love, and future.

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Three pencils sitting on empty pages. Staring up at me. Welcoming. Reminding me of life’s trajectory. Movement mapped in pencils. Writing, my constant in never-ending change.

 

 

 

 

Healing, Healing meditation, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Trauma Meditation: Bargaining

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“The words of Job are ended.” (31:40)

 

Life amiss, off-kilter, teetering. Very much so. So much so. Tragically so. Even with Job’s best intentions for a righteous, safe life. Crossing all his T’s. Dotting each one of his I’s. Smoothing life’s sharp edges. The ones ready to cut, maim, and hurt. Job asks “Does not calamity befall the unrighteous, and disaster the workers of iniquity?” (31: 3)

More questions. To God. Friends. Again and again. Searching. Queries unrelenting like pain’s throbs. Entreating others sixteen times. Each time willing to bear possible repercussions if found unjust.

“If I walked with falsehood…” (31:5)

“If my heart has been enticed…” (31:9)

“If I have withheld anything that the poor desired…” (31:16)

“If I have raised my hand against the orphan…” (31:21)

“If I have rejoiced because my wealth was great…” (31:25)

“If I have rejoiced at the ruin of those who hate me…” (31:29)

“If my land has cried out against me, and its furrows have wept together…let thorns grow instead of wheat, and foul weeds instead of barley.” (31:38,40)

Resolve mounts with each oath. Pulsing through Job’s veins. Others’ theories almost capturing innocent soul into falsehood’s net. Job’s inner goodness never leaving. Integrity present, whole, complete, intact. Pledge to God, made long ago, endures. Job remains the “blameless and upright man who…turns away from evil.” (1:8b)

Air falls silent. Friends’ babbling halts. What can they say? “…These three men ceased to answer Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes.” (32:1)

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Healing Activity: Litany’s List

Writing a list of things we wished we did differently before, during, after our traumas pulls. Guilt’s evils perpetuating skewed thinking. Like Job’s friends. As if we hold exhaustive liability for our traumas. Full accountability laid at entrance of inner ashes. Onus cloaking us when we are blameless like Job.

Some traumas catch us in dysfunction’s sticky web. Hold us in continuous, adhesive loop of confusion. Despite who we once were before brought low by others’ unhealed crap. We thrash at both solid and invisible walls until something within rends, allowing escape.

But evil haunts. Tailing us in continuous coil of spinning thoughts. Cemented words releasing others’ involvement. Demanding we take entire burden on like a caught perpetrator.

There’s another litany worth writing. List asking what we did and do well. Each petition beginning with the small yet powerful word “I.” Not if you could have, should have done something differently. But what you did well. From my own trauma recovery litany I share,

I listened to my gut.

I walked toward.

I called out for help.

I didn’t always answer the doorbell.

I listened to Pastor Peter’s advice.

I went to therapy every week, sometimes twice.

I made home a safe space.

I kept trying to love.

I unpacked my own strength from deep within, like Job.

I forgave myself.

 

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Prayer

God, your creation is wild. Remind me I cannot control every minute of my world. Keeping vigil over life, wasted energy. Guarding my every move and moves of others, little use. God, magnify your hearing. Listen to my woes. Answer my questionings with calm and alleviating actions. Restore my trust in you and in myself. Turn me toward healing instead of commanding myself, others, and your creation. Amen.

 

~This healing meditation is created to accompany trauma recovery along side working with a state licensed, certified trauma mental health professional and should not take the place of clinical healing. 

~~Please form this healing activity to fit your needs. And please share with me your creative ways of refining the experience for yourself.

~~~Scriptural quotes, NRSV

~~~~First photo by JR Korpa on Unsplash. Suffering man sculpture was in Tony’s, office. My late husband kept a small collection of similar pieces as reminders of trauma’s pain he bore witness to daily. Tree of Life image by Michael Gaida from Pixabay.  

 

Faith, Grief, Healing, Healing meditation, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Trauma Minimized: A Healing Meditation

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“For my sighing comes like my bread, and my groanings are poured out like water. Truly the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest; but trouble comes.” Job 3:24-26 (NRSV)

Meditation

Torment escapes from deep within Job’s body on breath’s exhale. Agony flees inner captivity on long streams of air. Wind erupts in animalistic sounds showing injuries’ truths: dread, disquiet, dis-ease, anxious anticipation. All unseen damage from suffering’s somatic experiences.

Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar hear Job’s pain. Come in consoling comfort. Observe immense heartbreak. Sit with him in silence. Witness loss, illness, grief, and trauma. No words spoken. Saints sitting with sinful natures.

Until these bystanders can stand Job’s pain no longer. Something spins within. Filling each friend with verbal masses rolling into wounding words. Words interrupting air. Stinging silence. Tearing further into wounded flesh and internal organs. Each feeling sanctioned by God or each other to deem worthiness or un-right-ness. Blame Job in entitled convenience. Forgetting life’s immeasurable unknowns. Making small Job’s collective human losses with narrow visions of the Divine. Asking in word and deed, “’Why should God have time’ for you in all your iniquities?”*

Job’s groaning unmasks these carefully constructed faces of others. Uncovers deeply buried wounds. Unhealed lacerations still oozing with infection. Bacteria to be shared. Using Job as a new host. As these speakers hide behind royal judgments. Old pain towering over recently rendered and suffering peasant.

 

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We who live in trauma’s truth sit with Job in a different way. In shared experience of life after trauma. We learn along with Job that our worlds at home, work, community, and extended family minimize trauma. Our trauma. Their trauma. Anyone’s trauma. Others diminishing it when we are weak in our inabilities to cope or heal. Trivializing trauma’s ravages. Asking in verbal, nonverbal, subtle ways for us to move on. Act healed. Use our trauma for the greater good of a broken world. Because surrounding witnesses name us now as damage experts needing to be sent out on patrol.

But this shrinking behavior of others in the story of Job and in our lives today is not an act of God or earthly king. It is a “that’s their stuff,” moment. An alert to something unhealed in others. Resulting in distancing or dissociating behavior of the supposed helper from our lived, daily, experienced pain. Trauma’s evil alive in others hurling in secondary waves through our hearts, minds, and bodies. Sinner outweighing saint.

We cannot force others to unbury and heal their pain. But we can ask ourselves if we too minimize our own traumas. Wonder if we make smaller what really was. Or hide our traumas away so others don’t feel uncomfortable. Absorb these evils further into our bodies. Send messages out into the world such as “It’s in the past,” and “What’s done is done,” and “It is what it is.”

 

Healing Action

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Fill a piece of paper of any size with one large circle. Leave a little space at the corners of the paper. Inside the circle draw a large heart. Along the outline of the heart write “God, God, God,” over and over again in a chain of words.

Write your name inside the heart. If other people living in your immediate family share your trauma (such as children) write their names on the heart as well.

Between the heart and the outline of the circle write names of people who try to not minimize what happened. They are not perfect or one hundred percent. But consistent in making an effort.

Outside the circle write names of people who are not dependable for you now. They may try. But when they do their unhealed pain lives like a big box of heavy bricks between them and you. “Help me hold my box,” they ask you again and again.

In the farthest corner of the page write names of people or organizations who exited or need to exit your life because of your traumas. These entities add lesions to your internal injuries. Creating circles of additional traumas around you with pricks, pokes, and stabs.

Look at your work. What demands your attention? Are your friends better at being with you than your extended family? Or is it the other way around? A mix? Who surprises you with their ability to not judge or minimize? Where are most of your people, inside or outside your circle?

If you need to, cut away the outside-of-the-circle names for now. Crumple up the scraps. Throw them in the recycling bin. You do not need these people or organizations right now. You don’t need their stuff, crap, or pain. Fire them. Forever. Temporarily. Lay them off. Whatever you need this day. You are in charge.

Lay a finger, one by one, on all remaining names including your own. Breathe as you do so.

Prayer

God holding close my pain, surround me with emotionally fearless people. People whose presence and actions bring healing to me and others. Send them God, quickly. Open my eyes in recognition when these healers come into my world. Help me accept their love. Amen.

_______

*Quote from J.B. by Archibald MacLeish. Published by Houghton Mifflin (1986). Page 119.

~This healing meditation is created to accompany trauma recovery along side working with a state licensed, certified trauma mental health professional and should not take the place of clinical healing. 

~~Please form this healing activity to fit your needs. And please share with me your creative ways of refining the experience for yourself.

~~~All images courtesy of Pixabay. 

 

 

Healing, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Trauma’s Sleepless Nights: A Healing Meditation

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Photo by Joonas kääriäinen on Pexels.com

 

“So I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me. When I lie down I say, ‘When shall I rise?’ But the night is long and I am full of tossing until dawn.” Job 7: 3-6:

Meditation

Nights, when the world seems quiet, lengthen in trauma’s internal pain. Skies full of stars and moon and clouds watch our hearts racing without winning. Earth perceives perpetual pulsating sensations in our veins. Rivers, lakes, and oceans hear our repeating thoughts. Some with images. All stuck in minds’ auto replay.

In our beds, our bodies toss. This way. That. Left, right, back. Never finding comfort on couch, mattress, floor. Sheet, too cold. Blanket, too hot. Pillow hardening with weight of our head. Mattress not holding us as partner in rest’s work. Sleep, a bad dream with no escape. Night, endless. Never-ending. First light, a mirage. Dawn, not full of joy as the psalmist promised. Instead hazy with dread. Another day unfolding onto more pain.

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Image courtesy of Pixabay

Healing Activity

The next time tossing begins, when your mind spins with thoughts and images. And your body stiffens. Becomes harder than a board on a sweltering summer night. And you just have to move, change positions, find a cooler place on the sheets. Because if you don’t and even if you do, breath catches in your chest. Stiffening from chest to throat. Sending tremors traveling downward from stomach into limbs.

The next time, before you toss, breathe in deeply. No shallow breath. Deep from your hips. Take a few breaths in and out finding some sort bottomless breath. Then on the toss breathe out as you flip to your side or back or other side. Keep breathing out with each toss. Just breathe in and then out on the toss. Continue until you are tossed out.

Creation occurs on the exhale like “a wind from God.” (Genesis 1:2 NRSV) Your tosses? Small moments of creative healing waiting to happen in the middle of your night. Both sleep and sleep-less-ness asks life’s regenerating force into our nights. In inhales. Followed by exhales. Repeating over and over again. Healing occurring with each completed breath. God’s creative wind flowing around, over, under, out, and in. Even deep into our nights of pain.

Prayer

Spirit sailing through night and day, surround my sleepless tossing with your breath. Inhale my pain. Exhale healing within me. Amen.

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Image courtesy of Pixabay

 

*This healing meditation is created to accompany trauma recovery along side working with a state licensed, certified trauma mental health professional and should not take the place of clinical healing. 

**Please form this healing activity to fit your needs. And please share with me your creative ways of refining the experience for yourself

***All scripture quotes are NRSV.

Healing, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Trauma Meditation: Next Bad Thing

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The prophet Habakkuk prays. Asks God to return from being absent. “In our own time revive it; in our own time make it known;” (3:2b) Followed by acclamation. “His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise.” (3:3b)

God’s portrayal in Habakkuk’s prayer is often violent. God’s earthly activities ongoing. “…You split the earth with rivers.” (3:9b) A omnipotent superpower saving good guys from bad ones. “You crushed the head of the wicked house…” (3:13b)

Habakkuk’s words reveal multiple tragedies. Agitation anticipating next impending crushing. More devastation means wiping out enemies and attackers. Perhaps Habakkuk hopes he does not get caught in the ensuing panic.

“I hear, and I tremble within: my lips quiver at the sound. Rottenness enters into my bones, and my steps tremble beneath me. I wait quietly for the day of calamity to come upon the people who attack us.” (3: 16)

~~~

We in trauma wait for the next catastrophe like the prophet Habakkuk. From the outside we may look still. Barely breathing. Within we stand at the edge of an interior precipice. Waiting. For a push into caverns below. Thrust in by world’s cruelty. Found in the form of people, natural disasters, human made dictators, wars, and diseases. Uncontrollable foes attacking us or our loved ones.

We wait. Trembling within. Watching. Always alert. Skittish. Wary. No breaks. Exhausted by constant effort. Rotting in this hidden prison. Body held captive by what grows within us. Dictating our lives. Holding our bodies hostage. Trepidation becoming an angry energy like fuel.

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Healing Action

Look at your hands. Curve them in as if your hands hold something. Feel the weight of your hands. Observe the shape of curved fingers. The creases in your palms. Notice any scars, rings, tattoos.

Now cup your hands together. Allowing fingers and sides of upturned palms to touch. Forming a bowl.

Breathe in. Sigh out into your bowl. Repeat forming a steady beat of breathing in and breathing out with a sigh, silent or sung. Continue on if it feels good to you to do so.

Breath in again. This time on your next sighing, send your traumas into the bowl. Any trauma you hold in your body. Recent traumas. Trauma from a few years ago. Older traumas from youth and childhood.  Sigh all your life’s traumas into your cupped hands.

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Prayer

Lift your cupped hands up above your head. As far into the air above as you are able.

God, take these harms from me this day.

And tomorrow.

And all the days to come. Amen.

Push your hands farther up into the sky beyond. Open your hands with a final push. Send your traumas out into the world. When your hands are empty, slowly let your arms fall to your sides. For now, leave your traumas to the universe and to God.

~~~~~~~

*This healing meditation is created to accompany trauma recovery along side working with a state licensed, certified trauma mental health professional and should not take the place of clinical healing. 

**Please form this healing activity to fit your needs. And please share with me your creative ways of refining the experience for yourself. Some humble accommodation suggestions are: 

  • Use a bowl instead of hands.
  • Use a friend’s arms.
  • Use feet and legs instead of hands and arms. 
  • Move bowl outwards instead of upwards. 

 

***All scripture quotes are NRSV.

****Photos courtesy of Pixabay.

 

 

Grief, Healing, Love, Trauma recovery

Shirted Memories

Blues, burgundies, blacks, greens. Assorted colors pile on floor. Next to empty card board box. Awaiting purpose.

Sit on floor surrounded by shirts. Late. When sleep could sooth. But day not over. Because sometimes life takes me back. Asks me to remember. Or grow. Or move more into the me who is now. Tonight body full of intermittent shakes. Small tremblings. Signaling stressful day. Tension reminding anatomy of former trauma. Forcing confrontation with realities. Emotions. What has happened to me, to us, since Tony died. In wounding aftermath.

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So sort instead of sleep. Decide what to give away. What to keep. Think about what sons may want, be interested in, miss if gone. Suspect this division, this last ordering of Tony’s shirts, may take entire month. Shirts already gone through many times in past two years, eight months. Shirt by shirt leaving what once was our closet. Only a few remaining. My favorites. Cloth I cannot bear to part with. This night scattered on floor. Ready to be folded. Placed. Put away.

Ask many questions. Think many thoughts. “How many favorites do I need to live on well? How often will I really open this box? Sit among these shirts once again? Tears silently falling on disintegrating fibers? A dead man’s shirts are in reality dead. Not living. Just thread woven into being. A sum of things. Inanimate. Infused momentarily with characteristics of person once wearing clothing items. Temporary anthropomorphism of loved one’s stuff. Like fleeting wisps of wind on a hot summer’s night.”

Decide one box. One box of favorites to keep. That’s it. That’s all I’m willing to carry with me the rest of my life. For times of major life events. When remembering, telling the story of who we were as a family and who Tony was as a human being a ritual to live into. Not performance. But dance. His atoms still floating among us. Partnering in silent breezes.

First item in, Baja hoodie. Hands run over coarse woven thread. See scene from first night we kissed. Held each other in nervous embrace. Wondering together and as individuals what it all meant.

Fold black t-shirt with one bright pink triangle in center. With words “Silence = Death.”  Remember shame world’s people placed once again on suffering’s shoulders. Remember determination and courage of ACT-UP. Remember dear ones lost to HIV/AIDS. Remember Tony as a young man wearing this t-shirt with tenacious anger.

Smooth out white tank. With The Men’s Center logo on it. Tony up late night before big run in Davenport, Iowa. Making logo of our fledgling company. Ironing on tank. Soon after we opened. Staking savings into dream. Into serving other people. Tony and nephew running race with pride and a bit of free advertisement.

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A camp t-shirt. From Paul’s school trip to southern Wisconsin. Tony went as parent chaperone. Taking his responsibilities with predictable seriousness. Intensity I fell in love with. Under his supervision, first grade boy fell out of top bunk. Boy’s father of five not concerned. Tony up all night worrying.

Tye-die shirt. Hand made by Ricky on our deck when he was maybe ten. Paul helping. Another shirt with logo on it. Designed by niece Marissa. Creator of The Men’s Center logo. New logo for entrepreneurial son. Risky in sky blue against bleached white. Folded and placed next to local school district fund-raiser t-shirt. From yearly run downtown. On October Sunday morning. Tony running with our sons. But really after them as I watched.

Two t-shirts bought as presents. At birthday or father’s day. Silly shirts full of fun. Gifts I sent our sons out to buy once Ricky drove. Always coming home with loads of snack food, outrageous card, and t-shirt. Like this one displaying a beer-logo because Tony hated beer.

Place black shirt. White lettering in English and Arabic. Bought from an organization dedicated to hard conversations. For Tony, hard conversation about sexual violence and boys. Prevalence hidden. Healing lacking. Shirt shouting to the world, we will not be silent! 

T-shirts, hoodie, topped with dress shirts. One, monogrammed ADR. Another, my favorite bright blue. Black linen left from our early days. All sniffed before packed away. Smelling of nothing. Not Tony. Just slight mustiness of unused clothing. In first months after Tony died repulsed by anything with his smell. Feeling guilty. Like I should sleep with his shirt. Or spend hours lying on our closet floor. Surrounded by symbols of his life, behavior, smell.

But aversion is trauma. Not grief, loss, sorrow. Trauma thieving truth in evil. Stealing necessary moments of love. Two years, eight months of inner work eradicating maliciousness in my body of this villain. Or enough to enact ancient rite of breathing in odor of loved one gone. Bury face in pile of sleeves once yours. Prints, flowers, paisley. Bright as light. Like flowers in rainforest. Reduced to fabric. No longer anything but shirts taking up space. Hanging limply. Waiting for new life. Inhale. Image your smell. Known now only in memory. Memory clear. Bright like your shirts. Rite complete. Enough to continue into next ritual.

One of putting away, making room. Signaling something. An ending. Another completion. Of this place as our home with you. Your shirts, last of things cleaned out. Like socks still in dresser’s drawer. Waiting. Not for you to come back. But for us to move into space and time without your things. Knowing this time approaches. Is even here. Not reactive time. Which somehow is more understood by others. But slow response full of methodical, unknowing, receptive knowledge, and questioning.

Ask again, “How long do we keep the stuff?”

Find no answer in word or reason. Only in action. Shirt by shirt. Some tossed. Some given away. Some saved. Until box full. Sitting Shiva on family room ping-pong table. Marked “Tony’s life in shirts,” in black marker.

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Ignored for days. Until place my hands on box. Allow contents to radiate of dreams fulfilled, dreams incomplete, love lived, memories of all kinds, and something else. Not your smell, nor your smile, chuckle, silences, words. But prayer. Your prayers. For us to carry you within. Box, nice but…not necessary. A little too heavy for daily lifting. But your love, light. Dancing up and down our vagal nerves. Interacting within and with each other. Looking inward into self. Looking outward into world. Leaving box behind.

 

Photos courtesy of Pixabay and Priscilla du Preez. Check out her work on Unsplash. 

Grief, Healing, Love, Trauma recovery

I Touched Your Star Today

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I touched your star today. Not light seen off our deck back home. To the left a bit. East, shining on clear nights. Near moon. Clouds floating by. Glow steady since second night without you. Night after night, light there with me. Staring off into an unknown world. Brightness constant. Unwavering. Abiding. A planet, perhaps.

Remember last year here. At this trailhead. One thousand five hundred eighteen miles from home. Discovering memorial idea on bulletin board. One making sense to our life together. Sons grumbling agreement, “Just no recycled, milk-bottle bench with a plaque, Mom.”

Fill out form. Speak weekly with park ranger. Over phone. Via email. Each time forgetting to send money. Misplacing task in jumbled mind. Procrastinating. Until months later he says, “There are only stars left,”

“Perfect,” I say.

This year memorial mosaic greets me at same trailhead. Before entering the Sutherland. On Sabbath sojourn. Alone. Find you shining between strangers. Press fingertips against words spelling your name. Feel warm, glossy surface. Discover smooth terra-cotta edges. See stars falling in Milky Way heading for moon.

Leave you in good company. Walk well-worn path. Rushing spring stream forcing boots off. Wading through shocking coolness in day’s high heat. Toes gripping sand. Eyes following flow. Joined in water’s joy by children, dogs, and chuckling grandfathers. Told, “keep your boots off. You’ll just be taking them off again in a bit.”

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Heed advice as yearly visitor here. Continue barefooted. Sand wedging up between toes, tickling feet, linking heart to earth. Walk like girl I once was. Befriending old oaks in Illinois forest. Singing with gurgling, muddy stream pulled toward great river. Losing self in jack in the pulpits, violets, fallen oak leaves, smells of loam and humus. Mud caking shoes. Burrs joining jacket. Landing in hair.

Today climb up and up in bare feet. Sand clinging to sweat and sunscreen. Until official trail ends with signed notice. Walk on. Emboldened. Curious. As foothills meld into mountain. Remember field of poppies worth visiting. Retreat. Wade through stream. Rolled pant legs meeting splashing water.

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Scramble up another foothill. Wet, leaping legs collecting desert. Bare feet screaming in delight. Twirling at crest. Meeting saguaro at each turn. Land stretching out limbs in all directions.

Skip down. On right, take small path. Land in field of poppies. Yellow, mustard gold illuminating desert. Find another rocky, crusty path up. Climb knowing you are here. Not just on ceramic star. But here in this place we hiked every year. For twenty years. With my mother and cousins. As a couple. With our sons. First as babies on your back. Then as little ones dwarfed by towering cactuses reaching for our hands. Toward boys emerging from snow’s melting stream, soaking and hungry. Into grumbling teenagers plodding on path. Taking refuge in phones.

Flashes of halted hike on distant foothill years ago. Cell phone reception weaving in and out. Except for one spot on hill’s top. You, pressing phone to ear. Me, knowing. Walking family on to stream. Giving sons something to do. While you worked. Saving one man from taking his own life one thousand miles away. Memory silencing me. Except for stream within. Coursing with small bits of stress. Cortisol reminding me of that day’s fear.

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Shudder. Turn back. Join strangers on their own journey. Cross stream allowing water to make room for me seven, eight times total. Until sit on bench. Across from your star. Watch people stop. Find names. Take photos. Approach as others leave. Just me and your star. Touch creamy smoothness again. Still warm like you once were. Feel surrounding surface. Grainy like sand underneath feet. Star near moon like home. People passing like clouds. You, steady in your burn. Movement implied. Toward moon. Toward me.

Return your gazing bright. Catch star in heart. Wonder about your floating atoms bubbling with embrace, fire, and eternity. Remember poet’s words,”…choose something like a star…”

Leave park. Carrying you in my heart. Your brightness glowing not out there in hemisphere. Within. Your star never once beyond my reach. At infinite distance. Even though my hand extends for yours daily. “You’ll always be in my heart,” you told us so many times. But it is us who must find you in our hearts “to stay our minds on and be staid.”

At my mother’s house, find our sons laughing together. Parked at dining room table with laptops and notebooks. Discover mom reading in family room. Greeting me by wondering what we should make for dinner. Trip on piled seminary books falling off chair in guest room. Spill water on current assignment. Sigh with air saved from desert visit. Close eyes for a moment. See me twirling again. Spreading sand everywhere. Meeting love at each turn. Life stretching out limbs in all directions. I touched your star today, my love. And found my face lit with more smiles than tears.

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Mosaic in Catalina State Park, Oro Valley, Arizona. 

Quote from the poem, Choose Something Like a Star by Robert Frost

Faith, Grief, Healing, Uncategorized

Wide Water

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Heart heavy again. New wounds and disappointments added to still simmering old ones. Hard to see all the healing I’ve done through my sad haze. Cry for an entire hour on my therapist’s couch. Marit, my clinician, tilting her head a bit to one side. Her eyes teary wet as well. Offering me phone access during her upcoming vacation. Having lived twenty years on the other side of being on-call, hating to intrude. Feeling empathy towards her vacationing family members. “Maybe you could try Reiki,” she suggests.

My head lifts in recognition. Percolating ideas swirling in my thinking of late. “I’ve always wanted to try healing touch,” I reply.

“Excellent!”

Marit showing relief. No more words uttered but I know. Because we’ve been together almost weekly for two and a half years. Since before Tony died. Beginning when my sons were so sick with mysterious illnesses. Me living in caretaker burnout. Marit’s  thinking now, “Jen needs a substitute while I’m away.”

Leave her couch with a plan. Make a healing touch appointment for the following week. Travel to the next city. To a retreat center run by nuns nestled in reclaimed prairie and forest. Ushered into calming silence. Sister Bethel greeting me with gentle tones. My nun experience almost non-existent. Except for Tony’s aunt. The one who reveals all the family stories. Tales no one else speaks of.  Family salt mixing with humored love. This sister today, eighty years on this earth. Looking about sixty.

Enter Sister Bethel’s small, windowless room. Stuffed and stuffed again with angel figurines. On multiple oak shelves hanging from four panels of drywall. Angels collected  over decades in ministry. Repulsed by the crowded assemblage. Muse over what I might be forced to collect once ordained in ministry.

Lie down on the massage table. Harp music playing. Water bubbling from unknown origin. Maybe from behind a shelf of angels. Or perhaps only in my imagination. Cool hands hold my head. Their strength beautiful, reassuring. “Healing hands,” the term healers use. As more than a complement. As recognition of an awe-filled skill. Part mystery, part talent, part practice.

Relax into Sister’s hands. Trust them. Listen to her pray in words punctuated by silences. Words flowing from her lips floating above me before gently raining down. Absorbed through skin into soul.

She shifts on her stool. I hear her say, “Jennifer, you are loved. Deeply, deeply loved.”

Tears fall from beneath closed eyelids. Slide off face into hair. Like a stream flooding my banks. Sister rises. Waving the air over me. Movements sensed not seen. Music swelling time forward. Into the melody of the old Scottish folk tune, “O Waly, Waly.” Text remembered from high school choir. Mind repeating.

 

“The water is wide, I cannot get o’er,

And neither have I wings to fly,

Give me a boat that will carry two,

And both shall row, my love and I.”

 

Woe erupting from toes traveling up legs disseminating throughout my body in recognition, in revelation. What I could not do the day Tony died. Fly across the water separating us. Carry us both in a boat. One with two oars.

And I see Tony’s face in my mind’s eye. Through tears and body tremors. Large. Smiling. Reassuring. Coming toward me. Speaking to my eternal regret. Sadness. Complete upending of life. His love recognizing my truth. What I would have done if possible. Fly. Lift Tony out of the water. Hold him. Save him. A vision floating here in this room full of dusty angels. Carrying forgiveness laced love from my lost one.

Sister Bethel hears more words. Sees more images. Fleeting pictures and oddly strung together words. A rope with many knots. Reminiscent of the Filipino veil and cord wedding ritual. A ritual we participating in during our wedding ceremony. Binding us together in love and hope. An image reassuring me of Tony’s ongoing love  and his push and desire for me to continuing living and loving. And as Sister Bethel repeats again and again, “have some fun,” followed by “whatever that means to you.”

Rise from the table feeling free. Centered. Grounded. Amazed. Lighter. Loved. Uplifted in my deep fears and strong abilities. My call to ministry recognized by another called one. “Your openness to the divine,” Sister Bethel tells me, “is huge.”

I laugh. Thinking I should ask her to share her thoughts with my Bishop and seminary professors.  Instead say, “Thank you for affirming my call to ministry.”

“You will be a powerful healer in ministry,” she replies in words knocking me over internally. Echoing something similar to what both my therapists have said to me in recent months.

Following days bring new calm. I eat again, hungry for the first time in a month. Catch myself smiling. Discover I want to reclaim bits of my old life. Slowly, intentionally, and with care.  A restaurant, a family member, water.

A few days later my daily walk takes me to the Iowa River. On the walking bridge I stop. Watch wild water crashing over the dam. Not avoiding river’s presence by walking quickly by. Like I have for twenty-five months. But gazing at its bubbling, swirling, violent, beautiful flow. Realizing I want to hike its banks, paddle its ways, embrace its beauty once again. Maybe never the Wisconsin River. But this river and all other rivers. Converse once again with wet molecules without my stomach clenching or my mind flashing back to the day Tony died. I want to continue dissipating my trauma by breathing into water’s swelling spirit.

“I keep hearing ‘changed, not changed,'” Sister Bethel told a few days ago during my session. “I wonder what that means?”

Most days think I know.  Losing Tony a formidable change. His love then and now never changed. Me, changed through loss, grief, trauma, and healing. But not changed. Still me, internally resilient. Brimming with life. Always hopeful. Never hiding from challenges for too long. Open to new adventures. Living having been loved. Full of love to give and receive.

My healing pain flowing toward and into joy. Tony leaving a boat of sorts for me to row toward the other side of trauma and grief. Constructed of his love mixed with all the healing methods he professionally practiced or knew about for over two decades. Rowing my boat together although not together. Me here on earth. He with me in spirit. Changed but not changed. Reclaiming wide waters.

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