Tag Archives: #healing

Total Recall. Body Scans, Memories, and the Real You

Not that kind of body scan!

1990’s Total Recall, dir Paul Verhoeven is a mind-bending action film by one of the 80s-90s best action directors. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a man in the future who works a boring job. He visits a business called Rekall that implants memories of vacations within your mind. Something seems to go wrong in the process, and suddenly Schwarzenegger’s character finds himself living the life of a spy, and on an adventure that has him questioning his own life, and wondering what is real.

I have been going through an admittedly less awesome version of Ahnold’s journey. But I’ve finally figured out some important things about myself. Some I have never connected, but still form the basis of this piece here. Of me.

I have always said I felt like my trauma begins around three or four years old. But I never considered asking why. Why not? I dunno. Traumatic memories are often repressed as a defense. But the only way to heal is to find those memories, see them with compassion, and reintegrate them into your story.

And so I was filling out the childhood section of a life story journal, and the question was what where I lived as a child was like. So, I described what I remembered of this old Swedish built house in South Jersey. The dock on the creek, the black goat that stood on the picnic table and scared me. The endless rows of tall green-leafed tomatoes in our garden. Watching my brother walk the long lane to the school bus from what I guess was standing in my crib, and waiting for him to come back. And then a new thing I had to be very careful with, love and take care of, a sister.

And then I paused because 3 or 4 is when we left that house. I was in a car with my sister. My brother wasn’t coming. Neither was Dad. My parents patched it up after a brief separation, but I guess that was enough to shake the security of a child aware enough that her family was breaking up. That she didn’t understand. She knew that her sister looked helpless and dazed. That Mom cried a lot. That Dad was still there sometimes. That brother was gone. That she wanted everyone to be happy.

I feel ya Maxell tape guy!

That realization blew my hair back. I think I stumbled a bit walking from my porch into the house after writing that. Remembering that. And realizing how much a part of myself still existed exactly in that moment of fear, confusion, and guilt. I felt I ought to do something. That it was my fault somehow. Whatever kids think when parents and families split. And for once, I felt compassion for that little girl. Her and her big smile and bigger cheeks. Piggy tails.

I had a really sour stomach and was depressed for about a week recently. It was in my stomach, and just below. It was where I was holding my pain. I kept thinking something terrible would happen. It already had.

My social media, including this blog, was recently scoured as leverage over Stan. The parties even wanted to tell me or have Stan tell me to take down a post. Well, Stan being wise and self-protective, convinced the individuals concerned that was a poor idea. It felt like being trapped by my evil tickle-uncle who called me “wop,” “greaseball,” “dago,” you get the idea. One day I learned the word “NAZI.” But it was a violation.

And then there was Friday. Was that only just last Friday? The day I realized I had less rights than before. That I was not considered equal under the Constitution. Well, if you’re speaking of the original, we don’t get a mention. Enslaved black males get 3/5ths. But, didn’t Jefferson say something about how one shouldn’t wear his childhood clothes as a man, and so we cannot predict what future needs may arise for the law to address? Anyway, all I know is it hurt.

All those realizations sort of gathered in my stomach, until a body scan meditation found them. Then I was able to drag them out, name them, feel them. But bye-bye!

Leave me alone, I’m only writing.

It was powerlessness. Feeling like I didn’t matter. Worse, my voice didn’t matter. And what is an artist without their instruments? One unhappy tummied artist, I can say that!

But accepting that these things are just kind of there is fine. The memories have less power. The feelings become unknotted. *Mumble mumble* year old me can handle and understand far more than 3 or 4 year old me could. And those feeling don’t need to control me. I have my power. I have my own sense of meaning. I am moving closer to a more authentic me by letting all the monsters out, one by one. It won’t all be so simple. But at least I know this is real life. Right? This is it, huh? For realz? I dunno but here’s OK. The real is OK. I am OK.

– JL βœŒπŸΌπŸ’™πŸ’›πŸ––πŸΌπŸŒˆ

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Calmer Than Your Are. Losing my Cool, Walter Sobchak, and PTSD.

Me, always.

“No, Walter. You’re not wrong. You’re just an asshole,” The Dude (Jeff Bridges) admits to his bowling buddy Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) in The Cohen Brothers 1998 Noir film meets the end of The California Dream, The Big Lebowski.

I would accept that description of myself. If I also were not wrong and an asshole so often. I get it often enough, but my reactions need help. I am not to the point of pulling a piece in a bowling alley, yet. But my anger response to a perceived wrong, lack of set rules, or disruption is not too far from Walter’s.

Walter is a damaged Vietnam Vet with PTSD. He is divorced, yet still cares for his ex-wife’s dog, and strictly observes Shabbos, the Jewish day of rest. He is a man trying to cling to structures with meaning. They ground and reassure him. And when his routines, rituals, and structure gets disrupted, he lashes out as only John Goodman can. Big and loud.

In an early scene we see him casually talking with The Dude, the old hippie, and Donny, their ex-surfer friend, when he screams “OVER THE LINE!” to an offending bowler.

Calm but deadly serious.
To pulling a piece.
To threatening a bowler at gun point.

Walter clings to structures for comfort. His reaction is to overwhelm others by enforcing the rules, at gun point if need be. He even needs to control when his friend Donny speaks and corrects The Dude’s use of an Asian slur. By the end of the film though, we realize that under all that camo and tactical gear is a scared 18 year old kid who lived through “a world of hurt.” In fact, it turns out he is not even Jewish. He converted for his ex-wife.

But it is Walter who quickly realizes the solution to the mystery of the rug that really tied the room together. He even mentions how “Un-Dude” his friend is being for getting hung up on the “ins and outs.” And he goes whole hog in his attempts to help The Dude on his quest. These are all traits of PTSD. The clinging, whether to habits or routines, rules or people. The shit-losing when anything pops its head into his life with an unwelcome thought. And yet he stares down arch-rival bowler, The Jesus, while Dude stammers. And he will mess up a couple of Nihilists who killed your car with a quickness.

His tears at the end signal the restoration of order and peace for him. The Dude needs Walter. But Walter also needs The Dude. Because The Dude is the one man chill enough to give Walter the grace to forgive himself. When Walter apologizes, The Dude says, “Fuck it, man.”

What the movie doesn’t explicitly show, however, is the embarrassment of being Walter. We with PTSD are simply not cool like The Dude. We tend to be rigid, hold ourselves rigidly, follow routines, and construct a framework to hang the point of life on. And that protects us from the scary truth that our suffering was and is pointless. As all suffering is.

The end result is sometimes you just lose your cool and freak out in a diner over the accessibility of a severed toe. Then Pride holds him in that diner seat long after he has embarrassed himself and The Dude.

Embarrassment, shame, self-loathing, or disgust generally fill the calm after the fit has passed. And it is something I have had to face down fiercely as I do my last days to week in this hotel room. All of my life is uncertain right now. All structure is gone. I have formed habits already to keep me sane in this room. But after living in fear and uncertainty for seven months now, I have had my share of outbursts.

But I have come to realize that I do not have to sit in the diner where I embarrassed myself. Walter eventually breaks down in tears, admits how wrong he had been, and apologizes to The Dude, and to Donny posthumously. “Fuck it.” Says The Dude, as they head off into the sunset to the lanes.

Feeling the shame, getting unbent, and apologizing are the keys. And if you are lucky enough, you will have friends who tell you to “Fuck it” and go bowling. I mean, in the end, all that is wrong — and there is plenty to go around in this world — sometimes flips our asshole switch. And it feels awful. Nobody wants to lose their cool. Good thing all those cool Dudes need us as much as The Dude needs Walter. Because we will do anything to get back your goddamn rug that really tied the room together! Eh, fuck it. Let’s roll.

– JL βœŒπŸΌπŸ’™πŸ’›πŸ––πŸΌπŸŒ»

Check out my Instagram!! And connect with me on Facebook here and here.

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One Year of Trauma Therapy 2. Learning to Look Forward

Here’s to shedding the weight of the past.

This is my new minimalist art. Last week it was “The White Album” and White whales, this week it is all about black because it is slimming, “I have that which passeth shew,” ” ’cause black is how I feel on the inside,” and all the reasons cited by Johnny Cash. Pick one.

Last week I took a trip through my first year of trauma informed therapy. This week is more challenging. Looking forward! I say challenging because of all I have gone through — particularly the reason I am still writing from a hotel room — getting run out of town by psychotic neckbeards. But also because I was stuck. Weighted down. Angry, listless, and depressed by turns. I had lost any sense of who I was or was becoming.

A perspicacious woman once told me I was very “intentional.” I am a fan of plans and planning. It is very much like only wearing black. What should I wear? Black. What should I do? Check the plan.

We plan and the gods laugh. I know. I am Greek.  And inevitably your black clothes will stop matching as they fade. Last January I had no reason to think I would be living in a hotel room.  But I did begin the work of thinking about where I was in life, and where I wanted to be. And, as an unexpected side effect, I added color to my closet.

I wanted to look and feel like myself again. The Pandemic weight upset my self-image. I was depressed. And that made me feel and look old. Even my posture had become hunched. And no amount of black tunic tops was hiding anything as they got scrubby looking and dull.

So I started a mens sana in corpore sano  (healthy mind in a healthy body) journey that helped push me to think more about where I was going, and aided me through the unending trauma that was nearly every day since July back at the former [ducking] house. And I got some clothes…with color!

I went back to yoga. I first got into yoga and meditation as a teen when I was reading a lot about The Beatles. I was a good gymnast as a kid. Yoga seemed to come naturally. And I took two semesters of yoga in college with a great teacher. And it worked hand in glove with my anatomy classes (yay art school).

But I really committed last year, and I have done about 669 yoga classes since then. Maybe half were Sun Salutations, but still!

Yoga means “practice.” So you could think of all life as yoga, as practice. And like life, it is not static. Neither is it all “aaaaah.” I curse plenty at the lovely Australian woman on my favorite yoga app. Yoga requires focus. You work with your mind, breath, and body. Even in stillness, your breath moves you, as you hold your mind and body in gentle intention.

That gentle intention is called your “sankalpa,” and it took time me to find. Simply, a sankalpa is a short sentence in the first person, present tense that signifies your reason for any practice, it can be “I keep my floors clean,” “I do not drink alcohol,” or “I bring peace to the world.”

It is both a heartfelt desire and a promise, and it is gentle. I spent a lot of time in meditation and yoga nidra searching for my sankalpa. And it turned out to be very simple. It was as strong and flexible as my body and mind were becoming. And it was always there. But life, past experiences, traumas, hang ups, difficulties of all sorts crusted it over, and I became hardened to even myself.

Through my work in therapy, and the work we did to find the softening of the the body that allows us to truly listen to ourselves, I came to see what I had forgotten. And my journey now consists in continuously bringing my mind back to my sankalpa, what I give myself as a purpose, my heart’s desire, my promise to myself.

Of course, a promise is nothing. Air, pixels, ink in a certain form and order. Unless you honor yourself and the one you make the promise to. In this case, both parties are you. But having a practice, a promise, and are committed, gently, to honoring yourself helps.

You respect and honor yourself. And you honor your promises. Practice that for a while. Sit with it. Move with it. Breathe into and through it. And suddenly old Polonius’ advice to his son Laertes — that if one is true and honest with oneself, you will be honest and true to others — will change your way of seeing and being.

Your sankalpa is your own. It is not shared. Please do not ask your yoga class crush, “So, what is your sankalpa?” Protect what is precious, gently.

And you thought the whale post was esoteric! I did go through a change, a shedding of mental, emotional, physical weight. Of crusty old thoughts and feels. And of pilled up black tunic tops with bleach stains.

I have bright pink, purple, and blue yoga tops! Pink walking shoes?! And you cannot go around in yoga pants (now with pockets!) without tennis socks in fun colors. And you know what else? I can still just order five packs of everything from Amazon, and switch out dirty yoga top to clean yoga top of different color! Fancy.

So, after a lot of softening, strengthening, shedding, and clarity seeking: I decided on my sankalpa. And here I am, still in my hotel room, living it now. Practice can only lead to exploring where this will lead me, but I have a general idea, gods willing and the crick don’t rise.

So, that is where I am, and where I am looking to go. The woman who helped lead me here, my therapist of the last year, with whom I have to part ways. In her shining smile and laugh dwelt hundreds of happy fairies. Her gentleness, boundless joy and compassion, and halo of light around her blond hair, made me think of Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings. And she did possess a light, like the bottled starlight the Elven Lady of Lorien gave to Frodo to light his way when all other lights went out. It is as awake as a plunge into ice water; a diamond reflecting warmth, strength, kindness, and love, gently.

Thank you for everything Haley. Including the homework! I love professional students. I am looking forward to this new stage of my life. I went through an enforced crisis. I know what I can do. And I have every confidence that something is bound to turn up!

– JL βœŒπŸΌπŸ’šπŸ––πŸΌπŸ’πŸŽΈβ„οΈ

Check out my Instagram!! And connect with me on Facebook here and here.

Got a COMMENT? Click below! I love the feedback. If you like what you’ve read, TAP the Star LIKE button below. LIKE and SHARE on Facebook. Follow and share on Twitter


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