Familiar Familial Expectations

I didn’t realize I’d been holding such expectation for her, until I felt disappointed. At first, our communication felt refreshing and welcome, and I found myself anticipating the truths she’d inevitably reveal to me through our family’s genealogical history. Not long after our communication began, I recognized a familiar friend creeping up: disillusion. I have been forced to realize the ways in which I hold specific expectations for others based on their age, their social position, their career… This idolization, which masquerades as complementary, is quite dehumanizing to both the recipient of my unrealistic ideal, as well as to myself. I didn’t know I’d been holding this expectation of her, and of our interactions, until my expectations went unmet. 

In these unmet expectations, I have been experiencing a grief I did not anticipate. I am grieving the aloneness I feel as I search through our family’s history. I had hoped I’d finally connected with someone else in my family (aside from my sister) who is as passionate as me about unpacking our family’s complicity in racism and inequity. In my imagined interactions, I would finally feel less alone, and would glean wisdom and knowledge from this distant cousin of an older generation. I had hoped she’d help me make sense of the trauma, pain and secrecy in our family, all the while being a willing window into our family’s assimilation into whiteness. It feels apparent that she will offer no such windows (and, how unfair for me to put such lofty expectation on a relative I barely know). But how I wanted her to! How I am craving the wisdom of generations before my own, and how I wish I could find that elder wisdom within my own family. I don’t want to be paving a new way on my own, yet within my family (again, with the exception of my sister), I feel that I am. 

And so, I feel unrooted. Unmoored. I am now able to see names of generations of people who came before me, and yet I feel more disconnected from my family. I feel I am alone in desiring a new way of being in the world, and that aloneness feels so very lonely. And yet, isn’t it the both-and of it that is so very tricky? I both can create something new for myself, my spouse and my children, and yet, I will forever be connected to those who have gone before me. I desire both newness and generational connectedness. Can both exist simultaneously? If I believe that they can, it also means coming to peace with the existence of both justice and complicity in injustice that resides in me. Perhaps that coexistence is at the root of what I grieve. Can I allow myself to be human? Can I allow this cousin of mine to be human? Can I allow the generations before me to be human? What does it mean for my spirit to create space and openness for all of the things to be?

Acute Internal Resource Depletion

This is the title I have come up with today for the feeling-state that I have been in since waking up this morning. Acute Internal Resource Depletion.  I thought today would feel freer, looser, since it was a day off from clinical work- and this has been a hellish two weeks of clinical work. Instead, I woke up bathed in a vague but persistent feeling of dread that has been my morning experience several times since the COVID-19 pandemic began to show up in the United States- a sense of dread that feels not like my own, but like a carrying of collective experience. My compartmentalization skills are strong during the work-day, but not so strong when I try to return to my own internal space. It is too porous right now; too much gets through. And I want to feel my own internal space, uncomfortable as it is right now, and yet it is always crowded with the stories or experiences of those that I talk with, provide support to, and treat clinically throughout the week. It is beyond heavy.

I have tried to shore up my resources, energetically and psychologically. Ritual is heavily in place right now: smudging the now-at-home office space where I sit all day, staring at screens of the faces I know so well in a therapeutic space but are distorted and pixelated now, sitting for quiet meditation at the beginning and end of the work day, doing many visualization exercises to shore up my energetic body and put protections in place, lots of dialogue with my inner-child-self, letting her know that I’m doing everything I can to take care of her, trying my hand clumsily at reiki practices to try to conserve energy. I even rolled an imaginary stone over the space between my heart and shoulder where I feel energy leaking out day in and day out, bolted that shit tight. And it is not fucking enough. A day comes like today, where I have “time”- and yet the feelings that are rushing in are needing and wanting to be as small and protected as possible, curled up in a very small space, unable to be reached or contacted, held by not talked to by my partner.

This is burnout. And this is burnout in the context of a wholly new situation and crisis that we are experiencing individually and communally. What burnout feels like today is feeling like any human contact lands like a demand. I have avoided and not reached out to people that I deeply deeply care about and love, because it is too much. It hurts to think about it. I am horrified by the idea of showing up to WWG tonight and seeing everyone, on a screen no less, just like the sessions that I have been doing that have contributed to all of these sensations, and feeling bombarded by energy. Even energy that comes at me from a place of love and care right now feels aggressive, feels like a demand. I sat with it, after a mid-level emotional release while destroying a simple bread recipe for the second time, and realized that the internal resources that I have feel so absolutely depleted, absent in fact, that the image of replenishing feels like it requires new soil. This is not a matter of “charging up” or “finding some good alone time.” This feels like the best I can do is plant seeds that may not even show sprouts for an indeterminate period of time.

That’s where things are at right now. I wanted to put it here, because while I will show up tonight, for community and for commitment, I am not able to show up fully. And I recognize that not doing well often invites the type of care and concern that feels like overwhelm right now, and needed to have a space to share this experience without being in-the-moment in active relationship or dialogue.

Body Image

I’ve worked hard to redevelop a relationship with my body. I can hear it now and I choose to listen to it. Addressing even the slightest tickles in my throat, checking in during sex, noticing different types of energy trapped or passing through.

My therapist told me one of her favorite things about me is how I talk about my body. The genuine love I have. Though aren’t we harshest to those we love the most? I still play the dualistic role of a mother with my body: Biggest Fan / Harshest Critic.

This week I got a small mass in my right breast biopsied. It was no big deal, not that painful, only a minor inconvenience and also terrible, traumatic, terrifying. And now I wait. The results will very likely be benign. I don’t like being prodded, poked, penetrated. I don’t like having inch worm-like bits of my flesh stolen.

I looked at the women of color in the waiting room. I looked at the all-white practitioners. I worried about health statistics. I wondered about breasts.

 

Shedding

This month, writing projects have summoned the body in gruesome and fantastical ways.

Last week, the circulatory system shed quickly and surely halfway through the day- all at once I saw the blue threads, the most gorgeous interconnections of tiny and tinier tubular filaments fall to the chair and the floor around me like a silk skirt falling off around the hips and ankles, gathering on the seat cushion around me, some falling all the way to the carpet, in a brilliant nest of azure and cobalt and navy gossamer. It was so stunning that I gasped, pulled sharp breath into my still-operational lungs. I admired it for the rest of the day, through sessions with L and M and T and a no-show by C and a tearful session with S, who is making significant breakthroughs around boundary setting and relational enmeshment. When Mary showed up that night around 11 pm, vacuum in hand, I wept as she gathered up my beautiful mess along with the small pieces of the world outside that patients had brought in on their shoes. My beautiful mess. Sucked up the nozzle of a vacuum in less than five seconds, what an undignified way to go.

Fiction or non-fiction, blurred lines.

Body Image Reflections and Self-Care

I’ve been doing a lot of self-reflection on our body image discussions.  As I have been reflecting and learning, I’ve been confronted with and recognizing my patterns of control in response to fear and anxiety. I’ve been learning about Orthorexia – disordered eating for health and am beginning to acknowledge my struggle with this. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been anxious, but I thought I dealt with it in a healthy manner because I mastered controlling my anxiety through acceptable behaviors in society (which resonates with the triangle and the blurred lines between acceptable and unacceptable violence against self) — basically, I control, suppress, and discipline myself into the expectations that are placed on me or at least that I perceive are placed on me.  I’ve done this not only with body image and gut health, but with money, with my family role, with faith, with my identity, with pleasure, with daily tasks, with everything. So, when holistic practitioners talked to me about my gut health and healing through food, my anxiety kicked in and my control became extreme.

My response to acknowledging this and beginning to work through it has been a combination of shame and sadness, compassion and curiosity, and fear.  The shame and sadness is around the harm I have and am doing through my control, the suppression of my authentic self, the loss of trust and community (as my control is very individualistic and self-reliant), and the loss of playfulness and freedom.  The compassion and curiosity is rooted in knowing I developed these patterns to feel safe and a desire to better understand the messages I received and the parts of me that impacted these patterns.  The fear is mostly a bodily response to not knowing how to let go of control and still feel safe.

In the last year, I’ve done so much work through my mind in changing my beliefs and worldview, but I’ve been discovering how deeply the old beliefs and messages are held in my body.  Last week, my therapist pointed out that when I sit, I don’t relax into the furniture.  She then had me do a walking exercise and pointed out that instead of trusting the energy of the earth and the gravity to support me, I use my muscles to support myself and produce energy for movement.  This leads to a lot of pain in my hips and other soreness throughout my body.  Also, my nervous system feels overwhelmed and lately I’ve been waking up anxious with no particular trigger for my anxiety.

I want to release control because I know it will be a big step in my healing.  In order to be able to do that, I need to support my body so that it can learn to believe all the things my mind has learned.  My body needs to be able to trust in the support and love of the universe and of community.  Some ways I’ve been taking care of and supporting my body in this work is attending therapy, stomach massages, baths, gratitude mantras, herbal support through teas and tinctures, heating pads, meditations and candle gazing, mindfulness and energy work, and breathing.  Some self-care and healing strategies that I want to focus on more regularly are fluid movements, play, creativity, writing, and leaning into community.  I’m slowly releasing some control around eating and discipline by implementing some foods back into my diet and giving myself permission to sleep more (I went to bed embarrassingly early last night).

 

how i navigated body shame resilience and self care this week:

excuse me i don’t want to be in your business but did you have your breasts removed? the nurse asked.

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Body, Sexuality, Suppression

Almost five years ago, I began noticing symptoms (gut-related) of distress in my body.  As I reflect on the past five years, I have been able to acknowledge that my journey with my gut corresponded with my journey of decolonization and antiracism work.  The distress of my gut drew me into my body and then into a realization of my interdependence with all things; slowed me down; created more space for learning; and kept nudging me forward into introspection and consciousness.  My gut supported me, giving me strength and courage in some of the most needed times and has endured and persevered.

Lately, my symptoms have escalated to the point it feels like the beginning of the process again.  This time, I’m making a conscious effort to listen to my gut because I’m confident it’s nudging me further forward.  This process has felt like the layers of an onion — as the sting of one layer wears off, I’m met with the sting of a new layer.  For me the layers started with racism, then patriarchy, onto capitalism, and then my faith/religion/identity.  Lately, I’ve become aware of the next layer — sexuality — which excites and terrifies me.

Throughout my life, I was taught within Evangelical Christianity that there was only one way to do sexuality and that was “purity” until marriage.  There was also an extra responsibility placed on girls and women to be conscious of the effect our bodies and appearance had on boys and men and to ensure we were not enticing them.  As I moved into my adult years as a single woman, I learned to suppress sexuality basically to the place of ignoring it completely.  I learned to suppress and control my body’s desires.  Now that I am conscious of this suppression, I feel my body holding it in my gut and hips.  My pain and gut distress seem to represent the cries of my sexuality to be free.

I feel scared, mostly of the continued rejection by family and friends this new layer could intensify, but also of my insecurities and uncertainties of how to take the steps to explore and free my sexuality and of facing the shame that was instilled in me around sexuality.  I want to do this — I want to free my sexuality and to bring some relief to my suffering body.  I want to say yes to the desires of my body.

I am appreciative of the discussion on IRS around exploration of sexuality.  I want to make sure in my exploration that I am conscious of my own IRS, taking the time to process those so that I don’t unconsciously perpetuate them in harmful ways.  I want to practice honesty and vulnerability with others so that I can learn, be supported and challenged, and reduce the harm on others and myself that could occur in my exploration.

I want to do this and this (beginning to speak my truth) feels like the first step of saying yes to exploring this new layer.  I’m going to need to lean into my community for my support and accountability, so I’m going to have to practice vulnerably and courageously sharing my truth and my shame with my community.  And I’m going to have to practice courage and boldness in stepping outside of my comfort zone.  I’m also going to have to continue to learn to trust the power within me, believing in her ability to give me what I need to keep moving forward.