Holding

I was back there again. Back there as a little girl facing my father and that same dilemma that is with me now like my own breath, my own heartbeat: fight and die or freeze and save yourself.

I couldn’t feel her the way that I used to, couldn’t feel her body in my body like a baby in my womb. Instead I felt energy clutching and churning and pulsing in me, and I knew that I needed help.

I did all that I could do — I reached for P.

“Will you come closer?” I begged him.

“Sure, LB,” P said firmly. He wanted me to know that he wasn’t wavering, and he moved his chair right against the couch, just to my left.

“Is this okay?”

I nodded, ready to fold. Ready to buckle and fall.

“Would you like me to hold your hand?”

The landscape of my whole body changed in an instant: I grew still and vast and brave. I pulled my sleeve up and away from my palm, and placed it into his waiting hand. It was hot and soft like he’d harnessed some life-sustaining energy there, the heat from his body pooled.

He held his fingers like some ledge I was meant to hold onto, or like a gate, and he wouldn’t relax them. I wondered at his intensity but told myself it wasn’t like him not to be aware.

He must have known how strongly he was holding me there. Either to him or away from him, I wasn’t sure.

My hands in his were cool and dry. He told me after that he’d been quite comfortable, but it was me. I was. I held back the urge to run my fingers across his palm like tracing the contours of a globe. I felt playful and completely at ease, new yet so, so, old. A harmony of my history and some new hope.

I lightly glazed his fingertips with my own.

He told me that he could only hold on for another minute, but after some moments I told him that he could let go. That I was ready for him to.

“I’ve been so stuck lately, P. So frightened and boxed in, and now I can’t help but feel this expansiveness, this urgent need for exploration,” I said.

“Do you understand?”

“I think that I do, LB,” he said.

But I could feel his distance; I could feel that he was lost in his own thoughts and trying to process what had just happened between us. All these years I’d been expressing my yearning, my need to be touched by someone who knew every bit of my story and wouldn’t turn away. And now we’d done it. And now what?

The filtered light at the window blazed. The walls made themselves known. The air between us heaved beneath what we didn’t have time to say. There were only a few minutes left.

Since our last meeting, since our touch, I’ve been firmly grounded in my own reality in a way I haven’t been in a long, long time. There are things in my life, in this precious life, that need cleaning up. I want to root around for what I need to carry on, to move forward.

But I’m tired and frightened and tending to sorrow right up on the surface of my worn-out body. Tidying up will have to wait. As for P, I’m giving him space, giving myself space. There’s a snowstorm coming this weekend, so it’s likely that I won’t see him again for a long time.

I don’t dare write to him or let him linger in my mind for too long.

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Organic Movement

I climbed a mountain a couple of days ago, and on the ascent I was delighted as a child leaning in close to hear water I couldn’t see beneath the rock faces, pushing leaves with my toes, marveling at the unrecognizable blue of that particular sky. For just those hours I was free of my mind, and I felt small and ordinary and lovely as the few patches of snow along the trail. Out there I was just a being dependent on the sunlight and the air and my own instincts. It’s just life, I thought to myself.

Just life.

I climbed that way for hours. Listening, breathing so deeply, and feeling as close to good as I ever get. I could feel doom gathering like a far off storm, but I pressed on and focused on navigating creek crossings, leaping gently across icy stretches, and identifying flora as familiar to me as some books at home.

I reached my overlook and the layers of mountains there, and the storm rolled closer; thoughts like heavy rain moved in on me and I couldn’t find any relief, any cover.

What are you doing here? What do you think you’re doing? You’re up here running from the world you’re too weak to face. You can’t keep hiding out, living in bursts like some animal of prey. 

“Nothing I ever do, no project I undertake, is ever for the passion or joy inherent in it. It’s about finding the space to exist via my actions. It’s about forcing myself alive in my terror,” I told P recently.

“This is a crisis of identity. I don’t know who I am or why I’m here, and I’ve been this way as long as I can remember.”

When I’m this lost, this confused, I turn back to the rhythms of my childhood for answers. I’ve been thinking about my father’s dictates and my mother’s powerlessness, about being and non-being and the danger and agony both states represent.

I remember that my father would beat my mother then berate her for not enjoying a sunset marking the sky or for failing to find the nuances in a jazz piece he was blaring. She was already gone, gone long before her actual death, and he hated her for it — though he was the one who’d killed her.

“She was to be alive but not too alive,” P mused.

“Dead but not too…”

“Exactly, P.”

I couldn’t look my father in the eyes or make any sudden or organic movements; living was done by a dim light I snuffed at his boot steps. Beneath his gaze I wore a type of shroud, just like my mother’s.

I can only lift it off when I’m far, far away. Way out in the woods or keenly focused on my body or with those few souls I love and I know love me in my shaking, awful nakedness.

I cannot keep up the balance of movement and erasure, of being and non-being, my father depended on for his own sense of safety.

“You can look me in the eyes,” P told me. “I don’t ever feel threatened or challenged.”

“What if I just move closer to you in times of ease instead of times of distress, LB? What if I move closer to you and take your hand…”

One Year

Three days ago I quietly celebrated one year in this safe space with each of you. I am still, and may always be, hoisted above myself in my father’s iron grip, but by some miracle my voice has been wild and free here — free and subtle and powerful as the wind.

What is left of me evades the trappings of my own body. This year I’ve come into close contact with that stuff we call our ‘essence’. Mine being called to the unique cadence of silence, the woods I love, the right words, warmth shaking in me until it sets and holds.

Next week I’ll celebrate another birthday with real gratitude for surviving another year when we all know how hard life is, how fleeting hope can be. I keep on going for my daughter, for the community of child abuse survivors who are still told either directly or indirectly to ‘grow up’ or ‘get over it’ or to ‘find something else to focus on’.

Scientists now know that there are significant changes that occur in our brains — changes that affect emotional processing and regulation — that are distinct from those without an abuse background. That knowledge is only going to grow and expand until we can link this early trauma to so many complex problems that ail our society.

It’s already happening, and the stories we tell are adding the richness that is a necessary partner to any new scientific discoveries on this topic. When we are hurt when we are so very young, something in us breaks like tender shoots. Something vital is severed and our sense of self, our faith in our purpose here, withers.

The grief endures, in my estimation, a lifetime. That relentless grief for who I might have been had I been loved and protected properly, right from the start. As I grow older, as time continues rapidly passing, I’m less and less willing to pretend that each day isn’t difficult, that each breath isn’t; we owe it to ourselves, and to our vulnerable community, to help others understand the link between our suffering and our pasts.

By some strange miracle, something in me, something there right from the start, was untouched, somehow preserved, while I was fighting for my life. That same something — call it an essence, call it a soul — wants me here in this marvelous, frightening, awful, striking, fruiting present.

This next year I’ll strive to stay right here telling these important stories while reading more and more of yours; thank you, thank you, thank you, for being here with me.

LB

The Nature of Pain

There’s an ease developing between P and me that feels like falling. That delicious kind of falling that feels safe right at the edge of letting go. We are becoming familiar to one another and so it’s easier to take chances, to take risks. He’s been feather-light, navigating my needs and wants with a new deftness born of knowing me, of knowing us and how we are together.

To say that it feels good is as futile as telling of the beauty of the stars; being with him has felt as spiritual. There’s nothing I won’t voice, including the dark earth of my wanting — that cold, dark, trembling place I’ve known since childhood. When I close my eyes I’m sometimes buried there even in an intimate space with just one other person.

“I want you,” I told him just yesterday. “I need you. How pathetic it sounds by now.”

“Not to me, LB,” he said so firmly, so softly.

He’s settling into his new space and it’s bare and cool and soothing. There’s a wall of creamy curtains and french doors that stick, and a little bell that knocks against the glass when I enter through the front door. We have been alone there, completely alone, and I can see him, sense him, so clearly.

The walls are white. The floor is white. It’s clean and bare and open. His artwork is lined against the baseboards. There’s an old wall unit for warmth that shoots slender blue flames. It’s really perfect for him, for his own unique being and spirit. I’ve imagined him curled on the very couch where I sit, cradled in that gentle light, reading or thinking or drifting away into sleep.

During our last few sessions in this new place we’ve spoken about the nature of pain (something about the energy there lends itself to the exploration of those dark places) and I told him I’d recently had the thought that being immersed in it isn’t the end of the world.

“I always survive,” I told him. “I always make it through.”

It’s true.

I can sit and I can wait through the worst of it all, through the past shaking my foundations, while concurrently feeling the wholeness of the place I will return to. The shaking, the ripping, the crumbling, doesn’t last forever — it never does. The pain comes, the pain goes. It isn’t the end it masquerades as.

It just isn’t. How wonderful to finally know.

I’ve just thought of a line from Vievee Francis, also about renegotiating our relationship with pain:

“It seems as if I might ride the beast that haunts me if I could just let go. Let it take me up easily as this gale is lifting me now.”   ~ From “White Mountain” Forest Primeval.

Lightly, lightly, ever so lightly, rock through it; moan through it; dance through it; tune a music box tight through it; ripple your legs like wings through it; sing an awful song through it.

Run through it; walk at a snail’s pace through it.

We cannot go back in time to change what happened to us — the heinous crimes, the murdering of our souls — but we can be ready when the past comes

and takes

and wants us back where we hurt.

It is like surviving some disaster, a storm, a pillaging. Choose your own metaphor. When it’s over, though, and I look around at my life, I ask myself if anything is truly wrong, truly missing, truly broken beyond repair.

And the answer is no. The answer is always mercifully, no.

Love to you all,

LB

Watch Me Let Go

I had my last session in our little blue room, and I didn’t so much as utter a single goodbye.

“I’ve loved loving you here,” I told P. “But this is just a room. Just four walls.”

What I’ll miss is the intimacy of the space. The fact that if I spread my feet just a little I could touch his so easily. I’ll miss feeling that we were sitting high up in the clouds and the miraculous appearance of any birds in flight. I’ll miss the shades pulled down low and golden light on grey winter days; our new room won’t have them.

And it will be larger. This new place. Much larger. I’ve already had fantasies of pacing while we talk like Dr. Paul Weston’s patients in that HBO series, In Treatment. Maybe there’s a window ledge to perch upon while I’m chimney sweeping.

It will be so, so quiet. Just the two of us my entire hour. I feel sure that he’ll order things so that I will not see anyone else there, coming or leaving. He enjoys a small number of clients in the long-term, so I imagine that scheduling is done with a certain intentionality now. With a certain kind of love and care for each of us.

“It has an industrial feel,” P told me. “It will be imperfect at the beginning, but later with the right furnishings…”

“I love imperfect spaces. I’ve never lived anywhere that was perfect,” I said.

I want to buy him a little desert flower that can survive in a glass ball with just a few sprays of water. One on an almost invisible string he can hang from the ceiling, in a place where it will just make the light. He’s funny about gifts, but he’s getting better with time and practice. I gave him a copy of Giovanni’s Room (my favorite book in this whole, big world) for Christmas last year and he’s just now finished it; I remember his remarkable frown when I handed it over to him. But now,

“Just about every word is stunning,” he wrote me. “I don’t want it to end.”

What feels most remarkable about this shift, about this change in environment, is that he is able to make it. In his way, in this way, he is teaching a valuable lesson:

Watch me let go. Watch me move forward. See these rhythms. See me here flowing easily down my own life.

Row, row, row, your boat gently down the stream…

I’ve been watching him these nearly three years. Watching him the way I watched my mother, the way I watched my father. Looking for the truth of my fate in their voices, their gestures, their negligence, their violence, their fear.

You aren’t going to make it, girl! You can believe what you want, but I’m telling you what I know!

I feel the first shudders of doubt, some opening inside, however slight, leading away from their dark prophecies to some new room with space for me.

Watch me let go. 

It Took the Last of my Energy to Write to You

I am in a dark, dark place. Having been here so many times I am less afraid than I am resigned to being in pain. It’s the kind of pain that makes any slight movement difficult, that makes me feel that I am eons old, that makes everything I put into my mouth taste as if it were rotten or spoiled.

It is difficult to stay warm.

I am full of shame for not being able to help myself, or heal myself, or propel myself out into a world I don’t understand. God I’ve watched you try, P has said.

The only thing that has ever helped is some mysterious mercy. If I can wait, if I can find a patch of sun and let the hours go, or hunker down like a family in a storm cellar, I can resume some semblance of my life after. Clear the refuse and the tea cups from my writing table and begin again. Go on with mothering and meaning-making and trying to nourish myself even when it feels futile and even when it hurts.

Quiet is imperative. I cannot make any sudden movements, or endure the cruelty of the news, or gossiping rings of other people. It is as if, it is as though, I am trying to return to a place where I once, long ago, was completely safe.

While I’m waiting, while I’m away, the earth just keeps on spinning on its axis, things are still growing, the light changing. To suddenly see after taking cover for hours, days, or even weeks is to instantly come face-to-face with all that I have missed. (Once I awakened to a Blue Heron hunting at the lake, making his way in a sort of walking meditation, raising each leg like a slow hinge. That day I ran to get a better view of the tiny island where he enjoyed his catch.)

And I have missed so much. The cycle is devastating. The guilt profound.

I protect myself with a certain kind of understanding, mainly that I can’t live life the way most live it. The consequences of child abuse, of long-term unrelenting child abuse, are real and devastating. I am fighting for my life, so many are fighting for their very lives, and to pretend otherwise only exacerbates an already dire situation.

So I wait and I hope for some breakthrough. There may be an MDMA clinical trial for the treatment of PTSD in my area at some point in 2019. It could all fall apart, especially with our current administration, but it’s still on my radar.

P is MIA. Maybe traveling. Maybe dealing with his own personal stuff. Maybe at a loss for how to help after my avalanche of e-mails. Maybe taking his time to think, like he does.

I wonder if he would have taken me on almost three years ago knowing that it would be this hard to see even the smallest progress. Does he place his head in his hands when he sees my name in his inbox?

Stepping into the Sun

I took a new path to P yesterday down E. street, past the barber, the massage parlor, and the salt cave. I turned left on the one way alongside the fire station and cut through the parking garage connecting his building to the elevator.

“Hey, LB!”

P was there alongside me bright and sunny as a boy with his messenger bag slung across his shoulder and his hair low across his brow.

“Would it be too weird if I ride up with you?”

“Not at all. We’ve had some practice,” I managed.

He talked to me the whole way like we’d known each other our whole lives. Up two floors, down a breezeway, and up six more we stayed connected even with other people jammed into the elevator with us. He was loving me openly and fiercely with some pride that hurt like a healing wound.

He wouldn’t have cared who was there with us, a colleague or a family member, he would have gone on experiencing me, feeling for me like a daughter’s hand in a crowded space.

Whether he was conscious of it or not, he was re-writing one of the most painful stories in my life: that there isn’t space for me here on this earth.

You don’t know her my father always used to say.

“I found a new office, LB. It’s imperfect but quiet and I was so excited to tell you. No more fire station, or walking through the mess downtown, or contending with a waiting room full of people and other therapists.”

“I thought of you. I wanted to tell you.”

The doors opened to the room where I would wait for him. There was a man there who looked just like a poet I love who died.

“See you in just a little bit, LB,” he said and moved away down the hallway.

I heard him filling his water bottle while I pretended to read Nat Geo. I did see some portion I remember: there was a photographer, a gentle giant, six foot four, eating porcupine with a beautiful tribe. Set right down at the center of the fire, a place for honored guests, with his kind eyes.

When he called me back the whole session felt like a continuation of a story we’d already begun some time ago. I was so open I felt the warm socks on my feet, my bare legs squeezed together, the wool of my skirt, his voice across my shoulders like a shawl.

This is what it feels like, I thought. Darned if he doesn’t love me with his whole, pure heart.

We talked, we talked about everything. I told him about starting a relationship with my mother’s twin sister. About how surprisingly smart she is and how her letters have moved me to the point of wanting to go slowly. I don’t want to scare her away, I told him.

We spoke about time. How I’ve met him, become intimate with him, how it is difficult to ignore his presence for very long.

“You know, LB, this session feels really different. It occurs to me that beginning the way it did, us coming together that way, might have something to do with it.”

“You asked me to tell you more about the way I feel. Would you like to try that now? Can we do that now?”

I nodded and waited for him. The quiet pulsed. I wondered what he wouldn’t say that I already felt.

“I think, I think that even though you’re hurting and you’ve been so sad, you’ve let me in despite how you feel. I’m full of tenderness for you in this moment,”

“How does this feel for you? How does it feel to know?”

“It feels like stepping into the sun, P. It feels like being touched.”