Witnessing the Cold Waters of Grief and Loss (Today's Daily Remembrance)

I don’t “suffer” from the optimism bias that most non-depressed people enjoy. This means I don’t tend to look the bright side or attend to the positives in tragedy. I spend a good deal of time on this blog making space for my efforts to find that for which I’m grateful; for me, it has to be an intentional and deliberate process or it won’t happen. I firmly believe, though, that finding reasons for joy and laughter need to exist alongside, not in replacement, of the ability to feel sadness as it happens.

My grief at this moment is a witnessed grief more than a personal one; I am not in mourning for the ways in which I’ve been personally impacted by the pandemic, but more for the global losses that have happened and the havoc it is beginning to cause in the lives of people for whom I care. What I lack in “be hopeful” I replace with “be prepared;” I tend to lean too heavily into the idea that, as long as all contingencies are measured and mitigated, true tragedy can be averted.

I’m living in a moment, however, where this can-do attitude is failing as my national leaders prioritize the wealthiest among us over the rest. Horrible, unfathomable and potentially preventable things are starting to happen to good people on a scale I didn’t know could occur, coupled with with no one in leadership providing comfort and guidance. This is both the oldest story of my life and also the one that feels freshly terrifying; I knew this could happen to me (childhood trauma), but I didn’t know it could happen to everyone (save the moneyed).

All I know to do when loss occurs is to make space for it, to honor what is being missed and to mourn with those from whom treasures of love are being pilfered. Grief, in my mind’s eye, is a well of cold water, into which that which we deem precious can sink but from which no reflection gleams. I know that, in due time, some will find renewal there as they reconstruct their lives. Maybe bearing witness to grief is nothing more than keeping a fire going by the depths, allowing for the awareness that rage and fear and all the strong feelings that make us want to flee that place of loss are allowed here and matter here. What are you grieving today? What is fanning the flames of your emotions? What is slipping into the bleakness?

Answering the “What Ifs” (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

After several days of non-stop work, today has been a bit slower. And, predictably, my mind now has a few seconds to spare to race towards “what if” scenarios. The area where I live is already in a state where bars, restaurants and schools are closed, and I’m afraid that even more stringent requirements may be enacted. My primary concern is about whether I’ll be able to keep my job and keep my house in functioning order. I’m mentally (not in reality) racing to the place on the path where I’m at the end of myself and have no idea how to proceed.

About a decade ago, when I began my current job, I moved across several states and had barely settled in when my then supervisor (thankfully not working at my job anymore) threatened to try to get me fired. I honestly believe her motivation was jealousy more than anything else; it is a long story. That experience was the closest I’ve come to “I’m lost without direction.” I dissociated to the point where I kept thinking I was dreaming and would snap in and out of glimpses of reality. I worked the way I’ve worked the past few days for months on end, doing everything I could to prove myself worthy (I also kindled a flame of burning hatred I carry to this day towards her). The experience scarred and traumatized me; the feeling of having put in decades of work and finally “arriving” and then being told it could all be taken from me without cause hasn’t left me. I didn’t learn anything from it because I did truly lose myself when the crisis hit; I became suicidal and a workaholic rather than comforting or being with myself through it.

I want to say to the terrified small parts of self who chorus their “what ifs” to me: I’ll be here with you in it if it comes again. I may lose my job, my house, my pup and my health (my four biggest worries), but I do not have to discard who I am if any of those losses occur. I have resources and I have coping skills that I did not have in the past. What do the little or young parts of self need to hear from you today? To which events in your life does your mind unconsciously cycle if you are feeling anxious, helpless or hopeless? What’s different about your life now than it was then?

All Together Now (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

Things are shutting down left and right where I live as daily cases of the virus that causes COVID-19 are doubling within a few days. As my coworkers, friends and neighbors and I deal with the situation, a singular experience is rising to the surface for me. This crisis isn’t personal, it’s global.

I cannot tell you how many times in my life I’ve dealt with a personal crisis and felt completely alienated from the happy, calm people around me whose lives seemed to be humming along perfectly while mine fell apart. There is such a lie at the heart of trauma–that. because our experience was unique, we alone have been ruined and bring ruin into our lives. I feel more energized and empowered than I have in months. It is because I can move away from a place of “I suffer alone” to “we’ve got this, how can I help.” I was made for this type of situation, and, because it has not yet involved an overwhelming amount of interpersonal conflict, I am not triggered by it.

The realness of the fact that I have a mental disorder, PTSD, rather than a personality flaw is becoming crystallized in my mind. Sure, I’m not coping perfectly and have had mood swings and trouble sleeping. But, I am not feeling helpless or hopeless. I am attacking the challenges that face me instead of crumbling underneath of them, and it is happening in large part because almost everyone around me is validating that this is a crisis and that we are here to support each other in it. How different would my everyday life be if people responded to my PTSD with support and care and took my triggers as legitimate?

Underneath of all of this is a feeling of being a real human for once, rather than a cobbled-together set of traumatized parts trying to masquerade as a real person. I feel more adult, more helpful, more reassuring and more kind than…I don’t know when. Apparently all it takes is absolute chaos, danger and a global pandemic to realign my interior into an optimally-functioning collaborative. If you are a trauma survivor, especially one who deals with dissociation, how are your parts holding up right now? What reorganization is occurring? What inner truths are rising to the surface?

The Interior of Loneliness (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

It feels like my life is somewhat imploding currently, mostly due to ongoing problems at my job. I’ve written about feeling as though I can’t avoid the inevitable collapse of my defenses and strategies for avoiding a breakdown. Today, I went to my primary care doctor and spent half the time crying about the state of affairs in which I find myself. Where I ended up at was articulating how little social capital I feel that I possess–how few people and related resources I have when the chips are down. I’m both lonely and alone.

My loneliness is not rooted in feeling a lack of feeling deeply connected, rather, it is more foundational to what it means to be a “social animal” as humans are. In other lives, I would have been cast out of the tribe or burned as a witch or left without a defender when the enemy arrived. I’m an outsider not the 80’s teen movie version where the outsiders join up and rebel, but in a way that leaves me truly isolated. In my weakest moments, I wish I’d been born with less capacity for insight and self-reflection, because I think my ability to recognize how differently others hold intimacy as compared to how I do makes what I lack all the more painful. I’m missing both the ability to feel safeness within closeness as well as the ability to receive what others offer in terms of intimacy.

Today, I have no solutions and no advice to myself or anyone like me. I don’t know how to fix it and I felt insulted and misunderstood when my doctor pushed medicine to “reduce stress.” As far as I’m concerned, there isn’t a pill to allow a person to love and be loved; it’s rooted in attachment and hard to change. I guess as we approach a day of which I’m not very found, I will have to content myself in knowing that my loneliness and alienation are real, they have consequences in my life and that all I can offer myself is compassion in sitting with the difficulty of those emotions. Do you relate to any of the thoughts and feelings I’ve shared? If so, what has helped you feel compassion for yourself in this space?

At the Edge, With Helplessness and Hopelessness (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

It is not a good day for my capacity to feel optimistic and bright. My attempt to get accommodations at my job is beginning to look like I am going to be retaliated against or, at the minimum, discounted. I could not sleep last night and now have no appetite. In the face of this situation, I need to take some time to access my inner world.

I feel helpless and hopeless. I gotten to this place many times before in my life, but have often failed to label what I was feeling in the moment. I would get stuck on the external threat, perseverating on how to mitigate it, and would ignore all of my internal processes. After several hours of frantically searching the web exploring my next steps, I saw into my inner world and noticed how much each part of me was scattering in every direction at once. I could not calm or come back to myself at all until I acknowledged the state I was in. I’m feeling trapped, alone without anyone to help me bear the burden and worried that even more devastation lies–unpredictably and uncontrollably–ahead.

I fear that I’m at the edge of the crevasse I’ve done everything in my power to avoid, the place where I lose my job, my home, my healthcare and anything else that provides a semblance of normal life. I’ve never asked for accommodations because I feared doing so would lead to this outcome. Logically I know I’m many, many steps from this dire fate, but the landscape feels tilted towards my inevitable demise. That is what helplessness and hopelessness look like to me–drifting from “functional human” into an animalistic state where moment-to-moment physical survival is my only focus. Openly acknowledging the effects of my trauma feels like a direct portal into reliving it writ large.

The few responses available to me when I feel helpless and hopeless center primarily on either engaging in a fight for control or on surrendering in acceptance of my fate. The “be louder” side won last night as I spent hour after hour complying a list of questions and additional documentation for my employer. I won’t get any clarity for a few days at the minimum, and my energy is flagging quickly, collapsing into “come what may.”

The ledge I perceive to be closing quickly has never left me ever since I came to terms with my childhood trauma and ended contact with my parents. I knew living my truth meant I could lose at winning or fail at succeeding at life; I knew I had to take that risk over denying what they’d done to me in hopes of having a “backup” plan. I’ve sworn up and down I’d die on the streets before I’d let them back in my life and I mean it as much today as I did the first day I said it.

Rage starts overtaking me when I sit too long in this place. They (my parents) irreparably broke my mind and the thin lines of glue with which I’ve managed to cobble together a person are yielding to the pressures of my life. I’ve come to a razor’s edge but I’ve never been hospitalized or taken off any significant amount of time because of my disability. I’ve walked and ran and scampered to stay back from the ledge and I’m so, so tired of fighting for a foothold. I feel like I literally asked my job for one g-d extra rope to help me stay secured, and all that’s happened is I’ve slipped further towards the breach. I’m sure if I fall in, people will suddenly, magically gain an ability to see my struggles, all while totally and utterly failing to account for the shoves downward they gave me and the shrugs they offered when I extended my hand in desperation.

Let me, come hell or high water, not be a bystander to someone else’s helpless and hopeless moments, even if all I can do is point them towards available resources. That’s all my suffering ever teaches me, how to not add to other peoples’ struggles. I have no greater insight into when to fight and when to yield, or how to avoid my personal pit. How do you handle feeling helpless and hopeless? What feels like your personal “worse case scenario” in life, and how do you cope with its existence? What are some resources you use to keep from going over the edge into despair?

Lessons Learned (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

Today’s card invited me to consider what I have learned from a mistake I’ve made. What sprung to my mind, based on current issues I’m facing, is that I’ve lived “as-if” at times in my life to my own detriment. Specifically, I’ve muddled my way through life as if I do not have a disability, when in fact I do.

I am in the process of applying for accommodations at my job due to my PTSD. I do not know if they will be granted or not, but I recognize in coming to the point where I need to request them that I have finally accepted that I am significantly affected by my mental health condition. I am not doing “fine.”

For over a decade, I’ve lived in a shadowland of feeling completely overwhelmed emotionally but also terrified that the shaky progress I’d made towards autonomy would instantly collapse if I asked for mercy for any reason. I’ve been driven further into the fog by experience after experience where I’ve conveyed my limitations in personal relationships, only to have them be completely ignored or used to harm me. I’ve little faith that institutional mechanisms will prove more reliable, but I have to at least try to seek them.

I feel weak and pathetic for not being able to muster the resolve to defeat my demons, as if where I’m at in terms of functioning is a choice I get to make. It’s as if I’ve run non-stop for almost 15 years and yet continue to question why my knees are bone-on-bone. As though I’d chose this life if presented alternatives without PTSD.

My mistake has been not only in living without accepting my limitations, it has also been in believing my situation to be feast or famine. I kid you not, my conception of my world is one where I work as a professional and make a solid income or one where I’m homeless, with no room for possibility in between. Prior to the last few weeks, I honestly never considered attempting to get accommodations, as I figured my only alternative, if I could not manage anymore, was to quit my job. I question which other areas of my life I hold in the same untenable perfect-ruined dichotomy.

Are there any areas of your life where you live “as-if” and struggle to accept the true nature of your situation? What would it look like to face reality? Are there any gradients available between “all is well” and “it’s gone to hell” in the issue with which you are dealing?

Appreciating the Absurd (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

I struggle as a person with the false belief that the events of my life are completely under my control. In my worldview, planning, due diligence and attention to detail can surely prevent all catastrophes. Although there is certainly wisdom in forethought, I acknowledge that massive efforts to wall off any possible harms comes at its own cost, and that some circumstances are truly out of our control. In addition to the unknowable, mistakes happen even when we try to avoid them. I decided to take a bit of time today to recall the humor that can come with such situations.

One of my most poorly planned driving errors (of which there are many) occurred when I was in college. It had snowed significantly the night before and the sunniness of the day belied the amount of precipitation that had accumulated. I entered a complicated intersection of two roads which offset each other. Somehow, in my brilliance, as I tried to find a parking spot, I decided to make a three-point turn. I unfortunately drove directly into a snow bank in order to do so. I have no idea why I thought I could just pop into it for a second and then retrieve myself. I immediately became hopelessly stuck and blocked multiple lanes of travel, as I was now perpendicular to the curb. A few people eventually jumped out of their cars and angrily pushed me out of the snow. It was my total confidence as I drove into the snow that has always stuck with me, a “this is fine and will work” attitude that failed to consider in any way the physical realities of my situation that makes me laugh.

Another mistake came at a thrift shop, I believe a year or two after the first story. I wore dresses and skirts at the time but was very lackadaisical about shaving my legs (a preference that makes more sense in light of my realization that I am trans and non-binary). I found a skirt that I thought was cute and attempted to try it on. It wouldn’t fit over my pants so I took them off. It still wouldn’t fit (at this point, the lesson is to give up), but I forged on by straining it, one arm at a time, over my head. I was wearing it finally, but could only move it a foot or so up and down my torso. This was before cell phones were popular so I had no way of calling anyone for cover. Were this to happen today, I would walk out and explain my dilemma. I was much more easily shamed at the time, so I felt there was no solution other than to force it from my body. After several minutes of straining, I finally got a handle on it enough to rip it a bit and pry it off of myself. Even though it caused me immense guilt to do so, I ended up leaving it in the dressing room as I was too embarrassed to admit I got stuck in it. The mental image of tangling my way through mismatched clothing makes me crack up, especially in light of the ridiculous lengths to which I went to trap myself in a piece of clothing.

I have many, many more stories of stupid actions I’ve taken. Before jolting off on a new adventure (which these days often involves an attempt at DIY repair), I often ask myself “Is this how I die?” mostly but not fully in jest. The importance of being able to make a fool of and laugh at one’s self cannot be over-estimated as both a coping skill and a check to arrogance. What is a ridiculous scrap into which you’ve gotten yourself? What about it strikes you as funny? What lesson, if any, did you learn from it?

When We Fail (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

Are the endpoints of success and failure the only way to encapsulate our life experiences? This is a question I am considering for today’s Daily Remembrance. In contemplating ways in which failures have helped me grow, I believe one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to look at the largest possible framework in any given situation. (Content warning for discussion of eating disorders below).

What may feel like a personal failure often looks quite different when we take the broader context into consideration. I did poorly on a science fair project in high school. I was extremely embarrassed and ashamed of myself when this happened, to the point that it held me back in my future career. The main reason I did poorly was that I did not stay after school and work with a teacher on it. I failed to do this because I had an eating disorder at the time and was near collapse by the end of the regular school day. Had I received the treatment I needed and been supported in my healing, perhaps I would have been more successful.

I also believe “success” is relative. Success in the situation I described above might have been me working through the underlying trauma that led to my eating disorder, science fair be damned. In a lot of situations, someone “succeeding” on the outside by garnishing money, fame, connections, and so forth comes at a high personal cost. Those who “fail” to do so are often hampered by systemic imbalances that are out of their control.

I believe the freedom to choose what we want as our end goal is one of the most important freedoms we have. Disavowing popularity and financial riches as the ultimate measures of goodness or happiness or whatever can enable us to feel gratitude for what we are able to experience. Whether our success is individual or communal, disengaging it from consumerism and competitiveness would likely serve many of us well.

Where I struggle is in making my end goals affirmative rather than avoidant. If I’m honest, I often gear my actions towards “feel the least amount of stress possible” rather than “fully live in each moment.” Every stressor then becomes a failure, rather than each experience of presence being a success. I awoke yesterday and wrote a poem to the snowy morning. This action was incredibly powerful as I contemplated what it would be like to fill my mind with the abundance of the times I can both be and do with joy rather than the times I have to dissociate and survive. What are your end goals? How do you define success and failure? What has a past failure taught you?

Self-Reflection on Injustice (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

Today’s Daily Remembrance card asked me to ponder what I’ve learned from experiences of injustice. I think that there is a primary lesson that I have absorbed, which is mostly in terms of how I want to treat others. I also believe this is a topic for which there is much left for me to learn.

The main injustices I’ve experienced in my life are profound experiences of betrayal. I was sexually abused by my father when I was a child (as well as a few other male relatives of his). My mother witnessed his abuse and did nothing to stop it. She abused me herself on one occasion. My faith community was not aware of my experience, but shaped my worldview to cause me to believe that I am the defective person because of the anger and bitterness I continue to harbor towards my family. Finally, many of my personal relationships have ended because I perceive the person to invalidate the fallout from the trauma I experienced and/or to dismiss the truth of who I am in various aspects of my identity.

As a result of these experiences, I’ve deepened my commitment to the following principles: (1) believing survivors, (2) educating myself about the needs of people who are oppressed and advocating for their rights and (3) working to have those to whom I have an obligation in terms of social roles (in terms of my job) and/or those who I deem to be safe people feel validated and treated with integrity. I also attempt to own my part in conflicts so that, even if I cannot continue in relationship with someone because they’ve betrayed my trust, they know that I do not hold them responsible for my own issues.

I suppose that part of the lesson I continue to need to learn in relation to injustice is to acknowledge that I feel extremely stuck when someone does not own their part in a situation and refuses to apologize to me. I don’t ask people for apologies as I think they are likely to be insincere, but maybe I need to try. I cling to anger far longer than the real-life situation dictates as a way to protect myself from feelings of grief and pain at being harmed. I am unsure of how to let go in situations where forgiveness cannot be offered because no responsibility was taken. The ownership I need to take here is: “I don’t know how to move past this because you haven’t seemed to recognize that your actions harmed me nor have you apologized for your part in this situation.”

The other aspect of experiencing injustice with which I continue to struggle is calling it out in the moment it happens. I recently had a friend act in a way I perceived as lacking gender inclusivity. I was able to share a response that stated my point of view in a palatable way, and immediately felt calmer when my friend responded in kind. I suspect that getting out my thoughts and feelings in the moment might allow the other person to correct course before more severe relationship damage has occurred. I tend to dissociate when these incidents happen which then often prevents me from doing so. That’s another place of ownership: “I responded from a traumatized place and wasn’t able to give you an opportunity in the moment to realize the effect your actions had on me.”

It feels so good to write out the sentences of taking ownership over my responses to instances of being hurt by another person where my betrayal-injustice buttons are getting pushed. I can imagine myself being better equipped to respond effectively to someone who said them to me if I had harmed them and had not come to terms with the harm I’d caused them. At the same time, I am immensely capable of feeling guilt and apologizing to people, so I don’t know that I need to hear these phrases as much as I need to utter them to others. How has injustice affected you in your life? What have you learned from it? What statements might help you address experiences of it in your life?

Questions Asked and Answered (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

For the Daily Remembrance prompt today, I drew a card that prompted reflection how spirituality has assisted me in healing. Where I went with this query was to focus on a big question I feel is unanswered in my life. I also decided to consider how my sense of spirituality impacts my response.

The largest unresolved question I have is whether the trauma I suffered as a child has permanently altered my capacity to have long-lasting and deep connections with others. If it has, I feel that I can give myself permission to decentralize relationships from my priority list. If it hasn’t, I feel that I need to keep striving for new and better relationships. “Can I heal my attachment issues” is really at the heart of it. I’m sure the answer isn’t yes or no, but probably somewhere in between. Actually, if I sit with it longer, “will I regret failing at relationships when I’m older” is what drives me into attempts to right my issues.

As I hold space for myself, what I come to understand is that I have a deeply-held belief about myself that I (mostly) do the best I can at any given point in time and that, in my crash and burn relationships, it was the other person who tended, more than me, to fail to take responsibility for their own healing and relationship skills. That’s what I believe on a cognitive level to be true, but emotionally I feel that I ruined everything because I have attachment problems.

My attachment problems certainly do not help relationships go well, but what actually goes on (especially the more I work on myself) is that others do not listen to or absorb my honesty about my limitations, and instead treat me as though I should not have them. They are incapable of setting healthy boundaries, apologizing for their behaviors or owing their role in a situation after triggering me, no matter how deliberate I am in explaining what went on inside me as a result of their actions.

I suppose the answer to what I’ll think when I get older about my relationship failures might be that I wish things had been better, but that I worked as hard as I could to stay true to myself and that it is all I could do. In looking backwards now, there are a few people I regret losing and ways of responding I’ve used that I see as immature, but I feel sorrow for myself in those moments, not anger. I’ve learned mightily from my personal failures about what not to do; I have not had enough successes, if I’m being truthful, to say that I’ve learned what to do.

My spirituality interfaces with these dilemmas in that it gives me access to my inner world, to the parts of me that are stuck in trauma, to the parts of me that want to fight everyone I meet and to the hopeful parts of me that believe kind people must exist somewhere. My embodiment and connection to nature ground me and give me the holding space people are, by and large, unable to provide for me. My appreciation for cycles, such as the sun and moon rhythms, allow me a framework for acknowledging the adaptations and changes that are inherent to life.

Collectively, my spiritual practices show me that I am not alone and that there is more to life than other people. In response to my question about whether my attachment issues can be healed, the sacred space I make for myself continues to provide the same answer: this isn’t the only question that matters. It is okay to ask other questions and to explore other types of connections. Maybe people won’t ruin or save me in the end; maybe life isn’t the type of experience to be won or lost based on how much love we’ve accumulated by the end or how many “try yet again” restarts we’ve attempted. Perhaps I’ll never fully resolve my trauma and my attachment issues and my failure to do so won’t be the final truth of which I’ll be cognizant. Maybe the smell of a puppy’s breath or the softness of dandelion fluff or the sound of birch leaves in a fall breeze are what I’ll cling to as life slips away and I’ll find the answer to questions I haven’t yet contemplated.

I would be so appreciate to hear your big questions, the types of things you circle back to again and again and feel like your life is dedicated to attempting to resolve. Do you ever question the question? It is would be mind-blowing to know if there is anyone who has a rich sense of an inner world but who doesn’t relate to life as a puzzle to be filled in. Finally, I would love to know how your sense of spirituality affects your responses.