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?

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.

Tend to Your Own House First (In the Cards)

Today’s card draw focuses on closeness and intimacy. This topic is highly charged for me right now, but I want to give it attention. One of the queries associated with the card is to consider what needs to be healed in relation to connection.

As I sit with it, what comes to mind is a desire, both inwardly and in relationship, to be taken seriously not only for my strengths as a person, but also for my limitations, scars and disabilities. I have had so many people in the last decade clamor to me because I am organized, dedicated and empathetic. They have no qualms about seeking my advice or assistance when they are struggling. However, when it comes to my weaknesses showing through, they act like spoiled children who didn’t get the extra toy they wanted, failing to give me the space and grace I need to work through my reactions on my own timetable when I feel betrayed and misused, and instead pressuring me to take care of their feelings at the cost of my own integrity.

I want to start by offering myself as much time and energy as it takes to come back whole after I’ve been treated in a faithless and harmful way, without having to justify to myself why I deserve to be treated with more care and consideration. I want people in my life who are mature enough to hold space for me–to send me the message I’m here when you are ready to talk–instead of treating me like they have an unassailable right to my friendship and loyalty. These hypothetical people look after their own internal world rather than thrusting the disemboweled contents of their inner wreckage on me the minute they are told they’ve violated my trust.

One of the most powerful stands I ever took was to tell someone who wouldn’t respect my boundaries “I know you need a friend to help you through this, I’m just not that friend.” The message I want to send in these situations is: Don’t harm me and then expect me to help you through my reaction of distancing myself from you due to your harm. Take responsibility to get yourself right just like I’m doing.

I can work with people who see me for what I am, someone who has experienced a tremendous amount of childhood trauma, who has few social resources on which they can rely, and who is doing their best with the limitations they have. I am uncompromising in my loyalty to myself; I made the choice when I was about 25 that, come hell or high water, I would never again make myself subservient to anyone, no matter the cost. I won’t ever forget the terrifying feeling of freedom that rushed through me after that decision–the self-ownership I suddenly possessed has been worth the price.

There is nothing I can do to prevent myself from feeling mistreated and betrayed; it is baked into my brain as what happens in close relationships. All I can hope for it is to continue to prove myself trustworthy to myself in treating myself with kindness when it happens, to being honest with others about my limitations, and to holding out the slightest of hopes that some people will enter my life in this new decade who are more mature and capable of meeting me where I am. What do you feel you need for healing? What is most important to you in developing closeness? Where does connection happen?

The Right Distance (In the Cards)

Today’s draw from my In an Open Hand deck invited reflection on taking a risk and considering next steps. In coming to a place of being much more deliberate in how I spend time with others, I realize that the social situations that I would most like to experience would be those that somehow combine present-moment awareness and self-contemplation alongside sturdy boundaries that lower the chances of me feeling unsafe in regards to PTSD triggers. I would say that I have one recurring group in which I participate in which I mostly experience this, but I would like more.

I spent several minutes in contemplation while writing this and what came to me is how hard I have to work to manage my interactions with others. My threat-detection system is so tightly-calibrated that it is set off by the slightest boundary incursion. Whenever it isn’t being activated, my “oh shit I said the wrong thing now they won’t be my friend anymore” self-criticism script starts running.

The entire experience feels like being boxed in on a field with lines set to buzz if crossed on all sides (into the next person’s space), and the other people and I are constantly tripping them, startling me and sending all my mental efforts towards resetting the playing field whilst everyone else seems oblivious to what is afoot.

Where I feel safest is when everyone is (figuratively) sitting in their own spot, calmly engaging from a safe distance that does not conjure feelings of abandonment or attack. Something in being fully present allows for this, but I have no idea how to create or locate this type of encounter in a setting that includes casual conversation. It likely isn’t a realistic desire either–people move about relationally and “healthy” people are able to negotiate their boundaries.

I got so angry internally at a coworker recently when I tried to explain to him why a leadership position wouldn’t work for me. He kept insisting I would be good at it, as if too much self-doubt was the reason for my resistance. My PTSD is the whole way debilitating; I feel like no one except my therapist has any g-d clue that I even have it at all no matter what I say or do.

Basically, in casual settings, I have to sacrifice any internal semblance of calmness and safety in order to make it through. I find myself fantasizing about having a group of friends where I could literally scream “trigger” whenever they set off the buzzer, and they would act in an apologetic and reassuring way and “back off” in the moment. I physically isolate myself because of how suffocated I feel in most social encounters. People aren’t pawns and I can’t move them to the distance I need, so I cast them out entirely when there are too many hits to my system.

I trigger others’ abandonment fears much more than their “you’re too close” issues because of the way I’m calibrated.* I respect their boundaries and tend to tip-toe up to any possible touch-points and (sometimes) apologize if I feel I’ve overstepped. I don’t feel badly for leaving people because I would much rather be left than invaded.

This is the inner world I know I have. I explain it to friends. I warn them about how I work. I do everything I can to educate them as to my triggers. And it is nearly always for naught as they lack either capacity or care to work with my system as it stands.

I think shifting my focus off of trying to resolve these dilemmas onto finding places where there is a natural distance held within the setting (to whatever extent these spots exist) and onto what I can offer myself is the only rational response. I cannot keep resetting the field and believing that this play will be the one that leads to perfect balance and no lines crossed. I get that exposure helps reduce the intensity of triggers for most people, but my triggers aren’t primarily fear-based so, in my case, it only makes it worse. I owe no one a g-d explanation for why my steps look side-ways or off-track when I’m simply trying to find a quiet place to sit and contemplate in peace. I think the next time I’m pressed, “I’ve explained my mental health issues to you as much as I’m willing to” is going to be my go-to. How do you hold boundaries with others? Is it harder for you when others get too close or too far? How do you find your peace?

*If you are finding yourself relating to this on one side or the other but aren’t sure what to call it, I would describe it as representing attachment styles. Complex PTSD can be related to attachment trauma. I would describe myself as having moved from a disorganized/unresolved attachment style towards an insecure-avoidant/dismissive one. I tend to attract insecure-ambivalent/preoccupied people as friends which only compounds my problems.

A Still Trust (In the Cards)

I selected the Ground card from my In an Open Hand deck. This card invites one into a sitting meditation, focused on noticing one’s experience during stillness. A settled presence is, for me, an invitation to trust and connect.

My childhood relationships with key figures involved a complete lack of stillness. There was either distance or an unpredictable swinging between being overrun and being abandoned or shut out. There was no stable, kind, present adult.

I hold as an image of Divinity an image of a huge figure resting in meditation. Seated in gentle, loving presence, unhurried and unbothered by the wildness of my heart. Able to withstand my inability to connect and to love. I can come and go and still he,she,they remains, willing to simply be with me as I need them to be.

I believe each of us is able to offer this presence to ourselves and to others, if we make regular our engagement in meditation and in simply being rather than doing. One question my card asks is what stands up when I sit, and I would say what rises up in that moment of sacred presence is connection. How much I long for real experiences that mirror this inner world! Perhaps that is what “church” would look like for me, simply being with others in the flow of Divine Presence. How do you feel in the presence of stillness (your own or others)? What comes up for you when you spend time in silent meditation?