Inner Complexity (In the Cards)

I brainstormed questions to my parts for a card for my In an Open Hand deck today; I have several left to create for the spring season. Today’s focus was about showing all sides of who I am. In reflecting on this theme, I was struck by the contradictions and nuances I’m finding in the unexpected expansiveness of being able to work from home.

From last August till this March, my mental health condition (PTSD) had been getting significantly worse, and I was struggling to find hope as I faced a seemingly unending series of triggers. Being able to disengage from face-to-face contact with people entirely has been a godsend to me, an experiment I never would have contemplated life would have enabled me to undertake. I’m “supposed” to be feeling lonely and anxious, but I feel calmer and happier than I have since last summer. My daily thought isn’t “when can I get back to normal life” but rather “oh shit, what am I going to do when I have to get back to normal life?”

I keep reminding myself that I’ve had more phone calls and text conversations and Zoom sessions than ever, so the feelings of peaceful relaxation may not be due solely to the change in the frequency of in-person interaction I’m having. I don’t know what it would be like if my internet and phone went out and I was truly alone with my thoughts, but I’m not convinced it would cause me immense suffering. Having to interact with people, especially in tense situations, causes me immense suffering.

The image that comes to mind is a broad path to the top of a mountain. I’ve managed to wander off of it and now the bridge across the stream it crosses has washed out, so climbing it is out of the question. I’ve meandered into a beautiful meadow filled with butterflies and tall grasses and a healing sun, and the shouts and commotion of “other people’s presence” are growing more and more distant. I’m no longer remotely convinced climbing the mountain of success through relationships and money holds any proximal or distant joy for me. I still require a sense of community, a sense of being a part of humanity, but what if I live it in my own garden and share my bounty in ways that work for me, rather than in a rigidly-defined and prescribed form?

There is still immense grief for others and the potential for my own losses in all of this; I’m not rose-colored in my meadow. I feel that finding my own place and pace is allowing me access to expressions of community and solidarity, instead of isolating me from them. Perhaps the best way I can say it is, more days than not (there was a notable exception), in the past two weeks I think I’ve come closer than I ever have to experiencing what it would be like to live without PTSD triggers constantly at the ready, and I love it and I don’t want to leave it. I never thought I’d have an opportunity to experience this side of things. I hope who I am inside can bundle the memories of this in a way that informs choices I make for myself in the future. What are you learning? What inner needs are making themselves known to you?

Creating a Safe Place (In the Cards)

Today’s card draw focuses directly on inner work, requesting insight into how communication among parts of self can be fostered as well as reflection as to what’s been learned and what’s still unknown. What I’ve decided to spend some time describing and designing is a vision of my internal dwelling. I’m currently listening to bands like Skald which I’m sure is influencing my imagery.

When I’ve dipped my toes into Internal Family Systems (IFS) or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) theories and therapies, I’ve gotten stopped immediately because I cannot internalize an externally-derived “safe place.” I will immediately start having flashbacks when led through this type of visualization. I think it has to with the extent of my trauma history and the fact that I have Dissociative Identity Disorder but I’m not certain as to what the cause is. I’ve therefore given up on this practice until lately, where my attempts at drawing and artwork have encouraged me to consider whether I can create my own mapping of a place of security and safety.

To start, I know I need water as that is the element to which I am most fully drawn. High stone cliffs with crashing waves, separating me from possible threats feel appropriate. Atop the land, then, which isn’t an island but is connected to a place resplendent with both mountains and valleys, lies the place I make my inner home. It’s a humble country village, with the sound of sheep and the hustle-and-bustle of daily life lived close to the land carrying through the corridors. Smells of freshly-baked bread and locally-grown fruit permeate the air.

Each part of me has its own dwelling which reflects their needs and skill sets. Some parts are scientists, using the latest technology to deduce the best ways to proceed in any situation. Some are defenders, constantly scanning for threats from high towers and in dark alleys. Others are engaged in healing, helping wounded parts recover from their injuries. The littlest ones are the ones who hold the trauma; they have soft beds and delicious foods and gardens and trees to explore as they grow. There are teenagers who have also been through trauma. They are the source of my creativity and are provided with a studio and art supplies to make manifest their inner gifts. They also slip into the woods and forests that surround the village to draw inspiration from the animals and plants that live there. In addition, there are the nurturers, the kind parental figures that sit with those who have been traumatized and provide comfort and space to process their tortures.

This inner world would be incomplete without villains. I have parts of who represent those who have abused, neglected and betrayed me. Those who wish death upon all of us to stop the pain. Those who want to hurt us as we’ve been hurt, believing it will somehow undo the past. Parts who criticize without mercy as a way of keeping us safe from external critics. Those who desire revenge and who hate others with the same level of hatred which I’ve experienced.

I don’t think, underneath it all, that I am a bad or evil person, despite all these in-dwellers who would seem monstrous or dangerous. They are my inner mercenaries, policing both my internal and external relationships and administering “justice” to their satisfaction. They have mostly come to an armistice with the other villagers and instead are deployed in response and reaction to those in the external world who wish us harm. The image that keeps popping into my head is that of an immune system; they treat others as invaders who must be repelled at all costs.

My inner world does not take kindly to strangers and does not welcome visitors to the village. Almost all who we’ve tried to allow in only want to interact with the healers, the scientists and the nurturers, depriving us of the healthiest parts of self for their own benefit without meeting us in kind.

My inner world is good at exiling people; we cast them outside the farthest reaches of the village and act as though they no longer exist in our presence if they harm one of us. This may feel like the “silent treatment” to those on the receiving end, but, given the type of hatred of which we are capable, it is the safest method of defense we have. There is very little forgiveness between us and those who spoil their visit because they do not admit their behavior or attempt to make amends. Instead, they protest the whole journey to the wasteland, expecting us to act like one of us wasn’t harmed or that it was our fault that it occurred. We prefer to keep any who come to see us now only at the outskirts, trading wares without revealing much else. This doesn’t mean, unfortunately, that all parts are content to be entertained by each other only, so the dilemma is not yet resolved. This is the unknown.

I started this post attempting to discuss what a safe place might look like for me. It may seem that I’ve strayed from this goal but in fact an inner world without defenses is anything but safe from those who violate our boundaries. It is not possible to bond with everyone we meet or to form deep connections without a respect for each other’s inner experiences. Someone without access to or who is in denial of all parts of self is also unsafe as they will ignore their own “villagers” running rampant and causing havoc and will only focus on the defenses the other person is deploying in response. I own my shit and people keep using that as a way to avoid their share of the problem instead of taking advantage of that space to reflect on their own role in situations.

The imagery of my inner world that I’ve created is helpful to me in understanding why I can be very brave at times as well as extremely reticent and avoidant in others. To what extent do you have insight into the parts of self you possess that influence your thoughts, feelings and behaviors? How much communication exist among your parts? How do you hold space for parts with different agendas and views of the world?

Practice Mindfulness (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

As a person with dissociation, complex PTSD and a significant trauma history, being present in my own body has proven an elusive task. Mindfulness meditation and related practices are by far the most grounding techniques I’ve encountered. I believe that the best in life is found in the present moment, if we can engage it simply as it is.*

For today’s Simple Pleasure experience, I lit a few candles and sat in front of my altar. My dog decided to accompany me, which was a good challenge in managing distractions. I started by centering myself on my breathing and then began to attend to each sense, one at a time, experiencing what I heard, smelled, felt and finally saw.

In the dim light, there were many items glittering, including a few geodes that I’ve collected. Their sparkle in the candlelight, flickering in and out, brought me back to my breath as well as to my inner body, including areas such as my circulation and digestive system. I sat with each for a few moments and scanned my body from head to toe, returning to the breath any time I felt distracted. I felt surrounded by a golden, healing warmth.

I lived the first few decades of my life with almost no access to what my body was experiencing, other than to protest its malfunctions and pain. I still feel awestruck when I take time for mindfulness and realize how many inner worlds remain unexplored. I do not want to bend each one to my will, rather, I want to sit with myself until every part of who I am that wants to gets a chance to find the warmth and presence of my inner community.

*There is a lot to unpack in this statement that I will leave to another post. Moments of trauma are the one place where I think it really falls short of applying, but, in other types of experiences, including not only connection and excitement but also the daily grind and minor frustrations, I think it holds.

Today’s Simple Pleasure: Lighting a Candle

Today I drew the “Light a candle” card from my “Simple Pleasures” card deck I created with the intention of bringing a moment of joy into each day. I chose to light a candle I had made several months back out of soy flakes, rose essential oils and rose petals. I sat at my altar in a dark room and watched the candle flicker. As my breathing slowed, I felt closed-in and bathed in warmth. This led me to draw a few cards from various decks which portrayed a message of going inward. This time of year is where I tend to feel my energy shifting inward. A strong need to release anything unnecessary in order to fit into the small space the coming bitterness of winter requires for safety and comfort rises in me.

I drew my attention back to the candle and noticed that not only was the candle flickering, but the shadows its light cast were also shaking and sparking in and out with the movement of the candlelight. This pull to dive down into our depths is not only to find new bursts of energy but is also a call to spend time with our shadow-selves, the parts of self with which we’d rather part ways. The darkness in the room in which I sat, lit only by a single candle, mirrors for me the fullness needed to find our inner caverns and make our home amongst the wilds of our heart. What is calling you inward today?