Chronic Illness, Asexuality & Spirituality cont.

 

It took me awhile to come out as an asexual.  Couple a Christian, conservative upbringing where the options really are only gay or straight, and gay=bad and a chronic illness.

As my health started to improve, I started to do some deeper questioning, research and I found AVEN.  After several days of perusing the website here and there, claiming the label asexual just felt right to me.  It made sense and I felt a little more at ease.

I told a few individual people about my asexuality and that was helpful, but in general I was not open about it because in general I am straight-passing, and with that comes a lot of assumptions can just be maintained.  I had to recognize how deeply I identify with the privilege that straightness provides.  I also just wasn’t ready yet.

Yet, as I started the New Year as delved more deeply into breath work and writing, as well as new friendships and healing practices emerging in my life, I knew that I was hiding a deep, vital part of myself that ultimately wasn’t that healthy for me.

That for me, for speak more freely about being an asexual would lead to greater wholeness.  That to write about asexuality would allow me to reveal a huge aspect of my life, and speak to a part of my identity that could easily be overlooked or misunderstood.

Again my illness, asexuality, and spirituality intersect and inform one another in beautiful ways.

Without my chronic illness, I would not have slowed down.  Most likely, I would have kept pressing harder and harder, without much reflection, conforming to gain others’ acceptance.  I probably would have been successful, yet extremely hollow inside.  I would have traded in substance for superficial acceptance.

Slowing down actually was an avenue for exploring, for creating a new normal.  Of course sometimes this new life caused so much grief, and I was wondering about what I was missing out on.  Yet on some days, I actually adored the silence.  During those seasons of unemployment, time would slowly go by, but I would go on a walk, go grocery shopping, make meals, shower, and read.  I made it my goal to meaningfully interact with at least one person a day, either in person or on the phone.  Yet on some days, I wouldn’t really talk to anyone all day.  There was a unique loneliness to that season and yet, I was learning to sink deeply into myself.  I could keep myself company; and some days I preferred it.

A new spiritual ground was being laid for me, and I didn’t even know it.  I relished rest, gentle exercise, steady friendship, lighting a candle.  My prayer life was simple, short phrases like “Help me.”  “I’m tired again” or “I hope today is better than yesterday.”  I was especially aware that without gratitude,  I would shrivel up.  My journals from this time highlight a list of 10 things I was grateful for each day, that I would fill out before I went to bed.

I had a new awareness of life; it was like I was becoming a child again.  I paid attention to everything: the pace at which people walked, if they made eye contact, if they actually enjoyed the food they were eating.  I was grateful for the air, the flannel sheets, being able to stand up in the shower without getting tired.  Today, I look at those journals and weep in gladness–for my illness and my re-emerging gratitude for life–absolutely saved my life.

During this time, was also the first time I read Kathleen Norris.  I absolutely loved her.  I read Acedia & Me during Lent, and I relished her description of the monastic world.  I let myself wonder why I resonated so deeply with silence and contemplation. And also during this time I  told myself, “I could be single in this life, meet all of my own needs, and be happy.”  (I don’t think it’s ironic that I said this when I was deeply sick either…)  After Acedia & Me, I read Amazing Grace–and I said, “I don’t want to be a nun–but why do I think that I could be?

Side note: Celibacy & asexuality are not the same thing!  Asexuality simply means that the experience of sexual attraction does not exist, where celibacy is a choice.

Yet, my longings were surfacing for a deep liturgy, a spiritual experience marked by contemplation in community.  As I started reading some of the white female contemplatives of the medieval church, I noticed a correlation between their spiritual practice and most of them had chronic illnesses.  Their work deeply resonated with me.  I had found some companions on this inner journey of solitude, and reckoning with what my longings actually were.

 

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

 

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Arrogance or Bravery?

While sitting in meditation last week, I thought of this David Whyte poem.  It was meditation, and so I let the thought go, but then it came back to me later that day.

Sweet Darkness

When your eyes are tired

the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone

no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark

where the night has eyes

to recognize its own.

There you can be sure

you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb

tonight.

The night will give you a horizon 

further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.

The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds

except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet

confinement of your aloneness

to learn

anything or anyone 

that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

What struck me is that on a surface level, this poem can seem quite arrogant.  It’s a poem of struggle, retreating into solitude, and realizing that you should only spend time around people that make you come alive.  (Does that make someone smart or extremely avoidant?!)

Upon deeper investigation though, this poem is about letting go.  Being alone in the quiet and seeing what’s left.  It’s about figuring out who you are, when you are willing to rip away all the masks.  It’s about knowing you are deeply loved.  It’s about learning to befriend yourself; and to stay true to yourself.  It’s about knowing what is yours to do and what isn’t.  It’s about knowing who your people are; and what people aren’t.

Somehow aloneness becomes a sweet confinement.  The silence rips away all pretense–and you can no longer be a good version of yourself.  You must be your true self.  You must put away all the good things (especially the good things other people want you to do!)–and only long for the best.

This is a beautiful poem for Lent.  “The world was made to be free in.”

These words have been a great support over the last week, as I’m coming to understand what it means for me to give up conformity for Lent.  For me it means hearing the whispering voice say, “What do you want?”  It’s responding honestly to that question.

It means paying attention to when I feel like I have to make someone else in the room comfortable–and realizing where this impulse is coming from.

It means entering into deep rest, remembering that I don’t exist just to serve other people.  It means knowing that I’m worthy.  Worthy of every good thing.

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I excelled at a young age, both academically and athletically.  I was smart, yet practical.  I didn’t quite fit the dumb blonde stereotype.  I beat all the boys when we would race at recess.  I remember having a realization while I was still in elementary school that I intimidated people.  I had strong strengths, but I didn’t like the effect this had in a group.  I would either shrink to make people feel comfortable, or avoid certain people if I wanted to act like myself.

I took on other people’s insecurity.  And over time, I didn’t know what was my energy or what was someone else’s.

I didn’t know this dynamic existed while I was still running and was successful.  I started to realize it when my health started deteriorating, when I could no longer hide behind my external achievements.  I knew then that actually my interior life was empty as well; I thought that I was what I could accomplish, but I was very wrong.

Even when I got sick, people would tell me, “You have such a good attitude” or “I don’t know how you persevere the way you do.”  I would smile to be polite and to make them comfortable–because when you are sick, you are very aware of how your existence makes people very uncomfortable.  I would muster some energy that I didn’t really have to say something trite like, “Well, I do the best that I can.”

Deep down in my bones though, I was tired of my over-responsibility, still trying to make other people in the room comfortable even when I was really sick.

Why?  I wanted to feel like I belonged.  I confused conformity with belonging.  I chose to not remember the basic truth that at an elemental level, that we all belong to each other.

So in order to belong, I would do a lot of emotional labor for other people so they would understand my illness.  I short-changed their learning, so that I could feel understood.

I sought support primarily externally (although I did need this), to the neglect of my own internal support & those in my life who had taught me resilience. The harder work is the inner work.

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During this Lent, what I felt my body saying was, “No more.”

“Take responsibility for your own emotional wake-but that’s it.”

“Really see who you are in the silence.”

The woman that is emerging from this silence is strong and compassionate.  She knows that her strength and compassion are nestled in her own body.  She is in touch with her intuition, and realizes when anxiety creeps in, that she is out of line with herself.  She gives to others, but also gives abundantly to herself.  She recognizes that the price of discovering oneself is misunderstanding and increased conflict–yet knows that the risk is worth it.  Rather than being afraid of her fatigue, she listens to it, for she knows that in it contains much wisdom.  She takes deep breaths, expressing gratitude for the life source that sustains her.  She knows that her power lies in letting go–only which is hers.

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Here I am.  In the present, as a strong woman.  Yet this time, one who knows her inherent worth and dignity.  I’m no longer the 8 year old on the playground-although that girl is still in me.

So is it arrogant or brave to step into the silence, with all of my gifts, with all of my hard-won wisdom?  Is it arrogant or brave to rest, both alone and in community, in order to give my best self to the world?

Is it arrogant or brave to leave places or people that do not make me come alive?

Is it arrogant or brave to speak truth to power?

Is it arrogant or brave to wander until you know where you are to put down roots?

I say brave, although of course the flip side is that the ones who feel rejected, say arrogant.  Yet, that’s not mine to worry about, is it?

 

Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash

Embracing Aloneness

For Lent this year, I gave up conformity.  I didn’t really know how this would play out.  All that kept coming out of my therapy sessions was that I’ve spent my life conforming–and I was exhausted, and done.  I needed to be done to reclaim my health & my worth.

One particular moment has kept coming to my mind off and on for the last month.  I was 8 years old, and I was in my room, probably writing at my desk.  My dad comes to ask me if I wanted to run at the State Track Championship, and I said no, even though I had just won all my races at a pretty big meet.

It was my last big intuitive moment I remember as a kid.  I knew that competitions made me anxious; I didn’t really like them.  I loved running and I loved practice, but I could do without the competition.

I said no, because I knew that I wanted time.  Time to be free.  Time to be a kid. Time to play outside in the woods, barefoot.  Time to take walks and look at the stars.  Time to shoot baskets.  Time to write.  Time to jump on the trampoline. Time to run around with my dog.

I was a kid who needed spacious time.  I was a kid who needed time alone.  Just because.  Because I was worthy of that space.  Because I needed spaciousness to be my best self.  Because I always really resonated with that kind of silence and solitude.

The next year, I said yes to my dad’s request.  I decided to become a very competitive runner.  I attended the National Championships at age 9 for the long jump, and missed a National Medal by a 1/4 inch.  At age 10, I won a National Medal in the long jump down in Orlando.  These things weren’t bad in and of themselves. I made good friends.  I got to see different parts of the State and the country.  However, I did suppress the creative, intuitive part of myself.  I became overly responsible, dedicated, hard-working—all to achieve this dream of returning to the National Track Championships year after year.  For all of this, I received a lot of affirmation.

I didn’t play outside as much in the summer heat, because I had to reserve my energy for practice later that day.  I ate in particular ways and at particular times because of my practice schedule.  I was only 9 years old.

I didn’t know what was happening as a kid, but I do now.  That part of me that was shy and dream-like thrived in solitude.  I needed that precious time to imagine, to have no agenda, to just get lost in whatever I wanted to.  I liked being with others (or bossing my sister around!), but I also liked being alone.

I’m reclaiming this aloneness now.  I crave it, and I need it.  Being alone in silence gives me great refreshment & joy, and up until recently, I’ve buried that part of me.

Why?

I didn’t believe that I was worth it.  There are sneaky lies that creep up, both within myself, and the cultural structures around–that state in a myriad of ways that time for yourself is a selfish act.  That to invest in my own healing and self-care is isolationist and arrogant.

Especially as a woman.

For as a compassionate, intutive-empath, others knew that I was loyal.  That I would show up.  That I was true to my word.  That compassion though was not extended as much to myself, as I extended it to others.  And it became overbearing and exhausting.  But I didn’t know who I would be if I said no.

Because the thing is–my compassion and intuition are strong strengths of mine–and they are beautiful.  And they need to be balanced out with my strength and my boundary-setting.

I have given my own energy, way past what most people were giving in situations.  I have also taken on others’ energy as my own, for most of my life.

These last months of solitude for me have been about claiming my story, my version.  Not the version that someone else is telling.

It’s been about seeing the acts of caring for myself, as incredibly generous both towards myself and everyone around me.  See-we really are connected!

Me healing from my trauma in EMDR, is healing for everyone else that I come into contact with.

You see, I am healing for me–which of course affects everything.

I see clearly now, that to call self-care a selfish act is to believe that I am separate from everyone else when I take time for myself.  This simply isn’t true.

I may just be able to see myself and everyone else more clearly, when I ground myself in the present moment and let go.

Breathwork

 

It’s time that I finally write about this life-giving practice–and how it’s changing my life.

I encountered a deep form of breath work, through the instruction of a resident teacher named Beth this past summer. At this time, I was still very in-my-head.  I thought this breathing of 2 deep inhales, followed by one deep exhale all through the mouth while laying down was kind of weird.  I didn’t understand it (and that’s the point!)

To be honest, the side affects scared me.  I thought I would start breathing too fast.  My hands would start tingling, sometimes they would tighten up.  Sometimes my feet would fall asleep momentarily.  Many times I cried.  At first, my question was, “What does this mean?” although I came to learn and accept that all I was doing was moving stuck energy.  Also, breathing in this way could also be considered an active meditation.

I kept practicing once per week on my own.  I experienced some clarity, yet it became just another aspect of a self-care practice for me.  It was not yet a defining part of my inner work.

Beth left Indy, yet came back this winter.  I came to several of her group breath work classes, and it made me realize that I wanted to dig deeper.  I attended an individual session with Beth, where she invited me to try to practice this form of breath work daily.  Since the beginning of the year, breath work has become a key part of my emotional and spiritual care.

This type of breath work has guided me straight into my heart, into my intuition.  It helps me approach the unknown in my life with greater ease.  It is helping me to reach for compassion and forgiveness, while allowing me to explore my voice–and what I have to say.

Through breath work (and my work in Qigong, but that’s for another post!), I’m receiving messages that I never would have with just my rational mind.  I’m exploring intergenerational trauma and my purpose as someone who values justice and truth-telling.  I’m receiving so much gratitude for my journey, for the people who cross my path every day, and for the gifts even within my illness.

I’m watching some of my limiting beliefs melt away (not like magic, yet sustained breath work feels like a domino effect) and the effects on my health have been extraordinary.  My constant food cravings are gone, my energy is more constant, and the general energy moving through my body is more vibrant.   I’m experimenting with introducing more foods and it’s working!

My breath work practice is helping me to align more completely with my values.  I’m looking forward to more healing and more self-love that will transpire this coming year.

A Return to Rest

I need days of solitude.  I took a complete day off in solitude and silence this past weekend for the first time in 7 months.  Note to self: 7 months is too long.

I could feel my off-centeredness.  My body was aching from all the transition of my job, of moving, of my body reacting badly to this Indiana summer.

I needed silence.  Silence to feel what I needed to feel in a safe space.  To discern the questions that I’m asking in this season of my life. To dream and laugh, but to do so from stillness.

I needed community.  I’m realizing that as I continue to practice contemplative spirituality, it is not just a desire, but an actual need that I experience sacred silence with other people.  My soul longs for this, and I would be unwise to block this cry.

I needed to listen more intentionally.  I needed to block out other voices to listen to the voice that truly matters.  I needed to see all the ways I yearn for control and external affirmation.

In living with a chronic illness, I feel more connected to the Divine in a community of silence and stillness.  Why?  I feel like my body is welcome to feel however it feels.  My entire life with God can come to the forefront; my interior life with God matters.

To be honest, in my experience thus far, my female body in its illness, has been left outside the church.  I come back to this reality often, as my old ways of doing faith have been stripped away.

Some questions I got to ask this weekend included:

  • When does the church celebrate and esteem the weak Christ, except at the crucifixion?
  • If a main call on my life is to live gratefully in a weak, vulnerable, limited body-how do I re-engage with the church calendar in a way that resonates with my experience?
  • How do I want to address my experience of patriarchy and the unbalanced masculine?
  • Right now, do I need more solitude or community?
  • What are my deepest raw emotions surrounding the fact that I must choose a worshipping community somewhat based on the building it is in because of my mold sensitivity?
  • What has come of all the things I’ve said no to?  How has this made my spirituality more robust?

Maybe I will write more about these questions in the future.  For now, I’m just grateful I had a full day of spacious time to ask these pressing questions.  And to those of you reading, may you find time, in your own unique way, to ask your questions, even as they differ from the groups you are in.

Autoimmune Disease-Result of Neglecting Feminine Consciousness?

These thoughts I’m writing in this post have been in me for awhile; I just didn’t have the words.  I needed to wander around for awhile before things started to make sense.

I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s 2 1/2 years ago.  I dove into my healing with tenacity-my anger had a healthy place to be channeled.  The first many months revolved around lifestyle changes, doctor appointments, food prep and food reintroductions, and finding a supportive health community.  The first 6 months after my diagnosis I took care of myself full time.  I had no idea yet of how these practices were forming me.

After the physical changes seemed manageable, I dove into emotional healing–through spiritual direction, writing, therapy, yoga and meditation.  Finding friends who could compassionately listen to the fact that chronic illness takes a heavy toll on my body.  And being sick in a world created for healthy people is a daily challenge even on a good day.

What has taken the longest to articulate are the drastic spiritual shifts that have occurred.  No doubt that all these aspects are interconnected.  The combination of going back to therapy, starting a meditation practice, re-entering the world of bodywork as a patient, and writing publicly about my assault have launched me into the question, “Where is my intuition and vulnerability leading me?”  I don’t really know the answer to this question, but at least for now, I’m writing this post.  And this post speaks of the beginning of my journey into the Sacred Feminine.

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75% of those affected by autoimmune disease are women.  Researchers now know that in order to get an autoimmune disease, a “perfect storm” must present itself.  25% can be “blamed” on genes, yet 75% comes from a variety of environmental triggers-be it diet, leaky gut, a parasite or gut infection, stress, environmental toxins or mold.  Someone could have the genes for an autoimmune disorder, but not have the disease “turned on” because the gut micro-biome is in good shape.  (That is, my belief is that all autoimmune disease starts in the gut.)

The next question that surfaces is: “Could our lifestyle help these genes to not be “turned on” and have a full-blown autoimmune disease surface?

Well, if this is true, we have a lot of culturally pressures, that we must learn to resist, even if it feels almost impossible.  But generally what do we as Americans give into?

Our over-structured, over-scheduled pace of life.  Productivity.  Efficiency.

Stress.  Fear of Missing Out.  Accumulating Stuff.  Hiding Our Emotions.

Our body wasn’t meant to be this busy.  And people intuitively know this if they would be honest with themselves.  And this isn’t just about sick people.

We don’t know how to rest anymore.  And most of us, feeling hopeless, just assume we have to succumb to the busyness and connectedness of the world that isn’t going to change.

But I want to step back and say that the subconscious of our nation is toxic.  We have valued to the extreme, masculine ideals and neglected the feminine to our demise.  Pushing harder and doing more and making money isn’t ultimately fulfilling.  And my generation knows this.  We long for authenticity, for stories, for ritual, for meaning.


What aspects of the feminine consciousness have we neglected?

(And when I say feminine consciousness, this exists in everyone!)

We have neglected the earth, our bodies, rest, emotions, intuition, and friendship.

When we neglect the earth, when we decimate forests, when we throw chemicals on crops, when we mistreat animals, we endanger ecosystems, create contaminated soil (rotating crops and not just making corn for high fructose corn syrup would be a good idea!) and contaminated food.

When we neglect the body, we live in a dull, numb, and painful state.  We push too hard to be productive, to “make it” in today’s world, but we become deaf to our bodies’ cries.

When we neglect rest, we can no longer live in the moment.  We lose the ability to cultivate gratitude and to unplug from external and internal demands the mind is constantly making.

When we neglect our emotions, we hold in or lash out in anger, bitterness, and resentment. Forgiveness of ourselves becomes impossible.  Forgiveness of our enemy unthinkable.

When we neglect our collective intuition, we graduate smart people who have no empathy.  We have doctors who believe that many women in this nation are hypochondriacs.  We create a nation where many people suffer alone, because we don’t have guides of people following their intuition, or we don’t know how to find those people.

When we neglect friendship, work or family takes over.  Neither work or family are bad–yet we have more needs and desires than these.  We need different experiences.  We need to laugh.  We need people to keep showing up because they want to.


How do we wake up?

I feel like that question can only be answered in honest community, not just by reading this post and giving it a minute’s thought.  I’m confident though that in honest community, through stories and fights and listening, through prioritizing women’s voices-you might just find your way to an answer.  Investment will be involved though.

On a personal level though, I will speak of the practices that have been part of my “awakening.”

  • A mindfulness practice.  There’s plenty to pick from.  Choose one.  Stick to it.  Pay attention to the subtle changes.  Warning: no instant gratification here.
  • Yoga, or another form of mindful exercise that brings you into your body and out of your head.
  • Friendships with people who are open to growth and change.
  • Deep soul searching of ways we are harming the earth.
  • Listening to the answers to these questions:
    • What do I want?
    • Where do I hurt?

Having Hashimoto’s has shifted my spirituality in that I no longer have a choice whether or not I want to neglect my body or not.  So I’m letting my body speak, and I’m listening.  I’m integrating the feminine into my culturally-conditioned, unbalanced masculine soul.  I’m more willing to let my personal journey lead me into the unknown.

75% of people with autoimmune conditions are women.  That’s  a hard fact to come back to.  For in fact, the unbalanced masculine,  wanting to dominate nature has in fact harmed women most.  For women intuitively know that the health of the earth and our bodies are interconnected.

Yet if our collective longing is healing and wholeness, maybe then we will have enough courage to say, “We are all sick.”  Not broken, but in need of healing.  Maybe then we would lean on each other in friendship and tell our stories.  Speak of the evil in our own hearts and how we want to dominate the “other.”  Maybe then our relationships would be mutual, separated from roles of “giver” and “receiver.” Maybe we could learn to be quiet in community again, not needing to fix, but simply being present.  Maybe we could risk being awkward and breaking social norms.

Maybe, just maybe the swarms of chronically ill women in this country, as they commit themselves to healing–will be the wise healers, one of the most sought after female archetypes.

A Tribute to Female Healers

The topic of these next few posts is going to be my sexual assault at the hands of a female doctor. And yet first, I’m going to give you a glimpse of my healing. This post is a tribute to those in my life who act as female healers.

You see, when I was assaulted by a woman, it took some time to be able to go back into a healing environment and feel safe. And statistically, there are more women in healing professions. So I had some choices to make: Do I just select male doctors and counselors? Male yoga instructors and massage therapists and acupuncturists?

No doubt-some of these key people on my health care team are male. Yet, many are female.

I needed women healers to heal in certain ways emotionally and spiritually.

I needed nurturing touch by a professional that wasn’t sexual in nature.

I needed to be able to trust my voice and my body again.

I needed to be given choices and not feel weak or broken for saying “No.”

Yet it comes one step at a time. First during last Christmas break, I started going to yoga.

I found myself apprehensive with certain poses or in classes where there were not many people there. I had flashbacks for about the first month. I tensed up when an instructor would come and adjust my posture. You see, the woman who assaulted me had me do yoga in her office with classical music playing. The memory was just too vivid for awhile.

But I kept going back because I felt good. My mind was clearer and I was happier. I knew that I was healing in subtle ways one class at a time. I learned to be more grounded, to be present in the moment, and over time the memories of my assault faded. Not because I don’t remember the event, but because I can distinguish between the present and the past in real time.   Now I’ve been going to yoga for 7 months and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

Going to yoga helped me feel grounded enough that I could seek out a female therapist. I had read the book The Body Keeps the Score and it suggests yoga and EMDR for healing of trauma, particularly related to PTSD. I had a few sessions with her where we started EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) , before she called me telling me that she had to stop seeing me because she was going to take a leave of absence for health reasons. Yet in the first session, I knew that I could trust her. I could make eye contact and I knew that she believed me. I could speak honestly about how this was a big step for me to trust a different kind of female doctor. She agreed with me.

Once I had a little more time because I was not going to therapy every week or two, I decided to place my resources into seeing an acupuncturist and a massage therapist. I go to a pay-what-you-can acupuncture clinic in downtown Indy and the acupuncturist and I clicked immediately. We had a quick conversation about the health history form I filled out, and that I was receiving acupuncture for severe menstrual pain. She relayed that acupuncture is very effective for relieving menstrual pain, and that was the very reason she got interested in acupuncture in the first place. She always asked about what pain I experienced and gave me a few choices about where the needle should go based on how tender a particular area of the body was for me.

What she didn’t know was that I told the doctor who diagnosed me with Hashimoto’s about my menstrual pain at my first follow up appointment. He referred me to the physical therapist in his building who eventually assaulted me. With all the symptoms I have and I track regularly, menstrual pain could easily be edited out of my story. For awhile, in the early stages of acknowledging and feeling my own pain, I blamed myself for even relaying that symptom to my doctor in the first place. I told myself that if I hadn’t told him, I never would have been referred to the physical therapist. Yet as I healed and could acknowledge that it wasn’t my fault—I made the next hard step to be honest and not edit menstrual pain out of my story. In acknowledging each small piece of pain and fatigue, I let myself live with the intense longing for healing—that all in my body would be well.

Lastly, I had read research and heard testimonials about how empowering it is for a survivor to receive massage and feel “in your body” again. I was almost certain I wanted a male massage therapist. However, as I talked to one on the phone, I did not feel comfortable choosing him. Then I realized that what was more important to me than gender was that the therapist was trauma-informed. As I talked and emailed with several people, I finally found 1 woman who was a good fit. Before the massage, we sat down and talked. She asked about my goals for massage, that I had the right to stop at anytime or tell her to apply a different level of pressure. During my second visit, I was glad that she knew the affect of food sensitivity reactions on the body. I could tell that yoga and practicing centering prayer have helped me to stay present in my body—and those have helped regular massage be beneficial to me.

I’ve come a long way in 2 years, but it’s been a hard journey in many ways. There are many more to thank here than I can list. Thank you to all my friends who have listened, who have believed me. Being believed and feeling believed is one of the best gifts, although it’s subtle and isn’t given much attention. Thanks to those who track my symptoms with me, who read books and articles to understand even more. Thanks to those who have helped me move so that my living environment was more conducive to my healing. You are part of a much bigger story than loading things into a truck. Thanks to those who have made meals, talked on the phone, who read my blog.

Wisdom teachers say that gratitude is what overflows when you’ve gone deep and continue to deal with the ego, so that your true self can come forth. Thanks to all those who all those who cheer me on as I dig deeper, as I seek healing and transformation. And thanks to those who dig deep in your own life and because of this our paths have crossed.

Simple Questions

Last week I listened to a podcast, where the person being interviewed expressed that the words of her yoga teacher were still rattling around in her mind:

“How tender do you want to get? How soft do you want to become?”

Those words made me stop.

I want to be a person who can receive. Someone who can be present, accepting the simple moments as they come and go. I want to be able to be still myself, so I realize what I need and want, and not be so terrified of my fatigue.

I want others to know that they are so important, that I’m willing to get close enough so that they change me.

And yet I’ve lived enough to know that this vulnerability is costly.  My generation values authenticity and vulnerability and yet it’s hard to be the first person to speak, the person to say, “I’m not okay.”

These months have been ones of seeing myself more honestly, seeing my protective walls, and knowing that they don’t just come crashing down in a moment.  It’s more like a slow melting away.

Receptiveness doesn’t mean being a push-over, just as sacrifice means that one must first recognize that there is a self to sacrifice. Without a discerning eye, receptiveness could look like people pleasing and helping could be avoidance.

So I keep returning to stillness, to myself and the Divine, to see how much my ego actually is at work and to see my own goodness and worth more clearly.

Sometimes receptiveness looks like receiving love, being affirmed, being reminded of how valuable I am just for being me. It could mean a hug, a compliment, being still enough to receive this moment, and the unknown that comes with it.

In order to be soft, I want to live into my body, knowing its joys and its pains.  I want to feel what I’m actually feeling, when my jaw tenses up, when my shoulders scrunch to my ears, or when I can actually touch my toes! I want to know when my breath is shallow and when its full. I want to listen to the emotions that rise up in me.

As I daily pay attention to myself, I will be more attune to others, having extra capacity for laughter and tears.

For in times of vulnerability, there is a shared tenderness, and we both could become softer as a result.  Of course, the choice is ours.  We have to be willing to sit “on the mourner’s bench” as Nicholas Wolterstorff likes to say.

The one who is tender speaks bravely, inviting everyone else in the room into a softer, gentler place.

Into a more expansive view of the world.  Into a new emotion, understanding, or empathy.

But there is no force. She could be met with unhelpful silence, misunderstanding, pet answers.

But she also could be met with love and acceptance.  There is great risk in seeking to be tender.

Yet there’s also an invitation to everyone else in the room.

Do you want to be tender and soft too? Will you join me on this journey of honesty, risk, and feeling deeply?

 

 

What I’m Learning in Yoga

The past few Decembers, I’ve taken a silent retreat at Sustainable Faith Indy, as part of my celebration of Advent. I also write down my longings for the year. The first one I wrote down for 2017 was:

Establish a regular yoga practice at Breathing Space

 

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Over Christmas break, I was going to this yoga studio daily, and it’s still my goal to make it at least four times per week, now that work has started back.

This longing is no longing to meet an exercise quota, but because I feel so much better.  I have enough energy to work towards a new goal and try something new.

I get to embrace a form of exercise I never would have if I hadn’t gotten sick.  I choose to move towards yoga with a smile, even though flexibility has never been my strong suit.

My life is slowly being altered as I make these small decisions.

To enter into a sacred space, where I’m encouraged to honor my body and its limitations.  I’m deciding to enter into a yoga studio, rather than buy a gym membership.

To listen to my breath, to notice how relaxed or stressed I am.  I’m deciding to observe my body’s reactions, rather than judge them.

To hold a pose when I feel the right amount of tension, neither under-extending or overextending. I’m deciding to listen to my body’s signals, not to ignore pain or think I can master it.

To stay in the present moment.  I’m noticing when my mind drifts and remind it to come back into focus.

To honor my body’s innate knowledge.  To listen to my body’s wisdom, rather than believing that wisdom just comes from my head.

To rest in Shavasana.  To remember that the culmination of work is rest, not more work.

Here’s to more flexibility and healing in 2017!

What new habits are you taking up in 2017? 

 

 

Advent and Reflection

On Friday, I went to Sustainable Faith Indy (SFI) for a 4 hour silent Advent retreat.

SFI holds snapshots of my healing process.  The first time I took a silent retreat was two years ago during Advent.  I had just quit my job at the Oaks Academy, and I wasn’t yet diagnosed with Hashimoto’s.  I had no job, was moving out of my apartment the next month, and I had no idea what to do to help myself.  I was desperate, anxious, and yet too exhausted to feel those emotions that strongly. Numb was a better description.

On these retreats, Advent guides are prepared for each participant.  As I looked through my guide from two years ago, I found in its pages a poem that reveals the depth of my sadness, of my desire for healing:

When Sickness Prevails

Fatigue helps me to befriend stillness

even when I scream into its void.

Silence reveals who I really am:

my fears, doubts, joys, and thoughts

and in that rest I know I am sick.

 

When sickness prevails, rest doesn’t satisfy.

Emotions run rampant, loneliness sucks me dry.

Fear overtakes my mind. I feel stuck.

Stuck in this moment, in this depressing hour

Never to get out.

 

When sickness prevails, friends are few.

I ask for what I need, but I am shut-in,

unable to do much activity outside my apartment

and then largely forgotten.

Forgotten because busyness reigns and words are cheap.

 

When sickness prevails and I am alone,

I try to distract myself and not feel.

Eventually I am still enough to cry

and those tears are held by those

acquainted with grief,

when sickness prevails.

 

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As I read this poem now, I am sad as I think back to that time, and yet simply grateful that two years later reflects a much different story.  As I sat down at the lunch table at SFI before my afternoon retreat started, I thought,

“I am among friends.”

Two years ago, I also wrote down a few longings I had, that are now a part of my every day life.

  • I wanted adult friendships, not mentors.  I wanted people who could handle walking with me in my story, yet saw me as valuable, and were willing to learn from me as well.
  • I wanted to feel like I could be included in the life of the church, not just as someone to help, but one with a vibrant story to share, even if I broached uncomfortable territory.
  • I wanted to journey with a few friends dealing or had dealt with sickness.  I wanted to feel like I wasn’t alone.

And this Christmas, all of these longings have been given to me.  I have several adult friendships, who walk with me in my story, and seek my healing right alongside me.  I have been lovingly included at Dwelling Place, and I have several friends with sickness, who help keep me grounded when I’m becoming fearful again or coming unglued, or want to give up.

In the midst of profound struggle, I have been given many gifts.

What are you reflecting on this Christmas?  What gifts have you been given?