Monday, July 10, 2017

Continuing the Work and Breathing

When I last blogged, quite some time ago, I discussed how my focus was going to be on living life for me.  I have done that and then some over the last ten months.  However, I’m still sitting here with that same focus.  I’ve made some great strides since last October, but I’m not finished yet.  I might not ever be finished actually, but some definite great gains have been made.  When I left off in October, I was preparing to go to a PTSD retreat called Warrior’s Ascent.  It was 4 days of extensive work on skills and tools to help myself through everyday life.  This was one of the best decisions in the past 4 years of my life that I could have ever made.  It was a step in the direction towards getting my life back.  

Let me be transparent here and tell you that last August, September, and October were by far the lowest months I have ever endured.  Worse than the first months following Rhea’s death. Those first months were full of waves of grief, lack of sleep, little food, and being utterly lost.  Exactly as I should have been.  But, 3 ½ years later, I still felt utterly lost, but in a hopeless kind of way.   At that point in my life, as I sit and reflect, I felt the most alone I had ever felt.  I was trying.  I was pushing myself back to Christ.  I was willing myself to put my faith and hope back in Him, but my heart was so not there yet.  I would put my girls to bed at night, and the stillness would set in.  My panic attacks would creep up on me in the silence of my world and would take over me, and they would nightly.  My sleep was suffering again.  It affected my home life and work life.  I was quick tempered, anxious, and emotionally everywhere.  My closet was my safe place (and still is today).  I would feel the world closing in on me and retreat to my closet.  Literally, I go to my closet.  How crazy does that sound?

My thoughts were to the point that it was scaring me.  I know deep down I would have never taken my own life, but I had thoughts of just wanting to stop it all.  I wanted to stop the pain, the emptiness, the judgement of so many, the judgement of myself, all of it.  I wanted it to stop. That alone was too far for me and scared the living daylights out of me.  I remember crying to my parents on the phone on how I didn’t know what to do.  I was not okay, I knew I wasn’t okay, but I did not want to be medicated. I had done this journey without medication, and I didn’t want to start now.  I felt like I needed to feel all of it, I was supposed to feel it.   I was already signed up for the retreat, and I made a deal with myself.  Go to the retreat.  Learn as much as I can.  Take 4 days and focus on only me.  And give myself a month to implement the tools.  If I was still in the same spot, then I would go look into medication for my anxiety and depression.

Warrior’s Ascent is for first responders, or veterans who struggle with PTSD.  I didn’t fit the qualifications there.  But, I sent an email, explained my situation, counseling, and conditions, and they welcomed me with open arms to their community.  I was going to be with 15 other women who struggle with PTSD.  And that increased my anxiety.   I have a form of PTSD that a lot of people don’t understand or recognize it as such.  I have noncombat PTSD.  My girls do, as well.  I don’t have triggers like veterans do to fireworks, gunfire, etc.  Nor, do I have night terrors or flashbacks of war.  I, instead, have triggers to doorbells, soldiers in full dress blues, the smell of a man’s cologne, large gatherings of people, etc.  And, I have night terrors to what my mind has developed as the events of Rhea’s death, where I’m there and I’m watching it all happen before me, but I can’t do a thing but watch it.  Going to this retreat with people who probably were dealing with a different form of PTSD made me feel not enough, not the same, and not worthy. I was so scared to be on the outside and for people to think I didn't need to be there.  I’m not a first responder or veteran who have done and seen some really messed up stuff.  I was just a 33-year-old military widow who was a hot fucking mess.  But, I went.  Scared to death, I went to Warrior’s Ascent and hoped for acceptance and some kind of deliverance from the hell I was silently living in.

This program, Warrior’s Ascent, I can wholeheartedly say, saved my life. (I know sounds dramatic, but I mean every word of it.)  I learned about taking steps in my own journey back home.  I learned the art of yoga, though lack extreme amounts of flexibility.  I learned about the beauty and peace of nature (and most know I’m not an outside kinda girl.) I learned about different ways to journal or releasing your thoughts. I learned about trust for others and for myself.  But, I can probably say the one tool that helped me the most was the practice of meditation.  

Meditation is a practice, and every meditation is different.  When I started it at Warrior’s Ascent, I was not good at it.  In fact, for two days straight, I had panic attacks during every single time we practiced meditation.  I was so fortunate to have a patient teacher.  She would pull me aside and talk to me later about what I was feeling, what happened, what had triggered the panic attack.  I learned so much just about my panic attacks from those conversations with her.  For example, I bounce my leg, I get restless, I look around the room as if searching for something, and I hold my breath.  When I’m nervous, anxious, worked up, etc., I hold my breath.  Who knew?!? Not me.  I had no idea I was doing it.  Of course I would hyperventilate and panic.  I wasn’t giving myself oxygen when I most needed it.  On the 3rd day of the retreat, we did 6:30 morning meditation and yoga in a different place than normal, and I was by a window that was open.  And, it was the first time I did not have a panic attack.  My meditation/yoga instructor came up to me after and asked what was different.  I could hear birds, a cricket, and a light breeze.  I could hear sound.  It wasn’t still and silent. I have trauma that circles around silence.  Sitting in silence is painful for me and puts me in a terrible place.  Look at my panic attacks nightly...when it was still and silent.  Holy crap!  Look at what I learned about myself.  This was huge for me.  Huge.  I could meditate, but I had to meditate with sounds and/or music.  And from there, the world of meditation just opened up so much healing for me.  I breathe.  I push away everything.  I breathe.  I let myself have peace.  I breathe.  I breathe.  I breathe.

Along with learning the practice of meditation and learning more about my own panic attacks, I also learned about the love and acceptance of a sisterhood.  The 15 women I went through this program with are not me.  We do not have the exact same life experiences.  But, we are very like-minded and we have a respect and love for one another that I cannot properly describe.  They accepted me where I was at, and I accepted them.  I am their confidant and they are mine.  But the thing that brought us together the most, I think, is that we were all at the exact same spot.  We were done with life as it was.  We wanted more for our life and we were ready to do the work to get there.  

The final day of retreat with my sisters.

I’m still there.  I’m still at that spot.  I’m still doing the work.  I have days where I’ve got it all together.  And, I have days where I still resort to finding safety within the walls of my closet.  But, I show up for myself daily.  Every single day, I show up for my girls and for me now.  I also have a tribe of my sisters from Warrior’s Ascent still behind me, and a village of friends and family that still shower me with support.  I’m not done.  I’m still working.  And I breathe.

Side note:  My favorite way to meditate is to prayers, most of the time they are Catholic prayers.  I have found such peace in quite a few of them.  I’ll leave you with one of my personal favorites, the Prayer of St. Francis. This is an adaptation of the prayer, and I love it. Maybe you'll find some peace in it today.

My God, source of light, source of love
May I be your messenger in a world that’s in desperate need of you
May I be an instrument of your peace
In a world filled with division and discord
May I bring love, where there is anger and hatred
May I bring compassion and understanding, where there is hurt and suffering
Where there is doubt and fear, cause my faith to rise up
Where there is despair, may I be a voice of hope
In darkness, may I bring light
In sadness, may I bring joy
My God, rather than seek my own comfort and consolation
May I show mercy and be a comfort to others
Rather than needing to be heard and needing to be right
May I bring patience, understanding, and a willingness to listen
Rather than seeking to be loved, may I be love
For it is in giving that we receive
In forgiving that we are set free
And in dying to self, that we are born into our eternal life
Let it be so, let it be now, let it be

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