The Stranger Within

IMG_4666Each night I lay in the exact place that you first told me you loved me. I occupy the same space, but I am not the same.

That was almost a decade ago. It should come as no surprise that 3,650 some odd days provides ample space and circumstance for individual evolution. Each moment, saturated with inevitability, seeps into our core while we pay no mind. The subtlety of change sneaks in, uninvited yet blindly accepted.

I feel the ambivalence of nostalgia often – the oscillation between grasping for memories too distant to pull into the now, and the calming assurance that some day I may reach for this one in the same way. I do this not only with people, but also experiences, emotions, even sounds. If you have ever heard a song that resonates so deeply at one time in your life, but later hums along meaninglessly; if you’ve ever wished to reconnect with an old friend as if you were still 16, but soon realize that unfamiliarity has replaced the laughter and tears you’ve shared, you understand.

These sublime instances will always fade into insignificance without our blessing. We have no choice in our acquiescence because the person that was once captivated by another person, experience, emotion, or song is ceaselessly transforming into a new entity within each fleeting moment. We ignore change until enough unique nuances culminate into a form who’s presence can no longer be denied. That is where our choice comes in – we can reject this unwelcomed stranger or reserve judgment and greet our new selves, knowing that we will be asked to face this choice again and again regardless of our decision.

For five years I ignored the insidious alterations within myself and resisted this stranger until I made choices that were not aligned with the person that I believed myself to be. Despite my defiance, the stranger carried on as strangers do, living its life unabashedly free of my approval. For months, I did not fight it. Like a child who fears the unknown of darkness, I lay motionless with the comforter pulled tightly over my face until every muscle in my body ached from immobility. I deluded myself into the fallacy that this was my existence now – forever hiding while the stranger wore my clothes, walked around my house, lived my life. In this new space, I heard muffled I love you’s; this time, from unfamiliar voices that spoke without conviction. I could not cry because I was terrified that the stranger would hear me and its apathy made me uneasy. Even worse, removing the comforter would mean confronting this invader and acknowledging that it was my own carelessness that allowed its entry in the first place.

When the numbness of inaction became too tedious, I revealed myself to the stranger. I impatiently tried to discern its motives. I lectured it about the consequences of entitlement and nefarious behavior. I hoped that I could agitate the stranger, disturb the ease in which it had settled in, demand it to leave me alone. But its presence was resolute and I submitted to that determination – a prisoner now allegiant to its captor. I proved my obedience by embracing its sins as my own, whipping my own back and denying myself of sustenance, all under the guise of self-preservation. Meanwhile, change continued its unwavering quest towards infiniteness.

Over the years, many people have tried to release me from the chains of self-judgment. However, they often did so through validation of my inadmissible actions or by admonishing the people I affected by them. I vehemently denied both.

Then, one night, the bold statement: “You have to forgive yourself.” My best friend dropped me off at my house after yet another night of fun that ended with me in tears, desperately searching for answers to questions that I refused to ask. I collapsed into bed, into this very space where our vulnerability became a shared communion, and I remembered the peace of surrender. “You have to forgive yourself,” I repeated. Here I can pardon myself because I am new.

No longer do the pangs of nostalgia wash over me as I lay in this space. The memory is there, but just as the resounding song loses its meaning and friends become unknown, this too is devoid of the vivid emotion once attached to it. As I reflect, I do not strive to relive those days because I finally understand that it is futile to experience a stranger’s narrative, even if that stranger is yourself.

10,958 days

momdadSymbolism pervades much of life as we know it. If adversity is likened to a rainstorm, the rainbow is the emblem representing that the hardship has passed. The blinding desolation of night will be perpetually followed by the rescue of dawn. We are taught to believe that beauty, hope, and resiliency are often cultivated in darkness or when a specific sequence of circumstances fatefully align.

The symbol for the 30th wedding anniversary is the pearl. Much like the “diamond in the rough”, pearls are formed out of seemingly mundane circumstances romanticized into the charming notion that a banal spec of dirt, through time and patience, undergoes a transformation into the elegant pearl. The metaphor is that three decades of companionship forges a magnificent gem that continues to grow and evolve as it remains in the safety of the oyster’s shell.

The less glamorous reality begins with a piece of a debris that haphazardly invades the oyster’s shell. The oyster is a living creature with innate protective processes, much like humans. The debris is an irritant, but since the oyster is unable to remove the unwanted substance, it instead deposits layers of calcium carbonate around it. Rather than discard what chance has delivered, the oyster preserves it. Regardless of however aesthetically bland it may have been prior, the oyster ensures that its new existence is one of lovely iridescence.

I like to believe that these same forces of nature act on human connection. Rather than the notion that two individual people become one through connectedness, they take advantage of serendipity to form a separate entity that protects both individuals and endlessly expands while the two remain together.

Pearls are notorious for their strength and resiliency. Their beauty is not wrought from daintiness or fragility. The crystalline layers of calcium carbonate are similar to the wavelength of light and thus, light reflected from the outer surface interacts with the light reflected from the inner surface to produce a lustrous palette of color. The foundation created initially from the oyster’s self-preservation becomes a process of harmonious collaboration and eternal transformation.

The oyster is not blessed with the vision necessary to observe its own pearl. The elegance of its creation is best observed by the eyes to which its light is reflected.

How magnificent that I am the observer of a pearl three decades in the making.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad.

Unpublished

In the interest of kickstarting my blog again, I stumbled upon the following entry that I had written and saved in 2012 as a draft, but never published. I had honestly forgotten that I had written it, but, refreshingly, every word still holds true today, over 3 years later. To celebrate the elegant rarity of a constant in life, I have decided to share one of mine.

They say that when you work in mental health it is important to not take the job home with you or else you will risk your own mental stability. They also say that you have to be crazy to work with crazy people. I say that I disagree with both theories.

A month ago, my job sent me to a conference on Trauma-Informed Care. Those that spoke at the conference were doctors, social workers, and occupational therapists and they presented on a multitude of approaches to incorporate in mental health settings (hospitals, schools, etc.) with the end goal being to minimize or eliminate the use of restraint and seclusion. The overall theme was to have a better understanding of how traumatic experiences physiologically change one’s reaction to their environment.  In an 8 hour day, it was one small statement that came to be the most profound in rekindling my love and desire for my career. A man named Jay Indik, LICSW from Cutchins Program for Children and Families in Northampton, MA stood in front of the audience and began his part of the presentation by posing a question: “How many of you are here because your job exposes you to traumatic experiences because you care about the well-being of others and want them to live meaningful lives?”

That statement is what bridged the gap between myself and my clients. They have been exposed to trauma at least once, but most likely many times throughout their lives. In turn, they have learned maladaptive ways of attempting to get their needs met. These strategies, whether it be self-harm, verbal violence, or physical violence manifest themselves while they are on the unit and I choose to be there and endure the trauma that they are then inflicting upon me. But this is not a bad thing. This is the learning moment that separates those that can handle working in an acute care setting and those that can not. Those that can not are unable to oppose the tendency to feel helpless when traumatized. Those that can make it in this field are the ones that take their own trauma, put it in a crystal jar, analyze it and use it for positive change in themselves and others.

I have been verbally abused day in and day out, even physically assaulted, but the day that I felt the most knocked down was when a client called in to question my ability to do my job effectively. She witnessed an interaction between myself and another client that triggered her. She was sobbing, shaking, and visibly anxious and she told me that I was wrong. I took a deep breath, put aside my own insecurities that she was calling into question, and I apologized. I apologized and I truly meant it. I then went into the office and burst into tears. I felt hopeless. I felt like I had failed. But I did not fail because I took that moment and I learned from it. By using my moments of vulnerability as learning tools, I model for my clients an appropriate way to cope and to move forward and to be stronger.

Yes, my job is stressful and at times utterly depressing, but despite the frustrations and the fear that my line of work rouses within me, I have come to a deeper sense of self through my interactions with clients and peers.

They are wrong. I am not crazy for wanting to work with this particular clientele. I am one of the few that truly believes that what binds all of us together in this messy world is the need for unconditional love and acceptance. I take my work home with me every day because I feel grateful and fortunate for my life and I think it would be a disservice to not share my strengths with others in order to minimize their struggle. I take work home with me and I think about how I can improve on myself in order to better serve others. Most likely they will walk out the door of the hospital and never think of me again, and that is beautiful. I don’t expect or strive to be anyone’s hero. I want them to find that hero within themselves.

Namaste

benefits-of-hot-yoga.s600x600Eyes closed, crouched in Child’s Pose, I have come to an interesting conclusion: Yoga can be stressful.

Inhale. I think about a negative interaction I had at work today. Exhale. Am I doing this right? I inhale the problems of the day deep into my lungs. I exhale the ability to fully relax my mind.

I know most people find inner peace and relaxation when they practice yoga, but I’ve learned that I have an extremely hard time turning my brain off for an activity unless I am overexerting myself. When I go to the gym, for example, my brain can go into autopilot because I am listening to a carefully selected playlist of upbeat or angry music and I don’t have to think about how to correctly position myself every 30 seconds.

Recently, I’ve found myself caught in an exercise rut.  I felt like I needed to start incorporating flexibility in my regimen. Simultaneous to the realization of my current exercise boredom was the discovery of Sweat and Soul Yoga, conveniently located two minutes from my job.

The few times I have tried yoga, I have always left the experience feeling “meh”. I don’t hate it but I certainly haven’t fallen in love, either. But I figured, what the hell – why not challenge myself to do something I normally would never do. I’m going to try hot yoga.

The room was warm and cozy. I expected it to feel like a jungle, but the 85 degrees was perfect for a cold-blooded person like myself. I thought – this is similar to wrapping myself in a comforter-cocoon except I will actually be burning calories. Win/win.

We began slowly and I was enjoying myself. As soon as we picked up the pace, I was lost. I mean, I kind of followed it, but no one was helping me or giving me cues to proper technique so I felt like I was flailing around like a ragdoll – similar to when I attempt dancing, but much less fun. Warrior pose to plank to upward dog to downward dog to warrior pose. Um, what?

That wasn’t even the hard part. I eventually got that basic technique. I won’t say that my form was remotely close to correct, but I went through the motions with an expression on my face that read ‘I know what I’m doing. I’m basically a vinyasa pro, obvs.’ Then there came some crazy pretzel pose of which I don’t recall the name because I was too busy thinking ‘what the F?’ These other chicks are flying through it before the yogi gave the next instructions. This is an all level class, mind you. “Beginners are welcome and encouraged to join!” I must have missed the fine print: “But if you are a beginner, you will spend the entire class looking around trying to figure out what the hell you are supposed to be doing, thus only getting a workout like 20% of the time. Oh, and you will feel inadequate when you can not fold yourself into a pretzel while standing on one leg.”

There was about 40 more minutes of quick moving, during which I decided to focus on the amazing hip hop soundtrack playing in the background. I agree, Rihanna, please DON’T stop the music, because as soon as you do I will be reminded that it is somehow humanly possible to contort your body like Gumby… and that I am incapable of doing it.

The music slowed to Destiny’s Child “Emotion” and the cool down began. Instead of relaxing what should be overworked muscles, I was laying there thinking how frustrated I was with my inability to calm down.

The volume of the music gently lowers as “Let it Be” begins to play. The volume of my thoughts stays exactly the same as it always is – dull and constant. I guess I have no other choice than to just let it be. It’s the end of the class, so there is no changing me now. Maybe next time.

Namaste.