“Life’s work is to wake up, to let the things that enter into your life wake you up rather than put you to sleep. The only way to do this is to open, be curious, and develop some sense of sympathy for everything that comes along, to get to know its nature and let it teach you what it will.” ~ Pema Chodron
In Texas, from June to September, there is about one hour of the day just after dawn during which being outside is tolerable. This morning, the family and I spent this time outside on the deck. I was drinking a cup of coffee, and it was actually still warm.
My rather limited experience with motherhood thus far is that it’s about setting the same hot cup of coffee down over and over, only to reheat it and let it go cold again. I texted my mother this week and asked her how she survived four children…and my father. She said “lol” and I didn’t find it funny. I’m home for a six week sabbatical from teaching so I can hold better space for the humans in my household, and being at home 100% of the time has humbled me. This morning though the froth was still as thick as the coffee was hot, and I was thinking how grateful I was for the way my teething boy offered me uninterrupted sleep last night as if he knew I was needing it for my training this weekend.
This weekend, I’m breaking out of the house, with the help of the village who are helping me raise this small human, to embark on the second or three years studying Somatic Experiencing, a body-based therapy for integrating trauma. This is the therapy I wanted to do when I got a degree in counseling several years ago…I just didn’t know it existed. I found it in my quest to heal from a string of car accidents which have left me with some chronic pain.
What some who haven’t followed me here long, may not know, is that I spent the majority of my life feeling either hijacked by or completely shut down from my emotions. Although I have made great strides, feeling overwhelmed by emotion or feeling nothing at all are still my defaults.
If motherhood has made but one thing clear, it’s that addiction and mental illness – untreated – are not generational patterns I seek to perpetuate. There’s an idea from Yogi Bhajan that the work I do on myself heals 7 generations before me and 7 generations after me…I don’t know if that’s true…but I sense that I incarnated with a greater purpose than to survive. By the grace of God, I no longer aspire to remain wedded to victimhood or imprisoned by addiction. I don’t wake in the morning with regret or resentment. I know we’re all doing the best we can with what we know. I continue to know better and hope to do better, too. And, now, with this beautiful boy that God dropped into my lap, the path has become more narrow. So much of what I’ve been willing to tolerate, so much of what I was afraid to say or do, is no longer True. Because it’s not just about me, it’s about him too.
There’s a piece of me who’s sad that I haven’t thought highly enough of myself to do the next right thing for me. I was his size 35 years ago, a child of God, too.
When I look at him, I know a vulnerability I’ve rarely allowed myself to feel. My eyes continue to be opened to how different his experiences will be as a boy with brown skin in a world where blackness is feared and marginalized and brutalized, and I feel powerless to help him – unqualified in many ways to raise him to feel safe in a world where if I was him, I simply wouldn’t.
When I write or talk about this to white folks, they shut me down because it’s too uncomfortable (for them) to examine.
And I can relate. Because until 8.5 months ago, it wasn’t so relevant to me. I could – and to some extent, have – live my whole life turning a blind eye to racism. I can do my morning meditation with my mala and teach homogenous people who look much like me in the yoga studio. Nevermind that I don’t really know much about Hinduism and I’ve never been to India and, for all intents and purposes, I’ve adapted a practice from marginalized people for my own personal gain. And, at night I can take my photographs of mostly white people during golden hour and delude myself into believing that this is all there is.
God, I love my beautiful life, which is justifiable and delusional – all at the same time.
So I’m compassionate – mostly – toward these people who are much like I was because I try to make it a practice not to judge people who are on the path upon which I used to travel. I mean, we all wake up in different ways. And, if I live in anger, I eventually shut down because my tolerance threshold for Angry Amber is pretty low.
I was thinking of none of this, this morning, however, as I drank my coffee. I’d briefly forgotten about children – my own and the ones the government “lost” which is a euphemism for “sold.” I wasn’t even bothered by our barking dog.
Our dog – Cash Diehl – who has some cognitive deficiencies (we attract what we are, and he chose us), was jumping on an overgrown bush that I was fighting the urge not to trim back. As he attempted to stand on his two back legs, I alluded to Animal Farm and wondered if Dana had read that book. She nodded as if she had but I’m not convinced. George Orwell – ick – and yet he’s predicted the future which is now the present in which we live.
And, as I pause from waxing philosophical because it was just 6:30 am and take a sip of my coffee, Dana screams a sound that I only know her to make when there’s an animal – other than Cash Diehl – in the house.
“What is it?” I ask a little too calmly. I find when one person in relationship is losing it, it’s helpful if the other person feigns calmness. But, usually, Dana is the calm one.
“Don’t you see the possum?!” she is still shrieking an octave higher than her naturally deepish voice.
And there’s Cash. Baby possum in his mouth. Pleased with himself.
I know there’s only one way to prevent him from ripping that possum to shreds: distraction. The dog is the only dog I know who doesn’t care about food. And though I’d decided I didn’t want to exercise today I say the coveted four-letter ‘W’ word, “Cash, let’s go for a walk.”
He looks at me and then the possum and then at me and then the possum. And, he chooses me. I am so relieved. I leash him up and tell Dana I’m going inside to get my shoes.
And when I return, the possum, well, you know, it’s so cliche – he was playing possum.
Or as it’s called in Somatic Experiencing – he’d gone into tonic immobility.
“He lifted his head and looked around for Cash and left,” Dana said.
I was so sad I missed it. And so happy I’d not have to bury the possum.
My own work in this life has been and continues to be to use whatever is happening in this moment as the opportunity to wake up, to keep peeling back the layers of incomplete responses to unresolved trauma. And, this inner work is the foundation for the work I do in the world with others. I can only teach what I know, and I can’t teach people to be embodied if I continue to dissociate from what I feel. And, I certainly can’t fault people for staying asleep if I’m not willing to keep waking up.
I got home tonight and Dana said, “You look pretty…something’s different.”
“I feel good,” I said. I’m beginning to integrate some recent experiences that have left me feeling helpless, hopeless and unable to cope – which is the definition of trauma. Like the possum who goes into freeze but eventually shakes to release the energy of the threat, I know that the only way I can garner the courage to keep on, keeping on, is to hang close to the hopeful experienced people who keep reminding me that they’re here to help me and that I don’t have wake up, all at once, and most certainly, not alone.