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doing good time

“Jen, I cannot talk to you right now.  I was sabotaged today.  I have to go.” 

I hang up the phone and sit at the counter for a moment thinking about what’s unfolding all around me.  A good friend in the hospital for mental health issues and other friends who feel much like me and the waves affect us all.  Who can I call now?  I can write.  I can go into my mind and sort through what it feels like to be two inches tall.  I think to myself about how we all have those we love and how we all hold back to cradle them gently in a heartspace that keeps them around.  Listen.  Just listen.  Eventually they come to that very idea that’s been gnawed by bottom teeth on a bitten tongue and lip.   I didn’t say what burned in my throat because it had to come from the choked throat of the love object.  The times when the words don’t come, when the lip becomes raw and red, are the times I write.  Wondering the whole time how many red and raw lips I’ve created around me.

I’m embarrassed and ashamed and become aware of my own stigma and the mountain I climb as one of my best friends does a stint in ye ol mental health jail.  She’s locked away somewhere in Massachusetts pumped full of drugs and unable to hear me when I tell her about “good time.”  Good time is doing what they say, not putting your paper towels in tiny bags, reusing your towels, asking to talk to a lawyer every 5 minutes.  Good time is nodding, taking your meds, remaining as quiet as you can stand, reading a book. Saying thank you.  But, she knows this.  She coached me through my longest stint of sanity this year. I read an article at 3:16 am about how it takes 11 times to leave an abusive relationship.  How do I start and stop to count when, like the mental palace in Mass, I’m in my own crazy farm of relationships. Forever going back to the big house of love pumped full of drugs.  I’m certainly not doing good time.

Free now, and another loss of meaning.  Deconstruction and analyzing pretty useless at this point.  In this present moment I feel pretty clear and I’m clear on what really helps me feel good.  Doing yoga.  Being quiet.  Reading.  Writing.  Helping others by listening.  Hearing a kid say “you are SO LONG!” Running so early in the morning.  Running more than 10 miles in the morning.  Not worrying about who I choose as my friends—mental illness ain’t mean nuthin.  Appreciating the weirdness in tiny spaces.  My truck and all it’s memories.  Doing good time is reading books about travel, discontinuing the hate of everyone and everything that is assumed to have created despair, diving inside, writing letters, moving the body, playing cards.  I can choose what I might do right now because there are a few feelings with which I can empathize. This unfolding is its own imprisonment and I can relate to those four walls.

I have to go.  I have to go away from whatever mental space has brought me here.  I don’t want to live my life scared of what one silly man thinks of me. I can still be so vulnerable and say I get so, so, anxious and angry.  I play the ice queen.  My closest friends are very odd and eccentric.  I really mess up with money stuff.  I yell when I get angry.  I grab cell phones, I posture. I’m embarrassed that I’m not smarter on paper. Most of my lovers do not please me.  I don’t trust anyone.  I’m working so hard on that last one.  Trust and love just melts away that anxiety and anger (rooted in hurt and fear), when I trust I become a goofball that’s excited for any time together, I listen and empathize, seek to understand, remain curious, speak clearly and softly, love gently and loyally. I’m very odd and eccentric, living in poverty, have a hole in my wall from punching the drywall in frustration, am worried about writing these words, but I know I am not sabotaged.  I can talk.  Right now.

“Calling it lunacy makes it easier to explain away the things we don’t understand.”

― Megan Chance, The Spiritualist

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beyond a distant star

I woke up this morning at 3:00 am because I went to bed incredibly early last night.  And the night before.  I’ve had some interesting dreams recently and perhaps there is something I’m searching for in my subconscious.  I wake up anxious most Sunday mornings and then become irritable (irritability a symptom of anxiety as well).  I heard the expression the “worried well” the other day and this seems to be my fate.  I’ve been meaning to go work on my classroom every weekend and just don’t get around to it.  Tried to hike yesterday so proud of my new tires and promptly got stuck.  I started laughing and playing fetch with the dogs while my friend sat in the truck.  I feel I create getting stuck over and over to see the folly in it all.

I’m anxious for today as I’ve taken myself off the teaching schedule at the community center and will be teaching yoga at the school.  Teaching yoga used to give me the biggest shot of anxiety and I forever worry about teaching from the mat, using the same cues over and over, messing up my inhales and exhales, lefts and rights. I worry about who I will bother using essential oil at the end of class.  I was able to take a few yoga classes in Denver and felt a little better about teaching.  I teach from the heart, as authentic as I can be and I think I should give a little more space to myself and others to be perfectly flawed.  I feel I teach the same lessons over and over:  self-love, the impermanence of life, breathing as spirituality, non-violence.  I’m the last person you would think would teach yoga, trembling with anxiety and questions—this is probably why I teach.

I’ve reached all my goals again in too short of a time and feel my life has somehow gotten ahead of me.  I was able to get a space for an elementary school garden—bigger than I could have dreamed!  I check out the brown grass and wonder who can help me in this creation.  I’ll need all kinds of folks:  permaculture people, production garden people, landscapers, laborers, dreamers—I can see this garden in my mind’s eye as maybe a labyrinth surrounding a grow dome.  I’ve already got permission to use a grow dome space uptown and gently plop an apple core into the worm factory I inherited.  I’m trying to understand what I ought do with the community space and my own garden and find myself drilling holes into a plastic garbage bin for my own homemade compost bin.  That’s the best part about gardening—it’s all about slow, simple solutions.

Now what?  I find myself nostalgic for hot yoga and good food in the big city and watch pictures of aspens breeze by my Facebook feed and I realize I miss Wyoming.  But—when I was there I wanted more.  I felt restless.  And now I feel restless again because my only job is to be.  To do my tasks with mindful actions and thoughts.  I want to continue my play therapy practice and learn so much from all the kiddos around me.  I want to follow through on my garden project and see how much more I can learn from horticulture therapy.  I’ve got my eyes on all kinds of masters level classes because my pay grade goes up with every 10 credits.  But, secretly, I don’t think it has anything to do with pay but everything to do with feeling proficient at something.  I’m good at school and it always helps to feel good at something to start to integrate the things that are slightly beyond me.

My new goals?  Dig up my utility and figure out a way to ski mostly free.  Get the plans and folks for the garden project written down.  Manifest it. Learn to communicate better with parents and teachers, teach some parenting groups, help my school to become trauma informed.  Get a handle on this anxiety.  Let go of the past, forgive those who have hurt me.  Try a running race that challenges me.  Quit drinking Michelob Ultra and start to see the world through sober shimmering eyes once again.  Get out in the woods.  Camp, hike, learn to read maps.  Take more classes, but only if they are free.  Save my money to spend it on my legacy.  Learn the ways of the river.  Dig deep for even more resourcefulness to this mostly free, as well.  And as always, love myself, practice non-violence.  And breathe.  Always breathe.

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”

― Amit Ray, Om Chanting and Meditation

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the remaking of life

“How were you able to get over the fire?” She tells me that she took sage and ceremonial tobacco and cleansed the place of the fire and that it all just melted away–sugar in a hummingbird feeder. Twirls of smoke intertwined with the intention of hope after cleansing by fire mix with the hot, humid air of July while I think about these words in August. I speak of sweet grass which is not indigenous to this area but I know how to find the shiny long leaves in between 7,000 and 9,000 feet in Wyoming near a special ranch in Elk Mountain. The Latin word for sage, salvia, means “to heal” and the intent is for spiritual healing, wisdom, clarity. Sweetgrass represents positivity, strength, and connection to that which binds us together–God, Creator, the stars. And so I invoke sage and sweetgrass of the mind.

I wake up to another email citing my decision to create some really clear, healthy boundaries as a step in a feeling, non-logical, direction. Lots of feelings to be sure–pain, hurt, confusion, anger, nostalgia. I pick up a braided rope of sweetgrass in my mind and say the words “positive, persistence, patience” and feel the wisps of smoke surround my synapses. I’ve been practicing setting boundaries with the ACT method–acknowledge the feeling, communicate the limit, target alternatives. Before I speak to some folks, I write down exactly what I want to say. And then I prepare to communicate the limit over and over until its no longer a line in the sand. There is tons of anxiety in holding the limit–I want to be liked. Even better to be loved. But this can no longer come at the cost of my basic sense of self. I unraveled more fully this year than any other time I can remember.

When I was younger, I was in 4-H and learned all the trades that seemed manageable in my city slicker existence. I went to a crochet class and learned how to make tiny loops with fuzzy blue thread. I couldn’t figure out how to hook into the second row and so I just kept looping over and over and showed up the next week to class with one long chain as evidence of my efforts–I tried. I tried this year to loop into the second row of my heart creating a long chain of repetitive actions–the same fights, the same hurtful words. I don’t know if my anger is from anxiety or from pain. I rule out borderline because I miss the second diagnosis criteria in every section: stable identity and goals, plenty of empathy most of the time but lots of hostility towards one person. The teacher of the crochet workshop laughed at my long chain but I wasn’t upset–I did the best I could. I spent the remainder of the class pulling the thread, undoing each sweep of the hook and was left with a pile of blue yarn in a brain on the floor.

I used to be a projectionist–I thought I was a movie theater worker but realize years later there are only a few old school theaters left in the country. Spools of film would arrive in orange boxes inside the duct taped door of the Wyo Theater and I would pick up the boxes one by one to carry into the projection room. Spool one sits on a nail by the projection platters and I turn on the machine waiting until the tail of the first spool starts to spin and flap. The platter is turned off and I turn to the splicer grabbing the head of the second reel and press the splicing machine firmly into tail and head. Repeat until the platter contains the entirety of the film. The hardest part was turning on the machine–one wrong move and the film might spray everywhere. “Braining” happens when the projectionist isn’t quick enough to pick up on an error and the film piles up on the floor resembling a brain. These mistakes are always fixable but with one film in particular we had to splice out about 18 inches. It’s usually just a small blip in the film with bubbles on the screen where two sections are melted together. This blip was a big one.

A long chain of soft thread, a long line of film with each picture containing just a milisecond, lines of smoke lingering in the air. There may be a time when I regret my decision to set a boundary–but I don’t regret never learning how to crochet or entering a blanket into county fair. I don’t regret quitting my job at the theater and skipping the anxiety of the projector bulb burning out over and over and having to refund the $3 entry fee at the “cheap seats.” Sweetgrass smells so lovely and lingers in the air for days after its burned. Every once in a while I get a whiff of the smell here in Colorado where I havne’t met anyone that burns sweetgrass. Sage grows here but not like in Wyoming when after a rainstorm and entire field smells of the earthy, pungent plant that I pick and rub between my palms to smell as I run. I plan on heading back home sooner than later where I can reflect on my move to Colorado and the events of the past year. I don’t know why I was never that good at meticulous tasks and perhaps those are the tasks I missed in trying to create a relationship that was full of still pictures of lies and deceit. And so instead I act. Acknowledge the feelings of anger and pain, quit hurting myself, and choose to grow instead.

“Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.”
-Anne Roiphe

 

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why I run

I run because it feels good. Even when it feels awful theres some kind of satisfaction in burning lungs, tightened hamstrings, twinges in the IT bands. I started running in 2012 as I tried to fill my time with more wholesome activities. I had these cut off sweatpants and a cotton short sleeve because it had been so long I didn’t even own workout clothes anymore. In my 1998 model New Balance (I stockpiled shoes back in the day like I would some wear those Nike basketball shoes again) I hopped on the treadmill at the gym shadowy like a garage and ran for an entire two minutes. This was progress as I recounted thirty minutes on the Eliptical freshman year making me feel like an Olympic athlete.

I ran my first trail race in 2013–it was my first time running on the trails–ever–and I entered an endurance race as part of the Crossfit team. I was intimidated but felt I had practiced some, maybe not enough, but I was gonna do it anyway. I counted my first lap as the course test run I had trotted the previous day with my boyfriend at the time. Things got tense when we lost the course and ran 10 miles instead of 6. We exchanged word but shared pizza later as I apologized that he had to go to work at the local bistro right after. The next day, I showed up for my first lap and started off. Promptly got lost again (I do this a lot) and ran in about 18 minutes over my target to the questioning of the Crossfit team. Sorry, guys. I’m having fun!

The next lap was at dusk and one runner came in saying she saw a moose after the second creek crossing before the meadow. Well, shoot. I put in one headphone and heard my breath heavy as I waited to either die in the mouth of a moose or the thud of lightening in a thunderstorm. I was passed by a female ultrarunner who was touring the nation to run as many long races as she could stand. I rolled in at about 9 or 10 and went to go get more pizza for another lap. I arrived back at about 1:30 am and this time I didn’t care so much about what nature might serve up. Pepperoni fueled and phone charged up–I came in at 3 am and my team was asleep. We DNF’d but I could have cared less. I was now a trail runner.

I don’t have fancy gear to run and use a sock to cover my iPhone 5c while I wear the same UWyo running shorts, Lulu Lemon shirt and bra, and a pair of Brooks I bought for $13 on EBay. I use Strava but secretly wish for a Garmin because I get too caught up in things I do and things other people do and maybe I wish to hide my average status. I don’t think i will ever be a fast runner. I was 6 feet tall at the age of 12 and was always very aware of my body and often would not take any risks. I’ve never done a cartwheel in my giraffe frame and I remember going back to a playground in my 20’s to hang upside down on the monkey bars–I had never done this before. Running became freedom to me and the trails became home. I started to run my favorite loop at Pole Mountain in Wyoming almost everyday and recognized each aspen stand in each version of light.

I don’t enter many races running as it amps up my anxiety into overdrive. Heart pumping I start obsessive rituals and apply about 70 billion layers of chopstick, tie and retie my shoes, rebraid my hair. I was sometimes good at physical activity, sometimes not. Never confident enough, never aggressively attacking hills or anything really–that was always the gripe as I played basketball–”Get mad, Jennifer! Get really angry and just rebound!” Sometimes I think about these words if I am trying to dig deep but more often than not I walk because I can. I don’t think I’ll win and maybe that’s why I don’t want to. I run Sheep Mountain with the High Plains Harriers in summer of 2014 and slow the entire group down by hours. Embarrassing to be the weakest link but also informing how I work with other new runners–hey at least we are out here. Release in the breath.

I’ve been working the same hill here in Pagosa Springs of about 400 or so feet and have accomplished a few small goals of running the entire hill, snagging a PR on the way down–but these are all below average times on sections of trail that a handful of folks are recording on Strava. But, this is not why I run. I run because its mostly free–I haven’t bought a new pair of shoes in a few years and while a new pair would be nice my holed up Mizuno’s wont’ stop me. I run because its meditative. I love the rhythm of breath and feet slapping the trail or pavement. I slap my feel not on purpose but I don’t have any real technique or knowledge about how to carry my body better. I just run. I get some advice: lean forward, pick up your knees. Bomb the hills and run the flats. If you can walk or run, run. Run all the flats. So, I just keep running.

I run because it keeps me well. As a therapist, I keep many secrets and sufferings of the world locked inside my mind and heart and let them all shake out into my toes and heels on the hot pavement of an 80 degree day. I run to listen to music–sometimes I wake up with a tune in my head and add it a playlist and feel the rhythm enter my pace and every once in a while I stop to dance or grapevine–whatever bodily gratitude feels right. Running just feels right. I sometimes worry about the runners around me who have running streaks lasting 1000’s of days or put in 100’s of miles a week. But I try to step back and know that running is doing for them what it’s doing for me–we are healing with each step. Sometimes I will practice a loop 30, maybe 50 times, to understand each hill and switchback and think of this as practice for a relationship. Waking up everyday and trying again, running again, loving again. This, this is why I run.

“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”
― John Bingham, No Need for Speed: A Beginner’s Guide to the Joy of Running

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lasagna love: a letter to your ex

I’ve waited a long time to do this. I think about you a lot. I want to know what you think, what you felt, what you experienced. He told me on his birthday that you both made fun of me for missing key points of persona in a blog but when I went back to read the blog, I only mentioned your big brown eyes and southern charm. I’m sure this could be true, my ENFJ. I used to be you. I watch you cook wonderful meals remembering when, I, too gave a shit about the chemistry of baking. Cinnamon rolls at high altitude were a thing I just never mastered. But, I bet you would.

Why did you leave? Are my hunches right? More importantly, why did you stay? I’ve never encountered a more controlling person although I have a tendency to pick those who will create the pain I sometimes can’t muster in my thoughts. I talk to vets, PTSD sufferers…we all say the same thing. We crave the pain. We crave the fast heartbeat, the impending doom of death, a hand in ice water turning red, so red like blood that comes from my knees when I fall uphill. I know you can climb uphill, I know you climbed a mountain everyday waking up with such a volatile person.

Am I obsessed with you? Depends on how you look at it. I want validation so bad because I’ve been going crazy the past year trying to understand what the eff is wrong with me that I can’t seem to hang on. I’m told that I’m more passionate, my kisses tell him I’m into the whole thing. But, I’m forever compared to you in day to day activities. I can’t pack his shit or know what he needs for a bike ride. Your diet chart still hangs in the kitchen with a Venn diagram comparing the regiments I’m sure you supplied through constant complicated cooking and domestic endeavors. Did you get him addicted to salads? Cuz I got over that kick in my own diet adventures but slowly want to come back realizing the value of compost. If I don’t eat these greens, the worms will.

Did worms take the hard clay of your heart and make it soft? How did you soften toward him after he threatened to beat the shit out of your new boyfriend? Why do you taunt him with constant phone calls, home ownership, talk of “healthy” relationships? I don’t think that’s ever happened for either of you. That’s not a judgement but a wish that I, too, could just put up with the idiosyncrasies. The statements that make no sense at all. Whatever partnership you cultivated after marrying only 4 months into dating confounds me. What I know of healthy doesn’t fit in between the layers of the story. Did you just put straw on the top of the garden of your heart to keep warm?

It feels like triangulation and “y’all” continue to talk and talk of your new lovers, I’m sure dissecting our faults like you had to have ignored in your marriage. He talks of a friend who says you were perfect for each other and I listen suspiciously as this friends cultivates dislike for others around him and speaks of his last failed relationship in terms of nostalgia. I want to know the tiny moments that were strung together to create peace. Because, with him, my peace comes second. I hide myself from him just as I hide from you. He texts me your number and I know I will never press that 505 area code into the buttons of my too-often-checked phone. I don’t know what to say–but here at a safe distance I offer up my heart.

If I can’t leave either of you be, I’m sure you can’t leave each other be. I often wonder if marriages are feigned to avoid the ever exhausting task of keeping others interested. Well, if this friendship doesn’t work out I have something to come home to. But, why did you allow his put downs? He speaks of you as an idol and as garbage. He says he spent a year crying over the whole thing but claims he planted the seed talking of divorce. How do you keep quiet? What am I missing? I know the way I am won’t work with the way he is but can we really be that different? Are you like me and recognize your own power in the whole thing and tease him as he teases you? I’ve ended unhealthy friendships to move forward. When will you get off the sinking ship, clinging like barnacles on a boat?

I wanted to major in chemistry just like you and so I know you are intelligent. As and ENFJ I know you feel the world deeply and want to help. I wish you could have helped me by setting boundaries that let him let go of control of you. It would have been transferred to me but at least the supply would dwindle. He could just bring his Texas/Utah Instagram mirage here to get back at you but you wouldn’t keep that unhealthy tether going. Cut it off. Cut him out. Let him have his tattooed girls with words that sound pretty but a reality that would drive him crazy. You and her must like to please people a lot more than me because I think I may be despised. And, I’ll take it.

What do I really want to say? I admire your courage for staying so long. I admire you for keeping quiet about your innermost thoughts. And you both can say I’ve gotten it all wrong but I will never know. So, I make guesses. I create characters. I string together meaning through what little I know of what happened. I see that you both have stopped cycling like you used to. I have some running partners, too, and I know the connection. There’s very few who can go the brink of physical exertion and not fall off. But, that’s the thing. You fell off. Stay off. Give yourselves a fighting chance at peace and compassion so that others can fit into the layers, too.

“You can love someone so much…But you can never love people as much as you can miss them.”
― John Green

 

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lint on the lens

Sometimes, lessons aren’t learned until the mistake is repeated over and over like a cup of morning coffee–bitter yet soothing at the same time. I went back to the same situation that has caused me so much confusion this past nine months. I justify that I want to be loved, want to be held, want someone to run with through the trails of life. I want to be challenged and supported. I want to be heard and I want to listen. Drawn in once again through social media, “Why you blogging my shit, why won’t you say hello at the grocery store? You can at least be civil.” Seeing him sends my heart right up to my throat where my words are suffocated and my chest collapses as my rib cage and my backbone disappear.

We ran around 15 miles in the short lived four day attempt at normalcy. Parked at town hall we made promises I knew I couldn’t keep. I wrote letters filled with lies to keep the pain around one more day–self harming of the soul. He wanted to warm up for a run and I suggested a mile approach to a hill. We started off and I could hear his feet clomping in Chacos wearing my too short running trunks and a long sleeve shirt smelling of strong sweat and cinnamon. Breath pumping out the lungs and legs tired for the first half mile then feeling my flow as the steps sync into three per breath–my sweet spot. That flow was not shared, the sweetness lost and later I was called out for not being an expert, award winning runner who has never completed an ultra. Always less than.

The demands began the third day where he was frustrated with friends, frustrated with me. I imagine going back to someone who you painted to your friends as a villain would cause discord. The same thing was happening in my life as I avoided my friends and sister too scared that I was wading in toxic sludge. The sludge became thicker and thicker as I was told to apologize for threatening to report child abuse. I wasn’t even entirely sure when this threat occurred outside of naming my observations of developmental delays, selling drugs, alcoholism. Who am I, anyway. I’ve made these mistakes but without children forever frightened to fail as a mother and acutely aware of my own faults at potential parenting having this deficiency used against me in the bitter fights.

There’s always moments that I cling to, when he cried and said he wants help to stop being an abuser. When he apologized and expressed shame for being a narc. But, this came back to him. He was sorry about what he had done to himself and his image as someone who tells on people, unconcerned about the effects of going to my employer and how that might play out in my concerted efforts toward professionalism. I’m towing a thin line, must remain at my best, must be the mandatory reporter, and slowly realize how very much he puts me at risk. At risk to be hurt by him. At risk to get caught up in the drugs and boozing. Smiling and trying to show interest and support of a booze infused river trip. Giving a judgmental glance when another party story is recounted.  Shame, confusion, disappointment.

Get out. Get out. Get out. My heart would beat quickly to these words when the fights ensued about my failure to grovel on my knees to make his life easier. Fights about how knocking on the door for twenty minutes shows care and concern and is completely reasonable and prudent. Fights about missing running, missing my writing group, driving 25 minutes to stare out the back deck at Pagosa Peak asking the mountains to tell me where is my mind in all this. I was too hurt to forgive, too eager to point out how prior acts were emotionally dismissive. Then, I’m attacked for being inadequate, unable to act in a submissive manner. “You know, I just realized we are not equals. You can discipline your body but you can’t discipline your mind.” I’ve got degrees like coats hanging in the closet with other accomplishments that mean nothing in this world. And I feel ridiculous clinging to my past goals.

“You are such a negative bitch. I can’t stand you.” This time the word bitch meant nothing to me. Just another rage fest where projection would be the trip leader rowing down a whitewater river with pour overs, strainers, all kinds of obstacles with potential for danger. I become the bearer of uncomfortable, embarrassing, and annoying emotions. I need to apologize for being negative as I’m told I’m not equal to others. I’m a horrible runner when I crush the hill I’ve been running for weeks. I’m weak in my mind when I’ve achieved a masters–like 8% of the population. There is truth and confusion in everything that it said. I start using manipulative tactics and digs to recover myself and then I question my body, my mind, my heart. I see clearly that I’m wanted for control, to augment something that is missing–compassion, empathy, regret?  And I see clearly how I react in error projecting my own shortcomings–I don’t know much about rivers.  I don’t know much about being in a marriage.  I have my own struggles deep in my heart that were put on blast.  Always a good way to invoke change.

I trace my fingers on collarbones and hip bones. I take in a big whiff of sweat and the subtle smell of wind rubbing shoulders and calves. I came back for this. I came back for vulnerable tears and talks of the future with gardens, rivers, trails, supporting me in my PhD, supporting him in his education. I’ve done wrong by reflecting the behaviors–blaming missing my run on another, refusing to apologize and admit faults, using sharp jabs and questioning every thought and act. I watch my friendships improve, I watch my job performance improve, I watch my trailrunning improve, I watch my yoga following grow. But I can’t seem to get this right. I can’t seem to change in the moment when I’m scared, frustrated, lost in love. And so he left. And so this is a blessing.  I can use my anger as fire to cleanse my own hard stuff.  I can use my negativity to become critical and engaged and I can use my body and mind to climb out of that hole like a crab from a bucket.  And the claws of that other crab can no longer reach me. I am free.

“YOUR ABUSIVE PARTNER DOESN’T HAVE A PROBLEM WITH HIS ANGER; HE HAS A PROBLEM WITH YOUR ANGER.
One of the basic human rights he takes away from you is the right to be angry with him. No matter how badly he treats you, he believes that your voice shouldn’t rise and your blood shouldn’t boil. The privilege of rage is reserved for him alone. When your anger does jump out of you–as will happen to any abused woman from time to time–he is likely to try to jam it back down your throat as quickly as he can. Then he uses your anger against you to prove what an irrational person you are. Abuse can make you feel straitjacketed. You may develop physical or emotional reactions to swallowing your anger, such as depression, nightmares, emotional numbing, or eating and sleeping problems, which your partner may use as an excuse to belittle you further or make you feel crazy.”

― Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men

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small town, big mistakes

Every other time I’ve written of the past 9 months its been romanticized, dramatized, creatively approached, over-analyzed.  And now, I will tell the story of how I made enemies in a small town.  I moved to Alamosa in July to work at a college where I thought I might be able to make a difference.  I left home, and arrived in Colorado ready to make friends with anything that breathed.  I was in a job that I was pretty awful at, as a dorm director.  I have no idea how to supervise and I’m no good at giving directives.  I did not do a good job at managing people or a dorm.

In the midst of feeling sad about losing my dog of 16 years, my Grandma, and my home state I made some pretty out of character moves that I’d spent the last 7 years of my life trying to absolve.  I was Tindering like crazy and that was my first sign.  I went on a few dates with men I wouldn’t look at twice.  Some dates turned into overnights and I started manifesting behaviors of college.  It didn’t matter though–here I was in Colorado and had taken a demotion to come here.  I was ready to be open to that identity stage of life.  Who was I?  A woman who Tindered, clearly.

That’s how I met the person who I can comfortably say has tried to ruin my life. More signs of careless behavior.  I drank my first road beer in his car in 7 years.  Over the summer, I manifested some behaviors that were extremely alarming but freeing.  Living out that college experience on steroids trying to create intimacy through false connections.  I made decisions that were out of character and I dated man who I constantly fought with, had panic attacks over, and who treated me like I was less than.  I finally deleted his last messages today in which he says I’m a fucked up piece of shit who is leaving the children of this town worse off.  Those words are burned into my brain.

In the midst of substance use and an extreme loss of meaning I started to make moves to come live in the place where this man lived in Pagosa Springs.  I didn’t know much about the town or the people only that I was miserable in my job and wanted the intense relief that came with this man.  He was nothing less than an addiction and came with all the fallout.  The dishonesty began early and he cheated on me only to wait until we were at the bottom of South Zapata Lake Trail to tell me after driving up a back breaking road.  I wasn’t as upset about the act but the way in which it was revealed–we could turn around and drive the road back down or I could suck it up.  Only the beginning.

I could recount all the terrible shit in paragraphs but I’ve already done that as I prepared to face this man in court because I felt the courts had to intervene by the end.  But back up.  Moving to be with a pretty unhealthy person I found a place to live on Craigslist.  The landlords were very nice, did yoga, had a beautiful child.  Graciously enough, they let me borrow their Jeep in one of my fights with that man. Then, it started to feel a lot like what was happening with that man.  I didn’t set clear boundaries at first and hearing them fight reminded me so much of my fights.

I took care of the child occasionally and watched the home while they were gone to various destinations.  I didn’t understand the rentier economy until I came here where folks purchase properties to rent out as income.  A complex system of ownership that usually indicates some privilege inherently.  The landlords and that man owned property and a big piece of me didn’t understand how no matter how hard I worked I was perpetually bleeding out money.  This was pointed out and used against me often and I just become more and more resigned to folks despising me for any real or imagined faults.

In January, after a particularly nasty fight where I was terrorized in a vehicle for four hours in silence and left out in the snow, I had enough.  I sought counseling, still not ready to call what was happening abuse.  I was always thankful for the female landlord as she seemed sympathetic to what was happening.  But she became pretty nasty, pretty fast.  As I began to set healthy boundaries in my life, I finally stood up (via Facebook–I hate phone calls because I can’t say no) and said hey guys I won’t be taking care of your cat or home anymore unless I’m compensated.  I’ve been on call for your guests, cleaning up cat shit, and am generally over living in a dorm room.  To say it did not go well would be an understatement.  Within minutes, I received nasty voicemails and shitty messages on Facebook.  I became defensive and tried to outline how much I was doing which was met which how much I wasn’t doing.

I had written a rent check and some monies had been withdrawn that I didn’t account for.  I asked if they could hold off on depositing the check but they had already done so.  The interactions prior to this sometimes had a sting to them and I chalked it off to the couple being unhappy, arguing constantly, and even asking for marriage counseling from myself.   I just figured things would be gray in a small town and smiled and nodded that we could try that out.  There was perpetual defensiveness about the kiddo as well and my role in child welfare as if I was going to come knocking down the door and claim child abuse.  In the midst of all the interactions I was still using substances to deal with the pain.  I had not gotten into fights like this with folks in years.

After I tried to set a boundary with the landlords I was met with more texts about how as a “Wyoming girl” I should be able to get my truck out of an icy driveway.  Two men helped me pull my truck out and I started looking for another place.  I felt so unsafe living above a garage with two folks who, like that man, pointed out any faults and warned me that I would never survive acting like this in a small town.  I figured I’d eat it. I found a new place–the nicest of my life.  A yoga studio on the second floor, mountain views, it was a dream.  In the meantime, the check they had deposited did not clear and I walked out of my office one day to see the sheriff.  They had filed criminal charges which were quickly dismissed when I explained that I had forfeited my deposit and moved in and out late and early equaling a month of paying for an unoccupied space.

This was all in the midst of going back and forth with that man who always answered my texts after months-long absences and always started in on the same kick.  You have no friends, no one likes you, you use substances like crazy, you are a piece of shit.  There are things that are true and things that are untrue.  I did my landlords dirty by moving out suddenly but never at any point do I feel I monetarily effed them over.  I’ve bounced checks to my landlord before with the same poor planning, and made it right.  My prior  landlord for the past 7 years in Wyoming gave me a glowing reference to get me into the place I’m at now despite having a few checks that turned sour.  My behaviors were indicative of someone in a really unhealthy place. But I know I had intended no harm.

Fast forward to my last interaction with the man I moved to the small town for–I engaged him one last time with the hope that it would be a fun night and like my other ex’s I would leave in the morning to say goodbye until we were done with the cycle.  Instead, it turned into one of the most dramatic upsetting interactions of my life.  I had been seeing a therapist for a while now and just wasn’t convinced that my smart, beautiful self would become involved in an abusive relationship.  No way would a man threaten and intimidate me.  Yes, way.  This man went to my job and recounted every instance of poor conduct I had exhibited in the past 9 months. All conduct related to my time with him.

I went to the domestic violence shelter and prepared to file a stalking protection order.  Only in looking at the examples of abuse did it really start to hit home.  But, he never hit me.  But, he was actively trying to destroy my life.  In 12 hours it went from “I love you so much Jen” to “I want you out of my town.”  He is powerful.  He is smart.  And in his retaliatory fashion, filed an order against me.  Said I broke into his home and called him a dickbag on Instagram.  Sure did call him names but sure didn’t break into his home.  It almost worked, but thankfully I am in charge of destroying or building my life back up.  And so it ended on a Friday afternoon in court as I watched a woman and man argue over a protection order and I saw the archetypes of my life.  Woman crying, preaching about her degree in psychology calling the man a narcissist.  Man with mental illness, with some used car salesman lawyer and a bench full of friends, preaching about how a gentle banjo player would never attack a woman.  I filed for dismissal, he followed suit and I caught the eyes of the man as he left the courtroom.  It was over.

And now I am left with a handful of enemies.  The landlords and that man have since become friends, I’m sure recounting what a piece of shit I am.  “Oh she didn’t pay rent.  Oh she was all fucked up all the time.  You’d think a counselor would be a little better in relationships.”  There are also others who are in the haters club.  A man who makes it his business to cheat on his wife.  A couple who drink in what I would describe a violent fashion.  I’ve agonized so many nights over who I became trying to get away from that man.  I became my 17 year old self trying to survive trailer parks and felons being sneaky to avoid any interactions.  Looking up folks on the internet to prove to myself that I had encountered a huge abusers club.  Researching mental health in rural areas to prove to myself that they collect poor, uneducated folks with a clan mentality.

But, now, I don’t know if it matters.  I don’t think anyone is right.  I don’t think anyone is wrong.  All I know is at the end of the day I have a handful of folks in the world who think I’m the worst person they have ever met.  And that might be their experience but this is not how I experience myself.  I saw myself as someone who will forever struggle with addictions.  I became addicted to the same old stuff and I became addicted to an abusive man.  I watched “Big Little Lies” over the weekend where the main character is in a horribly abusive situation and I became eerily frightened by the man’s behaviors that were so familiar.  Everything but the actual physical violence like watching a movie of my life flash in front of me.

And so, now, I’m getting better.  I’m in therapy and have rolled back the addictive behaviors across the board, quitting most everything except for margaritas and e-cigarettes.  A work in progress.  I’m a licensed counselor in Colorado now, and folks with far healthier boundaries than I’ve cultivated yet are watching my every move.  This means no illegal activity no matter if its legal in certain states.  And here’s what my counselor training has taught me:  healthy people do not respond to a boundary by sending cruel and threatening text messages.  Healthy people do not take time out of their day to talk shit on a woman they knew less than 3 months.  Healthy people do not find any excuse to party to the detriment of their relationships and family.  And so I will be a healthy person.  I will understand that my behaviors got me here.  Going back and forth with that man enraged him.  Refusing to pay rent enraged the landlords. But, in no case will rage set anything right.

I would still sit down in a room and apologize to all of them for any pain I’ve caused.  Lets all get some couples counseling cuz this ain’t working.  Get some individual therapy because there’s some serious mental health issues at hand here.  Set boundaries out the gate–I can’t take care of your cat or kid.  I won’t be in a relationship with someone who seeks to destroy me at any assertion of my power.  I’ve done wrong.  I’ve hurt some folks who I thought I would love.  I’ve done right.  I’ve loved the person who I will spend the rest of my life with–myself.  And so, I stay here in this small town and I find wonderful people who model healthy interactions.  I think about my life and what I want.  I want to be free of substances, free of poor boundaries, free of the drama that comes with being a big turd in a small toilet.  I will do better, I will be better, and I hope to meet you to prove it.

“You left and the world didn’t crumble.  I owe the universe a dollar.”

-Rudy Francisco

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in the middle of the night

I was going to blog about Lou Dog but I’ve written so many stories about him as the protagonist, all nonfiction because that damn dog saved my life.  I’m falling asleep early lately and waking up in the early morning/very late night and liking the pattern of observing others from afar while I know they sleep and heal and dream of whatever needs integrated, whatever needs attention.  While they sleep, I reflect.  I sink into sadness, I sink into playfulness, I write, I dance, I social media like a bad habit, I take baths.  In my watching from afar and in my folding back into myself I’m starting to feel more clear, confident, concise.  I’m starting to understand, at least for myself, the unraveling of me and maybe how to approach intimacy next time.  The edge, the place I seek, is where I individuate, stand in myself, keep a clear confident head, even in the arms and heart of another, the canyons and peaks of a new geographical area, the thick air of my dark thoughts.

I’ve been quietly studying for the National Counselor Exam, experiencing significant distress in the section on children and attachment.  I make comments here and there in my new office where I share a space with two other child welfare case workers and while they work on active cases I feel my eyes blur and stomach hurt as I move through childhood trauma in reading and memory. Replicating a feeling in graduate school, in the fraternity and sorority life office in the basement of the University of Wyoming where so much change occurred, so many memories and emotions sifted through like cake flour.  I would sit listening to conversations about Greek Week, reading and taking in concepts of moving toward and away and fearful-avoidant attachments.  Oh my god its me.  But I need to remember now as then, we were all secretly diagnosing ourselves and each other.  I know now—humanistic, client-centered, and existential—I don’t have to diagnose clients in a way that will harm them and I can collaboratively diagnose, if I diagnose at all.

Now, as then, I move through my feelings on attachment disorders, my potential attachment disorder, and its bearing on my last relationship.  And then I smile quietly because I know if this is the case, I’ve made relationships with secure individuals and sometimes to tell the truth to others doesn’t keep things easy and brings about more bitter truth I’m not keen on hearing, either.  I feel especially aware of anything I’ve failed at in my life and even stop writing to think of my best friend in Texas and how I’m missing out on the life of her child because I feel I can’t get well.  I create this unwell person around her because she has always been the sage and my substance abuse affected her and others.  I’ve apologized, maybe its time for action.  I can only do so much to make it right and then we have a leap of faith.  And I keep working or we grow apart.  We grow apart as I grow further and further from any suburban lifestyle whether I like it or not, and whether she does either—I do not know. I feel all the separation and loss of my father, my best friend, my lover, my dog.  It’s important to move through the negativity, the loss, the grief.  Branches can only grow as high as roots grow deep.  Nothing is ever good or bad, only thinking makes it so.

I pass the National Counselor Exam, and complete week one of my training.  I knew I would pass the exam because it’s my life’s work.  I’ve been taking standardized tests and studying my entire life.  I’m proficient. To be in that place of mastery feels good.  In the training I become heated during a discussion and find myself vindicated when I’m right.  Here’s where the work lies—I’ve got some good shit to say but I can be kind, confident, and clear when I say it. I can read the books, and remember my theory of change and conceptualize all my relationships and my own mental illness or lack thereof, and unpack how I create all my own problems.  We have a choice in any moment how we will respond to ourselves and others.  Breathe in, breathe out, and in that tiny catch in between I have time to cultivate my awareness to be mindful of my language—say only that which will truly help the other person or myself.   I know the pendulum still swings back and forth in the realm of attachment but I do not apologize for feeling things deeply but do feel regret for clinging to the deepness longer than the present moment.  Sometimes, there are lessons and goals to be pulled from experiences, but who I am doesn’t give a shit about lessons or goals, but cares:  how are we?  how am I?   how is this universe?  Right here, right now.

“We must exist right here, right now!”

–Shunryu Suzuki

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spiritual vomit

I spiritually vomited all over myself last week.  I felt the panic and fear come on Monday and I ran out of my house to get away from my trembly dog who shows me my own anxiety through ear flapping and panting.  Running away in shame knowing that my frantic energy has affected him but these are the moments I spin out and cannot take any outside stimulation.  I feel out of control, triggered, scared, like a child.

I joke about this workbook I scribble in here and there designed to help me with my self-esteem.  Shit gets better every day but I still feel my cheeks burn when I’m told—you’re intense, you are too much, you intimidate me, you are loud.  I internalize all these things but I’ve always been big and loud and would come tramping up the stairs in my childhood home singing or speaking languages that might have been just of our family clan.  We would yell, giggle, the neighbors commented on our loudness.

We all sang and had rituals like most families I’m sure.  Some of my favorite memories are the songs we made for our pets. Our three legged dog: “Tripod—no bipod, he is a friend of mine.”  Or our black sleek lab mix Albert: “Ali-berto gentille Aliberto, je te plumerai.”  Then there was our sheep dog Buddy who we would provoke by making the letter O with our mouths and wailing up and down, up and down so he would sing with us.

These things did not seem weird or intense or intimidating as a child.  As I find myself interacting with children, much more rarely than I wished, I find that they are the most accepting of me.  They even appreciate my weirdness, my intensity.  They know my intentions without my having to say so they know I still speak the language of un-nuance, of simplicity, of utter straight forwardness. And they speak straight forward to me, sometimes in a cheek burning way—Miss Jen you are sometimes pretty but sometimes not pretty at all.  And I say thank you because all I see is not pretty at all.  And so I scratch in the self-esteem workbook.

I don’t understand some of the unspoken rules of the adult world and have professionally crippled myself numerous times—in school, at work.  Anxiety is supposedly rooted in low self-esteem and in my tradition of receiving high marks, I’ve got A’s in both.  I think every day how I know I’m intelligent but if folks are too intimidated to listen, let go of that achievement.  I can listen to NPR but I still sing nursery rhymes in the shower.

I used to get pretty stinkin’ drunk to deal with who I was because in drunk world, Crazy Jen (the name I obtained for myself in my asshole years) was accepted that way.  People found it fun.  I was a pretend extrovert, the life of the party sliding around drinking fellahs under the table watching them vomit beer as I challenged them to shotgun contests.  Slamming my car keys into aluminum, drinking, drinking, hoping someone would stay until the sun came up and I became my true introvert self so we could talk about books and God.

I will vomit again I’m sure.  Maybe beer, maybe this confusing stream of spirituality but sometimes it’s not too bad to have the warm insides come rushing out, to feel the relief and release of pressure that builds constantly in a world that isn’t ready for my vibration.  Lou Dog, who has many songs and phrases, will continue to show me when I’m off the ol’ rocker and then the choice Is mine to act on the fear or to laugh at myself and use the mantra I heard a child say this week–I am what I am.

“All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story; to vomit the anguish up.” 

-James Baldwin

 

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day two (late)-20 facts about me

  • I used to hate sloppy joes. I guess they are okay now
  • I was 6 feet and a half inch at the age of 12
  • I used to study the bible 2-3 hours a day
  • I want to get my PhD in higher ed leadership even though I swore off school after my masters program
  • I love pizza so hard
  • I’m extremely insecure about my body and have spent years trying to help myself with this
  • My family has a long history of mental illness—but hey we are fun!
  • I used to be extremely shy as a child, not so much anymore
  • I would love to build a cabin in Canada or Alaska and learn mountaineering skills and live a more simple life and write, write, write
  • I’ve had disordered eating patterns in some form since I was 16
  • I wanted to go to the University of Montana so hard. Still kinda do.
  • I was supposed to play division 1 basketball, and I got injured
  • My mentor and creative writing guru said I was one of the best writers she had encountered—that friggin meant the world to me to hear
  • I love writing. Non-fiction. My life is rich with details and experiences
  • I was in county jail for 3 months. 1 month by myself. Shudder.
  • I love sticking q-tips in my ears.
  • I wear size 13 in womens shoes. Yeah junior high was bullshit.
  • I do things 100% and immerse myself in anything I’m interested in.
  • I love and hate Crossfit. I love running. I love and hate yoga. I love and hate the people who do these sports.
  • I have a younger sister and older brother. Janessa and Jesse. They mean the world to me.
  • I am extremely hard on myself and sometimes think I’m the most hideous person ever. But then I realize we are all crappy. We are all good.  We are human.
  • If you counted that was 21. I do what I want!