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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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positive regard

I woke up sweaty and feeling pieces of pork in my belly from my emotional eating fest that I sometimes take to late at night. Shoving rigid, burnt, pieces of dry chops into my mouth to fill my empty belly hoping somehow the nourishing chunks will reach my heart. I smell the scent of my own sweat happy now that it doesn’t bug me. I pick up my sweatshirt lying curled on the floor and take a whiff of faint perfume and dryer sheets still hanging around even though I quit my practice of using like fifty every drying cycle. Maybe I am growing.

I felt like myself, writing again about the larger world not just my soul in and out of love. I stepped out of my house so thankful for a space with two floors still feeling guilty I don’t use my yoga studio as much as I’d like. Then, I glance at my plants in the corner feeling warm at the metaphor for growth–long vines curing sideways and up, pink green leaves and primary color pots. If these plants can grow without my knowing anything about good soil, Latin names, lighting–then I can grow in an environment where I try mountain biking for the first time, skiing, boating. A little droopy at first, I’ve taken root and no longer worry about how I’ll do in a small town. Turns out I’ll be just fine.

Fine as frog hair I can hear the chirping of crickets and croaks of frogs outside my back deck lips tilting into a smile because I have created exactly what I want. I’m on the trails everyday–exploring my inner and outer worlds. There are a few things, though, that have been pointed out that I would like to change. I check on Strava and see that one of my running partners has gone back to improve on my special loop. I start the cycle of run anxiety–I need to beat them! These thoughts are self-defeating as I’ve never done to well in the physical arena at competition. I remember the summer of 15,000 basketball shots–I improve through repetition and tiny little shifts in my thought process.

How do people change? I don’t think they change by making promises regarding past or future situations. Expectations can kill the change process and I believe only when a person can be their complete, crusty, loving, stinky, gorgeous selves can they start to make changes towards who they want to be. I sometimes get muscles cramps in my feet and legs and instead of curling up and moaning about the tenseness I step right into the pain. Pull back toes, step back on the calf, go right into the tenseness. It takes a lot to rebuild trust like peeling a mango and trying to find the giant seed-nut inside and trusting that while some of the tender sweet flesh will remain on the rind and seed what’s inside is worth the work.

I change my mind a lot about what I want in love. I have gained so much insight this year. I need humor, I need long talks and discourse that helps me to challenge or accept my position on any number of issues. And I am allowed to change my mind–to uphold some liberal ideas and still cling to my Wyoming cord with rights and liberties guaranteed to the individual.  And I can choose to completely disengage knowing that the personal is political and the way I live my life is the most convincing evidence of what I believe.  I want passion–not just passion between two mounds of flesh but passion to grow one another like wilted plants, hard mangoes, fatigued quad muscles ready to mend into stronger versions of trees clomping up a mountain. I want to change in the gray tick tocking until I slow down in the middle space that fits my soul in the present moment.

We all encounter our mirrors in life, sometimes in nature, sometimes in objects, sometimes in others. I can make a choice to see my positive aspects in the mirror–still aware of my black and white thinking, my strong nose, my horse teeth, my bird nest hair. What I have found in others is my humor, my pragmatism, my ability to see past behaviors that are really just a mask. I feel some friction in my life like wearing running shoes with no socks, tiny rocks of incongruence press into the tender fleshy part of my foot and I have the tools to end the friction, to find a new pair of shoes I can wear for the next 500 miles.   And with a tender foot, I can take one step at a time.

“I am increasingly an architect of self. I am free to will and choose. I can, through accepting my individuality… become more of my uniqueness, more of my potentiality.”

-Carl Rogers

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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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dark intellect

I have always trusted my brain.  It’s the one thing I can always count on.  I know I’m smart.  My parents thought I was smart and sent a weird red-bearded man to test my IQ in fourth grade.  I would become agitated that I was pulled out of class to be with a man who generally gave me the creeps.  He was a specialist I think, not a familiar figure in school and any interruption to my routine would distress my system but I always did what I was told.  That’s how God wanted it to be.  He asked questions about how I knew water was boiling.  Well because it bubbles, bro.  At the end of the cryptic visits I was pulled into the principal’s office.  “Jennifer, would you like to skip to 7th grade?” I was in fourth grade, about 5’9″ inches, fluffy black hair, big hips, and gigantic purple glasses.  God, no.  I’m a social pariah as is–I know that.  Please, no.

I stayed in the same grade and some of teachers didn’t feel I was living up to my potential.  My first “B” came in work ethic. Straight A’s in every other subject but more was expected of me.  I still don’t know my IQ to this day but clearly I wasn’t meeting the expectations of whatever that number proposed.  One day, the white bearded librarian came to our classroom to play a rousing game of chess against me while the entire class watched.  I wasn’t worried–Dad had taught me well and my patience and strategy didn’t quite get me to victory that day but a stale-mate that must of somehow reflected my place in the world–I was moving around my chess pieces in simultaneous offense and defense.  Smart enough to win, smart enough to not care.

Being intellectual is a gift.  I can think my way out of so many problems.  I can create a safe world in my mind and write stories of how my mind works.  I can mimic trauma in non-fiction.  I can metaphorically write about the details of my life connecting them to the bigger picture.  I see the nuances and also the bird’ eye view of life and philosophy.  I can contemplate God.  Somehow, I thought my intellect was a much stronger defense than it panned out to be.  I still have a hard time understanding some of the events that have happened in my life.   My brain was wired well enough to forget most of the bullshit.  This year my mind has turned against me and memories have come back.  Painful.  I thought I was smarter than that.

I walked into work one day and asked my co-worker who was a boxer about what happens when you get hit. I hadn’t been able to hear out of my right ear for four days.  During sex, my boyfriend had punched me so hard in the face I stopped being able to hear.  “It’s called boxers ear, Jen.  You should be fine.” This boyfriend and I were into some obscure shit.  We liked to listen to heavy metal and muse in our anti-social tendencies.  One time I lit a marijuana pipe red hot and pressed it into my thigh.  I asked him to choke me until I would almost pass out.  In the world of sex–these were not off the beaten path.  Folks have kinky sex way more often than we want to admit.  This was, for the most part, normal sexual behavior.  But, I didn’t ask him to punch me.  I didn’t know he would punch me.  He hurt me on his terms.  Weeks or months later, who knows, I ran sprinting back to my house after he had dumped me on the side of the road.  I ran and ran to get back to safety and the door came swinging open.  He would always find me.

My Dad died in 2008 and it fucked me up really bad.  I choose the words I am saying and fucked up isn’t strong enough.  My world imploded.  My true north ceased to exist.  I shacked up with a guy who’s name I can’t even remember.  I didn’t even remember he existed until this year.  Back in the college days of drinking and debauchery bars would often make special glasses for mixed shots–i.e. like a Jager bomb.  Plastic shot contained within a glass where Jager would go and then surrounded by Red Bull.  I don’t know how it all went down but I remember my nose and mouth being covered by the giant hand of some strong iron-worker from Arkansas as he watched my eyes turn red.  Before I passed out I smashed the pink plastic cup into the side of his head and felt the small plastic bits crumble in my hand.  Goddamnit, I was going to survive. I fell asleep next to him on an air mattress that night waiting for my inevitable arrest because he had choked me out again while I was driving a few days before.  Third DUI, second violent relationship.  Where the fuck was my brain.  How could someone so smart be so stupid.

This summer I met a very nice guy with whom I felt very connected.  He was long and lean and didn’t mind my quirks and didn’t seem to want to humiliate me during sex or choke me for no reason.  I am so desperate for love that I crave any attention with someone who sees my brain.  He saw and appreciated my intelligence and I felt we could play chess and talk of our family dynamics forever.  I attach to folks so strongly, without a daddy.  Without any role-models of healthy relationships.  He became my world as I had moved from my home in Wyoming where folks didn’t care I was burned, kicked, punched, choked probably because I had forgotten any of it had happened.  I was called Crazy Jen for so long I figured that’s what bitches like me deserve.  Shit talking.  Dirty looks.  Sometimes, the crazy went in my favor and back in the day I would get free drugs as long as I did them intravenously in front of the dealer.  See me fucked up.  See me with no brain.

All these memories came back in a hotel room in Canon City, Colorado.  “You are so fucking damaged, Jen.  I feel sorry for you.”  Ahh shit.  He was right.  I was damaged.  I didn’t remember those events that had happened.  But I deserved them, right?  I lashed out in anger when I was attacked.  When I was told that I wasn’t going to be in someone’s life because they didn’t want to have a “crazy girlfriend” I knew they were right.  I made someone burn me.  Punch me.  Choke me.  My crazy brought about violence in others.  I was playing this game of chess to the best of my ability and I was letting folks down. That fourth grade class of blank eyes stared at me and watched me falter with every move.   My work ethic was a “C” at best.  I wasn’t trying hard enough.  I was being lazy and smart and should be in the 9039320th grade of relationships, not the second grade running away every time I was called a stupid bitch.

This is what is so hard.  I’m smart.  I’m kind.  I’m a counselor.  I was a victim’s advocate for years.  But, these things still happened.  I still let into my life 3 very violent men who intimidated me.  Who physically abused me.  Who emotionally degraded me.  Yet I still see this as my fault.  I know I’m mean and cruel but I know what has happened to me.  I didn’t make it up but that’s also shady to me as well.  How could someone forget being punched, burned, kicked, and choked?  How could someone with so much sense end up in hotel room after hotel room being told what a horrible piece of shit I am?  How could someone who had been to the emergency room several times with sexually assaulted women end up in the snow one snowy night in February 2017 shaky and scared calling the police to please, please don’t come out because in Colorado in domestic violence calls, an arrest is mandatory?

I am doing the very best I can.  I just submitted a $960 bill for therapy starting in January before that cold February night when I remembered some childhood beatings that I still doubt. Because I trust my brain.  This brain has gotten me scholarships, offers to skip grade levels, exemplary marks on standardized tests, its reasoned its ways out of these places.  I still don’t know if I believe any of this was abuse.  I’m just a strong-headed, weird, negative, and perhaps hard-to-love person.  If I was sweet and kind in spirit as I feel in my mind then I would stop this cycle.  The only thing I want today is to call any one of these men to come over and embrace me and then tell me what a fuck up I am.  Yes, yes, second in words what I feel in thought.  I am fucking retarded, I am too much to handle, I am not worthy of a faithful man or of someone to sleep next to at night.  My brain has been hard-wired for torture.  Whether it be self-torture of this entire blog or of the words of any man who I’ve held dear telling me of my inherent worthlessness.  I think, I feel, my brain can no longer be trusted.  That knot in my stomach was right.  My sweaty palms, my hunched back.  My body knew what was about to happen.  But how could I leave the very thing that helped me to survive?  I can leave these men but how can I leave my mind?

I played chess the other day and struggled hard to explain how it’s played.  It’s through tact.  Foresight.  Observation.  Strategy.  Patience.  Willingness.  I think I can say I have been a victim of abuse.  But I won’t leave that statement at just that.  I have been a victim of my own mind thinking I was exempt from shitty relationships.  I am a strong woman with strong trauma and these two do not want to tango.  I received minimal support in this last abusive relationship and am pretty sure I was seen as the problem.  I get nasty in intimacy because intimacy means I will get fucked up.  So I give myself some grace.  But I have very little grace for how I acted in defense of my well-being.  I am still trying to live down some ruined relationships as I existed in months being told how I was the cause of any problem that happened in my life or in his life. So, I write this shit down to let it go.

I think I can trust my brain again.  Its thinking in terms of case conceptualization and in clinical terms to help my clients.  If I look to my own case I see many trauma responses.  I see a childhood of dysregulated emotions and an adolescence of numbing and substance abuse that stunted my emotional growth.  I see a 7th grader who really should be in 4th grade and is doing her best to fake it until she makes it.  Those things did happen.  And this time I will not let my mind forget.  I will nurture my mind to connect to my body and feel the violence before it happens.  I might not ever say out loud I was abused.  But I will write it down and think on what could be different.  Who I can choose next.  And eventually I will find the peace I need to once again feel proud of my brain.  The body part that just might save me, the organ that fires even when I’m asleep.  I am smart.  I am alive.  I have survived.

“Has he ever trapped you in a room and not let you out?
Has he ever raised a fist as if he were going to hit you?
Has he ever thrown an object that hit you or nearly did?
Has he ever held you down or grabbed you to restrain you?
Has he ever shoved, poked, or grabbed you?
Has he ever threatened to hurt you?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then we can stop wondering whether he’ll ever be violent; he already has been.”

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

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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

Christmas, depression, Dharma, Dichotomies, Expansion, Faith, Family, Fear, Health Issues, Jail, Mental Health, Mindfulness, Nostalgia, PTSD, Running, Self Growth, Self Love, Self Reflection, Suicide, Trailrunning, Universiality, Wyoming, Yoga

I am in recovery, and I drink

An article about me recently came out detailing how I was able to recover from addiction to meth using yoga as a tool of recovery.  I used the drug almost exclusively intravenously everyday my senior year of high school and on into my twenties.  Mix in some blow, some pills, a bit of heroin.  All of this is true.  Another truth is that I’ve not used meth, pills, coke, or heroin in more than 7 years and I’ve not touched needles in as long.

But, I do drink.

In fact, I got pretty shitcanned on Christmas and spent yesterday hating myself watching as others posted this article about me detailing my three DUI’s and how I use yoga to help others.  I felt like a fraud and the folks from AA might have a thing or two to say about my version of recovery. But, I also knew where the desire to get schnockered was coming from.  My family became very fragmented in 2008 and I’ve spent almost every Christmas since alone. This is my work–to find peace in this space and create my own family.

So, to create forgiveness I googled the term “recovery is not abstinence” because this is what I have come to believe, this is one truth I have come to know.  This is true for me, and might not be for you.  That’s the thing your realize–truth can be relative.  And I think this is what has propelled me into living the most meaningful and vibrant life I’ve ever known.  Yeah, life has been crappy at times, and I own that I created it that way.

I found an article called “Reason” by Stanton Peele subtitled “Sobriety isn’t an abstinence fixation, it’s about having purpose.”  When you have purpose, stuff just falls into place.  I’ve never before had so much purpose in my life, I’ve never thought so much about the big picture, and I’ve never been so comfortable living in the gray. Through yoga, meditation, running, and writing I have found a way to express myself inwardly and outwardly.

What got me in trouble in the first place was living in extremes, maintaining all or nothing thinking and I became extremely uncomfortable in AA thinking I was one cocktail away from jail or death.  When in fact, I had maintained some moderate form of drinking for years until the death of my father which resulted in overuse of that same coping skill I had cultivated for a long time.  Looking back, it seems I was more suicidal than anything.  My Daddy had been ripped from me.  I did what I knew, I did what I could to feel better.  I drank, I smoked, I shot up.

I do often wonder if I am justifying, but I know in my heart that so many more folks with addictions might be able to find recovery were it not the constant pursuit of something that seems unattainable.  Even AA knows, we are only as sick as our secrets.  Those of us who have overused substances are far from saints.  But, we are not social pariahs.  We are not diseased.  We like to feel good.  And that’s the human condition.  We all have disassociated in one way or another to get away from uncomfortable feelings.  This is how humans work.

On April 25th, 2014 I broke my sobriety streak and had a beer after a close friend had hung herself.  Perhaps not the best coping skill but a completely human way to cope.  I let myself begin to drink into summer particularly after long runs and I would refuel with a Coors and a burger.  It was actually very relaxing and rewarding.  The running had become like meditation for me and to chill and have a beer after the run gave me space to see what moderate drinking felt like, what it looked like, and how it can be a very normal process.

I had been told in AA how NOT normal I was.  Oh well Jen, you drink, so clearly you are immoral.  You have no control.  You are an addict.  You can’t handle life.  I don’t really think of myself as an addict at all.  It’s no longer a part of my identity and not how I like to refer to myself.  I am a yogi, a teacher, an aunt, a sister.  But I’m no longer an addict.  Or alcoholic. This is one of the many reasons that I don’t find much solace in AA.  There are other reasons of course, but I am an empowered woman.  I am no victim of alcohol, drugs, or my circumstances.

Alcoholics Anonymous, while one of the most successful recovery programs in our recent history, has appropriated the term sobriety.  The program dominates our thinking about addiction and the only way sobriety is achieved is through complete abstinence.  To me, this seems like a complete set up.  For most, it’s an unattainable standard that may be reminiscent of why many of us started using in the first place.  To try and be something we were not, to try to maintain a facade.  It aggravates all or nothing thinking.  And it causes huge fall outs and huge relapses rather than just a shitcanned Christmas.

To me, recovery means that I love my body enough to realize that I cannot drink all the time.  It’s listening to my belly when it says that hard liquor is no good for me.  It’s having water with beer because I’m using the liquid carbs to recover.  It’s having purpose at my job I value enough to not show up hungover.  Its service work to others in my community who are in the grips of addiction.  It’s my values, my plans, my life goals.  I’ve come too far to fall victim to the fuzzy life I lived previously.

There is more than ample evidence that shows addiction is a solvable coping problem rather than a chronic recurring disease.  Being positively engaged with life encourages better coping skills and natural recovery. A number of long-term studies support this idea. Some positive engagement in my life includes a few beers at the local pub.  Sometimes wine with a fancy dinner.  I don’t have to wear a scarlet letter.  I can choose moderation.  I’ve often felt the only space where anyone is shamed for drinking is the rooms of AA.  It’s AA that plans the seeds of distrust and doubt.  Your own mind becomes the enemy when it is the exact tool that can heal you.

And so, I tell folks I’m in recovery.  I attend counseling to manage my anxiety and depression that have led to substance abuse in the past.  I perform service work at least once weekly to help impart tools that keep me healthy and engaged in life.  I create space for others as they work through relapses and we all begin to cultivate forgiveness of ourselves and others.  And, to me, recovery is simply self-love.  It’s the highest form of grace.  It’s accepting ourselves exactly where we are.  And then we can begin to change.