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New Pathways to Well-Being

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New Pathways to Well-Being

I am not much of a middle of the night blogger. But seeing as I am staying the night in the hospital, I tend to wake up as suddenly as I doze off. I have few hours yet until it is morning and the silence is stunning. Thus, I take advantage of the opportunity.

I just had my tonsils removed and am quite comfortable with an assortment of liquids as well as pain relievers. And yet, my mind is still busy. The silence encourages my thought processes. I have two things on my mind: my physical being and my physical environment. The two of these culminate into one theme: my small business. My role as a writer, my ambitions as an artist, and the family’s desire to become more involved in alternative agriculture.

I think about how this spring I began exploring my understanding of my physical being through writing.  Well, then I got sick. My throat inflamed terribly. A little ironic, I think.

Just a bit later into the summer, amid deadlines, my husband’s surgery, and my continuing illness, I said,

It is a small step in bringing order to my life.

I’m through with waking each morning feeling bad in some way.

I’m through with abusing or neglecting myself.

It’s up to me to know when to say when.

And so, that is why I am here recovering from surgery. Four months of reoccurring throat pain became a great barrier. I spent my days feeling bad. I neglected my garden, I struggled to juggle projects, I couldn’t let go of material things, and I couldn’t move on.

I literally, I could not move on into what the future had in store for me: a space for my office studio. I was told about this opportunity to gain a space the day after I cleaned out my home office. It felt like the universe was fast at work. I was granted access just after July 4.

But here it is October 9th and I have yet to move in. Why? Because the universe was at work in other ways as well.

Here I have access to space in which I can do my work as a writer and as an artist. I had wanted it so badly. But then I came to realize the building has the exact layout of my first apartment. I stumbled. I stumbled back into a time when I felt like my life calling was to be a writer and an artist. I stumbled back into a small sliver of my youth in which I loved being myself.

But, I was only 18 and had so much to learn at that time. It was eerily surreal that this new space recalled many incidents of this time in my life. Some good, some bad. All true, because I was living a true existence. That was until I got derailed, began a pattern of self-sabotage, and soon was unable to pay my bills. It didn’t take long for me to totally abuse my entire physical existence, after all I was only 18.

And perhaps now, I get a chance to do it differently.

Sure, I was scared to make the move into a similar place.

But I know have the courage to say, once again, “That was then, this is now.”

I begin to have a sense that the life I envision is possible.

I think about an article I read this morning about the art of making a living as an artist. 

I think about the business plan I developed one year ago, and how I have the opportunity to revisit that again now.

I think about how far my writing has come in the past year.

I think about a project I am working on now, helping a farmer and local foods activist friend develop her vision statement for an application.

I keep thinking about what she wrote about the growing population of would-be farmers that are prepared to unleash their creativity, but just need assurance that their dreams and plans would be possible.

I think that term farmer could be replaced by any of my potential titles, and she still would have been able to include me in that statement. After all, there are so many possibilities ahead!

And so many ideas floating around in this head of mine.

And more than ideas, but passion as well.

Perhaps in overcoming this barrier of pain, fear, and disconnect, I am better able to pave a new pathway within so that my own great ideas can connect with my true passion in order to freely engage with my own physical environment.

Coming to Fruition

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The world is full of coulds, woulds, and shoulds. Some of which exist in truly meaningful ways.

But many of them:

Oh, I really should…

If I just could…

I really would…

They only seem to perpetuate invisible barriers.

Who says I should?

Who says I can’t?

Then why don’t I?

Who says I can't climb a tree?

Who says I can’t climb a tree?

We all have dreams, and there is no good reason these dreams cannot be part of our reality. No matter how big or small. No matter how silly or strange.

You want to do something?

Then why don’t you?

I know it is not that easy. In fact, just a month ago I felt trapped by my own invisible barriers.

Terribly trapped in a silly conundrum.

I wanted to pick fruit, but yet everything seemed to stop me.

Chokecherries grow on small to medium sized trees, often found on the edges of wooded areas or standing alone in the open. Their tart fruits have a single small pit and make you pucker at the first taste.

Chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) grow on small to medium sized trees, often found on the edges of wooded areas or standing alone in the open.

The fruit beckons from a far.

It is wild.

Yet that is not what stops me.

I know it well. Its name: common, genus, and species.

Leaf patterns and ecology.

Even uses and recipes.

What stops me is fear.

Fear that regulations might state that I cannot pick there.

Fear that those trees might belong to someone else.

Fear that I might be confronted with threatening words and gestures.

Fear that someone might come with questions,

Whatcha gonna do with them?”

“Um, eat them kind sir….” (please don’t eat me!!)

“Howsya know them berries ain’t gonna kill ya?”

“Er, I study these plants, you see, ma’am. I’ve even taught about them.  Plus I always double check my identifications.”

“Why go to all that trouble, when you can just buy some fruit at the store?”

“Well you see, I can’t buy these in the store. And I really like them.  I think they might be better than anything you can buy in the store.”

“Why don’t you just give me MY berries, and we won’t have us any trouble…”

“Am I getting mugged? For wild fruits?”

“Why don’t you just get the hell out of here…”

“Is that a shotgun? Oh shit…”

These delusions seem to quickly escalate out of control. They became paralyzing. Keeping me from doing what I wanted.

But because it was something I wanted to do, somehow in my mind, it must be wrong.

I created a barrier, to keep me from doing what I really, truly wanted.

That barrier was fear.

The day I overcame that fear, I was with my husband, out alone for a North Dakota drive. We were stopping along little lakes, thinking about future places for family camping and seeking out a nice little fishing hole for the afternoon.

First, I saw a chokecherry tree, then about three more.

Beautiful and bountiful.

I discretely picked some and put them in an empty water bottle.

Then I saw some rosehips, and always having wanted to make rosehip jelly, I collected another pint or so of them.

I felt so sneaky and cautious. I was on high alert.

Certainly, I was doing something wrong.

All the while, Hubby was getting out his rod and tackle box and began searching the shoreline for a good place to test the waters.

“Rachel, you had better come see this!” He hollered.

I was convinced he had found a sign that stated the area was a protected nature preserve, and that anyone found disturbing any animals, plants, or rocks would be fined $10,000 and spend up to a year in jail.

My heart sank.

Walking toward him, holding my breath, I failed to see what he wanted me to see.

Black Currants.

All along the shoreline.

Bushes loaded with the earthy, rich sweetness of black currants.

I must have been dumbstruck, because he had to urge me on,

“We have some plastic bags in the car. You should go get some.”

Excuses ran through my head.

Someone must have planted these here.

No, someone’s grandpa planted them here 120 years ago.

I’m sure of it.

Heck, the lake is probably even named after him.

BUT WAIT- BLACK CURRANTS.

I looked again, thick along the shoreline, into the trees.

And on and on.

I looked for evidence to show they had been picked before (and by extension, it would be okay for me to pick some too.)

Indeed. Some branches and clusters showed signs of picking.

And since I didn’t think there were many bears around that had been gorging themselves on currants, I took a gamble that humans had indeed been picking these currants.

I would not be thrown in jail if I picked these fruits.

On I went down the shore. Bag in hand. Ready to work.

Picking currants is not easy work. The fruits are barely noticeable from overhead, as they cluster beneath the leaves.

Black Currants

Black Currants (Ribes americanum) thrive along
stream banks, in moist ravines, wet meadows, floodplains, and woodland edges.

Two hours of bending, sitting, kneeling, and gently pulling the leaves back yielded just over a quart of berries and a criticism came to mind,

“That’s an awful lot of work for just a couple berries.” 

I silenced the critic within by popping a few more fruits into my mouth.

I was overcoming that barrier.

Even the point that a truck came down the dirt road, I resisted the urge to jump into the bushes to hide.

I acted as though I paid no mind.

But I was focused on my breathing, so to not have a full blown anxiety attack.

I destroyed the barrier.

I no longer had to dance around with the shoulds, coulds, and woulds.

“I would love to collect wild fruit to make jelly, someday.”

“I know I could identify them, afterall, I taught ethnobotany for two years.”

“I should just get enough courage to go do it.”

“Or maybe I shouldn’t bother.”

No more.

I tapped into my strengths and knowledge.

I found a resource and harvested it.

I overcame the barrier. And opened a door.

I found a truer, happier version of myself.

I ventured into new possibilities.

Soon I saw opportunities all around.

In campgrounds, parks, fairgrounds, vacant properties, and along the roadside.

Suddenly the world offered a bounty of crabapples, chokecherries, Chokecherries

rosehips, currants, wild plums, buffalo berries, American cranberries,High Bush Cranberries and wild grapes.

Wild Grapes

Even cultivars of raspberries, apples, grapes, and plums came our way.

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The world is full of possibilities. What a valuable lesson and sweet reminder. A bounty that will last far into the future.

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

– Paulo Coelho

Recovering a Sense of Time

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Recovering a Sense of Time

Words don’t always come easy. Sure, there are times when they flow on to the page.

But, there are other times that the words we want to write are simply hijacked, by the words we need to write.

It is a reminder that writers are a conduit for words to take form in reality.

The words on my mind are not light. They are not easy.

That does not make them any less important or true.

I shiver as I think about writing something so deeply personal.

About something that makes me so distinctly different from many.

But these words, they have been residing in my mind for far too long.

It is time they become part of my pages.

It is time to let go of the illusion that, “Because I am not like others, then that must mean there is something wrong with me.”

It is time for me to share what it is like to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

It is not pretty, but it is what I struggle with everyday.

It is my reality.

This is the work that I do.

This is what consumes my energy and time.

Though my reality is not always clear.

Day to day, year by year-

My sense of time is scattered and fragmented, split, and ill-defined.

Hours, weeks, months, they seem arbitrary and seemingly linear.

They are not viable representations of the time that exists in my mind.

Once yesterday becomes part of the past, I plunge further into the future and my history becomes a bit longer.

Yet, the memories are free floating in time.

With no anchor.

Such memories emerge throughout the year.

Some come through as emotions or physical pain.

Some are triggered by emotions or sounds.

Others make it through as a vivid reel of memories with no emotion attached.

Each sensation is haunting.

Like a manifestation of misunderstanding.

These struggles, I thought had overcome.

I thought I had overcome the fear of being awoken in the middle of the night by violent outbursts.

I thought I had overcome the rage that comes along with being a survivor of sexual assault.

I thought I had overcome the sadness that is so real in losing a home.

I thought I had overcome the confusion that surrounded the chaos.

I thought I had learned to talk, accept, and forgive.

I thought I had gotten better.

But I had only shoved each experience away as a fragmented collection of features.

Quickly shoving it deep into my baggage, straightening my shirt, standing up straight, and choking out: “I’m fine.” “Really I’m fine.”

Over and over again, until I believed it.

And so the cycle continued.

Each traumatic memory is unique.

Like the time that I found myself in solitary confinement.

Or the time that I saw my mom get thrown to the ground, heard her skull crack, and had to fight with all my might to keep the same (or worse) from happening to me.

Or the time I hid with my brother and sister, trying to keep warm after the electricity was purposely cut, trying to convince them everything was okay.

Or the time that I was called a slut, pushed down onto a pile of someone else’s dirty laundry, and had to use every bit of martial arts training to get the hell out from underneath that sorry excuse for a boyfriend.

Or the time our house was on fire and I called 911, only to be redirected to the local fire hall… who’s line was busy.

Or the time the police broke down my door, guns drawn, only to find that they had the wrong house, and the suspect next door was already on the run. 

Each of these happened.

And they are only a brief fraction of the chaos I speak of.

Each event was real.

Each one is in need of excavation and repair.

Because the common thread running through all these incidents is the fact that I did not feel the emotions that were a natural response to the trauma.

I disconnected, but continued to move forward.

I did what I needed to do.

Without feeling.

Working through through these events is not as simple as setting aside time to do so.

Recovery does not happen in real time.

A certain stance, movement, phrase, sound, or smell can trigger the sensation that an event is indeed happening now- complete with a full set of physical responses.

Escalated heart rate, shortness of breath, hot chest and face, cold hands and feet.

The urgent need to respond, sweating, dry mouth, ringing ears, a full heightened sensitivity, intensified reflexes.

Sometimes for no reason at all, in the current reality. For everyone else, everything is okay.

For me… I become consumed by the displaced anxiety, fear, anger, despair, sadness, and rage, each living out its shelf life in the wrong place and time.

No matter it is an inaccurate interpretation of reality- it feels real.

And it is TERRIFYING.

Each day is new, even if it feels old.

Old feelings and responses need to be sorted, assigned to their appropriate site of origin, and be contained.

Filed away in a safe place for later reference.

It is almost certain that it will be connected to another incident in space and time.

As each displaced memory is restored, categorized, and filed away, new path ways open.

New possibilities emerge.

New perspectives allow me to experience the now.

With a crisper and clearer lens.

And a better sense, of what was then.

And what is now.

Behind those Walls She Stands

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Recovery work is difficult, there is no doubt.

My struggles and challenges find their way into my works just as often as the triumphs and successes do.

It has been a process.

A journey.

And I have shared it.

Not all of it. But some of it.

I share because I know others must be breaking down their own walls.

I know they are.

And perhaps my story can be of inspiration as they work to break those walls down.

And it is true.

Sharing my story has proved to be valuable to others.

And valuable to myself.

I know there are family, friends, and readers who believe in what I am doing.

They believe in me.

For that I am grateful.

And now I find myself in a strange position.

I have broken down the walls.

I am no longer trapped in.

But I found a startling surprise.

I am now face to face with the girl who built those walls.

She is brilliant. She is hostile and angry. She has a quick whit and a foul mouth. She is 15. She is me.

She did the best she could to overcome all that she was face with.

She was assaulted and raped when she turned 14.

Not long after, she attempted suicide.

She was tired of feeling dead inside.

She smoke pot and stole cigarettes.

She ground her teeth and clenched her fists.

She was overwhelmed with fear and anxiety that something awful would happen because she didn’t prevent it from happening.

Awful things did happen.

People she loved continued to get hurt.

She continued to carry more than she should.

Eventually, she found safe haven in the arms of another.

She loved deeply and gave everything.

She cherished this sense of security.

She found confidence in working.

She found ways to show the world that she was okay, maybe, after all.

She built those walls.

Those walls I just tore down.

She is on the other side of the ruin.

Frightened and confused.

And what can I do?

I broke down the palace she created.

I cannot apologize.

I have to hear her out.

To hear all that she has to say.

With all the hostility and rage and four letter words.

I have to hear her out.

Even though I am scared of what she has to say.

I have to hear her out.

After all, if I don’t, who else will?