Changing the River

There are rivers that flow
Each generation steps into the waters of their family
Waters of the generations flow over and around each person
For some the waters flow sparkling past
Filled with love and contentment
For some the water flows inky black
Filled with pain and sorrow
Passed from one generation to another
Ripping through them till the waters run dark from them as well
But I will stand strong
Casting stones to either side
Building a dam to hold back the dark water
Standing firm in the center as the blackness assails me
Filtering as best I can the water as it passes
So my children and grandchildren step into cleaner water
Water filled with love and laughter
I will stand as a bulwark
And I will not yield

©2013 Leslie Whitcomb

https://www.goddard.edu/2013/04/student-leslie-whitcomb-reflects-on-expressive-arts-therapy/

 

Losing Someone

Sometimes I hear the phrase “it takes a community to raise a child.” And there are so many ways that I agree with that. Community is very important. To everyone. This past week I experienced a rather hard thing. Someone I know died. Their death was shocking and surprising. Mostly because it was unexpected. It is not officially known what happened but the conclusion at the moment is that she killed herself.

I know from experience what that dark place feels like and how hard it is to walk away from it. And I know that there are a lot of people in the world who feel that dark place as an intimate place, as somewhere there is no escape from. And that they feel so lost and dark and down that the world would better off without them. Here’s the thing, it isn’t better without them.

The ripples that come from a suicide are huge in their scope. Generations are affected. There are very, very few people in this world that would not leave anyone behind. Everyone has someone that cares or loves them more than words can describe. And everyone is affected by suicide. Everyone connected to that person walks around wondering,”what did I do or didn’t do?”, “How could I have reached them?”, “Why wasn’t I enough for them?” And though those are not fair questions to be burden with people are left to wonder.

No matter how dark things are right now, and no matter how long things have been dark they have not and will not always be that way. Our future self is so full of promise. Everyone is so full of potential and possibility. That the loss of one is so keenly felt. Everyone goes through those times of wondering, like the main character in “Its a Wonderful Life” we often what difference does our being here make? Or who would really notice if we ceased to be here? I have felt that, most people have felt that. And just like the main character learned in the movie the ripples that our lives create are vast and some are so faint that we do not notice them or what change they have brought to someone.

I guess what this boils down to is someone I cared about died. They took with them the opportunity for change and all the miracles that their life brought to people. I have lost way too many friends and family to suicide. Its not okay. Part of me wants to reach out wrap everyone in bubble wrap and just keep them safe. We all live our lives an we all have dark times. For some people I know it is the horrors of war that haunt them, for others it is the trauma of childhood abuse, or mental illness that seems to sap away their energy. These are hard things. But no one ever has to face them alone. Some choose to face them alone, and others think that they would be a burden to someone if they shared the darkness. Those burdens are best carried when the weight is divided among others.

When my heart was filled with sadness from this event I was unsure what to do. Then I reached out to someone wiser than me and they helped. And then that person reached out to others in my behalf and they helped me carry my burden. I have lived though horrors and trauma that I do not share in detail with people. But still when I reach out from my dark times to others the darkness is lessened.

So if you know someone who is in pain reach out and help them to find the help they need. There are many places to go for help. If you are hurting and think that there is nothing left and nowhere to go for help stop and reach out to one person. One candle can light many candles. Don’t suffer alone. Don’t leave us before it is time.

It takes great courage to live. Please be courageous.

Stress is sneaky

Stress is sneaky.I go through the day and think that I am doing great. I walk out the door at my internship and get in my car, start the engine and begin the drive home. After about ten minutes there starts a buzzy feeling in my brain and I start to feel the stress that I had been blocking all day start to come forward.

I do fairly well at the internship. I don’t have any panic attacks, except the first day. I communicate with others and have made some friends. But as soon as I walk out of the door everything comes forward and bashes me in the head. Which brings up the need for “the great how to decompress before I go home” quest.

I have tried listening to books on the drive home that make me laugh, I have stopped to go for a walk, I have stopped an just looked at nature. But so far I am finding the stress just builds up until I have to hide for a short while and just escape. But escape just relocates the stress it doesn’t actually make it better. Some of it is in finding a peaceful place to be in my mind. And for that I need to clear a space.

At the moment I am at residency for school. Surrounding by a large number of people that I do not know. At the same time I am also surrounded with people with whom I have developed a friendship. All the new faces and all the people that are around me have triggered some of my anxiety and panic that I feel in crowds. What I have decided to do is to carefully choose in what things I will participate and then to spend time in my room “nesting” feeding my soul and healing. Putting together the things that I need to do for the semester. Clearing away the things that need to be put into order and contemplating how to bring home the peace that I am finding.

Breathe in and breathe out. Find the center ground and stand in the space that I have designated as sacred. And let the feelings roll from me until I am back to the center. Then reach out and wrap the feelings of peace that being here at this place brings me.

Things I have learned about healing

Over the last 20years of healing I have learned a number of things.

1) Things get better- it took time and work. But I have gotten better. I can do things now that I could not even imagine doing just five years ago.

2) Community/support group- It is necessary to not try to live this out alone. I have found that I need someone to hear me and to understand. Someone to be there for me when things are way too much for me to do alone. This group can be anyone. For me it is my friends, family, religious leaders, therapists. It can be anyone that fills those needs for you.

3) My story of healing and survival is Sacred- I know that there are people out there who want to hear and give sacred space for your story. I also know there are people out there who don’t give a flying fart in space about your story. That is why who hears it and who doesn’t is important. I have no problem with people knowing that I have survived intense years of trauma. But the story itself…that is sacred. The humiliations, pain, and terror that I survived. That is mine to be shared only with those who have earned the right to know.

4) That feeling of mind crushing soul destroying depression that tells you not to exist anymore can and will pass- This is why you need community and support. It does not last forever and it is hard to get through. It is near impossible to get through alone. That is why we need those we love and who care about us to be aware of our struggles. Because they love us they want us to stick around. And they really do want to listen and help. And that feeling does pass. It comes back sometimes, but it passes.

5) A safety plan- I have needed and implemented a safety plan in my life. When things like number 4 happen I know who to call. I have a list of people to call. I have a strategy for getting through those insanely dark times. And the biggest part of that is speaking up and acknowledging the pain. There is nothing that the darkness of depression hates more than turning on the light. And talking about it…turns on the light.

6) No matter what has happened in my life I am loved- There are people out in the world who love me and reach out to me. They have helped me through to this point of growth that I now enjoy. And when I am alone (which rarely happens) i have my dog. Love is non negotiable. Everyone needs it. It is why we sometimes do stupid stuff to get that feeling. Sometimes those things are actually destructive. Finding a way to get that feeling and stay safe is important.

There really is a lot more that I have found out along the way. But community, safety, and the knowledge that the darkness does actually pass have helped me through the dark times. The times of curling up in a ball and hiding to where I am now. But the most important thing that I have learned is that I have already won. I am still alive. I lived through the hell I experienced. And I have lived to tell my tale. I have great sorrow and for those whose pain takes them from us too soon. And I have great love and compassion for those that struggle everyday to remember to breathe. Everyone’s journey is sacred. And we all need to be community for each other so that we can all heal.

Community

In my journey I have found that community is an amazingly beautiful place to heal. I have set up various safe places where there are loving and accepting people. One of my favorite spots is the library. The local library lets me hang out for the day and study. They ask after me and are always kind. Kindness is such a balm on a sad day.

The coffee shop, where they make the most amazing hot chocolate, allow me to sit and use their internet and always have good conversation. The thing is that in all theses places there are people who have stories either like mine or similar. And so many people struggle through their own darkness.

But, one of the most amazing places of community that I have found is at Goddard College. My Alma Matter! When I showed up in 2010 for the Health Arts and Science program I was so new to being around large groups for extended amounts of  time. And I don’t care what people say, orientation is almost hazing for people like me. At one point in the midst of the orientation day long session my brain had enough. I was falling headlong into a major anxiety and panic attack. All I wanted to do was run out of the room and find a place to hide. I turned to the person next to me and said “I have to go. I am having a really bad panic attack.” Then to my surprise the person looked at me and said, “What can I do to help you?” Not the usual “Well, take care.”, but how can I help. I told them what I needed. To not have to talk anymore.

In the circle, which to me are insanely unsafe things, that we were sitting in became claustrophobic and I pulled my chair back slightly. Making a “Q” instead of a circle. Then when the conversation moved around the circle and people took turns answering the current question the woman on my right answered and the woman on my left seamlessly responded. There was no pause. No uncomfortable silence while people waited for me to talk. Safety.

I had found my tribe. My safe people who expected me to be myself and to come out of my shell slowly. There is community everywhere. And we should never suffer alone. Though we often choose to. We really are not alone, though we often feel that way. It is easier to heal with someone than alone.