so, what’s the score?

attachment SOM

Last night, I finished reading the book, The Body Keeps the Score by psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk. If you want to learn about how trauma affects people and how people can overcome their painful wounds, then it’s worth reading (especially if you work closely with people, especially if you’re any type of healer or therapist).

I wanted to read this book because, if you’ve been following this blog for a bit, I’ve chronicled a lot of trauma here. I wanted to make sure that as someone who lives more in her head than in her body, that I was taking care of myself on my healing journey.

Well, the healing journey continues, but not in a way I was expecting.

With van der Kolk, his work impacted and shaped the work I had been supporting in psychology/psychiatry research. This book was published in 2014, the year I graduated from grad school.

And the book was, in part, a continuation of the research work I helped to support.

I’m not sure how I feel about it. I feel a lot of things.

I thought I was done mourning not becoming a child psychiatrist, which had been a dream career I had since I was a teenager. What had stopped me was some chronic anemia that had been plaguing me when I started my final push through pre-med classes.

So if that illness hadn’t happened, I would probably be a full-fledged doctor by now (and definitely not writing a blog about my spiritual journey).

While I was reading this book, it was like reading a career I could have had — or maybe should have had?

But also, it was like meeting the person who shape and inform how I view mental health. That’s because back when I lived in Chicago, our research group was a part of his larger national research group.

One of the goals of that group, along with other clinicians and researchers, was to help create a new diagnosis for trauma that involved children, called Developmental Trauma Disorder. The idea is that a lot of what children with behavior and psychiatric issues are most likely stemming from traumatic events, such as living in an abusive home.

A bit surprisingly but very disappointingly, this diagnosis didn’t make it into the DSM-V, the book that psychiatrists and other mental health professionals use to diagnose psychiatric disorders. It’s an important book to bill insurance for services. This was right around the time I was leaving for Florida.

I had become somewhat endeared to one of the directors of our research group. He was just a good guy and, in retrospect, I should have bent his ear more but I was focused on leaving Chicago. We actually had talked about this DSM-V/trauma issue while leaving the office one afternoon. I had gotten the sense it was a bit political (not like governmental political, like people political), and van der Kolk gives you that same sort of feeling.

Anyway, after one research meeting, because I had been so vocal about something (I can’t remember if it was how clinicians were being trained…?), the director asked me if I was ever interested in applying for the doctoral program at the university I worked at.

I said no.

Like I said, I was looking to leave Chicago. I had wanted a fresh start after so many friends had literally moved on, to Colorado, to Florida, to California.

Also, I had really wanted to be a psychiatrist, not a clinical psychologist. But I’m pretty sure if I had wanted to get in, it would have been pretty easy because I had worked in that group for years, knew a lot of the faculty…and that was my plan to get myself into medical school, not grad school.

So reading this book, it was a very bittersweet read, but it feels like a timely one. I’m just not exactly sure what it means yet.

Being a freelancer going on three years, there have been a lot of highs and lows. Today was definitely a low.

I had reached out to a former client this week and it seemed like we could work together. But for some reason, they didn’t want to sign a contract with me. That’s a dealbreaker, so unfortunately we couldn’t move forward to work together.

So yeah, it’s hard, or sometimes all too easy, to think about what could have been.

If I had decided to pursue clinical psychology, I definitely would have a doctorate by now and I probably would have a great job, helping kids and their families cope and heal.

So when there are hard days like today, or even hard days all strung in a row, it’s easy to ask this question and let it nag you for a while:

Did I take a wrong turn?

And being middle aged now, this is one of the classic mid-life crisis points, looking back at one’s life and wondering if it was all a waste, this whole pursuing your dream thing.

To tag back to the book, van der Kolk repeatedly emphasizes the importance of relationships for healing and for thriving, and how mental illness disrupts those vital connections.

If anything,  I was reminded of an ache inside of me that doesn’t seem to be easily soothed, even by success.

But even success requires connections.

I was reading some short tweet thread last night about how success is really about knowing the right people. And, in this person’s opinion, it’s not just knowing them, but being friends with them.

I think about that idea with pursuing a graduate degree in writing. One main point of grad school is to create those connections, to find that community. It’s taken years for me to let go of the dream of finding my writing community here. It really seems like that wasn’t the point of me being here.

I’ve probably written about this before, here or on my Patreon, but it has been very hard to create long-lasting connections in my life. If they last longer than a year, the intensity wanes into a cool acquaintanceship. And that makes me sad and makes me start to question myself and sometimes my worth as a human being on this planet.

I know the astrological reasons (my 11th house of groups and friendships has this awakening, unstable planet called Uranus). Yet sometimes, that gives me cold comfort. So this is just the way life is for me? Is it truly unchangeable?

Yet I also know that since I turned 30, I’ve gone through some dramatic changes in my life — leaving the Church, moving to Florida, going to grad school, getting involved in the esoteric, many job and home changes. And mostly, it’s been all for the better.

But truly, it can be incredibly difficult to hold onto relationships as you change and as other people change.

The awakenings I’ve gone through with groups of people have been ones which remind me of old truths, such as white supremacy isn’t something to overcome but something to avoid.

van der Kolk reminded me that this need for connection is a primal and valid one. Human beings are social creatures, and that’s how we’ve survived for millennia.

Western society may think we’re all self-made, but that’s a complete lie. We’ve all gotten help from someone, multiple times.

Beyond that reassurance of my need to be connected to others being valid, another reason why I wanted to read this book was due to a nagging feeling of being too much and not enough — still.

I have wondered if all I went through as a child somehow invisibly repelled me from the right people or pushed me towards the wrong people.

Basically, how fucked up am I that I can’t hold onto people?

I believe that in the past, even the recent past, this was definitely true, that my coping mechanisms were acting like pulleys and levers.

But now, I know that it’s not even about being fucked up or not. There are people who have been more traumatized than me who have the proper support, the right connections, people who don’t leave.

I don’t have to be completely healed to get the support I need. In fact, the more broken you are, the more support you should be given.

So for now, this is just not a question I can answer beyond the “it’s capitalism, stupid!” answer which seems so unsatisfying. And that’s especially because even with the existential angst I’ve always carried, it wasn’t always like this.

The only thing that makes sense is also unsatisfying, like some convenient spiritual bypassing, that I’m being shaped by the losses and leavings, that these are just The Lonely Years.

The timing is just not right.

Oh, and a sidenote about timing! So the lovely Stacey B. from Tarot Pugs has been one of my tarot readers for years, and every year for the past few years, I’ve gotten an annual reading from her. This month’s card was the 6 of Swords reversed. Here’s the last part of the reading:

In either way, you’re ready for something new and the energy will shift from the way it has been for the last three months into a new direction. This may be the final month that after you have redone things, revisited relationship or situations, you’re ready to drop it all and move on – but first making sure if there’s anything you need to take with you and then leaving all the rest behind.

Basically the theme of this post, amirite?

When I was reading The Body Keeps the Score, it was so wonderful to read about trauma in a more intellectual way. I remember being so passionate about this stuff. Being trauma-informed about psychology and psychiatry made so much sense, like in a “I’ve found my life’s work” sense.

I still don’t want to become a psychologist, psychiatrist or a therapist. I really do feel like that ship has sailed, and it was a ship I wasn’t meant to be on. I’d prefer to write about this stuff…but it’s been difficult to find a way to market myself in that way. And maybe that’s just something I will have to work on.

In the meantime, this book caught me in a time when writing as a profession is at a low, when everything is at a low. I’ve spent years in this profession and it is just not clicking right now. And a lot of that is the human component that’s missing here. I’m trying to be successful by myself (not by choice) and that’s impossible.

I’m knocking on doors, looking for exits and entries…and I hear voices all around me, but I don’t see anyone.

And that’s so weird for me. One of the things I’ve had to learn to do with having narcissistic parents was be my own advocate. Seeking and obtaining help and support, I’ve become an expert.

I’m a fucking scrapper. But this is just not one of those times.

This is a sentiment I’m pretty sure I repeated in my Patreon, but I feel very close to everything I want and need, but yet at the same time, very far away (that’s also a theme that’s repeated in my annual reading from Stacey, funny enough!).

That book reminded me of a time (which I must have taken for granted) when I was seen and valued (and also of when I wasn’t seen and valued by a terribly racist manager), of when I felt like what I did mattered — even if it was data collection and analysis. I was a part of something much bigger than myself. I was able to advocate for kids in the child welfare system, to help researchers affect state and national policy.

What I do now is intermittent and on a smaller scale. I’m still helping people help others, but it’s not necessarily making my heart go pitter patter. The stuff that makes my heart beat faster isn’t apparently what I should be doing full-time.

And hey — very few of us get that beautiful Venn diagram of a perfect circle of doing what we love for pay. I’m OK with that.

I had been so concerned about being really numbed out from what I gone through as a teenager (it’s still a bit of a concern — is it extreme resilience or extreme numbing?), I wasn’t expecting to get teary about my career trajectory.

Again — I don’t think this was some clarion call to go back into the mental health industry as a mental health professional, even though I know I would be really fucking good at it, just like I know I would have been a fucking great lawyer (another profession that I wanted to pursue when I was a tweener).

Astrologically this month, there’s a lot going on that applies to healing and letting go, including a bit of a releasing the old going on within my 1st house of identity and self. So I feel like this book has asked me to grieve this other life I could have had, a life I wasn’t guaranteed to have.

And here’s the thing: I haven’t gotten any guidance this year that says to switch back. Writing is it (for now), even if it looks like I’ve made a very costly mistake.

What this time in my life reminds me of is when I was 18 and I had to stay at home for a year because my father was suffering from paranoid delusions. And that whole year was a traumatic event.

I’m pretty sure I was depressed, if not just dysthymic. I lost 15 pounds and I wasn’t really that big to begin with. I wrote a little about this time in my latest Patreon post.

It was a very spiritual time, and I’m in a similar one right now.

One thing that I have to remind myself as I try not to beat myself up for being a loner by default is that leaving a religion is not only traumatic, but it also means that you have to learn how to create your own community.

And, welp — I’m not really that great at it! (although, in a sense, all of you reading this are a part of my community) It’s something I have to keep trying to accomplish, even if there’s been a lot of failure — just like with my writing biz.

Another sidenote! This week I learned about this astrological technique called zodiacal releasing, which basically is like an astrological book of major life events with the chapter being certain times in your life.

So, for example, even though for the longest time, I resented not being able to start my college career on time, zodiacal releasing showed within days of the first time I met my best friend for the first couple of years of college, a guy who basically changed my whole worldview.

And maybe if I had gone to college on time, it still would have happened, but not likely because the date was during college orientation, which started a couple of weeks before classes starts.

With zodiacal releasing, I also saw that right now I’m in a career peak and that started right around I was truly a freelancer/right before I left a dream job because of a terrible manager. It’s an eight-year stretch, so even if my career looks like poop right now, I know I’m in the right place at the right time.

If you ever want me do zodiacal releasing for you, make sure you have a great memory of your life and then book a reading with me.

I’m still not 100% sure what I will do with the feelings this book brought up for me, besides blog about it. It really caught me off guard, the work van der Kolk has done and how personal it is to me — yet not really in a clinical sense.

What it has done is helped me to (again) face my frustration and sorrow as someone who has been through a lot and is tired of having that define her while currently going through a lot.

In the beginning, I had wanted this blog to be a chronicle of all the weird things that have happened to me spiritually. But it has been a chronicle of grief and suffering, too.

And sometimes, very frustratingly so, it seems like I’m walking in circles as I grieve not having some basic emotional needs met, and I can see that I really just needed them to be validated.

The Body Keeps the Score finally said the words I needed to hear in the way I needed to hear them.

So. If the support hasn’t yet arrived, all I can do is be compassionate with myself until it does. Worrying and self-abnegation aren’t helpful here.

And one thing I’ve been really loath to do is get into that super spiritual space where I just surrender everything to God/Spirit/the Universe and ask for divine intervention. Why? Because it takes a lot of energy and concentration.

But also? I’m tired of feeling helpless. It’s a very scary, alone feeling which I haven’t felt in decades.

What’s beautiful about now is that when I was 18, I definitely was depressed and now, I’m not. I’m still a fucking scrapper and I have 23 years of life experience and wisdom that I didn’t have back then.

(Somehow, living with squirrels running in the eaves and living with someone with a chronic mental illness are still true, so the Universe has some cruel jokes there.)

But really, in a time of confusion and struggle, there’s nothing wrong with asking for guidance on the guidance I’ve already received. And what I’ve gotten is be patient. Hang in there.

Today for my tarot card of the day, I drew The Star. It’s a symbol of hope after the awakening chaos of The Tower.

I’ll end with this cartoon from Nathan W. Pyle. It’s a very hump day cartoon, and I was feeling like this when I started, but somehow, by reminding myself of how I’ve gotten through tough times, I feel a little more encouraged.

small setback


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January 28, 1986

masterson som

This was one of the first things I wrote about in grad school almost seven years ago. It was in response to a prompt about a moment in history that deeply affected me. This is mine. I’ve edited it quite a bit.

Before the Challenger disaster, I had moved to Alabama with my family on December 30, 1985. I had just had my eighth birthday five days before. 

We were now in a bigger house with a large yard in a mostly Black middle-class neighborhood that had gone through some white flight. My mom said that when we arrived that night, my younger brother and I ran around the basement in excitement. It would seem just by that anecdote, I was happy for the move.

But starting school the following month was a rough time for me.

Although I loved school back then and considered it my happy place, I didn’t have the most uplifting of starts this time around. I had spent the first day of school crying for no reason, something even at age eight I don’t remember being wont to do.

Ms. Stricklin, my second grade teacher, had her arm around my chair in the back of the classroom as she quizzed me on my timetables. We were sitting by a window, off to the side of the classroom.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“I don’t know.” I wiped my hands on my face as my trembling lips tried to hold back my whimpering. I remember feeling strange that I didn’t know why I was crying. All I knew was that I didn’t want to be there at school that day. 

Apparently, this was still a time where I cried openly. I was still feeling traumatized from the move.

What’s strange about this time of my life is that I only remember the first day of school in Alabama and January 28th. I can vaguely remember second grade in Nashville, basically one spelling test where I spelled the word “visit” wrong. And that’s it.

I can’t help but think that the trauma of moving, along with watching the explosion erased any other memories I had of being eight.


On that day, a Tuesday, the skies were leaden and flat with stratus clouds, just like the first day at my new school.

But this time, instead of crying, I was excited.

This morning, we were going to go to the library and watch on the big TV the space shuttle, Challenger, take off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Our school was courtyard style, so my fellow second graders and I all walked, jumped, hopped, skipped, and danced outside, single file, to the library on the other side of the school. Other classes sat in there with us – some of us seated at tables, some of us on the floor.

We were all so excited, watching the astronauts waving to the crowd and entering the shuttle:

Francis R. Scobee – Mission Commander

Michael J. Smith – Pilot

Ellison S. Onizuka – Mission Specialist 1

Judith A. Resnik – Mission Specialist 2

Ronald E. McNair – Mission Specialist 3

Christa McAuliffe – Payload Specialist 1

Gregory B. Jarvis – Payload Specialist 2

It makes me wonder how many millions more kids were watching in their libraries and classroom. One New York Times poll found that around half of nine to thirteen year olds watched the shuttle launch.

This was a special event for children because a New Hampshire school teacher, Christa McAuliffe, only six months to the day younger than my mom, was one of the seven astronauts. NASA TV was made available to schools to watch the launch. So more children watched the launch than adults, because CNN was the only one broadcasting the launch live. 

Although the skies looked bright grey in Alabama, the skies were spectacularly clear and cerulean at Cape Canaveral. In Alabama, we had had a low of 12 degrees Fahrenheit the night before, and Cape Canaveral had a low of 18 degrees – both unusually low temperatures for the South.

If it even approaches freezing in Florida, meteorologists will make a big deal because of the citrus crops which can be damaged by freezing temps. And because most people don’t have heavy coats here, these days meteorologists will even tell you how to dress yourself and your kids. The densest outwear you’ll see anyone wear around here is a big sweatshirt. 

So for the shuttle launch, I was sitting on brown carpeted floor, watching with everyone, the countdown to liftoff. The library erupted in cheers as Challenger’s thrusters roar to life and the shuttle lifts off, with the deep blue Atlantic Ocean as the backdrop. We were chattering with each other, clapping and smiling, but our eyes were glued on the TV.

Then, as the Challenger is rising into the sky, a minute later, I see that flash of orange under the external tank, caused by strong wind shears, coming from the right solid rocket booster. Those O-rings that I would hear so much afterward had been replaced by a temporary oxide seal, which the wind shear had shattered, causing flames to rush through the joint. Had it held together, the Challenger seven would have made it safely up to space.

That image of the orange flame and the consequent explosion was burned into my memory. Then came what I call the Mickey Mouse explosion, of the shuttle and fuel tank, with the two solid rocket boosters flying off as the ears. This is where my memory tape starts to slow down. 

I looked at the TV and I ask Ms. Stricklin, “They made it out, right?”, over and over I’m asking – to her and to myself. I’m hoping that they safely plop in the ocean and we get to see Christa McAuliffe again.

I don’t remember what she said, if anything. I only remember her standing by the TV, looking.

As I’m watching the explosion, McAuliffe’s parents, her students, and the other families of the astronauts are starting to discover what happen. Recently, I watched a video of the raw footage of the crowd. You can see the crowd slowly learning of the astronauts’ fates.

The camera focuses on McAuliffe’s parents and I can’t tell if they know yet or not. Some people were crying. People started leave the stands, with stunned looks on their faces.

We must’ve stayed there in the library for a while, hushed, whispering, waiting – or maybe I’m still waiting to see that they are OK.

Part of me never left the library. I’m still there, waiting.


I read later that some of the astronauts were able to survive the initial explosion, and I saw a picture of the crew cabin in one of the rays of smoke and fire. But they were hurtling towards the ocean at such a speed, at approximately 207 mph.

With over 200 g forces as they are decelerating, they will not survive.

And maybe eight-year-old me knew that, deep down, but just couldn’t face the magnitude of loss I had just witnessed.

The NASA lead accident investigator and astronaut Robert Overmyer said, “Scob [Dick Scobee, the shuttle commander] fought for any and every edge to survive. He flew that ship without wings all the way down….they were alive.”

And that may be true. Maybe some of the astronauts were conscious, and maybe some were not. But it was concluded that the explosion itself didn’t cause their deaths.

I could go on and on about the historic speech Reagan gave on the day he was supposed to be giving the State of the Union address; about the intensive, repetitive, possibly traumatizing, media coverage of the Challenger disaster; the many years of covering up about the O-rings in the joints of the solid rocket boosters that lead up to this tragedy; about the engineers’ ignored warnings, about how it was way too cold to fly the shuttle that day; about the many delays of the mission launch; about how, after the disaster, the shuttle program was on hiatus for almost three years; about the Rogers Commission that investigated the disaster, which included astronaut Sally Ride; about the Congressional hearings; about the redesign of the solid rocket boosters, the schools named after the Challenger and Christa McAuliffe, the tributes and memorials…

But all I can think about is Christa. Is it because I love learning so much, that her death—unlike the ones who died upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere in the Columbia in 2003, or even her fellow crew members—hurts me so?

My heart and eyes found those buried rivers of saline as I saw the footage again, which had been frozen under time and innocence. Preventable tragedies are never easy for anyone to understand, let alone children.

And she was born in the same year of my mother. Is it like my mother dying?…maybe not my mother, but a mother, or nurturer, of young minds that she helped to shape and mold in her classroom every day.

She was one of us – someone who worked really hard to become an astronaut through the Teachers in Space Project.

And she was so young, at age 37.

It could also be that I tried to stubbornly hold onto some semblance of innocence that day, hurtling into an ocean of denial, until my grown-up self could reckon with the depth of the loss.

We go back to places of injury, seeking healing and understanding. But I’m scared to read anymore analysis or watch anymore footage.

It hurts enough. I know enough.

Christa’s gone. Those seven astronauts are all gone, never to return.

There was no way to escape.

And the year I was born, those O-rings were already fated to be lethal. So much time to prevent this from happening, eight years…

And what of the other people my age now? What do they think and feel? Did they burst into tears? Were they frozen, too, like me? Does it hurt just as bad as it did on that frozen day in January?

We must be carrying this generational psychic wound together. Has it been bound and cleansed—or forgotten?

The American Journal of Psychiatry conducted a study of children who watched the Challenger explosion and concluded that a significant number of children experienced PTSD-like symptoms, even more so for the schoolchildren who watched it live and were on the East Coast compared to children on the West Coast.


Now, I live about an hour’s drive from the Space Coast and the shuttle program ended on August 31, 2011, a year before I moved down here. I have yet to go to Space Coast to see any launches made by SpaceX  or any of the heavy-lift launches.

Down here in Florida, there are license plates for the Challenger and Columbia disasters, but even people here have started to forget.

I remember in fifth grade drawing a picture of a shuttle, it may have been Discovery. I believe it was for some contest. When I was drawing it, I don’t recall remembering what happened to the Challenger. I was very excited to draw the space shuttle. So had I already forgotten, too, just three years later? 

Not too far me now is a street called Challenger, a road I have driven down many times in grad school. I never made the connection to the shuttle until years later.

When I started writing this, it was 2012. Now it’s 2019, 33 years since the disaster. Today, I watched the videos again, of the launch, the explosion, the shock and grief of the people in the VIP stands. And I got teary.

Today online, there are a lot of remembrance tweets and posts, but I wonder if over time, we’ll all stop remembering what a harrowing day it was for America and many of its children.


After the Columbia disaster in 2003, priorities began to shift to other space programs and eventually, to commercial space flight. But that remains to be fully realized by companies such as SpaceX.

But that doesn’t mean all space exploration has ceased. Even before the shuttle program’s retirement, there have been amazing space explorations occurring. There are currently over 40 space missions going on right now.

But to me, it’s not the same as sending people out into space.

The glory of the space race (which was mainly with Russia) from the 1960s through the 2000s seems to be a gilded age of time. 

Although SpaceX has had some successes and innovations with their rockets, to me it doesn’t feel the same as when the space shuttle would be launched – mainly because there were astronauts aboard.

Other countries are also exploring space. For example, this month, China landed a robot on a moon and even had a plant sprout there (but it’s already dead). There’s also a joint mission to Mercury between the EU and Japan.

The wonder of space still continues to inspire and enthrall us.

And yet.


I never really talked about this much with anyone after the Challenger exploded. I had read a version of this essay at a public reading and afterward, I spoke with classmates around my age talk about it. It was interesting to swap stories of what we could and could not remember. Some people remembered crying. Some people remembered parents coming to pick up their children or school closing earlier that day.

On another level, I can imagine it’s similar for how Millennials feel about 9/11, although the magnitude of terror is larger and yet more targeted.

Watching people die on television, in real time – and later, repeatedly on the news – is something no one should be subjected to, including and especially children. But both Gen X and Millennials have been scarred by tragedy through television. 

Knowing how traumatizing it was for me to watch 9/11 events on repeat for days, I wonder how many Gen Xers still have PTSD from the Challenger disaster. I wonder how they’re all doing now. It seems this man was able to remember a lot more than I was, and he was a year behind me in school.

How did we cope with such a brutal loss of innocence?

It’s hard to tell how traumatized I was, but the memory failure seems to be one of the symptoms – and probably, it is a merciful one. I have no idea what kind of fallout happened to me emotionally, or if it affected my grades, or if it affected anything else in my life, like my relationships to my parents or my brother or my friends.

But it’s OK that I don’t remember or recall, although I am curious about how not only I, but the rest of my classmates dealt with that day. Maybe one day 1986 will open back up for me, but for now, it remains closed.

I am grateful for what these seven brave souls did for the space program, for science, and for humankind. But I am still so devastated at the cost.

I’m sure they inspired to take an astrophysics class in college, which was much too hard for me with my depression-addled brain.

But before the class started to dig deep into the very difficult calculations of the distances between planets (which caused me to drop the class), I was able to go on the roof of our classroom building and look through a telescope and see planets like Jupiter. This planet wasn’t just bright stars in the sky. I could see the multi-colored bands of gaseous clouds which swirled on Jupiter.

It’s still one of the best moments of my life.

Eventually, there will be human travel to space again (besides the trips to the International Space Station), and hopefully the management issues which caused the failures with the Challenger and Columbia have been addressed and resolved.

And when that next space mission happens, I wonder if I’ll be able to be excited…or will some dormant fears will be reactivated. I’m not sure.

But I do look forward to when the U.S. – whether it’s through NASA or some commercial entity – is able to try again and is successful.

And I hope that all who have suffered from that day, the families of the astronauts, the schoolchildren of McAuliffe, the schoolchildren and adults who all watched with me – I hope we can all find healing and peace.


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the greatest wound, the greatest healing

site of greatest wound SOM

The above quote is from a book I found yesterday called The Journey from Abandonment to Healing by Susan Anderson, a psychotherapist who specializes in abandonment, grief, loss, and trauma.

I was looking for something about this topic because I had felt stymied yesterday when I was trying to do this marketing homework for my business–writing an email series for potential and current clients to get to know me better. It was writing about my origin story–basically, how did I get in this biz of writing.

This month hasn’t been that fruitful, despite a lot of effort in connecting with prospects. Lots of “sure things” in terms of projects became very unsure. There’s been a steep and expensive learning curve with having my own business–let alone saying and really embracing that I have my own business.

But the issue wasn’t the lull in business, or even getting out of the lull. It was writing about this journey. It’s been hell, albeit a now stabilized version of hell. I hit a wall of deep shame when I tried to think about how I became a writer, let alone a freelance writer. It’s something I’m not really proud of yet.

As I sat in immobilizing emotional pain, I started to look back on just this year. One pattern that really started to emerge was how I had opened up deeply to so many people, but how most had bailed, mainly to tend their own shadow work and growth (and maybe I was a trigger for that impulse, too). But I took it personally–and still kind of do.

I then just started thinking about my whole adult life and looked at all the dropouts from my life. This was indeed a long-term pattern, and I was tired of it. As whiny and pouty as this may sound, I know I have helped a lot of people in the way I wish I could have been helped. But it really hasn’t been fully returned to me in the ways I needed, in the magnitude that I needed.

I felt, and still feel, that I have a blindspot when it comes to my relationships. It could probably be explained astrologically, or even in some Big Picture way about the journey I’m on and what I’m being prepared for in my future. But to make it even more brass tacks, as someone who has studied psychology formally, as well as someone who’s a bit into the “woo”–this seemed like something I was perpetuating, since it was cyclical. To borrow from a Caedmon’s Call’s song, I had a long line of leavers.

I’ve known about my fear of abandonment for some time and some events still stick out in my mind, like when my mom left me at school as a teenager and I sat there waiting for her for over an hour as dusk started to fall, not knowing why she hadn’t picked me up. And this was in the age before cell phones were widely used. The wondering as darkness fell, although my mom was very apologetic about it. It’s still a feeling of abandonment that I will never forget.

Years ago, I visited now former friends and going out to see the husband play with his band at a show. The wife was standing with me–and then she just wasn’t. I was an out-of-towner. I didn’t really know anyone except some members of the band and my friends, this couple.

After the show, my friend just disappeared and I was just standing there, in this sort of warehouse space, surrounded by people. I was in a panic, trying to look for her. I’m an introvert and I’m not one to just start chatting up random people.

It felt like an inhospitable act, ditching a friend who had come to visit you, not even telling her what she was doing or introducing her to people you knew. She had wanted to talk to other people but decided she didn’t want to bring me along.

I don’t remember what I did, but I did bring it up to my friend. She kind of blew it off–I don’t even remember her giving me an apology. But it was a bit traumatic for me. It was probably also a good sign that our friendship wasn’t as great as I thought. These same friends came to a theme park near me and never even mentioned being in town. Although that’s a pet peeve for me, this friendship was years long.

We had gone to church together, done Bible studies together, worshipped and sang together, had ridden out emotional upheaval (read: panic attacks), had long talks. These were not just friends but companions. Somehow, though, I had missed the signs of unraveling and just kept pushing forward, trying to be the friend I wanted (which apparently meant ignoring the actions of others).

This isn’t the first time I’ve had that happen, where I’ve been blown off and I’ve ignored the signs leading up to it. Another long-time friend, a woman I grew up with in church, blew me off when I decided to visit her for Thanksgiving almost two years ago. I had bought an expensive plane ticket to fly out to where she lived, which I had to cancel, and not in enough time to get a full refund. We had made plans in August and then she said almost near when I was going to fly out–oops, we’re visiting in-laws out of state, sorry. Also, no offer to cover the cancellation fee.

We had a long Facebook conversation about it which ended with her taking a rather hard line: my relationship and my job come first. And that was that. I told her that she knew what she had to do to restore the relationship, and that she’s chosen her path. We haven’t spoken since. Over 20 years of friendships came to an unexpected, but totally predictable, hard pause.

That event didn’t just come up out of the blue. I had been the one initiating a lot of our conversations and visits (she had never visited me). I said as much, that I had been holding a lot of the space for our friendship–and I owned it. That was on me and I should not have been doing that. I deserved reciprocity.

My tenacity and drive may work really well for overcoming obstacles, but it seems to overlook since of wear and tear in a relationship. It makes me wonder how I came to where I am this year, what I was ignoring and avoiding.

With the friends who have taken leave and have somewhat come back in my life, it’s been strange and strained. It’s not the same and it never will be. Something (beautiful and real) got lost in the interim and it’s most likely irretrievable. And I want to know what part I played in the demise of all these friendships.

My transparency, along with my almost chosen ignorance of how the other person really feels about me and the relationship through their actions, have become huge liabilities in terms of how I relate to myself and to others.

So how do I stop this cycle of prematurely undressing emotionally as well as holding onto dead things for too long?

I have to go back to the beginning.

When I think about my mother, I don’t feel anything. That’s another good sign of trauma. And trauma here isn’t about abuse, but about neglect. I may feel more of a motherly bond towards her, as if I’m her mother and I’m looking out for her, than the other way around.

This fear of abandonment goes back to my birth. My entry into the world was a rough one. My mom thinks we both nearly died thanks to a jonesing-for-a-malpractice-suit anesthesiologist. I just don’t think she and I really bonded.

I know when I was four years old, I got lost in a mall or shopping center. That may have been another traumatic incident, but I don’t remember it.

And not to get too psychological, but when a person doesn’t have a bond to their mother, that’s a big ole hill to climb in terms of developing one’s own sense of self. I don’t know if I have anyone to individuate from, or to mourn that they weren’t there. It’s eerie and unsettling, but that’s been my life.

So I am pretty darn sure I have repeated this dynamic by choosing people as friends and lovers who aren’t that interested in intimacy or I push them away somehow if they are. Yesterday, I hit what I hope is that final wall with that Sisyphean journey.

It is so exhausting to chase, to spurn and be spurned, to yearn and wonder, to leave and to be left.

Desperation is never an attractant.

I got all this from some homework that I didn’t feel ready to do (and still haven’t done– yet).

This is also to say: a trigger can be an invitation to healing, not something to avoid. I RSVPed yes yesterday and googled about abandonment and found Susan Anderson. And now I’m reading her book.

Today, I woke up to overcast skies, but later on in the morning, the skies became brilliantly clear. That transformation is how I feel about dealing with this core wound and my hope that it can be healed. There’s an alarming and amusing alacrity I have about it–like this time, I really am gonna get this right.

I’m sure it’s been hijacking my happiness, causing my business to be a bit halted, and has prevented me from being truly successful. It’s like being stuck in survival mode, no matter what the circumstances are. That is truly exhausting and not really living.

So as I heal, I will focus on the friends who aren’t leaving, and really work on my emotional self-reliance–and I won’t resent having to re-create it.

As Susan Anderson says in her book, a lot of our lives are lived alone. I don’t mean that in some dystopian, post-modern way. Even in community, we still have our own individual lives and journeys.

Through all of my harrowing circumstances, I’ve become a highly resilient person, but yesterday reminded me that I have to learn new, healthier ways of being, and loving, myself.

Coping mechanisms are just that–for coping. For thriving, we have to learn how to find our inner grit, to loosen the grip of codependence, and be fully ourselves as whole and healthy, interdependent people.

I don’t have to feel doomed with existential loneliness. I can now choose to learn differently so I can be a better friend to myself and others.

It’s time for this long line of leavers to end. It’s time for me, and for others, to stick around.

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the stories we tell and keep

my whole story

I started this blog post a while ago. Today, there is a new moon in Leo and Leo season has started. It’s a little easier for me to write about such deep spiritual and emotional matters since things have lightened up a bit (although the house these Leo transits are going through is not a light one (8th house)).

For the first time, I was considering how this will be received and it was a bit painful to come back to this topic, since it’s a very personal one for me. It was like reviewing my scars and feeling a little phantom pain.

Still, this is really meant to be a conversation. I can only write about what I know and experience, and maybe you have a different experience or knowledgebase. Either way, I’d love to know what you think in the comments.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13, verses 1 through 3

It’s wedding season so most of us have heard what is called “The Love Chapter” from the Bible’s New Testament. But it was only yesterday that the first three verses really made sense to me.

Simply put: there are a lot of people with good intentions about how to help others in the spirituality realm, but the love is lacking. Instead of promoting healing through grace, it further hurts and sounds like a racket.

I had a bit of a tweetstorm that was implicitly inspired by someone else’s tweets. I think now I was triggered by the verb usage, not the noun, but it’s still in this vein of spirituality and personal development that I’m not really flowing in.

As I stated in that thread, Chiron stationed retrograde yesterday, in Pisces. That’s a five-month long transit. Chiron is the wounded healer, so a retrograde transit, especially in intuitive, spiritual Pisces, is going to be pretty powerful.

Retrograde transits–where planets look like they are moving backwards in the sky–are about reviewing, resting, realizing, realigning, recovering, restoring–you get the idea. So this particular transit is about going back and healing old wounds. The idea of jettisoning old versions of ourselves or old “stories” will probably come up.

Tell Me Your Story

So there’s been this persistent idea that, as a writer, I really take great offense at, and it’s one you may have heard: drop the story. I’m a writer and storyteller by trade, so when I initially hear that, I’m like, excuse me?

The idea behind is really just about living in the moment, not in the past, not in the future, yeah yeah yeah. It’s not a bad idea, even if it’s a cliched and trite one. But words matter, and I want to make sure that we, especially I, use the right words and concepts.

My first impulse come from this Joan Didion quote: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live…” Stories and narratives are who we are. Oral histories of who we have been, what we have been through, what our ancestors have been through–we are living stories, still being unfolded. And I think this is beautiful, in all its gore and grace.

Transformation involves having a “before”–and many times, I feel that this process ends up being shortcut or circumvented because it’s messy and unglamourous. Even I want to fast forward through the struggle and the disappointments and the muck. And as I right there, I’m encouraging myself to glory the gory middle of the stories I live.

Stuckness and Struggles

Dropping old selves, identities, stories, etc.–even snakes don’t do this. It’s a gradual process, the shedding of old kin. The word “drop” is what upsets me. Yes, this is a case of semantics, but I’ll come back to this idea.

For example, it’s been a really tough time for me here in Florida, both financially and socially. I have some very persistent Venusian problems–or at the very least, I have a very long saga of trying to establish a sense of community and security here, which you could also call Cancerian and Capricornian problems.

Grad school was pretty traumatic–lots of rejection, betrayal, hurt, and my feeble ways for me to be heard and understood backfiring on an exponential scale. That’s a big part of my story. And then the aftermath of homelessness, losing my car twice, being in abusive housing situations–stability has been a very elusive thing for me, and as a Capricorn with a Cancer moon, it was living my worst nightmares on a daily basis.

Right now, though, it’s been almost two months since I’ve had a car. It still kinda stings, but with time, the sting is fading. My housing situation isn’t ideal, but I’ve come to terms with it. I’m not in contact with anyone from grad school.

In this moment, no one is abusing or taking advantage of me here. I’m not in fear of my life. As I write this, I’m watching my favorite people on YouTube share their spiritual wisdom–it’s become a tradition of how I spend my Sundays now.

I’m “fine.”

I put “fine” in scare quotes because there are still things I want to accomplish (surprise! a Capricorn with goals!)–not just lofty things, but just basic things, like paying my bills on time, building up my freelance business, having local friends. I deserve all those things and more.

But there was still inordinate amounts of trauma. Did I have any post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? I’m not sure. I’ve never been diagnosed. If I did, I do not have any symptoms right now. But to think that the shit I went through has absolutely no impact on how I’m viewing my life right now just because I’m living in the moment doesn’t ring true to me. There’s still some healing that could and should occur, maybe even in ways that I can’t fully see yet. But I try to do my best–and honestly, that is enough. I trust that the Universe will reveal whatever else needs to be healed when I am ready.

But let’s say, that on this road to wholeness, I continued to talk about the horrible places I live. If I was talking to a friend about it for the 30th time, and they told me to drop the story, I’d be deeply offended. It doesn’t really leave me with something else to do instead of re-telling this story. I’m offended and now I want to just drawn inward, which usually is not going to help me to talk about something else–whether it’s because my friend is just tired of hearing it, or if it’s because my friend can sense that holding onto this isn’t helping me anymore.

How We Talk About Pain and Struggle

Either way, in my opinion, it’s phrases like dropping the story, poverty consciousness, and victim mentality that are ultimately pejorative and not very helpful. Maybe they were meant to be diagnostic terms, or even empowering terms, but to me, they are just shortcuts and spiritual bypass that do not deal with the larger stories that have been going on for millennia and need to be challenged and transformed. These catchy terms do not deal with the fact that I’ve sustained prolonged trauma that even if my situation changes, my psyche can still be stuck in another house, in a shameful moment in class, in that key moment of pain.

Spiritual folks could use good, large doses of both sociology and psychology so that they can understand why individuals and groups of people do what they do.

Maybe this is due to the Age of Reason, but a lot of Western spirituality is so heavy on personal responsibility, as if we all live on our own little islands and never interact. There’s a reason why I can give such perfect advice for others but I can’t really drag myself out of my own mire of despair. I’m going to venture  to say that that’s how humanity is set up–it’s a team sport.

In light of this, I see a lot of these buzzy terms have no real connection to the fact that we live in oppressive systems such white supremacy, patriarchy, antiblackness, homophobia, transphobia, abelism–systems that hold us back from being our true selves, systems that wound and traumatize us. This can also look like generational trauma and wounds, pains and struggles inherited from our ancestors. I rarely hear spiritual teachers and healers talk about this. Someone may be stuck in the past because of some systemic ill or a generational trauma, and the person seeking understanding and healing gets victim blamed.

On the positive side, this also means when individuals get freed from a personal struggle, there are ripple effects that can be seen and felt within their families, communities, ethnic groups, and beyond.

Future generations can be freed.

Sidenote: This makes me question what we use spirituality for. If so much of what we are dealing with has to do with people we may have never met, or actions from hundreds of years ago, what are we doing to systemically change things? Personal development has been so key in helping individuals, and sure–eventually, individuals become groups and there can be systemic change. But when use buzzwords that limit our point of view about what individuals do, we are only looking at a sliver of what’s possible for not only personal healing but what beauty queens all over want: world peace.

The Psychology of Trauma

So what is trauma? Here is a definition of what psychological trauma from the Sidran Institute, which is an educational group that helps others learn about trauma.

[A] traumatic event or situation creates psychological trauma when it overwhelms the individual’s ability to cope, and leaves that person fearing death, annihilation, mutilation, or psychosis. The individual may feel emotionally, cognitively, and physically overwhelmed. The circumstances of the event commonly include abuse of power, betrayal of trust, entrapment, helplessness, pain, confusion, and/or loss.

There are coping strategies for psychological trauma, like avoidance and numbing, but I want to posit that when we share our stories and we are stuck, then that could possibly be a sign of trauma. It’d be helpful to think that this person doesn’t want to be stuck in a place of past pain, and talking about is a way to move towards a place of healing and wholeness. There’s a reason why talk therapy works.

Trauma is real. I helped with research on trauma in children for a few years. Trauma as a diagnosis almost made it into the DSM-V, but it presents itself in so many different forms, it was hard to pin down to a set of universal symptoms. This larger understanding of trauma and how it affects people–both physically and emotionally–is missing from the spiritual waters I swim in.

Why Don’t We Want to Hear Stories?

So, if we dismiss people telling their stories, we have to think about why we don’t want to hear them.

My experiences have been that people just get tired of hearing it and suffer from empathy exhaustion. Since I was in grad school, I have had to ask for help multiple times, for years, with diminishing returns. I’ve already written about some reasons why this happened, and I think empathy exhaustion is one of them.

Another reason is this idea of people just wanting to focus on positive things. They are positivity junkies that do not want to see someone else suffering with their basic needs. Love and light, y’all!

Yet another reason is just people just don’t want to be bothered. Maybe it’s due to a subconscious fear that someone’s bad times are contagious. There’s also just the impatience of walking with someone through their dark night of the soul or valley of the shadow of death. It’s messy and many times you can’t pull someone out of his or her bad spiral. So we turn to axioms and pithy sayings, hoping that somehow, people will just wake up because we asked them to.

“Drop your story.”  It really sounds like the people who tell those suffering from depression to just “snap out of it.” Hopefully, dear reader, you know that by telling someone to snap out of depression is way worse than not saying anything at all.

And usually, it’s not your job to do that, to pull anyone out. There’s something very powerful and transformative about being present, about just being there, about listening to someone tell their story, about not trying to solve anything.

Watch Thich Nhat Hanh talk with Oprah Winfrey about compassionate listening and how it can alleviate suffering.

Just by listening, you can be a catalyst for  transformative healing. You don’t have do anything except hold space and listen with compassion.

Whether we’re operating from impatience, fear, or judgment, we have to treat people’s stories, however old and worn out, as sacred. Hearing someone else’s story is an honor, not something to take for granted. If someone is stuck, listening to them re-tread stories should alert you that this person has been traumatized. You don’t need to cajole them into healing. You know that a journey to wholeness is usually a long one.

Re-Writes and Re-Frames

Finally, if you’re asking someone to drop something–a story, an old self, an identity, remember that nature does not like a vacuum. What are you inviting them to pick up? What are you inviting them to write instead?

Maybe we can invite people, invite ourselves, to re-write or re-frame our stories. The events of what happened cannot change and many times cannot be forgotten. But maybe the theme can be changed, or even a larger story arc can be created.

Let’s take my story for example. It’s a typical Capricorn story of struggle and triumph. It can be hard while you are in the middle of the story to even see what the story arc is. I could easily think that my story is just going to be never-ending struggle.

And that’s where we can hold up mirrors of hope for each other. We can let each other really see ourselves for who we are: adorned with love.

We may have been pushed face down in the muck of shame, sorrow, and humiliation, but we can be lifted up in the bright glory of grace, mercy, love, and redemption.

Erasing the beginning of our stories only dishonors our pain and all we’ve gone through. Tell it all. Find people who you can trust who will listen with compassion. Find people who can trust you so you can listen with compassion.

From the most benign to the most pernicious, stories and identities serve some sort of purpose, and it’s usually safety. It’s what we know. Going into the unknown is scary, for most people. Many times, too, people telling and re-telling stories is to actually make some sort of sense of what happened–it is a way, maybe a fumbling and awkward way, of usher in healing.

And sure, there can come to a point that the story has been fully examined, understanding has been realized, and it’s time to close the book and open a new one. That takes both patience and discernment to know when someone reaches that point. My concern is that people are jumping the gun on where that place is.

What I’m not advocating is for people to overwhelm their own boundaries and just take on a bunch of negative stuff. Honor your boundaries: there are definitely people who end up feeling like they are stuck in this emotional black hole.

If you can’t offer any more assistance, I strongly suggest telling people to go to therapy. It’s not for everyone, but especially if the therapist is trauma-informed, there can be some breakthroughs that can happen with spiritual teaching and healing is coupled with psychotherapy. Participating in a support group can also be of help.

Both Sides Now: Walking Away and Being Walked Away From

This issue comes from a deeply personal place for me. Years ago, I was dumped by a friend who thought I was too toxic and negative–but my life was in shambles. Granted, this woman really tried to be close to me way too soon and was one of those perpetually happy people. I made no apologies for my journey and have no regrets that she was no longer my traveling companion.

I’ve been on the other side as well. I had an online friend many years ago who was really stuck. She lived in a horrible living situation and was most likely clinically depressed. We were friends for years, but my own patience just ran out. There was nothing I could do.

Looking back, though, I could have done a couple of things differently. I could have limited my time talking to her and I could have just listened and tried to not fix her. Holding space for someone who is suffering and is in pain is a sacred duty, not something to be taken for granted.

What’s the Story? Who Are You?

Ultimately, I’m asking for folks to not use empty spiritual buzzwords, to be more patient and kind, to be more discerning, and to realize that the human condition is a cumulative experience.

I have many old stories that I am not living in any longer, but they are chapters in my own book of life that are sacred, that are precious, and that brought me to this place.

…I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were. I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be…

Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

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