on self care

December 14, 2014 § Leave a comment

i know that the standard prescription in these situations is to take care of yourself. or take care of yourself first.

but i’ve always had a hard time visualizing what that actually means. i know that when i get triggered and can’t stop crying or fall into a paralysis of depression or want to refuse food to the point of starvation, it makes little sense to take a hot bath with candles or eat something nice. i simply can’t imagine any way out of my state, even though i have the DBT cards where i’ve thought through very carefully when in a normal rational state what i should do when i’m not.

what is self care, anyway? about a month ago i picked up a zine posing the same question, in which the anonymous writer talked about the insufficiency of care when the problem, as in many cases of trauma, is the lack of a self. or, maybe, the development of a self tightly built around a wound, a self organized to protect against trauma. a self fortified by a multiplication of maladaptive strategies intended to protect and conceal an original injury. in that case, s/he says, what we need is not to take care of that construction of self, but to transform it, to become something other than what we’ve been. to live a life that is not organized around an original wound.

i came to similar conclusions this afternoon when i was running–which is like one of the last things i want to do when i’m stuck in the panic of a trauma response, even though i know exercise helps and it’s on my DBT cards etc. the thought i had was:

when all my energy wants to bend toward someone

please stay, please come back, please hold me, please love me, please don’t leave

what i need to do is to retract that energy to a center, keep it close. when everything in me longs to turn outward, to grasp and to pull, i need to pull it back in. i need to turn it inward. i need to retreat and take my space, to seek refuge in solitude–or in being with others, doing other things. i need to run or lift. i need to meditate and pray. i need to listen to dharma talks. i need to read and write. i need to go outside and observe nature. i need to visit my parents, play with my child. i need to go to meetings–support group and community organizing both. and i need to do these things for as long as it takes for my panic to subside. even if that’s a day. even if that’s a week.

in writing this down, it occurs to me that this thought took shape in stages or drafts. an earlier form presented itself when i was emailing a friend:

he’s still away, but we’re talking and trying to figure out how things can be different, better. i know it’s more complicated than just his mental health struggles, because i have my own trauma that plays out in relationships, which makes it harder than it otherwise might be. so i’m having to confront and think through my piece of our dynamic.  

but i am trying to use this solitary time as a chance for deep focus and prayer/meditation. that’s the only thing i can do, i guess, and in unexpected ways that realization is liberating.

and then this morning, when listening to a dharma talk online, the teacher said, roughly:

fear’s not in the way, it’s the way. if we don’t have a practice of opening to the vulnerability that’s in our body, we don’t discover the openness that is the pure expression of love. open to the truth of impermanence, that there is no ground. the real truth of loss. but opening to loss is what opens us to tenderness. 

just sitting with the freefall when i’m in it, when i’m doing everything to keep from being in it. a cessation of striving and grasping. i can’t do anything about anything. there’s nothing to try. a relief, a liberation. all i can do is use this time to focus inward, to bring my energy back to a center. to transform a self that has emerged from injury. i know the buddhists go further and reject a notion of the self as fictional, but in this case it seems a useful or strategic fiction. a provisional notion, a notion that helps me respond with kindness to my own suffering instead of deepening it.

(here’s another thing. i have decided that it makes more sense to describe my borderline stuff as “trauma that plays out in relationships.” it is less stigmatizing and pathologizing, more forgiving and kinder–putting the emphasis on what happened a long time ago that now continues to manifest in my present experience, rather than on an identity that is static and defective. putting the emphasis instead on the temporal, the phenomenal–once i was injured, now i am compelled, in the future i might have some other relation to that injury. it opens up room for change and transformation. to name it in that way is also just more descriptive of what my experience is.)


amor es dolor

December 25, 2013 § Leave a comment


it’s hard it’s hard it’s hard it’s hard


what’s worst is that
there’s no reason why, why I should
feel as though my chest
is being prized apart as in
a bypass, ribcage
cracked open like a book or
proscenium raised to reveal
a dia de los muertos
shrine, this
celebration of loss
this mourning of the greatest joy

what feels too big to write and so
to understand but I’ll
I feel grateful for, I feel graced by
a love that fells me, that compels
my genuflection before an openness
to the infinity of pathways possible
the messy complexity of no hope,
the wisdom of no escape from complexity
but the power, the intensity that
folds my knees
opens my hands to the
I shall be what I shall be
that stands me open, ribcage cracked
as life and love pool to overflowing
past the loose catchment of
my cupped hands
is too much to contain, too much as it
rips into and through me
it’s too big and I
too impossibly small

it’s like the scene at the end of
the secret of nimh
when timid mrs. brisby
who everyone thinks is helpless
is the only one who can grasp onto
nicodemus’s flaming amulet
she drops it at first
but then she steadies herself and
holds on and
the power travels
up her arms, engulfs
her entire body, until
with that power she moves
the cinderblock home
where her children reside
to the lee of the stone,
to safety:


but for me
I am smaller and more timid
than a cartoon mouse
love is too big, too powerful
the amulet too fiery
to be

or maybe it is the fiery hot of the crowning
when a child roars for entrance
into the world
heaving downward and out with
the hardest demand
through a body not
built for it but
built for it,
elastic by
the skin of its teeth, by
the tinest, most precarious tunings
of evolution,
just barely barely barely

on the one:
I could not use this metaphor
if I had not lived through it myself

on the other:
I lived it but only
from outside and beside
myself, taken over,
the boundaries of self
in childbirth, as in sorrow,
uncertain: where do you and this other
begin and end, where do the edges
unravel into the infinite beyond?
when my anxiety and anguish
compels yours which amplifies
mine, an echo chamber of
shared consciousness?
if the reality to be apprehended is that
there’s no difference really,
inside/outside, self/notself
how can knowledge of sacred bond
(you and me, thus me and the inarticulable,
the name with no vowels)
not destroy me?

the pain of not knowing
the joy of being
okay with not knowing,
of knowing
it’s okay, it’s okay
to hold both at once
to hold both at once
will rip me apart, I can’t
survive this yet
I will, the knowledge is
too great and too terrible and
too beautiful,
awful and aweful

in the car I watched your dog
cry when you went into the store
out of sight even for a minute
the pain of thousands
of little losses like this
I understand, I understood
which was why
I stroked her head and
reassured her you’d come back
and you did


what if

what if

and then alice’s parable
at first so seemingly disconnected
but later so helpful and revealing:

of a man she loved and left
a crackhead
who told her one visit that
he gathers his drugs together
in front of him
and cries even before he takes them
knowing they’ll eventually be gone
missing something right before him
mourning loss even before it happens
knowing losing inevitably shadows having
emptiness inseparable from satisfaction

now she loves a man who loves men
a man who loves her back
as a friend but will never return
the sacred eros of the desire she feels for him

in the taqueria she thanked me
for not suggesting she love someone else
someone more accessible or realistic
someone less complex and painful to love

no, it’s okay/it’s not okay, no/it’s okay

because it has to be
because I don’t want to be that crackhead
and so
we have to go on as though
it’s okay even when it feels like
it never will be
we have to hope synchronous
moments of clarity are possible
when they feel entirely opposite

I have to trust
that love is big enough
to contain these spasms of

that I am forgiven
these things

forgiven the ways
in which I complicate a happiness
forgiven the ways I get scared
forgiven the ways in which
I create the waves that toss me
because of all the ways
I am imperfect, incomplete
forgiven the ways in which
I am producing noise in seeking
silence, fuzz in seeking
focus, forgiven
all I do not understand

this is why it’s hard
but what to do
except try to write
except trust that the you
that gestures outward to universe
still loves me
that you will return in time
until then
I should put on my shoes
and run run run run
away from this static
away from myself
so that I too can return
to you

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