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Updated: Oct 8, 2020

Living in this masked world, I can hide half my face. I remind myself no one can see when I wonder if there’s food in my teeth or how my facial scar looks. I feel relief in the hidden.

I remember standing in line at the post office in a pre-Covid time when I walked up to the counter. The male postal worker was pleasant and I carried out my business. A whole scenario of negotiating stamps and an exchange of money. It looked easy.

A whole other world was taking place hidden inside at the same time. The postal worker’s mouth was shaped in a way that reminded me of my brother. His teeth and gums made my stomach ache. When he laughed I felt dirty. When he looked me in the eyes, I wanted to run. He reminded me of my brother.

I was triggered with a memory from my past I don’t totally understand. I do know my brother was 9 years older than I and had some major social problems. He hurt me physically and emotionally. I was not safe around him. We lived together in our family for a decade or more before he left for college, and many experiences became part of my memory. None of them were positive.

When I sit five feet from a TV screen, I can easily explain to anyone asking what the movie is about that I’m watching. I have a perspective with a context. If I were to scooch right up to the TV and smoosh my eye against the TV screen, I can’t see anything and feel lost to what’s happening. Such is life on the spiritual path. When I feel lost, I’m on the right path. (this metaphor is taken from a Matt Kahn teaching.)

Every day I discern and decide, whether it’s a next step or a meal. I have goals and tasks and each one has a list of steps to take. I choose to do the steps from beginning to end in order to achieve the desired outcome. Every step has an intention attached to it. I prioritize. I assess. I meet my body needs. I list my responsibilities and carry them out as best I can. Twenty-four hours holds a lot of discerning, deciding, prioritizing and completing. Life demands my presence.

I imagine a human on this path of life meeting their daily demands they have lined up. Then I add to that human a huge sack full of guilt from their past that’s heavy and bulky with stories of misplaced responsibility. This human picks it up and heaves it over their shoulder. Then I add a whole lot of hurt the human experienced as a child in the shape of a long slithering snake that the human picks up and winds around their neck and torso letting the tail of fear and pain drag behind them. Moving about in their world is difficult, heaving and dragging all the past along with the daily demands of the present.

I have a deep desire in this life to feel whole and happy, not a compartmentalized happy. I want my inner child to take my adult hand and work together. To meet this desire, I have learned to watch and listen as I live my life. There are clues everywhere of what to address next. I must be gentle, otherwise I can’t see the flags.

I’ve observed a lot of wagging red flags. I address them one by one. I know to ask: What’s going on here? What am I feeling? What do I need? It takes courage to look closer. It’s much easier to experience a trigger and point a blaming finger. Then I block out the learning. But no worries, life will provide another flag.

When I am triggered, it’s easy for me to step on the soapbox and berate myself for reacting. I’ve learned to surrender in these times until my perspective returns and I see a clearer picture. This deep desire for peace of mind is closer as I befriend my inner child and my adult knowing we walk this path together. Triggers will occur again. I accept that fact.

EVERY DOG’S STORY by Mary Oliver, from Dog Songs

I have a bed, my very own. It’s just my size. And sometimes I like to sleep alone with dreams inside my eyes. But sometimes dreams are dark and wild and creepy and I wake and am afraid, though I don’t know why. But I’m no longer sleepy and too slowly the hours go by. So I climb on the bed where the light of the moon is shining on your face and I know it will be morning soon. Everybody needs a safe place.

Participants' Reflections:

  • My mind started to wander on your words. Last week I was in the town where I lived as a teen and I remembered the post office and the road off main street where I was dragged and violated. I was trying to remember who I was and what I felt. I have a deep desire to create safe spaces. With my losses I cry a lot. Through recent experiences my foundation has been shaken. I’m willing to do the work and get more information. Thank you.

  • I grew up so meek and quiet in a toxic family. I was never able to hear the help therapists offered me in facing my guilt and fears. The concept of finding my voice and realizing I wasn’t safe to speak up felt like it was a problem with me. Now I’m realizing there wasn’t anything innately wrong with me or defective. I was doing the best I could in a toxic situation. Now I’m learning to find my voice.

  • I have an adult son who is looking for an apartment and a job and is demanding I help him if I’m a good parent he reminds me, which reminded me when I was faced with a similar situation, I wanted help from my parents and was given limiting conditions which hurt so I was turned away. I was devastated. I still hold that resentment and I feel it with my son’s situation. I see his fear. I feel my fear and it’s all so challenging. I’m confused.

  • I have to say being a male in this group and hearing heart-wrenching stories, my heart aches. It’s challenging to be a man in today’s world. I am distressed and want so much for a change.

  • You are present demonstrating your tears and embracing your part which is where it starts, so keep doing that in the face of this world

  • I want to acknowledge the piece about being so close to the screen, one can’t see what’s going on. My father taught me to look at the big picture of anything. A therapist of mine guided me to look at situations from far away. It’s amazing to change a perspective and what I discover. Sometimes I’m just so in it I can’t see what’s going on. I love to pull back as far as I can to try to see where things are going. It’s hard to do.

  • I do want to say being a parent is one of the hardest jobs because we are parenting with our hearts to someone outside of us who is struggling and that triggers us as a parent. One of the best tools I found was reading Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway because every reaction my children had was based on fear even though it came out as “I hate you” “You don’t let me do anything” “This isn’t fair” blah blah blah. It’s all based on fear. The more I dealt with the fears that triggered me, the more I modeled to them how to handle their fear.

  • I have two sons and one of the things I wanted for them was to have a good male role model which was very, very difficult. I remember when I was in my 30’s in a workshop where I was asked to think of a female role model. I could not think of one and it wasn’t until I got into 12-step recovery I started seeing authentic, courageous people. I’m grateful for the role models in my life.

  • One of my coworkers I hang out with, I realize, shames me during our conversations. I don’t feel good with her. In the past I would put up with it and find everything wrong with me why I can’t. Now I am discerning I don’t like this; I don’t want to be shamed and I don’t need to put myself in that situation with her or anybody else. I have more role models. I want to take care of myself

  • I want to thank you so much for creating this wonderful safe place for us. It’s harder to find a safe place in this crazy world, and it’s one place we will look back on and remember with warm hearts.

  • Thank you everyone for sharing your heart and authenticity as you sit in silence and listen and respect and feel what each one of us is sharing. Whether you spoke or not, so much healing is happening within. I bid you all a gentle day as you go about step by step.

  • Thank you all for your deep and personal sharing. Will be keeping you in my thoughts today.

  • I am sending you prayers and energy with respect and honor for YOU…be in peace and healing.

  • It's been very powerful.

  • Yes, thank you all so much.

  • I am so grateful for all of you

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