faced head on, fear slips away.

 

sweatshirt 2

I was 34. My Mom was 70 and she was dying. I walked down the long white hospital corridor to visit her.  I smelled antiseptic, fresh paint and sickness. I was repulsed. As a single mother of 2 young girls I was in pre nursing at the local community college. I had a moment of clarity. I am impatient with sick people. I could never be a nurse. Pushed by my financial insecurity and my family’s ideas that I should be a nurse and make “good money” I had signed up for nursing.  My moment of clarity came when I was really honest with myself. I wanted to be an Aikido teacher.  This dream was so dear to my heart that I could tell no one. I had only been training for 2 years and was only a brown belt but I knew that this was a physical language that I could speak and teach. I was in heaven when I was on the mat. Teaching aikido wasn’t a good money maker and I knew that this idea wouldn’t make sense to anyone so I decided secretly in my soul that I would quit pre nursing school, work at any job I could find and train as much as I could in aikido.

At the time, this seemed even to me, a foolhardy decision. I was living in a family subsidized house paying only $107.00 month rent in 1987.  And I was had a hard time paying that. I was driving a diaper van part time making $8.00 an hour with no benefits. My ex-husband was pretty sketchy about paying child support and I was attempting to raise my 7 year old and 4 year old daughters on my own. We were on food stamps and my daughters were getting health insurance from the state. I knew telling anyone that I was going to be an Aikido teacher when I grow up was a big mistake. Yet I knew in my heart it was the right choice for me.

I started training because a women’s basketball league that I played in was canceled. I stopped by the mat and watched as several men moved in what seemed like circles around each other and then fell and made a huge slapping noise on the mat. I was fascinated but unsure of what they were doing. The teacher Ron, (now my husband) came over to me and invited me to join class. I demurred. He demonstrated Unbendable Arm to me, which is a simple exercise where you extend your arm out as if you are shooting water out a hose in your imagination through your fingers. He then tried to bend my arm as I visualized the water jetting out my fingers. He could not bend my arm. I was fascinated. He invited me to come class the next night and I did. I was hooked.

The first year was so confusing and painful. I had no idea of what was going on. Ron would demonstrate a technique and then me and 10 guys would stand up, pick partners and attempt to do what Ron just demonstrated.  I did not know how to fall or roll and I did not like anyone touching me. So every moment was uncomfortable and very challenging. I kept coming back anyway. I wanted to be able to move in circles and fly over the mat like I saw that first night. And I didn’t know it yet but I wanted to heal from years of abuse that I was not even aware of yet.

I continued to train 3 or 4 times a week. Luckily the mat was at a community center and my daughters could do their homework, take swim and dance lessons while I was in class.

 

I started playing basketball and baseball really early. I had 5 older brothers….it was our culture….we ran, we hid, we threw balls and caught them or got hit in the face. One of the first things I remember my father telling me was “keep your eye on the ball” as he pitched a baseball.  I would shoot at the hoop on my brother Dickie’s, 6 foot 4 shoulders when I was just a peanut. Movement is my spiritual practice.

So aikido was a natural for me. Not that I knew it when I started. I just thought Ron was a “fine looking fella”, to quote my mother.

 

For the 1st year I stumbled about not having a clue. Not one clue. I did not understand the whole concept of being uke. Why would anyone want to fall down?  I could not roll…not at all. It was very scary and pitiful. I used to hide at the end of the line but the guys would push me up and encourage me even though every roll and every fall hurt like hell. I cried after class a lot. Once after a particularly terrifying class I vowed never to come back. Ron saw me scurrying out and he called me over to explain it was only noise when the guys yelled as they attacked me. He said noise can’t hurt you and the guys would never hurt me anyway. I didn’t totally believe him but I really appreciated him taking the time to explain that to me. When I was a kid my father would yell at me and then hit me. I never knew there was a separation.  I really needed aikido training badly.

 

Before Aikido, there was fear, constant fear, unrecognized fear, paralyzing fear, and unconscious fear. Fear manifested itself in buildings not entered, encounters avoided, and many drinks taken way past the point of where drinking was helpful. Fear prohibited conversation, stifled movement and restricted involvement.

After aikido, fear got different. Fear was noticed, acknowledged, breathed through, talked about and released though training and sometimes through tears.  On the aikido mat fear was met again and again in a safe, supported and controlled environment.

Faced head on, fear slips away.

 

I starting teaching at anyplace that would have me. I taught kids and more kids. I taught a seminar at an old folks home where the old ladies heckled me, telling me to throw the old guys around. I taught corporate classes, classes for a motorcycle club, seminars at high schools, after school programs, special needs schools and for home schoolers. I taught at women’s shelters and summer camps. Anywhere I could throw down a mat and throw some people around, I would.

Now I am 59. I have been training and teaching for 29 years. I taught Aikido at that same Community College I dropped out of and at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. I have a beautiful dojo right at my house. So I kept training 3 times a week. And here I am waiting for classes to start up again in September….every few days I do some rolls so I know I still remember how. At 59 years old I can fly through the air and land in a nice round roll. I love that and I love the me that aikido has helped me find.

 

I believe in her dying days my mother helped me see what was really important. Work is one thing and a life’s calling is another. I work a job so I can help support my dojo. My husband and I met on the mat and we have built a life of honest communication and support together. Aikido gives us a language and community.

 

 

 

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dirty black footy sock

I left the dirty black footy sock on the ground hoping the gusty March winds would whisk it away.  I did sweep up almost every one of the mouse gnawed crayons along with mini mouse poops that were scattered throughout the chewed pieces of Red Orange, Goldenrod, Pacific Blue and Forest Green wax bits. The cold cement floor looked like the happy confetti of a parade but it really was the sad remains of a storage bin left empty.

 

I suppose it could seem hopeful: a storage unit left empty, the lock off, door down, with the leavings of a life’s chapter strewn across the barren gray slab.

 

He came into the office today to sign the vacate notice. He wasn’t past due and he offered to sweep up. He seemed pleasant and soft spoken behind his purple dipped beard and shabby biker’s leathers. His navy skull cap pulled down low over his forehead with a long, thick, dark braid down his broad back, dusty camo pants shoved into worn dark combat boots. He was a working man; his big hands had scraped knuckles, thick calluses: maybe a mechanic or a mason.

 

She sat out in the battered, red wine colored Jeep Cherokee, twisted toward the back as she shushed another man’s 3 children, small they were, 2 mussed blond heads in mismatched car seats, the third a little bigger, unbelted in the center, clutching his Thomas the Train. I see her trying to quiet the fussy kids so they won’t irritate the new man in the biker’s jacket. I recognize the unease of blending stuff and expectations and families.

 

As I put the yellow lock on the latch indicating that the unit is ready for a new rental I see the dirty black half sock stuck to the webbing of the security fence. Percy the Engine sits upright on the unit lip edge, smiling, awaiting the return of a tearful toddler who will never come back.

 

 

 

my memories of her are like photographs

 

My memories of her and I are photographs, really.  I do not need to get the albums out because I remember certain pictures so vividly.  They help me keep in mind why I love her.

The first one was the day after her birth.  She was born the weekend of the Miami riots, and the day Mt. St. Helens blew.  I was stretched out on the bed in our furnished efficiency in Ft Lauderdale. Dressed in a white and pink bunny sleeper, she nestled snuggly in the crook of my arm.  A thin silky cap of dark hair topped her red pruny face.  My hair was in braids, one curl, an escapee, lay on my forehead.  My face was red, sun burnt from a visit to the beach two days before.  I looked tired and happy.  I can remember distinctly how right it felt to hold her soft, lovely self close to me.

The next photograph/memory is of her skating in our driveway in Texas.  She was four years old.  She wore a short maroon cheerleader jumper with a big white A on the front.  Her plastic blue and yellow clamp on skates clattered and scratched as she stumbled around the driveway.  I was sitting on the front steps on the phone with my mother.  She turned her blue eyes huge behind oval glasses.  Brushing a wisp of long blond hair from her sweaty freckled face, she shouted, “Mom, tell Gram I go soooo fast.”

There are other photographs and memories, but for some reason unbeknownst to me those two stand out.

I saw her last Sunday.  Her pants were pushed down to a place on her hips where it seemed  like a miracle was holding them up, her huge, baggy shirt tucked in just so.  New expensive black sneakers, several silver rings and many ear piercings completed the ensemble.

“Mom, do you really like my new hair cut?”

“Yes, honey, I love it.”

How could I not?  Her blond hair was all the same length, clean and its natural color!  Sometimes when I turn and see her I am amazed at her beauty.

When the phone rang Wednesday night I did not have any misgivings.  The voice of her foster mother stated evenly, “She’s gone.”

It was the nineteenth time I had heard those words.

I finished the conversation, asking the right questions, hearing the same old assurances.  I walked back over to the couch and waited for the feelings to come.  They did, but not until 2:05 a.m. when I was starkly awake, my stomach a-twirl.  The coyotes were howling in a surprisingly God forsaken way.  A lone car crawled up the hill, turned around and zoomed back down.   I tried to pray and must have slept.

Today I am sitting with my feelings; my questions.  Where is she?  Who is she with? What is she doing?

It’s weird; sometimes I feel like celebrating her free spirit and other times I just want to put my face in my hands and cry.

I started going to al anon meetings when my daughter was 14. I had been sober in AA for 8 years. Emily started running away from home when she was 12. We tried to do everything to stop her short of tying her to the bedpost. (Don’t think it didn’t cross my mind.)

I knew in my head I was powerless but not in my heart. She was my daughter…my responsibility. People in the rooms would pat my back and tell me to detach with love. I had no idea what they were talking about. She and I were so enmeshed it would have been like cutting out my own heart.

I kept going to meetings. One day I heard a lady say if you can’t detach with love then just detach and if you can’t just detach…..detach with an ax.  That made sense to me somehow.

So I stopped taking her calls and going to see her in various foster homes and special schools for about six months. My husband took her calls and we communicated through him. It was a good move for me. It gave me some space and breathing room. Having a chronic runaway drunk and drugged teenager makes the whole family crazy. My reactions were making me insane.

I started working the steps and keeping the focus on myself. I got a sponsor and spoke at meetings. After six months I was able to go see her and talk to her again. I have been able to stay in love with her since then.

I have had some slips around her…I think it’s normal because she is my daughter.

We have a guarded relationship today. She is still working on her story. I love and accept her. I don’t try to change her. I mind my own business, go to meetings and pray …and so I have a beautiful life. I finally know what detach with love means.

 

I wrote the first part of this paper when Emily was 16. She finally stopped drinking when she was 29 after giving her children away just as I had done before I got sober. The stark reality of giving children away rang in my heart like a frozen once struck chime. It did the same for her. She now has been sober for 8 years. He oldest son was born on the 15th anniversary of my sobriety. Life is sweet today. Great pain provides a wonderful contrast for simple quiet days.

 

Call her back

 

Our power circle is what it is for each of us.

 

Mine includes god, people in 12 step fellowships, Ron, members of my dojo and my daughters, my ancestors and angels, and people everywhere that are recovering from hurts.

 

On the show Longmire, the picture of the young woman on the couch describing her feelings after she was raped was me. I saw myself in her. She was in the exact position on her couch as I was on mine, with our blankets at the same place under our chins. She shook me to my center as she spoke for me. Ron suggested that we had had enough of that show for the night.

 

The next night we watched the woman call herself back.  The old wise woman said that “her self” was taken from her. The old wise woman insisted that she call out “Morning Star, Come back.”

Morning Star dared to call herself back. “Morning Star,” she called out, softly and bravely. “Come back.”

 

Then she cried and her circle of women embraced her.

 

I thought to myself, “I could do that.”

 

That night I prayed, hopped into bed and slept soundly. I awoke in the early morning hours. I noticed how comfy and safe I felt in my warm bed with my husband Ron sleeping peacefully next to me. It occurred to me that it was time to call myself back. I called out softly and bravely, “Come back, Mary Catherine, come back.” I fell back asleep. When I woke up in the morning I could feel her. Mary Catherine is back. I am so grateful.

 

I am sharing this with my circle. I know that my circle includes all who been hurt and have had themselves taken from them. I want to tell you again that I called Mary Catherine back as Morning Star called herself back. Mary Catherine did come back. Healing can happen. It takes time and patience and work. It is happening for me. Mary Catherine is back and I am so happy to have her.

It may not seem like a big decision to you but calling myself back was the most important decision I have ever made.

Letting myself slip away, first as a child unknowingly and then as an adult unconsciously, I had diminished myself to a shadow. I am sure I looked like a person to others on the outside. On the inside I felt frozen and missing. Missing from feelings and emotions but not actions. I could act and I did.  I had been acting for years; acting like I was normal and having a fine time with daily life.

When I saw the scene in Longmire I related profoundly. I felt Morning Star’s pain and I felt hope that I could be called back too. I didn’t even know I was missing until that moment. I felt like an observer to my own life. I would think to myself, “I wonder what someone else would feel like in this circumstance,” and then I would act like I thought a real person would act.

Separation from me must have started very early because I have been an observer of myself for years. Grade school was painful and I learned that to be part of children’s life you must adapt on the fly. Being invisible served me well. I would try out a behavior and then notice how humiliated I felt when again I did not get the social norms. I would go back into my barely seen self. I seldom spoke and often pretended to be sleeping. Some might call it shy but I felt more like the unseen. If I could not see myself then I was not there.

I could blend in at home too….if my father slammed the door in a particular way I remember slinking off and disappearing in the house. I suppose they could see me but I kept my energy level low and was less likely to get tossed about the house or screamed at.

My teenage years were especially painful. I wanted to be seen but could not bring myself to speak. I did learn some facial expressions that conveyed sarcasm and wryness while still covering up my rotten gaping teeth.  Once in a great while I would forget myself and smile only to be reminded of my folly with the look of disgust or pitying questions about the dentist.

The only place I felt comfortable being seen was in motion. Whether shooting a basketball, running after a grounder, swimming, diving or riding my bike; I knew freedom. I lost the bondage of myself in the ecstasy of the exercise.

I got my teeth fixed at 17 and started peeking at myself: tiny, fleeting looks cut short by sever self-judgment. I started drinking alcohol at 18 and understood freedom of self. I could act extemporaneously for the first time since early childhood. I loved it. Unfortunately I drank too much, too often, and caused real problems for myself.

I stopped drinking for good at 29 and unconsciously went back into observing, judging myself and disappearing.

I have lived a long sober life and finally the pieces are falling into place. It was safe to call myself back and when the time was right I was given the tools and the wherewithal.

So come back, Mary Catherine, come back to stay. It is necessary. Everyone won’t like and admire you but some will and most important you can continue to learn to accept and love yourself.

Come back, young Mary, Come out from behind that couch. Daddy is dead and will never throw you across the room again for breaking a plastic clock. He can’t beat you with his belt for running and laughing and playing. Your father’s blue eyes and early kindness in captured in your grandson. You can see the pure love in those blue eyes and trust that your father loved you too though caught in his own web of fear and volatile anger.

Come on back, teenage Mary. Yes, your grandpa is dead and will never hug you again or sit on the side hill counting rail road cars with you. But he walks with you whenever you see the wind in the poplar trees or hear a train’s whistle. And whenever you feel that presence that you can’t explain… Grampy is there…he is your guardian angel and will never go away again.

 

Come back, young mother, Mary Catherine… yes, you were overwhelmed and made many poor choices based in self-centered fear and ignorance.  A few have suffered greatly because of your behaviors and you still must come back. They are still with you in your life and will benefit greatly from knowing you now.

Come back, older mother, Mary Catherine…with children running from you and memories of rape and abuse coming back and the same thing happening to your children. Come back, come back. All can heal. We can heal together but we need you here. There is nothing that is too bad to be faced and healed together.

Come back, perimenopausal Mary Catherine, yes, your anxiety caused you to make more choices to save yourself. It is okay…jobs left and teaching opportunities lost were for your greater good. It is okay. You are here today. We can move forward.

 

Yes, come back, Mary Catherine, dear. I need you here in the now. It is okay to feel and to see and be seen.  A lifetime of being unseen and disappearing is over. I see you now. I love and need you. You can continue on your path of healing.  The love I give to Ron and receive back from him is tangible.  That feeling of completeness is real.  It my connection to my mother and her mother, to my daughters and to my grandchildren, and to the beautiful large mother that is. It is real….I have faith, unshakable faith. I am here. I am seen and I can feel. Welcome back, Mary Catherine, You are loved here.