The following is a review of 2018’s growth and struggle, with words written and photos taken throughout the year.
Photo taken by Luke Allegre, Joshua Tree National Park, November 2018
I walked into 2018 with another impressive list of goals and intentions. Many were prophetic, revolving around the concepts of mindfulness and acceptance without naming them directly.
“Strive to be present and in the moment- don’t get down on yourself when you slip up, though”. “Remember to be grateful everyday”. “Work on observing and accepting your thoughts and emotions without identifying as them”. “Be patient with yourself and trust the process”.
Deep within me I could sense the work that 2018 had in store for me. The work of slowing down, embracing introspection, and accepting what is. All of these ideas felt completely foreign to who I used to be: extremely social, an optimist intent on being positive at all costs… an expert at running away. I was looking for happiness and healing by reaching out, doing more and more and more, trying desperately to leave the past behind. 2018 began by realizing these techniques I had employed in the past would need to be laid aside in favor of a new approach: finding healing from within.
I discovered the concepts of karma and presence early on. Everything changed when I read “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle in early 2018. Suddenly there was this irresistible Now, where the past and future didn’t exist. There was the idea that all your problems result from the brain dwelling in the past or worrying about the future, and if you just stay perfectly present, existing in this delicious Now, problems wouldn’t touch you. I am not trying to minimize the incredible message of this book. It is a beautiful source of wisdom and truly opened my mind to the peace of living in the present. But in my eager desire to be enveloped by this glorious Now, I glamorized and simplified the concept of presence. I thought it was easy. In the beginning, 2018 seemed like this blissful gift; when I rested in the present I began to think my work was done.
“There is a powerful calmness that arrives
When you connect the dots
See where your mind has played tricks
Like the veil removed, disillusions evaportate
There is so much joy in the active
Acceptance of where you’ve been
It is powerful to remember that
You are infinitely worthy of love, and
The magic that happens in your
Life is your mind catching up to
Your heart. It feels so good to
Let go. Accept the choices you make can
Heal the choices you’ve made. Remember
That now is now. Open your heart to today,
Accept what is. Feel the realness of what healing
Feels like. Change. Synthesis. Oneness.
Coming together. Coming home.”
Photo taken by Luke Allegre, Big Sur, January 2018
In these flowery words there certainly held a truth. The eternal present is glorious and free. It is waiting for me with open arms, when I complete this journey. But I was not and I am not there yet. My work was not and is not done. March rolled around and triggers fired at me left and right. I longed to celebrate the 5 year anniversary of the day I left my abusive relationship but couldn’t even remember what date it was. I decided on March 11th because I like how 311 feels in my mind.
I could be present all day, but the nightmares still returned. I discovered that the self love I preached was conditional. When I was doing well mentally, it came easily, but when the symptoms of trauma pulled me under, shame told me I didn’t deserve my own compassion. I wanted forgiveness to be this walk in the park, this giving up of grief I had read so much about. I wanted forgiveness because I wanted it to be over. I wanted to skip anger and mourning because these are not “positive” emotions. I wanted forgiveness because I wanted to forget.
“Loving yourself isn’t always pretty. That’s the hardest part to understand. When you need your own love the most is when its the least available. When you have to dig it up from the depths of your heart. It seems to elude you because you don’t want to see it. In your pain, you don’t want to deserve your own love. So self-love feels elusive, scarce, hard to reach.
Push away that voice telling you that you deserve this pain. Push away that identity that the pain is you. That you’re comfortable with your heart shut tight. Do the work to say “no” to those demons and you’ll find that love staring back at you, waiting, there all along. Loving yourself isn’t always pretty, but it’s always beautiful.”
Photo taken in North Cascades National Park, September 2018
The fortress I built around my heart revealed itself. I did yoga daily, diligently, my crystals neatly arranged and the sage burning. Leaning into a hip opening pose would bring emotions flowing forth and my mind would dissociate. My brain had learned over years of abuse that crying would do nothing to stop the pain, so now, 5+ years later, it still protected me from feeling the sharp emotions stored in my body. This protection was a gift that kept me functioning and my head above water. But I started to realize that the trauma would always live inside me if I never let it move through me. I’d never feel true joy if I wouldn’t let myself feel true sorrow. My life cloaked in comfort through doing things and keeping myself busy needed to crack open. This stillness I sought was essential, but it could not just be another reprieve from feeling. The stillness would be an opportunity for seeing, witnessing, and experiencing all that was stored within me. I began to give myself permission to look.
I’ve always struggled with patience. I decided there was this work to be done and I wanted it to be done now. I wanted to instantly be a meditation expert and psychologist all at once. My roommates left for the summer and I spent more time alone than ever, reading self-help books and listening to podcasts, writing and occasionally crying. As much as I sought my alone time, I hated being alone. I wanted to be independent but I still walked with fear.
“Healing is hardly easy. I make great strides and progress but sometimes it all feels superficial. Like I’m letting things go and saying “I forgive you” but it’s all a mental thing. My heart is still tight. Sometimes I breathe patient presence into it and it rewards me with tears coming out of my eyes. The watery warmth of a heart unlocking. I progress and yet I’m still here telling myself not to be afraid, that my fear of him killing me is not logical. I hear my mind say this but I still feel it, trapped in me, this fear. It’s like how you can lie to everyone else but eventually the truth will make itself known, at least to you — you are still holding onto these scars. I am working towards catharsis. Towards an honest giving up of trauma’s knots around my ribcage. Looking at the world without constantly fearing attack. Relaxing to my core and surrendering. Trusting that things are okay. For now I just tell myself they are, and my mind talks to itself back and forth. Fear and logic. Doubt and mantra. Sickness and health. I breathe into my heart and just remind it I’m here. I’m trying. I’m doing the best I can to set it free.”
Self love musings at home, July 2018
Sickness floated in and out of my consciousness. I tried my best not to push it away. To listen to it and see what it wanted. I reminded myself that I am not my symptoms and that they present themselves for a reason. I gave myself permission to cry, permission to own my pain. Constant self reminders that feeling anything at all was a victory.
“Today in a random burst of inspiration, hope arose from within my battered psyche. My heart is a snake shedding its skin. This outer layer of trauma sloughing off as my true self emerges, whole and untouched. Rebirth. It hurts to become. I’ve heard that before and it is true; moving through something is so much harder than moving around it. I became skillful in the art of evasion, avoidance, gripping tight to denial without looking down at my hands. Mind constantly entertained in a dance of stress and planning to avoid feeling my heart’s ache. It is so hard to allow myself to feel it. But while it used to sneak up on me only once or twice in a blue moon, I let myself feel more easily now. My brain wants me to think I’m making no progress, or things are even getting worse, but I know the change is happening. I let things touch me and I cry sometimes. I may feel stuck and stagnant, the phrase “I’m so sick… all the time” may run through my head often but this is the nature of releasing a part of you. The parts of me I am shedding are doing a hell of a job staying. I know my mind is twisted up in this dance of remembering and unlearning, where random memories of my life come rising up from the depths at the most random of times, where dreams keep me running from inevitable homicide, where it’s hard to remember the past year let alone the past week. But it helps to remind myself that I am brave for even doing this work, I am brave for continuing to function, I am so accomplished even when I feel like I’m drowning. I’m proud of myself. And somewhere deep within me opens up with a splash of sadness as I realize how hard it is for me to actually feel the self-love I mentally preach to myself. How hard I cried when I thought about accepting love from others because I haven’t been doing that, not really. Mentally I hear “I love you” and I am grateful and satisfied but it doesn’t reach much deeper, doesn’t make my heart reverberate with the deep love of acceptance without shame. Shame. Impossible to describe but ever being expressed, whether subtly or potently. Shame has been woven into my veins but with each moment of self-kindness, every offering of self-love, I begin to water it down, let it flow out my eyes. Things feel difficult right now but change is happening. The layer of pain is moving and beginning to be released. The structure took years to build and it will take years to deconstruct. But then from the ashes I will create something beautiful for myself. Of myself. At the end of what was, what will be shall arise. That peace, that love, deep within me. What already is. Spreading through my cells like the rising tide. I am patient and I have hope.”
Garibaldi Provincial Park, August 2018
Summer slowly faded into fall. External changes and internal fluctuations presented me with new challenges. There were new people in my life and new opportunities to either isolate myself or be brave enough to seek connection. After weeks of bottling up, researching trauma obsessively and trying to carry it all, I opened up to friends new and old and found support and friendship. I began a new book that explained to me so many ins and outs of trauma that I knew innately but never understood the neurology behind. The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van der Kolk challenged me and comforted me, triggered me and consoled me. I learned psychological terms for feelings that enveloped me, and methods for connecting to my body, mind, and spirit to access my innate potential for healing.
“Disembodiment was a natural reaction my mind implemented to protect itself. To protect the part of me that was wounded, the part that felt the pain. When I learned tears didn’t work, I stopped crying. It didn’t make anything better to feel things, so my body shut itself off from healing. Disembodiment- the psychologist’s term for what I feel as the blockage surrounding my living beating heart. No other choice but to shut off the sensation of my body being broken into. My brain removes itself from the memories, disembodied of its own accord, because it doesn’t want to bring that pain I dissociated from back. Doesn’t want to feel it ever. All these toxic memories coursing through my body and only allowed out through tears on the rarest of occasions. But I am working on it. It is an accomplishment to cry at all. To sit through a sunset and feel the glow on my face. To fucking FEEL something at all, instead of just running mental circles, planning planning planning. To live, to be HERE, to be safe here. To not be afraid all the time. To let the food digest slowly with genuine delight, to let the welcomed touch of another linger. To embrace what I’ve been programmed to block. What hasn’t been safe to enjoy before. It’s all healing. It’s happening. So much can be named about my trauma when looked at it from this angle of embodiment. And so much progress has been made. I am safe I am growing I am healing. I am proud.”
Photo taken by Luke Allegre, North Cascades National Park, September 2018
To heal this disembodied state I found myself floating in and out of, I embraced ways to connect to my body. Acupuncture, massage, meditation-based therapy. Slowing down. It is all a work in progress. It takes focus and intention every day.
These raw writings express a year of allowing emotions to come out and finding the resolve in each of them. I sit here reading them and hear my voice in each one, honest and painful and always moving towards hope. I view them in hindsight and realize again that time is never linear. These lessons I move through I have walked through before and will again. But each time I grow stronger.
Watercolor therapy at the beach, July 2018
In 2018 I began to give myself permission to do many things.
To slow down. To cry. To not force my body to keep working when it begged for rest. To speak my truth, even when it was terrifying. To change my career even when it seemed risky. To take ownership of my life and acknowledge my role in what has happened to me. To sit with sadness and not run away from it.
I walk into 2019 with the intention to continue to give myself the grace of permission. To hold both fear and love at the same time. To embrace the shadows within me, to nurture myself and accept that there is a glory to these depths. To embrace the light within me, the vast field of love that never leaves me, the passion that guides me on my path to my highest purpose. I give myself permission to keep learning from both the darkness and light, and never allow my mind to trick me into believing the work is over. It is never over, but I give myself permission to rest. To surrender and trust that I have everything I need. To find hope, to find joy, to find all the love that has never truly left.