Exhume this soul in its solitary rest

From Creative Coloring Animals by Valentina Harper

This morning, 6:30: I woke up, 45 minutes from home, in my boyfriend’s apartment, feeling weighed down by defeat that life is too demanding and Donald Trump is too popular and I’m more tired than I want to be from running yesterday and I’m sick of the socioeconomic reality of the Bay Area that even though my boyfriend and I both make good money we still don’t make enough to afford places to live where we are free from the fascism of sharing walls with neighbors who don’t care for the art of a light considerate footstep and a low-volumed television after 10:00p.m.

I took my early morning drive over the hill, stopping for a hazelnut coffee at Panera, a tiny rituals of self love I’ve developed that brings me exponentially more joy than the $2.17 it costs. Arriving back in Santa Cruz, I went to my Saturday morning exercise class, an hour of weight lifting and aggressive cycling that catalyzed me leaving with an anchored soul, a spirit elated, the tension exhumed from my body via dumbbell and TRX.

My uncle this week took his own life. He was one of my heaviest drinking relatives. Being married to my dad’s sister, he wasn’t a blood relative,  and I haven’t seen him in a decade, and I don’t have any pleasant memories of him, really only memories where he was drunk, crabby and miserable, so I am not sure how to grieve him, how or when it will hit. In the meantime, I observe through texts with my mom and sister the ways in which my extended family is processing the loss on the East Coast. Within hours of the death they’d decided by consensus to tell everyone that “he died suddenly” rather than really be honest about what happened, learn from what happened, heal from what happened. They will have an extended (drunken) Irish wake and funeral with a hall rented out for the huge party, etc, and I’m reminded that I didn’t so much move to California as defect from my family/culture a decade ago in a way not entirely dissimilar to how people seeking a less soul -constricting life defected from communist Russia. I am grateful I am not there among the drinking and denial and don’t have to submit to the voluntary extraction of my life force that attending the spectacle of death rites would require. Were I physically located on the East Coast, the family would have mandated my rigid attendance and interaction, and no permission would have been granted for my individual need to grieve quietly and in my own way.

But I do mourn that this spectacle is the reality of my heritage. This spectacle is the predictable consequence of denying alcoholism, repressing pain, and subsequent disease, a spectacle that, without therapeutic intervention, will continue to cycle and perpetuate through the bloodline forever. I mourn the reality that my extended family feels deep soul pain, whether they chose to acknowledge that pain outwardly or not, and I mourn that when they don’t acknowledge their pain, I can’t reach them. This is the tragedy of inter-generational Irish trauma: the loss of opportunity to build relationships with the people I’d prefer to have relationships with, if doing so were healthy for me.

The book All the Single Ladies increases my gratitude that as a 23-year-old in 2006, I even had the option of moving to California a decade ago and living alone, instead of feeling immediate pressure to marry and birth children. I mourn my grandmothers, who really had no other available paths other than marriage and kids, and in their landscape of inter-generational Irish trauma and narrow life choices, I mourn how their lives might have been more free, of obligation and also alcoholic trauma, if they’d simply been born later. I am humbled that my defection and my healing were and are in large part possible because of the era in which I got lucky enough to be alive.

All the Single Ladies as well as Helena Fitzgerald’s fantastic essay in Catapult this week have amplified my feelings of love for living alone, having a space of my own, having a place to retreat to where I don’t have to serve anybody else even with so much as eye contact or a supportive facial expression. At home, I can just be collapsed into myself, honest with how I really feel, resting. My boyfriend is visiting his mom today which means I  have been free, this whole afternoon, to do whatever I want, an unimaginable luxury, which has so far meant lying around watching Mr. Ben Brown’s youtube South Africa videos and coloring an ostrich in an adult coloring book and the word I’d use to describe the afternoon is majestic.

Often I am frustrated that after the necessary exertions of work, exercise, basic chores and hygiene are met I have so little left over for creating anything artistic, but I remind myself also to just do something, that if I keep going along this path someday something will give and I’ll have more resources for travel and creativity. As I struggle to find at the end of the week the mental lucidity to put even one post together, I envy those whose artistic hustle is obvious: those who have published novels or whose online writings are prolific and contain vivid photos and working links and comments that denote mutual respect with other writers. But for now, it’s 5:00p.m. on a Saturday afternoon, and I take solace in the simple pleasure of a quiet apartment illuminated in the late afternoon light, my floors vacuumed and my newly washed kitchen floor gleaming, my neighbor’s wind catcher out my bedroom window reverberating noises reminiscent of what I imagine shimmering stars would sound like if they made noise, and I am grateful for the simple burst of energy I have generated by corralling my thoughts into neatly formed sentences, sentences that I made despite seemingly the entirety of my life threatening to pull me away from myself. I am alone, I am healh(ier), I am free. There is enormous effort but also great peace, in carving my own life.

An indictment of 2:30 p.m. chocolate cravings

Sometimes I eat but then realize upon further reflection that what I really wanted was

permission to ignore the world, the internet, your demands
permission to address my own needs
permission to let my mind wander
permission to not want to
permission to not know
permission to be tired
permission to be sad
permission to rest

permission to be

“To me, power is making things happen without asking for permission.” -Beyonce
Gottesman, Tamar. “Beyoncé Wants to Change the Conversation.” Elle 4 Apr. 2016: n. pag. .elle.com. Web.


At the bakery I saw the widow of my boss’ best friend, who passed away a year or two ago.
I’d never spoken to her before, an acquaintance by association, and normally, wouldn’t, because why bother to make the world bigger when there’s pain enough as it is.

But I needed to tell her something that belonged to her: that I’d met her husband once, when he had picked me up from a mechanic a few years ago and driven me back to my boss’ house and that I really liked him, that he seemed like a very nice man.

She said that since he’s been gone so many people have told her stories of what a good man he was. She said: it’s amazing that you can love someone more when they’ve died.

We both apologized, then, for making each other cry.

And I was crying because X was a good man and that was easy to see from 20 minutes in the car but also because I have lost someone who is still here and my heart said: will it never end then, this love and this hurt, will it grow and grow through his whole life and mine and then when he’s in the grave, will it expand so enormously that it takes over every neural pathway of my brain, crowding out any other experience of this life, and will I feel resentful of the burden or will I revel in the chance to keep loving him in this distant, invisible way.

Died. Lost. Severed ties. Broken Bonds. But are they ever? Love doesn’t care of these constructs of bodily limits, of space or time or the boundaries I thought I could build as fences around feelings and walls against tears. Love pulses on, an immortal heart beating despite breakups and stand offs and sunken, jaded spirits. Love says I will survive you, I will survive your funerals and your face-saving stoicisms and your wilted, jilted heart and you may fight me, you may flee me, but in the end you will bow down to me and you will serve me as the one true thing worth having in this life.

The Introvert’s Dilemma

Once I was sleeping with an extrovert who suggested that at some point, we play a board game.

I said: My mind is like a bunch of wild ponies that need to run free and roam. Playing a game with rules to follow makes the ponies feel like they are locked up and confined in a stable and they get anxious and depressed there, and their muscles start to atrophy.

He replied: I don’t understand a word of what you just said.

Relief from the Inside Out

Cliff at Potato ShackHere is my boyfriend.   As demonstrated in this picture, he is generally at peace in most circumstances, a trait whose presence in him causes me envy and which I attribute in part to his childhood, which included playing outside in the mud and rain while attending the “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” preschool in sunny, idyllic La Jolla Shores, California. 

Meanwhile, one of my most common childhood memories consists of me at age circa 10-12 standing at my windowsill in the middle of the night, watching my drunk alcoholic father drive off to buy more beer, worrying if this will be the night that he drives into a tree and doesn’t ever come home again, and then obsessively plotting how I’d find food and shelter for myself and my siblings if my mom were to break under the stress of my dad dying. 

We’ve been shaped a little bit differently, my boyfriend and I.  While he is generally openhearted to people and trusts life implicitly to bring him what he needs, my particular experience of post-traumatic stress sees me facing life with a staggering amount of anxiety and apprehension that no matter how many times I get on my yoga mat, no matter how much money I pump into therapy, I just have not been able to shake.   I’ve come to think that the darkness inside as my own personal fairy tale experience of being under a spell, and often I feel that part of my life’s purpose is to break its hold on me. 

I am troubled by the persistence of my anxiety, and I  long to feel empowered enough in a job that I could bravely, self-assuredly ask for what I want and need without having my terrorized brain revert to the “flight” version of fight or flight mode, a habit which often manifests as me plotting a permanent move to the Costa Rican rainforest and/or craving donuts everytime I feel the slightest sensation of insecurity.  Over the years I’ve immersed myself into a lot of new-agey healing modalities in an effort to break the spell and find my own experience of the “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” preschool, but here I am, after a decade devoted to self-improvement, still looking to break the spell.

So when I found David Bercelli’s book The Revolutionary Trauma Release Process, I was interested but skeptical.  I was too jaded to expect miracles from yet another modality that would likely leave me just moderately more aware of my own neuroses and slightly more calm for only as long as I continued to actully do the work.  Imagine my surprise when I learned from Bercelli what no therapist, yoga class or meditation session has yet to impart to me:  the claim that trembling releases trauma for good. 

Bercelli, who works actively with returned soldiers with PSTD, points out that trembling is the natural human response to ridding trauma from the body, but that as we become adults we are conditioned to not tremble so that we do not show weakness to other people.  He points out that trembling is such an inherent behavior of self-preservation in nature that after a skirmish, animals in the wild separate and tremble as a way to naturally release the trauma of their experience.  Bercelli argues that trembling is natural for humans as well; when working in war-torn African and Middle Eastern countries, he observed that small children trembled during frightening events but that the adults did not.  The adults told him later on that they had wanted to tremble, but, as Bercelli had suspected, didn’t want to look weak in front of their children.   Bercelli says that when we don’t release trauma from our cells, we store it and it infects us as disease of many sorts.  The more trauma we store, the more we have to release in order to feel fully alive.

And I think I might have a lot of trembling to do, because my legs are shaking up a storm.  The exercises are simple and any yogi would have no trouble integrating the trembling into various standing poses and (my favorite) supta baddha konasana.  In fact, a rigorous yoga practice probably will send your muscles into a good tremble anyhow, whether you induce it consciously or not.  I’m amazed at my own level of social conditioning when I realize that for years I’ve pulled myself out of yoga poses when I began to tremble, thinking that I was putting my body in danger by pushing it too hard.  Apparently my body actually knows how to take care of itself,  and so I might as well get out of my own way. 

Might the trauma release exercises be the magic potion that breaks the spell of my chronic distrust of life?  I can’t say yet what the long term effects will be, but I can tell you that in just under two weeks of practicing the exercises for just a few minutes every day, I have experienced a surprising amount of clarity about my behavior that has eluded me despite the entire past decade that I’ve been pursuing it.  Intuitively, the exercises feel helpful to me; while with yoga the potential relaxation factor is compromised by my mental preoccupation with making the poses look good, I really can’t get egotistical about letting my thighs jiggle. 

As I shake I imagine black toxic memories and delusions releasing into the air around me, and I finish the exercises feeling exhausted, satisfied and relaxed.  The sheer primative ego-less-ness of the exercises seem to be undoing some tightly wound chain in my soul, and I’m cautiously optimistic that my boyfriend won’t always be the only one in the relationship feeling like life is so sweet.