Struggle to Take Care of Myself

The next three posts are from writing I did on February 18 in 1992.  I’ve been reading my way through my old journals in an attempt to integrate my younger self with my present self.  I keep being surprised at how engaged I am with my life.  Looking back, I imagine that I spent all the time in the grayness of depression, reading murder mysteries.  But that’s not true.  I’m encouraged to see that I’ve spent my life trying to get to the truth of it, despite all the internalized misinformation.  When I read my struggles with conflicts I now see as growing out of PTSD and attachment trauma, I have both a lot more compassion and a lot more admiration for myself.     

Dream: Corrosive Water
Driving a car down the launching ways into the water.  (Eleanor is with me)  People standing on the ends of the ways in the water motion me to the left.  The car does get stuck but they help us rock it free.  The car becomes a huge clumsy boat.  I paddle, asking Eleanor to help, thinking it will take forever.  Suddenly I’m walking into the sand dunes carrying a large but light boat.  I look around for Eleanor but don’t see her.  I find odd little hollows in the dunes.  One is filled with bright green, thick water, it looks deep and mysterious.  I wade in, think the water must be very salty.  I leave and my ankles start to sting.  I try to wipe the green gel off them with sand, afraid my skin is being damaged.

Comment: I think this dream expresses what’s been happening to my mental process: I try to enter the depths, validated by Eleanor, but quickly find myself in the desert, the only water the corrosive pool.  Like encounters with Mother, I don’t realize I’ve been hurt until after the fact.

Eleanor is my friend who was badly abused in her family of origin, who lives on SSI disability.  She lived with us for a while, in a small hut Dana built on our property.  She got a housing voucher which allowed her to move to an apartment in town, but she still needed a lot of help, especially muscle testing to see what she can eat.

The dream comment was written at the time.  Reading it now, I suspect that the corrosive pool represents the damage and pain of PTSD, which I had no idea about at that time.  The desert and the pain both represent the kinds of experiences I will have as I go into the depths to understand and heal from PTSD.

This is my standard way of writing in the morning.  Candle and tea for moral support.  I usually set a timer and keep the pen moving for 30 minutes.

Candle.  Cup of tea.  Can’t find the timer.

Depressed and sad.  Also confused.  Having a hard time making the simplest of decisions like how to cook the eggs.  Eleanor called for help with arm testing just as I was making the tea, so I turned the kettle off, but I didn’t ask her further questions like how the night was or where she’s going.  Now I feel guilty because I know this is a hard day for her, and it would have been nice to give her a little warmth.  If it had been Alice I would have talked to her.  But my focus was on getting to this writing.  Is clearing a space for writing more important than helping Eleanor?  I feel so torn.  Yet if I call her because I feel guilty she’ll pick up on it and it won’t do her any good.  Besides, she may have the phone turned off, or I could interrupt at a wrong moment.  O gosh how I go through all this agony.  I wish it were possible to just make a simple decision.  And it’s not as though I had anything important to write about here.  But if I had been about to sit down to meditation, that would be OK.  So this is my meditation, I need to do this before I start interacting with others and get drawn out of my center.  I know I would have talked to Alice, but often when I do talk to Alice, it blows my whole day.

I’m not looking forward to this day.  There’s nothing that I “have” to do.  I thought about trying to alternate half hours of writing and drawing, but am not sure I can pull it off.  Perhaps if I went up to the hut, but for some reason that’s very hard to do.

Why do I find it so hard to go to the hut?  It’s Eleanor’s territory.  She left the piss pot inside and it smells bad.  I don’t have access to the stove or the bathroom, have to take hot tea up in a thermos.  When I’ve spent time up there I’ve gotten anxious very quickly, or had to pee, or been driven out by … what?  I thought it would be a haven from Greg’s construction noise.  It’s true that that’s a distraction, but it’s only for a short time in the morning and then he’s out in the workshop.  Why is it so hard to go to the hut?  All my art materials are up there, but it’s also hard to do art.  It’s not like art is a draw.  And it’s made more difficult, not easier, by barriers of cold, smell, unfamiliarity.  So it looks like another set of expectations that I can’t fulfill.  This is being a hard time, with my house invaded and disrupted, I thought it would be a chance to do art, but it’s too difficult.  I thought it would be like writing the book, when I went off to the Bowdoin College library or down to Karen’s to write, and being in a different place helped me concentrate.  But writing was a skill I had already developed, I could take it into an alien place.  I think to be able to draw I need both safety and support, otherwise it’s just too difficult.

Well, I suppose I could forget about trying to draw and maybe just write all day.  I’ve never done that, and I want to try since Natalie equated a writing retreat with sesshin.  Although I think she meant something more serious, off in a cabin with no phone, no people to interact with.  What would happen if I wrote all day?  I don’t know.

Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones.  Sesshin is a silent Zen retreat.  I went to several in the 70’s when I was a member of the Rochester Zen Center.

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