Forgiveness …

The pain is deep ~

You put it there.

Not that you knew it,

You were simply sailing

Your oblivious sea

And I, being an innocent,

Was caught in your toxic

Wake; my life line

The place in my Soul you

Could not reach.

*

I forgive you.

I forgive because

Drowning in the pain

Of you hurts only me,

I forgive because

The power is within me.

I forgive to be the peace

I want to see.

I forgive to be

Free.

~*~

Personal freedom begins with forgiveness.

May we all be the peace we wish to see in the world.

Be well,

Dorothy

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2015

Freeze and Thaw

Daily Prompt: Fight or Flight

Write about your strongest memory of heart-pounding, belly-twisting nervousness: what caused the adrenaline? Was it justified? How did you respond?

~*~

As someone who’s spent her life surviving the slings and arrows of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the point of almost burning out my adrenal glands, I suppose I could speak volumes on this subject.

To the overwhelmed nervous system almost anything can trigger the heart-pounding, belly-twisting nervousness of the adrenal rush … and not in a good way.

My adrenalin responses have rarely been justified, but when you grow up  feeling constantly under threat of something you lose sight of what constitutes an appropriate adrenal response. Not that you’re even in control of it. It just is, stimulated by whatever trigger pokes its way into a painful point of subconscious memory.

A life time of living in chronic survival mode is hard on the adrenal glands. (As is a life spent chugging down energy drinks, but that’s a discussion for another day.) They do burn out, and chronic anxiety is one of the results. Until I became aware of what was happening beneath the surface of my anxiety there was no way I could change it.

This awareness was finally raised during a trip to Sarajevo in March 2009, when the war-wounded city reflected the incredibly deep wounds of my own emotional trauma. Anxiety attacks in benign circumstances triggered three flight and freeze reactions during our one-week stay, reactions over which I had no control. Since we were travelling with a group of virtual strangers there was the added stress of shame attached to it.

Yes, you need to know that freezing is also a response to trauma.

In simple, primitive terms, this is when prey under pursuit will drop to the ground and play dead so the predator will lose interest and leave them alone.

My freeze ~ the clamp of anxiety. The desperate need to getaway without knowing where is safe to go. Stuck. Immovable. Traumatized. Invisible. On a continuous playback loop.

Since Sarajevo it’s taken years of therapy to get my frozen emotional core to finally thaw. The experience is a bit like the sensation of regaining feeling in your hands and feet after a bout of frost bite. Years of frozen feelings melt into a stinging liquid form. The pain all too present … but it must be felt to be acknowledged and, ultimately, released.

I’m reminded of the time I attended an NFL game in Buffalo with my ex-husband and his family, maybe 20 years ago. It was December, 15 below and snowing, and I was not dressed properly for the occasion. By the fourth quarter I was in the first aid room with thermal blankets wrapped around frozen feet (and a husband angered by the fact he’d had to miss that last quarter).

The agony of the thaw was indescribable. There were a few moments there where I felt like I’d rather die than endure the grief of feeling my limbs come back to life. However, once the worst of it had passed, and I could feel my feet and hands again, the pain of the experience became nothing more than a passing memory. I can recall the incident now as the source for a funny story or, for that matter, a teaching moment.

Feelings that come up while thawing are painful, but they must be felt in order for us to be completely free of them.

The first step, however, is awareness.

I learned ~ through psychotherapy, naturopathy, hormone therapy, equine therapy and other important sources ~ that the freeze response, which had become my go-to place when overwhelmed by circumstances beyond my control (rooted in early childhood trauma), had created a debilitating life pattern affecting mind, body and spirit.

I learned that what we harbour in the way of resentment, fear, jealousy and the like becomes our master and we its slave, and that this plays out in our lives in unhappy and insidious ways. Panic/anxiety attacks, addiction, lashing out or anything else that numbs the mind, body and spirit are all manifestations of the freeze response triggered by overwhelming events.

As horrible as those anxiety-ridden moments in Sarajevo were for me, they taught me it was time to be honest with myself and seek help. The kind of help that would allow the thaw, the healing, to begin and bring to life again the parts of me that had been playing dead.

Freezing was how I’d made myself invisible. If I was invisible, no one could see me; no one would abandon, reject, abuse or hurt me ever again. In the process I had become stuck in the pattern of abandoning, rejecting, abusing and hurting myself. It had to stop.

It’s been almost six years since my rigorous, sometimes hellish and incredibly cleansing journey began. A veritable trip through the refiner’s fire. Still, if I had to choose between who I am now and who I was before the thaw began, there’s no doubt what I’d do. Even knowing how tough it’s been I’d go through it all again to unearth my truth and free myself of the pain that had frozen me in chaos.

My heart and mind are open; my adrenal glands are functioning more optimally and thus my nervous system is becoming more robust. I’m finally able to live my life more on my terms. I’ve learned to live in the moment; to leave the past behind and to allow the future to be what it will be.

Finally, I feel free to be me.

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

~*~

Useful resources:
Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: The acclaimed guide to stress, stress-related diseases and coping ~ Robert M. Sapolsky
Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma ~ Peter A. Levine
Riding Between The Worlds: Expanding our Potential Through the Way of the Horse ~ Linda Kohanov
In An Unspoken Voice: How the body releases trauma and restores goodness ~ Peter A. Levine
Mindsight: The new science of personal transformation ~ Dr. Dan Siegel
Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome ~ James L. Wilson

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

A Gentle Sense of Pride

Daily Prompt: Proud

~*~

“What are you proud of, mom? I just don’t get why you’re proud of me.”

For most of my life I’ve had difficulty acknowledging, let alone having pride in, my accomplishments. My therapist tells me it’s because I wasn’t able to see myself. And she’s right, I never could see what the big deal was about anything I achieved.

When people told me they were proud of me it would go in one ear and out the other. It just never registered. Mostly, I guess, because I could never feel pride in myself.

Growing up disconnected ~ through dissociation, etc. ~ does this. I was never really in my experiences, so even when they happened to end well (miracle of miracles) the end result had little meaning. I couldn’t feel it.

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, I was smart, but struggled to connect with it. There was too much else (of which I was unaware) in the way, so feeling proud was difficult.

My therapist has been working tirelessly to help me change this.  She wants me to be able to see and acknowledge what I’ve done in my life and feel proud of what I’ve achieved in the face of a great many emotional obstacles.

She tells me she is proud of me for all that I have overcome to get to this point  ~  a point where I can truly start to thrive instead of merely survive. It’s only in the past couple of years I’ve finally started to grasp what she’s saying.

A New Trajectory

Last year I made important decisions that altered the course of my life; sent me on a new trajectory of healing that demonstrates just how far I’ve come.

Bear

Completing the six-month Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning certification (FEEL) program in the last half of 2014 was a major accomplishment for me. Certainly I acquired new skills that paved the way to a career as a practitioner of equine experiential learning, but perhaps more important was the personal healing work achieved along the way.

It was challenging work to be sure. Every exercise, every assignment provided an opportunity to step into uncharted personal territory and create a new life map. As time passed, trauma was released; many tears were shed; and a healthier self-image ~ one in which I could begin to see my strengths and personal power ~ began to emerge. Seeing my life through the mirror of the horse gave me the courage to see my Self and do what needed to be done to change my life again.

Of course, that journey continues. The FEEL program launched me into a deeper personal understanding and provided important life skills that I can use going forward. It also showed me how I, with the aid of the horses, can be an empathic catalyst for change in the lives of others ready and willing to walk the equine experiential healing path.

Many friends and family told me how proud they were of me when I achieved my certification. My husband was particularly supportive and thus especially proud.

Still, what really matters is that I recognize what I achieved and feel a sense of gentle pride in that accomplishment. For this is something I have experienced far too little of in my life.

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

My Life Teacher

Daily Prompt: Teacher’s Pet

~*~

Dance Like No One’s Watching

I was never teacher’s pet. Or, if I was I never knew it. School was a nightmare for me.

At the time I wasn’t aware of it, but I was a child with abandonment issues lugging around a good deal of emotional trauma. My trust had been broken at an early age by the adults I was supposed to be able to rely on the most, so trusting that anyone else, including a teacher, would have my best interests at heart was next to impossible.

And when you can’t trust anyone, who can teach you?

It’s not that I wasn’t loved. I know my mother loved me, but she was so wrapped up in her music career while putting food on the table that I inadvertently became a shadow dweller ~ lost; lonely and invisible.

I didn’t begin to understand my early history and how it created the misshapen patterns of my life until I checked myself into therapy in spring 2009. Feeling stuck in survival mode I needed someone to help sort me out.

Coincidentally, or not, it was about this time the symptoms of adrenal fatigue, complicated by early-onset menopause (or the other way around, it doesn’t matter, it was brutal) began to manifest. Anxiety and panic attacks, extreme fatigue, unexplained weight gain, et al, drove me to near distraction. I wanted explanations. I needed to know what was going on. I needed to address underlying issues and give myself life again.

Like most people I was hesitant about jumping into the mental health abyss. Psychotherapy still has such a stigma attached to it ~ as if it is a weakness to step up to the plate and ask a specially-trained objective third-party, “Why am I this way and what can be done about it?” Still, it became clear after a tumultuous trip to Sarajevo in February that year, during which I had three separate and inexplicable panic attacks, that something needed to change. And anti-depressants, or any their kin, were not the answer.

So, with my husband’s support, I found a good, trustworthy therapist. I prefer to call her my life teacher ~ a person who can safely reflect back to me who I was/am ~ for good or ill ~ and show me how to embrace what works and re-configure what doesn’t it.

And, what a journey it has been …

I have learned more about myself and my world (and my place in it) in the last few years than I’d known in a lifetime up to the point of sitting down in that therapist’s office. My therapist is the life teacher I’d never had, shining a light on a window to my world that I would never have been able to look through, let alone begin to enjoy the view.

She has shown me my strength; helped me to see my successes more clearly; opened the way for me to have the courage to recognize my pain without dwelling on it. Naturally it has not been easy, but facing my truth has given me the strength to see myself so longer as a victim but as a woman who can share the wisdom of her life experiences in profound and empathic ways.

I can say, in all honesty, that I am not the person I was when I walked into my life teacher’s office nearly six years ago. I’m thriving more than surviving.

Of course, the journey continues. There is much more to sort through; much more to learn but, truth be told, I have always looked forward to that hour and a half per week where I can sit down and sift through my emotions and issues with someone who does not judge me for the absurdities (self-judgement) that trips from my lips. Every visit my life teacher shows me how to see myself through a softer, less judgemental lens; to take life as it comes and let the past be where it lives ~ in memory only as a teaching tool. And to take what I learn of, and from, my past and recognize the strength of character that brought me through those experiences to this point.

My life teacher has taught me that my past is not my present, or my future. That I can reprogram my dysfunctional ways to create a new more holistic way of being. A way of being that integrates past experiences with present realities to support deeply-held and beautiful personal truths that have no attachment to my early childhood trauma and the illusion I’d lived under for so long.

So, you ask who my most important teacher was … and still is?

The person who has taught me to see, be, and love, my Self ~ my therapist; my life teacher.

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015

In Hindsight …

Weekly Writing Challenge: Hindsight is 20/20

To me the word “hindsight” smacks of regret, and worry, and wasted energy, but for this exercise I’ll lay aside my misgivings and share a brief examination of some things I wish I’d done, in hindsight, in 2014.

This year has been a time of tremendous growth and recovery on so many levels. In particular, after three years of adrenal fatigue malaise I’m finally feeling more robust and vital.

Perhaps I have a trip to Italy in early June to thank for that.

(Hindsight: how much sooner would my energy have improved had I gone to Italy for two weeks in June each of the previous three years? Hmmmm … )

For two glorious weeks we indulged in la dolce vita. We delighted in the exquisite flavours of non-GMO foods; basked under the unrelenting Tuscan sun; devoured daily doses of delectable gelato and, of course, took in all the marvellous sights and sounds that define this ancient nation.

We landed in beautiful Florence for a few days; spent a tranquil week at a magnificent villa in Tuscany, and revelled in the unique experience that is Venice. It was the vacation of a life time and, I believe, an important milestone on my healing path.

(Hindsight: more gelato would have been good … )

The Villa
Villa in Tuscany

Then, in late June, I began a six-month course in Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning. By the end of it I was certified as a practitioner in this profound healing modality. A happy side effect was my own healing in ways I had not previously imagined.

This is another reason, I believe, the adrenal fatigue has become less chronic.

Free Spirit

(Hindsight: if only I’d known about it sooner, I probably would have signed myself up ages ago … (sigh) … )

But this is my point about hindsight … to me life unfolds as it should. The best we can hope is to be, and make the most of, every moment.

I do my best not to hold grudges; not to make comebacks. Most people can’t help who they are ~ not that this gives them an excuse to be belligerent or rude or ignorant or insensitive ~ but to engage in their negative energy is, for me at least, a waste of my own valuable resources. As well, if I were to beat myself up for every little thing I wish I’d done but hadn’t had the presence of mind to do, there wouldn’t be much of me left. Quite frankly, I’ve spent far too much of my life doing that anyway.

If the adrenal fatigue has taught me anything it’s to release the need to stress unnecessarily and to save my energy for the things that make me feel good about myself and my contribution to the world.

It would be remiss of me not to mention that my life really started to change for the positive at the beginning of the year when I moved my horse, Shakespeare (Bear), to a new barn and began to work with a new coach. Notwithstanding the fact that I wear the badge of a woman-of-a-certain-age I feel like I’ve been given a second chance to learn and grow in my equestrian sport of choice ~ dressage.

There’s a long road ahead, but at least now I know that Bear and I are on a good one.

Bear
Shakespeare

And so now, I thrive!

(Hindsight: it would have been a good idea to move my horse earlier, but I’ve already beaten myself up enough about that one. Where we are now is where we’re meant to be and the timing of December 31, 2013 was right. Prior to that I was too debilitated with adrenal fatigue symptoms to make such a decision or move. So, it’s all good … )

Now, foresight … it’s going to be a great 2015!

Season’s Greetings and Merry Christmas …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

 

 

 

Peace Rose

 

Peace Rose

~*~

“The world is bent on destruction at the hands of those who would themselves destroy …”

Grandma Rose raised her tea cup to her lips and sipped. She seemed unperturbed by her words, while I sensed my rose-coloured glasses slipping.

“Fighting for peace is not the wise course, but those who know not how to love themselves can never demonstrate love, or offer true peace, to others. It is not possible.”

I felt hopeless. She’d lived her life while most of mine was still ahead of me. The world seemingly falling apart around me. Still, I could see her point. How many times had I witnessed the mask of love a-kilter on the faces of those who felt nothing but self-loathing? Their acts of redemption couched in resentment and frosted with anger. The glass half empty with a cracked smile on its face.

Fighting for peace ~ the greatest oxymoron of all.

“What is to be done?” I asked.

Grandma Rose raised herself up, replaced her tea cup to the coffee table, and focused her attention on me.

“Love yourself. Genuinely love yourself ~ warts and all. Look inside your soul. Whatever troubles you, address it, embrace it and love it away. Even those we consider unworthy just want to be loved. They act out for attention. They act out because they don’t understand the source of their pain. If people would just look inside to find, address and love away their suffering they would feel no need to cause suffering in others. Only when the people can find this place of peace in themselves will there be peace in the world.”

A sigh rose from the depths of my own suffering; a tear pooled in my eye. I knew she was right. I had learned a long time before that love begins at home ~ the home of my soul ~ and that it resonates and colours the lives of others according to my intention. Love begins with the inner journey ~ a painful journey I understood all too well. A journey that creates empathy and a liberating knowledge of self that disengages the power of pain and sets us on a course of love in its purest sense.

Grandma Rose, ever the philosopher, noted my discomfort and offered this consolation:

“When you ask the meaningful questions, my dear, it is my privilege to give you the meaningful answers. As my wisdom is born of the inner journey so will yours be. It is a hard road but one worth travelling. Remember, the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have have them do unto you.’ As long as you live by this treatise you will not go wrong … as long as you understand how you would like to be treated … and why.”

~*~

A free-writing exercise …

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

 

 

 

What Changed?

 

Balloon

~*~

My world ~

Breath by breath

An ever-expanding,

Colour-full balloon of

Possibility.

Easing toward divine potential.

What changed?

Me.

~*~

Took me a long time and a lot of personal work to begin to feel this way.

It hasn’t been easy, but it has been worth it.

And, the journey continues …

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014