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Daily Prompt: Childhood Revisited

What is your earliest memory? Describe it in detail, and tell us why you think that experience was the one to stick with you.

~*~

“Aunt Sally, what’s your earliest childhood memory?” asked Manda while  thumbing through the pages of an already treasured new horse book. Christmas had been good to her.

“Why do you ask, sweetie?” Sally hesitated. Her memory of those early years were foggy at best. And not all the memories good.

“Oh, I don’t know. I just wondered.” Manda stopped admiring her book and sat back in her chair, arms folded waiting for an answer. She loved her Aunt Sal and was curious to know all about her. Besides, there’d been an assignment at school to discover hidden depths in a favourite family member. For Manda, Aunt Sal was that person.

Sally thought for a moment. Her earliest childhood memory that wouldn’t throw them both for a loop. Hmmm … it had to be qualified. “Give me a moment, please dear.” She stood up from the kitchen table and walked over to the counter to fetch a piece of homemade shortbread from the tin. Her mind was a blank. Searching for memories had always been troublesome for her. She’d spent so much of her life somewhere else. Dissociated. She could recall the cumulative trauma, but that was hardly a memory she could share with a 12-year-old girl.

“Aunt Sally … can you even remember your childhood?” Manda was beginning to feel concerned.

How perceptive she was, thought Sally brushing a tear from her cheek while still bent over the counter eating her cookie. Finally, she turned to face her niece.

“Auntie!!!” Manda squealed, upset at the sight of her aunt’s watery eyes. She jumped from her seat and ran over to give her a big hug. “What’s wrong? I didn’t mean to make you cry.”

Sally choked back a sob and cleared her throat. She wrapped her arms around Manda and gave her a big squeeze. “Sweetie, you didn’t make me cry. My lack of memories makes me cry. I wish I could share with you my earliest childhood memory, but I can’t. It’s just too painful and I don’t want to hurt you.” She knew it was better to be honest. A lie simply bred more lies.

“Oh, auntie, I’m so sorry,” Manda pulled a piece of paper towel off the roll and gave it to her aunt whose only tissue was now in tatters. “If I’d known I’d never have asked.”

“But you weren’t to know, Manda, so please don’t worry. I have many good memories, just not too many good early ones. There was too much trauma in my life too soon, which is to say life became overwhelming before I was mature enough to handle it. Traumatized little ones develop all kinds of coping strategies to help them get through life. Often these carry on into adulthood and can be quite destructive if not addressed. My strategy was to check out when my life got too stressful. That’s why I don’t remember a lot of it. Sadly, a lot of grown ups never seek, or find, the help they need.”

“Like uncle Ted?” Manda wondered about her aunt’s ex-husband.

“Yes, like your uncle Ted.”

“What about you?”

Sally sighed. “Oh, I was finally able to get the help I needed a few years ago. That’s made my life more liveable now, but it still doesn’t reclaim all the lost memories.”

“Do you have any nice childhood memory you can share?” Manda asked, her eyes wide with hope.

Sally beckoned Manda to the kitchen table where they sat down across from one another. She thought for a moment, and then smiled. “When I was six years old,” she began, “I lived for a year with my grandmother … your great granny, Esther. Mother was off on a world tour and my father was absent, so I lived with gran. Of course, I went to school ~ grade 2 ~ and it was about that time that my musical talents began to surface. So, for the school play, Bambi, I was given a song to sing.”

“You were! Which one?” Manda was excited to know.

Drip, drip, drop little April shower …” Sally sang what she remembered.

“Oh, I know that song!” Manda squealed with joy, remembering the animated movie soundtrack.

“I’d be surprised if you didn’t,” Sally grinned.

“Were you happy?”

“Yes, I was happy. Gran had outfitted me in my favourite red velvet dress with gold buttons down the front and put tight ringlets in my hair. For just a little while I was the centre of her universe, so I felt pretty special.”

“What happened next?” Manda was all ears.

Gran took me for a hamburger and milkshake at the old hotel on Main Street. Bit of a dive, but it didn’t matter. I remember her boasting about me to her friends. I have good memories around that.”

Manda was entranced. “Oh, auntie, thank you for telling me your story. You have such a beautiful voice.” And then Manda paused, a look of curiosity swept into her eyes. “Why didn’t you grow up to be a singer?”

“That, my dear,” sighed her aunt, “is a story for another day.”

~*~

Thanks for visiting …

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

Again

Free Write Friday with Kellie Elmore.

Time and place scenario.

Source: We Heart It
Source: We Heart It

You suddenly find yourself standing alone on an unknown sidewalk in an unknown place. It’s night and snowing and the only other person around is walking away from you….

~*~

Again

I’ve been here before

In this place

Alone.

A back turned.

Abandoned.

A swell of surprise

Rises and

Falls.

How could you leave me?

Again?

A promise made;

A promise broken.

Again.

Hollow. Forsaken. Bewildered.

I bend to my own

Resilience.

Survival mode kicks in.

Again.

Keep walking.

I’ll find my way.

Again.

~*~

What an odd weekend of challenges. A triple whammy of emotionally challenging scenarios … at least or me.

First a Daily Prompt highlighting the “Twilight Zone.”

Then a Weekly Photo Challenge on the subject of “Abandoned.”

And now this.

All topics that hover at a rather deep, and uncomfortable, level for me.

In my blog Eyes to Heart I tackled the subject of “abandoned” as far as I dare take it.

A couple of days ago in this blog I started writing about the “Twilight Zone” but couldn’t finish. Maybe I will as the week (or year) progresses and I can find a way to reconcile the many heavy themes that popped out of the ether and onto the page.

With this free writing challenge it appears the bewilderment of being abandoned and standing in that twilight zone have come to the fore. 

Worlds collide.

Again.

Thanks for visiting,

Dorothy

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

The Soup of My Soul

Dalia

What it is to feel the weight of change.

Every fibre of my being in a shift.

Energy flits and flies from

Head to toe.

Takes my breath away;

Gives it back.

Breathe …

Moving through another layer

Self-doubt waves in my

Direction.

“Remember me?” it yells,

Desperate for my attention

While desperately I push it

Aside. “I thought I dismissed

You long ago,” I bristle, and

Run screaming from the room.

To soul’s kitchen.

Something’s cooking. Smells

Inviting. An onion on the counter.

Peel back the layers.

Oh, how it stings!

Throw it in the pot.

Stir. Stir. Stir.

No wonder I cry.

Let it simmer.

Breakdown.

Stir. Stir. Stir.

Its hard shell softens.

The suffering ceases, reduced

To a savoury translucense

That sweetens

The soup of my soul.

~*~

Healing is a bitter-sweet experience.

When you get through the bitter the results can be sweet. 😉

Thanks for visiting,

Dorothy

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2014

#FWF: Spirit Bear

A girl after my own heart!

Source: We Heart It
Source: We Heart It

(This image is so full of meaning for me I hardly know where to begin.)

~*~

There are no coincidences. This is something in which I have firmly believed for some time. For good, or ill, life gives us what we need to learn and develop as spiritual beings in a mortal experience. It also makes available the tools we need to negotiate each challenge. It is up to us to be open of mind and heart so we can recognize them when they appear.

Here’s an example from my own life.

As all who follow this blog will know I have a horse whose registered name is “Shakespeare.” This is a beautiful and meaningful name in its own way, however it’s a bit cumbersome as an every day name at the barn.

So, while I was waiting for him to come home for the first time nearly eight years ago, I spent a bit of time noodling over what name I could give him that would evoke his larger than life personality, cuddly nature and solid physical form.

The name “Bear” came to mind fairly quickly. My home is populated with several collectible bears, and “Bear” includes a letter formulation of “ShakespEARe.” On the surface it made perfect sense, so I soon decided this was going to be his barn name.

Still, I had no idea of the deeper meaning to be held here.

During my trauma-filled childhood I comforted myself with stuffed bears. I’ve always had them around me. I guess they are, and always have been, a totem of some kind.

A couple of months after Bear came home and while I was studying natural horsemanship, I was introduced to the idea of the bear’s spiritual meaning. When I considered the trajectory of my life and the healing that was already in progress, things began to make sense.

According to www.spiritanimal.info the bear can be described spiritually as follows:

Bear Meaning

The bear has several meanings that will inspire those who have this animal as totem: 

  1. The primary meaning of the bear spirit animal is strength and confidence
  2. Standing against adversity; taking action and leadership
  3. The spirit of the the bear indicates it’s time for healing or using healing abilities to help self or others
  4. The bear medicine emphasizes the importance of solitude, quiet time, rest
  5. The spirit of the bear provides strong grounding forces

~*~

Let’s look at the list again and how it relates to my experience.

The advent of my horse, Bear, acknowledged a significant time of healing in my life (no. 3). A time where I’ve had to go to ground (no. 5) and practice solitude and get rest (no. 4). Doing this has brought a greater sense of self-awareness and helped me to reclaim my life. Mr. Bear, as he is often called, has helped me to find the strength I need (no. 1) to smile in the face of adversity (no. 2) as I take action to manage, and heal from, the traumas released by therapy. And he’s helped me to find the confidence (no. 1) I need to move into a new and exciting phase of personal growth.

Bear is an incredible catalyst for positive change. I throw my arms around his neck and thank him every day for the beautiful healing role he plays in my life.

Is it a coincidence my beautiful dream-come-true should attract a name that represents healing on so many levels? I think not.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, our passion ~ whether it’s golf, sailing, horses, knitting, music or whatever ~ is our teacher. At a deeper level it speaks a language that touches our hearts and can heal us. All we need to do is choose to listen and respond in ways that lift us up, not tear us, or our passion, down.

My teacher, my catalyst for positive change is my horse ~ my Spirit Bear.

I am blessed.

Bear and me
Bear and me

~*~

This is my response to this week’s free writing challenge with Kellie Elmore. Slightly off the beaten track, but I don’t question these things in a free writing format. 😉

Thank you for stopping by,

Dorothy

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013