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

An Ode to My Love on Valentine’s Day

Daily Prompt: Cupid’s Arrow

~*~

Thou art the breath of fresh air I hardly

Knew to breathe when

First we met.

Healing of heart to my broken one;

True in nature, and kind.

My light revealed in thine eyes.

My voice awakened in thine ears.

My frozen feelings thawed by thy gentle warmth.

My truth, with thine, reflected in the nurturing world

Create we, now, together.

Cupid’s love-tipped arrow hath hit its target true.

~*~

Happy Valentine’s Day, my love.

Dorothy Chiotti

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©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

The Never of Travel

Daily Prompt: No, Thanks

Is there a place in the world you never want to visit? Where, and why not?

~*~

Never is a long time.

People change. Places change.

In the mid 1990s, with the Siege of Sarajevo raging, I might have said I “never” want to go to Sarajevo.

Rush hour from our hotel window at the Radon PlazaAnd yet, in 2009 I unexpectedly joined my husband on a business trip to this battle-scarred city and my experience of it, and Bosnia-Herzagovina in general, changed my life profoundly. I found a piece of myself there I’d no idea even existed. As a result, I have a fondness for that beautiful city that goes deeper than for many other places I’ve visited.

So, to say there are places I’d never want to visit is, to my mind at least, somewhat shortsighted. You just never know when fate or circumstance will take you somewhere you never thought you’d want to visit, and how marvellous the experience will be.

Having said all that, I might add that living with adrenal fatigue the past few years has made me acutely aware of my limitations when it comes to travel.

No adventure travel. Nowhere too exotic. Nowhere I can’t eat the food. Nowhere I can’t get a good night’s sleep.

My recovering nervous system can only handle so much.

So, instead of focusing on the “never” of travel I turn my attention to what’s possible.

Never is a long time. I prefer to think that at some point in the not too distant future my health will support travelling somewhere I might never have considered because of it.

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

My Week in Music

Daily Prompt: Playlist of the Week

~ Five songs that represent this past week for me ~

~*~

Oh, a music prompt! I love these …

Having given a few moments thought to my week, these are the musical selections that come immediately to mind:

Selection #1 ~ Right here, right now (Jesus Jones) ~ this could easily be changed to Write here, write now as I have felt quite motivated to follow the daily prompt and write every day to get the ol’ creative juices flowing. Having said that, it’s a song that also reminds me to take each moment as it comes, non-judging and totally open to the road that lies ahead, wherever that may lead. Be here, now. Feel and process feelings as they happen and respond mindfully and accordingly. I’m reading a fascinating book ~ Mindsight by Dr. Dan Siegel ~ which is helping me to be even more cognizant of my life in the moment. I’ve made remapping my mind and breaking old patterns of negative behaviour one of my goals for this year, replacing these old ways of being with more positive and holistic ways that allow me to live my life more fully and completely. It’s all good.

Selection #2 ~ Boogie Nights (Heatwave) ~ part of managing adrenal fatigue for the past few years included drastically reducing the amount of exercise I was doing. Over-taxing the nervous system was a bad idea, so karate had to go and my focus had to become gentle (yin) exercises like dog walking, quiet rides on my horse and Pilates. Now that my nervous system appears to be on sounder footing I want to expand my exercise regimen, still, I need to be mindful about it. Since his retirement my husband has taken over dog walking, so what am I left with? I can dance! Boogie Nights, a great disco song from the 70s, starts my Fun mash-up (of more 70s disco and some rock) and I just move to the music. About 20 minutes stretches muscles and gets the heart rate pumping in a way I can manage. I try to do this two to three times per week. So far I’ve gone all disco once this week, but I think today will be a good day to add to that.

Selection #3 ~ Baby, It’s Cold Outside (pick an artist) ~ selected because it’s been &^#% cold outside this week (-16C yesterday with windchill). My horse has an injured suspensory ligament so I go every day to nurse his wound and keep him company, but the barn and arena are not heated so I am, essentially, in a frigid outdoor environment for two-three hours at a time. The art of dressing warm without overheating is lost on me, so I usually end up in a sweater with a down vest over it and my winter breeches, which is not really warm enough. My feet are always cold, no matter what boots I wear or how many layers of socks I don. So, by the time I get home I’m ready for a nice hot bath. I just don’t get warm until I’ve immersed the damp out of my bones.

Selection #4 ~ Ein Deutches Requiem (Brahms) ~ This is what I’m listening to right now, as a matter of fact. As well as being a writer, artist and equestrian I am a singer. Singing was another one of those things I had to let fall by the wayside because of adrenal fatigue. It’s an activity that requires an extraordinary amount of energy to do well and because of the adrenalin involved can tax a compromised nervous system to the point of extreme debilitation. (Just before I quit singing I was working with a coach and attending workshops but had to stop because doing so literally made me sick for days after.) Now that I’m feeling stronger I’d like to (try to) incorporate a structured singing program into my life again. I’ve been spoiled though. I sang in one of the world’s premier large choral ensembles, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (TMC), for 12 seasons, and having been raised by an opera singer I’m picky about the quality of singing I lend my voice to. Does that sound awful? Shouldn’t it just be enough to sing? Perhaps, but if I’m going to expend my now precious energy doing something I love than I have to love it. So, in my internet search for a local choral society at 7 a.m. yesterday, I found a local chamber choir that sounds about right. I sent an inquiry expressing my interest and giving some of my background, and received a response telling me I was welcome to try out in March when they would start rehearsing Ein Deutches Requiem. This just happens to be one of my favourite choral works and one I’ve performed many times with the TMC. Is this a sign? I will make my final decision about trying out for the chamber choir once I’ve heard them perform at their next concert on March 1. I’m hopeful. Of course, if I try out they may suppose I’m not right for them. It’s always a risk, but I won’t know until I try.

Bear SmiingSelection 5# ~ Jump (Pointer Sisters) ~ Yes, from the sublime to the totally ridiculous. Yesterday the vibe at the barn was a bit unsettled and Bear, my injured horse who’s on 120-day stall rest (we’re at day 25) and daily rounds of hand walking in the arena, and who’s been quite sensible about it, had a jelly bean moment. That is, after a roll in the arena footing to get the kinks out (which I didn’t mind because I knew he hadn’t had a chance to roll in a while) he launched to his feet and leapt/jumped/bucked in the air like a Lippizaner stallion. I thought I was going to have heart failure. “You’re not allowed to do that!” I yelled at him from across the arena. “You’re injured, remember?” He just looked at me with an element of surprise and stood there noncommittal. Within moments I finally regained my composure and he walked over to me looking sheepish. He knew he’d abused my trust. We had a good talk during the ensuing walkabout, during which I reiterated how inappropriate it was for him to jump about at this time. If he was allowed to do that I would be allowed to ride him, and I’m not, so he needs to stick with the recovery program and stop acting like a four-year-old. He smiled … he really did … and I couldn’t stay mad at him anymore. Look at that face (yes, a nice summer image). Could you?

So, there you have it. My week in music …

Thanks for visiting,

Dorothy

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015