Accidently To Launch

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It all may have started on the banks of Toppenish Creek, Washington back on October 5th, 1855. An Indian agent was shot and killed while investigating the retaliatory murder of a gold miner who raped a Yakama woman and stole horses from their newly established treaty lands. Major Granville Hallers and his troops rode up from The Dalles, Oregon to the Granger area in Eastern Washington to suppress a feared Indian uprising. With money to be made in mining, White settlements were springing up across the area and enjoyed the protection of the U.S. Government. When the soldiers arrived on a ford overlooking the Creek however, they found themselves badly outnumbered by a group of Yakama warriors and retreated, only to come back later in greater force in what is known as the Yakama Indian War. By 1858, the Yakama had lost 90% of their land and were put onto the Yakima Indian Reservation of today.

As we know, history often back flips into vortices of re-creation. The only thing on the minds of Juan and Sarah of Toppenish, Washington when they stole away to the banks of Toppenish Creek in the Spring of 1967 however, was hormones. Juan, a handsome, 17 year old Mexican-American high school football player, and Sarah, 16 years old, strawberry-blond, blue-eyed and white as virgin snow. Wanting  to play it safe, they rode a few miles out of town to have some fun. They had been explicitly told to stay apart, but it only added to the excitement of their afternoon.

Incidently, the word Toppenish is an English version of “Txapnis”  which in the local Native Sahaptu language means “protruded” or “landslide”,  txa – “accidently”,  pni – “to launch”. and sa – (continuitve present tense). The Natives people named the area after a geological incident that changed the face of the land centuries ago to ‘stick out’. This might give the reader an idea of what happened that day, in the same exact area two worlds collided over a century previous. This time, an act of defiance by a white girl with a brown boy displaced the landscape of a family forever. I am its protrusion.

In the Census of 1970, Toppenish claimed a population of 5,744, mostly White with a smattering of Mexican migrant agricultural workers and a few Native Americans – surprisingly few,  – or maybe not – since the town existed in the borders of the Yakima Reservation. It was a model of American small town life : a sugar beet factory, a slaughterhouse, burger joints, cheerleaders and high school football, white picket fences, Rotary and hunting clubs – all starting to stumble under the weight of social change.

Sarah was a feisty, rebellious teenager who grew up in a typical nuclear family. Her father Carl was an avid hunter and outdoorsman. Carol, her mother, was head of the Rotary Club, a knitter and seamstress of prolific renown and a woman of strict decorum. Both were of proud Norwegian/ Swedish heritage, owned and operated an appliance store and were active members of the Toppenish Lutheran Church. Sarah had one younger brother she was close with. He was sensitive and often spent time with his father on hunting trips, otherwise mostly kept out of the way. The parents raised their perfectly groomed children with discipline, expecting good grades and achievement in every endeavor.

Known by many as pillars of the community, Carl and Carol Johnson were often in the local paper shown holding awards or mentioned for their contributions to the culture of the town. Behind closed doors, Carl was an alcoholic with a rage problem, and Carol, secretly and actively having an affair with her brother-in law. Both were stoic, opinionated, hated Mexicans and blacks, and as was said to me by my great Aunt Mave when I asked about contacting who would be my grandparents, “Not nice people. You might want to stay far away from them.”.

A few months after the “accidental launch” on the riverbank, I came to be known to Sarah and her family as a big, huge problem. The family house turned into a war zone over Sarah’s pregnancy with fights that were legendary according to the neighbors of their block. Sarah’s best friend Cindy, who lives a few doors down, told me some 25 years later, she and others expected Carl to kill his family. Mother railed against daughter and husband, and vice versa.

While they loved their daughter, a ‘mixed half breed’ was an unforgiveable stain on their family. It was eventually decided that I was to be kept secret, and as soon as she was ‘showing’, Sarah would be sent to Seattle to the Florence Crittendon Home for Unwed Mothers until I was born. Then I would be immediately adopted out. It was not at all possible to keep me as much as Sarah pleaded.

Once Juan found out Sarah was pregnant with his baby, and that I was to be given away, he went to visit Carl and Carol at their home. Juan Garcia’s family was large, devout Catholic and did not want blood to be separated. They would take me in with open arms and raise me without hesitation. When Juan knocked on the Johnson’s door to make the offer, he was met with Carl’s shotgun aimed at his face and the threat that Carl would murder his own family before ever giving me away to them, and/or if he ever saw Juan again.

Carl’s sister, Aunt Mave, said she would adopt me. They had 3 children about Sarah’s age, and 2 a little younger, one more would be more than welcome. They lived in Seattle and were resourced, and would raise me away from the Toppenish clan, working out the logistics of the family displacement later. For a moment, it was a possibility, but within a few weeks of the offer under consideration, Aunt Mave’s husband took a gun to his head and her family was faced with their own crisis.

Sarah did, however, go to Seattle and live with Mave for a short time before going into FCH. She was resolute that she was going to keep me and looked to Mave for support. After the reality of raising a baby was explained to her on no uncertain terms, including the difficulty of future dating for Sarah, she relented.

I was born a few months later in a hospital on Capitol Hill in Seattle, not white or brown but a blue baby, the cord wrapped around my neck with the necessity of resuscitation. Sarah, crying, asked to hold me. She was granted five minutes. Then I was taken away and disappeared.

It was the beginning of a landslide for Sarah and her family and the beginning of my life into parts unknown.

 

 

 

 

 

Bad Chimeras

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The place where past trauma and prolonged hardship meet is the breeding ground for bad chimeras. Trauma carries the genes of depression and anxiety, and spliced together, a feeling state of isolation. Isolation begets loneliness,  and its shadow –  despair –  is the mother of PTSD, at least for me. Loneliness and despair, coupled with feeling a lack of enough inner outer support causes me to collapse under the old feelings of being an anomaly or of alien origin, lost in space without any help or relational tether. It is a terrifying experience that has happened countless times in my life. This is when I lose the path and –

lost, panicked, adrenaline galloping through my veins, I run into a darkened landscape pocked with land mines, jagged glass, oily cenotes, and black bramble. I stumble and reel, slipping on tears and sweat, trying not to drop the baby. The only sound is the staccato of my heart and storm of breath between the howl of anguish erupting from my belly.  Ahead is the Bleached-Boned Desert – where nothing lives in its unrelenting, hellish heat …. I don’t want to go there.; it ends at the border of madness.  I am lost, trying desperately to survive and find my way back to safe ground. I ask God (?), “What did I do so wrong?. Please help me!” I can be here for days or years ( i have been there for years on 3 counts); I never know how long this will last. My only chance is to fight and do whatever it takes to find my way back, even when I feel down for the count.

***

It is 3rd week in April. Thankfully, the sun is out and streaming through my window as I write this. It has been weeks of relentless, grey overcast here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. It slipped my mind when making the decision to return back to the NW  how brutal and long the Winters are, especially if your chemicals aren’t quite right to begin with. At first, I dove into the dark, short, cloudy days of the northern Latitudes as it was a welcome reprieve from the sunny, hot and humid over stimulation of the South, where i moved from. Too many grey days and a long Series of Unfortunate Events, however, have teamed up and muddled the waters of my brain soup, and I am feeling crushed under the weight of everything bad that has ever happened. Thoughts of suicide have dominated my mind in the last two weeks, convincing me it is an inevitable, uncontrollable outcome.

Depression transformed into panic a couple days ago. I found myself stepping off the trail into the Dark Lands. Not on purpose mind you,; never on purpose. It just happens – something triggered it, not sure exactly what. But I hit the tipping point and lost balance.  My brain physically feels like a train wreck – twisted metal, broken glass, some casualties. Thoughts are disorganized –  wheels off the rails, still spinning.  The more distressed I get, the worse I literally feel, so i am laying super low.

It has been  about 24 hours since I noticed an incremental shift toward “better”. I still literally can’t see straight, eyes have become misaligned making me dizzy and increasing the disorientation to body and planet. My digestion is off, so I am afraid to leave the house for too long. I am still being carpet bombed by a disregulated nervous system, but am starting to get a few breaks.  Memories of every other PTSD cycle I have ever had are taunting me. Intrusive suicidal thoughts are still around but not so compelling. My self esteem and confidence are very low. I hate hatehatehate going through this.

And in this place I have to make decisions on how to make it through this for the 10,000th time. It is hard to do it all on my own; such a heavy weight to bear but I am determined.

Even though life has sucked for a good while, I don’t want to die now. I want to die happy, if that is possible. A strange pursuit and motivator, but it has kept me going this far.

With my addled brain (running at about 40% capacity), I am trying to make some decisions about how to get out of this mess and find my way back to some stable ground.  What have the last 35 years of therapy taught me? To always carry a sack of breadcrumbs, for one. This can cut back on the time i am in the Dark Lands.

Two, I need to figure out where I am in terms of Mind, Body, Emotion, Spirit: What do I need right now, then short term and longer term?

I am forcing myself to eat something so my blood sugar doesn’t exacerbate my panic. I put on flute music to counteract the requiem in my brain. I started calling friends and ask them to remind me I am not alone and things are going to be ok, that I have been through this before. I continually pray for strength, courage, guidance and grace. I set up a tanning session to get some vitamin D production. I have acupuncture and therapy sessions scheduled. In the few moments of sunshine, I will grab a two block walk and smell the flowers to stimulate the pleasure center. I try to breathe in a square. Maybe go to the bookstore across the street to try to be around people. Repeat, repeat, repeat ad nauseum. I am praying this will break soon.

***

Most folks, never have to experience this on a consistent basis. Life has its ups and downs but they bob, weave and stay on their feet for the most part. They will never know what it is like to live with the lingering effects of trauma on a daily basis, and for that I have no judgement except maybe to say they are very lucky. Some folks develop PTSD after a traumatic event, during combat, a stressful divorce or after a loss for a period of time. I have lived with this everyday for 50 years in some way since I was born – if not up to my knees in it or totally underwater, being in the fear of going “there” again.

Don’t get me wrong, it has its gifts and blessings, but it is exhausting.

I keep fighting for a good life. There is always hope for better times ahead. I want some good years before I go back to that place of light I remember. Besides, Earth is a beautiful planet. She is just so beautiful.

 

Starting in the Middle

Where to start?

Life has been likened to a movie. We are in our seats watching it unfold, captivated to some degree, in suspense, not knowing how it turns out. There is a plot, a cast of characters, a beginning, middle and an end.  There may be a hero, a villain, anti-hero, unsuspecting victims, a human triumph, a fall, or a redemption. There may or may not be resolution when the curtain falls. For a few hours, we are wrapped up in a compelling series of events.  Depending what genre of movie we are watching – a comedy, drama, romance, action or horror flick – it leaves us with an certain flavor of emotional residue.

We all want to leave the theatre feeling good and inspired, – or perhaps, even better –  that we have had gone through ‘the ringer’ to have a story confront us with the truth of reality in some way, so we feel alive and whole in our brokenness. Those are usually the films that win awards because they makes us feel the terrible beauty of being human, that vulnerability is strength, courage can overcome all odds, that we are a part of something bigger, and we are not alone in our experience.

Spiritual masters of the East have said, to view life as a movie but remember we are only the observer. Easier said than done for it takes time and many experiences to naturally embody true detachment and personal freedom. All we have to work with is our own life.

***

I have been thinking of taking on the project of writing a memoir for some time. I expect it to be very disjointed, like my mind. Scenes of my life are rising up, perhaps to tell me a story.

Rarely will we find people willing to hear the truth of our lives outside of the therapy office. Hopefully we have some friends and family do not shirk from such intimacy. I have had mixed luck. I think it is important however, that the muggles (or non-“Posters”) recognize the impact of trauma on a life. (For instance, it is not something you just “get over”, sometimes ever. Will explain more later.)

My life has been hard, many times brutally so, but not without its gorgeous, blessed, enlightening, and exciting times. There are many other who have it worse. I don’t feel sorry for myself, just trying to own my experience and make sense of it.

I started out being given away for adoption at birth, brought into a chaotic, dangerously abusive and neglectful home, and then – for lack of knowing better, carried those templates into my life for 50 years, causing all sorts of mayhem, mostly in the relationship and work arena. Living with the effects of my past can be a living hell, thanks to tangled neural networks and hard wired associations. Not always though.

A history of trauma has had far reaching implications on my health, the ability to create happiness and have enough stability to create something to depend on, like a career, a relationship or a home.  Perhaps telling my stories will help get them out of my jumpy body and relieve the pressure I feel to hold everything together.

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Back to the Eastern spiritual masters, I have one, who I deeply rely on. A lot of folks on the spiritual path, whichever one they walk, are seeking souls, wanting to transcend or more fully embody their experience. I try to frame my life in terms of healing as spiritual work, and hopefully I am making some progress. Hard to tell most of the time.

There is a saying –

What is the cost of faith?

Answer:

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Everything.