In the Language of ‘Trying’


June 25, 2019 7:27 am

“I am going to have to be more disciplined than I have ever been in my entire life.”

The realization dawns on her as she sits on the porch, smoking and not being very disciplined at all. This thought, of discipline and the fact that she will need to employ it as she progresses forward, if, in fact, she truly desires to progress forward, or would rather simply continue to spin like an eddy, round and round, caught and ultimately still for all its spinning…well, the thought has been with her for the past few days. Discipline. She will need discipline. 

This morning, she understands that she will not only need discipline, but will need to be disciplined in ways she has never been before. More disciplined than ever. 

She thinks about what her deal is, her challenge, her barrier, and it all comes down to discipline. What it comes down to, actually, is a vague mental collage of her throwing a fit, not being able to call herself down, not being able to just do the thing that was being asked of her to do, to go to school, to quit her crying, to just fill out the form, make the phone call. This array of ways that the question of discipline is related to controlling oneself, or being pliable to the controlling intent of others, being disciplined by them in their interests, whether to get work out of you, or to make you comply with the expectations of the space you are inhabiting, the rules and norms, the functionality of the whole scene, classroom, dinner party, Sunday afternoon at grandma’s house, cell block B, Courtroom A, 2nd Avenue, aisle #2. 

I don’t think that’s the kind of discipline that I am referring to, which is punishment for the sake of rules pertaining to one’s place and purpose within a social, cultural, or economic setting. 

I am thinking about self-discipline. The processes of holding oneself accountable to intent and goals, doing the work that is important to have done. Not being so lackadaisically spaced out with ideas or overwhelmed by the enormity of it all that one disengages from the tasks of today in an accumulating wasted energy around the making of plans and the lamenting one’s difficulty in following through. 

Now, I know enough about my cognitive and behavioral tendencies to understand that I have something like a learning and processing difference that predisposes me to approach projects and plans from a very wide angle space, that is irrepressibly curious about the scope of things, and that gets off on considering ideas and experience. I have strong intrapersonal tendencies. I get distracted, and I get weary. I become overstimulated when I have to talk to a lot of people and process through stress producing events of the day. I am not talking about stress producing in the sense of “oh, this unfortunate thing happened, it’s so bad,” though those unfortunate things can take quite a toll. I’m talking about input. What we see, hear, notice, touch, observe, feel. I’m talking also about output – our response, our body’s stress response and the resultant understanding and reaction to whatever it is we are experiencing, how that effects the nervous system and how we feel, the unique neurochemical and nervous system landscape that is constantly evolving and changing in our bodies every single day. Granted, these may not be huge changes, radical shifts…or they might…

[so much to make note of here] 

I am going to have to be disciplined.

June 26, 2019 9:26 am

I believe that there are some things (ideas, institutions and economies built on those ideas) that are so deeply harming and threatening that cannot even begin to be reconciled with until the harm ceases and the threat of harm is replaced with meaningful evidence of safety. 

I have been thinking about reconciliation through the lens of what folks talk about as resilience, re: the ability of the nervous system to not be in a disrupting and harming fear state, that what we are reconciling is fear. 

June 26, 2019 3:39 pm 

So, I was writing about discipline and how I need to become more disciplined, to exercise my discipline, and I still felt a little glittery around the edges, clear and determined sparkles round my eyes. I’d already begun to transition from the wide open crucible to the slightly weary backslide into little wavelets pulling and fading back into the ocean. I don’t think I am as self-directed as I like to imagine that I am. I’m a sucker for a bad habit, at ease in the breaking of plans, the wasting of time. 

Sigh. What was I saying?

Ah, yes, discipline. 

See, it is easy for me to write 20 pages in two days while working and attending to the asks of the week if I am feeling the wide open crucible and my mind is moving along with what I experience as absurd precision in the winnowing out of theme and connection, how one idea intersects with another. 

June 27, 2019 7:27 am

It doesn’t have to be compendious, or even thorough. It has to be mine. I have to do my best.

June 28, 2019 5:03 pm

I think I last left off here with some ramblings about discipline. It has been fascinating to re-immerse myself in the creative process, my unique creative process, over the past couple of weeks. What I came away with, after some outlining and consideration was an early morning realization that I could create workshops that support me having more of the conversations I want to be having with people, about healing and Resiliency, deep reconciliation, growth and love. 

My name is —– , and I have worked with and been in community with people who are suffering for the vast majority of my life. I have, myself, been a person who has suffered. 

For twenty-five years, since I was 18 years old, I have worked in the professional capacities of counselor, aide, or educator in community with diverse and often marginalized, deeply wounded people. 

Since early 2011, I have worked in areas relating specifically to mental health, substance use, and complex trauma recovery. 

As a Certified Peer Support Specialist, I have been able to facilitate hundreds of (if not over a thousand) groups, classes, workshops, and meetings with all sorts of folks who have vastly different lives. 

I have, additionally, worked with a national/international organization to support people in creating community networks to provide support and spaces to talk about our human condition as people whose lives have been shaped by struggle and by involvement in systems ranging from the mental health system to the prison system.

In 2015, I earned a Masters degree from Saybrook University, a cornerstone institution in the Humanist branch of psychology. My degree is in psychology, with a specialization in Transformative Social Change. This specialization in my degree program helped me to develop skills in organizing, community building, and methodologies like participatory action research. 

I am a trained and experienced facilitator of several evidence-based practices. 

I have registered with the state of North Carolina as a Certified Substance Abuse Counselor, and am in the internship part of that process, which may or may not be completed depending on professional growth directions. 

This workshop was created out of recognition for a need for more people to have access to engaging, useful information about the reality of how stress and trauma affect our human experience and, more importantly, for more people to have access to emergent Resiliency practices which have been shown to help people to reconcile the effects of trauma so that they can lead less disrupted, more self-directed lives, so that they may experience less distress and more joy. 

That’s really what it comes down to for me. Less distress and more joy. This isn’t about putting aside the things that harmed us, or are still harming us, and being happy. It is about learning to stay in your life and keep your head so that you can begin to forge something better for yourself, your family, and your community. 

In my personal and professional life, I have seen the power that these practices have to help people to better understand why they feel the way they feel and to learn what helps them to feel differently, to stay clear-headed, to be able to ease out of distress, to neutralize anger and fear. 

This isn’t to say, “Don’t be angry,” and it definitely isn’t to say “Don’t be scared.”

It makes total sense why people would be angry and scared, some more than others. 

This is about recognizing the ways that the effects of stress and trauma have the power to disconnect us from our strengths and disrupt our lives almost as much as the events that the trauma originated in, keeping our worlds small and with little power. This is about learning to navigate fear and anger so that you can be effective in creating change within your life, or at least be effective in feeling a little bit better within your life. 

Many people live in a near constant state of fight-flight-freeze-submit-collapse. 

There are proven ways to begin to heal the effects of trauma and stress, and these practices are free, simple, and can be used by anyone who is a human being. 

However, because these are emergent practices, a lot of people don’t know about them. Let me clarify that. A lot of people do know about these practices, but it seems like most of those people are working in healing and support professions, or are people who are already well-into their own healing process and happen to be supported in learning about trauma healing modalities. 

The Trauma Resource Institute has been successful in bringing the Community Resiliency Model to a huge number of schools, human service networks, and community groups. In North Carolina, a practice called Resources for Resilience has trained school personnel and leadership across the state in how to recognize when someone, including ourselves, is in a fear-activated state, and how to support them in helping themselves to re-orient to the present and reduce distress through simple exercises that engage the brain and body in coping with the fear reaction. 

These are not new practices. They are not fancy practices. They are not complicated. Children can use them. Adults can use them. 

Because they are free, anybody can use them. They may be more useful to some people than others, depending on what a person is going through and/or has been through, whether or not they are safe in their lives currently. 

However, even people with complex PTSD who are living in terrible situations may benefit from practicing simple skills like grounding and mindfulness/awareness. 

The more these skills are practiced, the more they work, the stronger they become.

These skills are rooted in the human instincts to take a deep breath, to look around, to feel your feet on the floor, to think of something or someone who helps you to feel strong, or loved, happy. 

Just as we are hard-wired to fear the things that might harm us, we are also hard-wired to move toward healing. It is worth noting that while these skills are quite simple, healing is not always simple, and it doesn’t always feel good. It can be overwhelming and uncomfortable, triggering even, to turn one’s attention to the sensations in the body.

Due to severe medical trauma as a child and subsequent additional traumas upon my body, I did not feel very much in my body at all for years and years. I sometimes forgot that I even had a body. When I did feel things, they were too big, they hurt and exploded and made me ache. 

For many people, the body is not a safe space. It hurts. It has been hurt. 

Learning how to renegotiate how we experience our physical selves, how we feel in our bodies and about our bodies, how we respond to what is happening in the body, can be a long process for some people. Most of living is a long process. 

While life transformation may be slow, the transformation of moments can happen quite quickly. When we change enough moments, we change our lives. 

Physical pain and emotional pain register in the same parts of our brain – in our survival brain. We become scared and angry when something hurts us, even if what is hurting us is our own body. By learning how to practice perspectives of neutral acceptance and to redirect attention from pain-reinforcing reactions to comforting or soothing sensations, people can learn to live more peaceably with their bodies, which can – as it turns out – may reduce pain and help to heal body trauma. 

(Hating pain makes total sense. I have hated pain. If something hurts, you hate it and you want it to go away, if it keeps you from doing the things that you love and makes you feel unhappy, it is totally understandable that a person would hate their pain. Unfortunately, hating pain makes pain worse.)

I want to offer these workshops free utilizing crowd-funding and small local sponsorship. My priority in offering these workshops is to make these resources of information and opportunities to explore free, accessible, simple skills that may be helpful in coping with challenges related to substance use, mental health difficulties, trauma, poverty, and loss available to diverse, underserved communities in the United States and beyond. 

I want to hold these workshops in places that don’t have access to real-life workshops on recovery and healing practices. I want to have conversations with people about what helps them to heal, and to create a space for communities to gather and share perspectives, and to learn together. 

July 3, 8:38 am

It’s been a few days since I took any notes on process or plan. The bottom dropped out of the crucible, which is what generally happens. I am not sure what the components of the configuration of my inspiration are, what sets my muse into motion. Sometimes it’s there…and then it goes away. I work a job, and have a household. I have to be careful to not develop a narrative of “I feel good and inspired and strong in myself, my vision, and then I have too much to do and I can’t work on projects.” This narrative is a set-up, in some ways, because – unless I change my life – there will always be things that I am scheduled to do that take me away from what I want to be doing. That is a narrative that bums me out. I have – as reflected here over time – thought a lot about ways to be strategic in still working on the things that make me feel most alive and most true in myself, and to find ways to bring my muse into the things I “have” to do.* 

*In the language of “have to do” I establish a powerlessness. I choose to do these things or – at the very least am complicit and complacent in the having to do them. 

What do I want to be doing? 

This is little more than a vast accumulation of vision and beginning that offer up evidence of my being a person who has ideas, a person who wants to create…and who has not figured out what her process is, or even what her media are. When the bottom falls out of the crucible, I often feel bewildered. The future that is so clear in the crucible days, where I am a person who (finally) gets her shit together to plan and finish a project strongly, find supporters and mentors, and generally is able to be effective in structuring her life in such a way that she is able to move about more freely in being who she is…well, that future just drops away, leaves me dumb and sheepish, wondering why I don’t just give up. 

This, predictably enough, is terribly depressing. 

This last ‘bout with my muse and the subsequent disappearance of my muse following several days of too much to do in occupational and household realms was a little devastating. When I reckoned with the reality that I really do have problems with managing the complex set of circumstances I have found myself in, and the enormity of the task of ‘disciplining’ myself to be able to work in a frontline service capacity with suffering multitudes for a nonprofit organization, manage (at least minimally) the demands* of my household and family, and then – while trying** to maintain a long distance relationship with the person that I love – be able to piece together a small string of disconnected 1/2 hours to work consistently on an art project and engage in the activities that support me growing as an artist, such as talking with other artists, and balancing the suffering I see with being able to do things that help me to laugh…

I have all but stopped laughing. 

*In the language of demands, there is a reinforcement of powerlessness, and a hint at my conceptualizing the relationship between myself and the requirements (ah, another reinforcement) of my life as it is currently structured. 

**In the language of trying, there is a whisper of how hard it is. 

It’s easy to see why a clinical person might see the rise and fall of the crucible as being evidence of a bipolar disorder or something.

July 4, 2019 10:11 pm 

So, I’ve just returned from 24 hours in the woods with my daughter. We were hiking/backpacking from the bottom of a gap up to the ridgeline, then down and back along the creek where all the streams from all the springs converged to tumble down over rocks into the Pigeon River. 

It’s the 4th of July and the air is filled with explosions. The neighbors are listening to the radio and it’s full of ads. I hate the loudness of in-town America. It’s perfect. The explosions and the advertisements. War and commerce. Bombs bursting in air, the year’s biggest sale. 

I set out to write here about the other day, when I realized that it was unlikely that I could, alone, actually complete the project I wanted to complete, and when I realized that the project – or the content of the project – was already completed, by someone else, by many people. What could I possibly say that hasn’t been better said by somebody else? 

I guess there is value in each person speaking their truth, explaining their ideas and why they think they are important or useful. I mean, we all get to say our piece, if we choose to, right? 

I wonder what is mine to do, and then I remember that whatever I do is mine to do, that whatever I say or create will be mine. I cannot say things in a way that is not mine. I cannot present ideas in a way that adheres to someone else’s preferences for organization or linearity. This is not just stubborn autonomy of expression, or resistance based in the belief that the structures of formal knowledge are exclusionary and biased toward a particular privileged dialect, those reasons arose as justification for what feels like an inherent difficulty in organizing productive processes. 

I do not know if I have a learning disability, or some sort of challenge in executive function. I know I have a learning difference. 

This difficulty, which – as I mentioned – seems inherent to me, meaning that it feels like something that is built into how I think about and approach things, may actually be circumstantial, in that it may be functionally impossible to develop myself as a writer and an artist while also maintaining my full-time employment in an intense and emotionally/psychologically demanding frontline human services worker, a mercy worker most days. I am a peer support specialist, and I work for a nonprofit that serves people in recovery from endstage complex trauma and substance use, mental health challenges. I use the phrase end stage because most of the people I encounter every day are dying or at risk of dying soon, due to the effects of harm they’ve endured and their being marginalized by addiction and houselessness.

For years I have been talking about how I don’t have time or headspace or psychological or emotional headspace to give to projects, to art, because of work and blah blah blah. I have been saying, “It’s true! How can a person be expected to…” 

I have to make changes. Of course, for a person who seems to have a lot of difficulty in organizing and managing her life, the prospect of that – of making changes – is daunting. I was not always so ineffective at setting into action a plan, carrying it out. This morning, I was sitting on the porch and thinking about how I need to rehabilitate myself in a serious way. I know that I can carry out tasks. I do it all the time at work. I finish things. I update things. I move from point a to point b in a process. It is difficult to do, but I do it. 

Why can I not apply that same ability to my own life so easily?

I think sometimes it is a matter of scope and focus in my accounting. I mean, if I look at it objectively, I have managed to do a few things toward developing myself as a writer and artist. I have checked a couple of things off of the list of things to-do. 

Tonight, I got back on social media, and I think it will be a good thing to reconnect with people.

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