Holes and how to get out of them

In March 2019, after taking the uncomfortable step of admitting I needed help, the BCRC signed me up for trauma therapy. Surprisingly, finding a trauma therapist was easier than finding a regular therapist. I didn’t need someone to talk to. I didn’t want to just cry or learn to look on the bright side or have a kind face nod with pity and agree with me about how hard life can be. I needed someone to put on protective gear, crawl down into this dank hole I called life, and help me fix this shit.

You might think that all therapists are capable of such things. That’s pretty much their job description, after all. Trauma is different. I learned that prolonged trauma, like that of a long illness, war, abuse and other types of chronic horror, activates parts of the brain that cannot be “fixed” with traditional talk therapy, specifically the amygdala which is responsible for the fight or flight response to fear as well as some memory creation. You don’t “think” with your amygdala in the traditional sense. It works before and simultaneous to logic, often without your direction or consent.

To heal these deep and inaccessible parts of the brain, I would have to try unconventional types of therapy. Turns out, talking the living shit out of my feelings wasn’t going to work no matter how hard I tried! There goes the last 2 years. #fml But, there were secret, mysterious skeleton keys to the amygdala out there. It felt like the nearly burned-out, dusty 40W bulb dimly lighting my life flickered back on when I learned that. I was seriously beginning to wonder if I was permanently fucked up in the head so this was a big relief.

Enter M, my fearless and certificated (that’s a word now) trauma therapist. Her and I began the process of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. (This video is an excellent explanation of the process.) Over the last 9 months I’ve attended regular sessions, 6 months or so of setup and now a couple months of actual EMDR. It has been a difficult but fascinating ride.

Now that my sessions for cancer trauma are nearing an end, I’m moving on to bigger and better things to worry about! And that means this shit totally works because there are only a few things more worrisome than life-threatening cancer at age 35. And if you have had to deal with something more or less worrisome, this shit might work for you too. And that means all of you because shitty things happen to all of us. That is science.

If you’re into crawling into dank holes with armor on, you’re my people and I’m going to call you my armadillos from now on. Come with me to learn about the mysteries of EMDR and how your brain can heal itself after terrible things happen. I’ve got some pretty wild stories to tell.

Image by Mylene2401 from Pixabay

Straddling Both Worlds

I wish I could share glowing, heartwarming memories about Art Bra 2019 with you. There are some, absolutely, but another lesson was also learned that night, one not so rose-colored.

Until coming off stage, I was indeed surrounded by my new breast cancer sisters, feeling understood and supported in a new and powerful way. Every single one of them was breathtakingly beautiful. The joy I felt for them as they worked that runway was overwhelming as was my own trip down the aisle.

I’d celebrated being finished with chemo and surgery, the strange victories of living 1 year and then 2. But, let’s be honest, I wasn’t really celebrating, just appreciating the support and trying to make the best of an incredibly impossible and painful situation. I hadn’t celebrated the grit and tenderness that remain forever after breast cancer. The runway felt like that sort of celebration, finally something I could really participate in.

quoteOnce I came off the runway to greet my family and friends, I immediately realized what a different person I now am.

I used to be known as the ultimate party girl, drinking, dancing, and getting into mischief until the sun came up. I did this regularly, in Boulder, DC, and in Austin. I’m the one you called not when you needed a shoulder to cry on but instead when you wanted to drink and dance the memory of him/her/it/them away. I abused alcohol but I wrote it off as fun. Once I started abusing alcohol to numb the pain and fear of cancer, I realized what a mess I was making of my life. I started making changes in early 2019 and things have gotten much, much better for me.

While I still love a rowdy night on the dance floor and a wine night with my girlfriends that lasts until 4am, I often feel I am straddling both worlds in an uncomfortable way. I know I need to tone it down but my lifestyle, social circle, and even family life has never been one of moderation.  I don’t have terrific self-control and maybe never will. But, I need to heal my brain and I can’t do that if I’m wasted.

Art Bra meant so much to me so I was disappointed when I realized many of my supporters were not celebrating for the same reason as me. I felt isolated from my most precious people as they partied and drank and the night disintegrated into the usual diaspora of stunted communication and ghosting.

It seemed they missed the point. And why wouldn’t they? They’ve never gone through this awful thing. They’ve never been scared like this. Maybe I hadn’t articulated the significance of the night. Maybe they just simply don’t or can’t understand how things have shifted for me.

I’ve been told many times since Saturday that I should appreciate the intention. My friends got together to rally me, some going far out of their way, paying a lot, and traveling long distances, and I do appreciate it. But, appreciation can get muddled when the outcome is so far from the intention.

The lesson learned is this: Sometimes things happen to you that change the very composition of your personality. You can’t unknow something. You can’t always go back. The world around you might need to change a bit too for it to remain intact. Moving forward can look a lot different than looking back.