“We learn the rope of life by untying its knots.” ~ Jean Toomer
There was an unforgettable turning point in my childhood, where my father – a frequently frustrated, angry, untreated Al Anon candidate – was trying to untangle a mess of rope. We were in the backyard next to the shed, and it seemed like he’d been working on the knots For-Ever. Finally, he gave up, threw the rope to the ground, exclaimed something like, “Fuck this shit” (or the appropriate profanity of the early 70s), and went inside.
I picked up the rope, patiently untangled it, and took it in to him.
Two things occurred at that moment, I believe: 1st, my father’s and my codependent relationship was reinforced (our enabling patterns would continue for decades); 2nd, my place in this world as an “untie-er of knots” was solidified (to this day, I continue to untie – and learn.).
People found it surprising that I started reading Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search For Meaning” during the COVID19 Pandemic. It made perfect sense to me. If Frankl could find purpose while enslaved in a Nazi concentration camp, I could certainly navigate a pandemic with my spirit intact. His insistence on identifying meaning, ideals, and values during the worst of times has been uplifting for me. (It was the murder of George Floyd and subsequent unrest – on the streets and in my mind – that would take me down, as you’ll read in later paragraphs.)
Plus, I’ve been mining along my ancestors’ roads over recent years, more so since a 2018 suicide attempt. The psych ward doctors’ diagnosis of PTSD with Memorized Trauma Experiences (aka flashbacks) blew my mind, explaining much of my painful experiences and destructive patterns since childhood. As I emerged from the post-attempt fog, I recalled that this revelatory connection to past trauma had started brewing in 2007, during a daylong workshop with Buddhist teacher Ruth King. “Healing Rage” was a huge gathering of women uprooting our “rage inheritance” and learning strategies for reaching inner peace. Ruth introduced concepts I’d never heard during my many years of spiritual, new age, yoga, health, and wellness explorations. For example: if our families evolved from a history that included slavery, frequent moving, genocide, poverty, drug/alcohol abuse, and other hardships, then we were probably living with the untreated trauma of our ancestors. As the descendant of Russian Jews and Irish farmers, I was pegged. And overwhelmed. Talk about a diagnosis. I think I spent most of that workshop grieving, not really hearing the part about “inner peace.” I was broken open and raw with despair. So much was explained – but not remedied. (Not yet.) To close the workshop, we stood in two long lines, facing each other, and were invited to whisper a positive statement into the ear of our partner.
“You are the one we’ve been waiting for,” she said.
I’d been waiting my entire life to believe those words. And at that point, I’d heard them only once.
“I always felt you were an angel sent from heaven,” my crying, drunk mother told me. It was 1996, just before my parents left the DC area to retire in Nashville. Mom was dying (albeit she lived 6 years longer than the doctors predicted) and wanted to be close to her family of origin. Dad, she, and I were at the house where I grew up, and I was madly searching my brain for a happy memory that outweighed the sadness of our 30-year existence there. I confessed: All I could recall was a lifetime of feeling like an unwanted problem, because as a young child I overheard my parents arguing about money and learned that I was unplanned. That’s when Mom dropped the “angel sent from heaven” bomb that left all three of us crying, and me striving to believe her.
Today, I do.
Well, most of the time.
There can be a lot to unravel in the process of healing mental illness.
This morning, an old, old friend called to catch up. He and I spent the late 80s and early 90s running around some pretty exciting and destructive circles. Those were the days when my addiction brain made all the decisions – moving all over the country to run away from myself, attempting suicide, sleeping with strangers, dating junkies. I recalled holding two hands tightly around my boyfriend’s upper arm while he shot up. Begging him to let me try heroin. Sidestepping that fate.
“I’m lucky to be alive,” I said to my friend on the phone.
Those words don’t come out of my mouth very often. And I needed to hear myself say them today.
I’m presently recovering from another suicide attempt this past July, just before my 55th birthday. As I mentioned above, COVID19 conditions did not affect my spirit – at first. The isolation of March and April allowed me to grow an online yoga instruction business, save money, immerse in nature, and pop into Zoomed addiction recovery meetings around the world. I took all the precautions, only left the house for safely-distanced nature walks and grocery shopping, and thoroughly enjoyed the solitude.
And then George Floyd was murdered.
My friends protested, spoke out, and asked to be heard. I felt alienated by rhetoric like, “White people need to…” and “This is not about your feelings…” Name-calling like “Karen” and “ACAB” rattled me. The term “white fragility” was a threatened label to avoid. As a yoga teacher for the DC Police Department, as a white person, and as a human being with feelings, I feared that my friends would consider me the “bad guy.” I silenced myself. I hid my thoughts, experiences, and beliefs.
My sick brain recreated my childhood environment. Name calling, alienation, rage, threats, physical violence. Doubting the value of my existence. Fearing doing something that would result in losing the love of my sisters or parents. My feet stood in 2020, with my mind in the 1970s. Although I shut up on social media and avoided interactions with activist friends, my mind was incessantly riddled with defensive arguments. I felt more and more alone, and scared of talking with anyone.
This was exactly where my mental illness wanted me.
As silly as it might sound, an episode of The TED Radio Hour pushed me over the edge on July 5th. The theme was “Loneliness” and the facts shared told me that I didn’t have a chance of surviving this lethal combo of COVID isolation and acute mental illness. At that moment – during a typical Sunday of NPR binging – the flashback effect of my PTSD kicked in, emptying me of any sense of reality, positivity, or hope. It was as if I had blinders on and could only see the solution of death ahead.
Luckily, my attempt failed. Again.
Leaving me with no other option but to shift my perspective.
I used to say there was nothing you could do or say to halt my decision to die. That once my brain switches into trauma flashback mode, I have no ability to untwist its tightened knots of resolve. From my 2018 attempt, plus, a 4-year period of extreme triggers leading up to it, I deduced that a flashback would always, inevitably, and regretfully lead to damaging behavior. However, since this summer’s attempt, I’ve come to understand that only a small part of my brain is sick enough to crave death. The majority of my mind can become skilled and strong enough to stop the impulse.
Developing these new capabilities requires vigilance and hard work.
Since 2018’s PTSD/flashbacks diagnosis, I’ve been engaged in a new course of mental health treatment that is training me to develop and listen to the greater, empowered, healthy part of my brain. DBT Group Therapy (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) keeps me accountable to exercises that emphasize skills to answer every aspect of my illness. Weekly meetings of that group, with a talk therapist, and with my psychiatrist keep me grounded in reality, positivity, and hope. Regular attendance at addiction recovery meetings provides a foundation of physical and emotional sobriety. Daily mindfulness practices cultivate presence and contentment. And carefully prescribed medications and natural supplements support chemical balance.
Although my gradually healing mind was recently overthrown by a flashback, its twists continue to unwind. The follow-up to the last attempt included writing a Chain Analysis of the event with the support of my therapists. First, we identified the links between contributing environments and events. Next, we will list the skills that can respond to those triggers, so I will be able to halt destructive impulses if/when they arrive. Through the Chain Analysis and ongoing therapy, I am training myself to interrupt a flashback – more so, to not reach that point.
Sometimes I feel like nothing will change. That I’m not only sentenced to a life with mental illness, but I’m also sentenced to a life of constantly fighting against it. And folks, it’s been a long-ass, 55-year war. Along the way, I’ve “tried everything” – only to see each new remedy stop working over time. The work of healing and change can feel exhausting.
But then I remind myself of my journey with addiction recovery. The first two years felt like an endless road of heavy realizations and burdensome solutions. Although I did not relapse, I lacked emotional maturity, which led to destructive behavior, which was answered with analysis, support, and efforts to change. I became so tired of “the work” in those early days! Well, guess what – I’m still “working” the program and will observe 18 years of recovery next month! It doesn’t feel like work anymore. It has simply evolved into everyday practices and skills for living a physically and psychologically sober life.
I see my journey with mental illness following a similar evolution. (But hopefully with a shorter timeline, hahaha.)
Plus, in some ways, the Chain Analysis exercise parallels the “Healing Rage” workshop’s approach of looking back at ancestry and the patterns I’ve inherited from it. Only now, where there is grief, there is also a strategy for inner peace. Where there is rawness, there is a remedy. Where there is brokenness, therein lies hope.
I’ve shared my efforts toward Suicide Prevention.
The question remains – is there anything you can do or say to halt someone’s desire to die? That, my dears, must happen wayyyyy before the decision phase. I know there are tons of resources suggesting how to spot red flags and such. But each suicidal idea is unique to each suicidal person. So I can only speak for myself.
For me, the best thing you can do to interrupt the impulse to commit suicide? Ask yourself if you care about and love me enough to stick around through the ups and downs of mental illness. If the answer is “yes,” then please make an effort to understand my illness as well as I do, so we’re both prepared to navigate those ups and downs. And just as imperative, please commit to untangling your own twisted, tangled knots from the past.
If your answer is “no,” you don’t want to share the journey of a mentally ill human being, then there’s nothing you can do to prevent my death.
I started writing this blog on World Suicide Prevention Day and September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Pictured is the altar I created to honor the idea of Prevention. Shades of young-PTSD me, from left with Mom to right with Dad. Saraswati – goddess of artists and students – watching over all the little Holly’s, imploring me to KEEP GOING. A golden heart, as I am told mine is. Rose Quartz gifted by my 1st therapist in sobriety, who for 8 years, embraced me. Set atop a childhood ring with a turquoise lightning bolt inset. Violet Flame Amethyst from a healer friend. Amethyst and gold pin from my Aunt Jeannie, who adored me and died too young from alcoholism. Te Adoro plaque from the strongest friend I’ve ever had. Mom’s Black Jet necklace, which I use as a mala for protection. There is a candle, there is sage, there is Palo Santo, too.
Some might say that I could not have been born with PTSD. However, unaddressed pre-birth trauma is a condition for PTSD. To be conceived by two emotionally, financially, holistically stressed parents after they’d decided to stop having children (and mom had her tubes tied), and then, born into a world of chaos, violence, and addiction is fertile ground for mental illness. Photographed moments of adoration, love, and care were beautiful, but do not make up for a household of harm.
Nor do they erase a family history of lack, neglect, hardship. I’d argue that many of us with “resilient ancestors” were born with PTSD. Resilience is not simply getting through something – it is being changed for the better by it, therefore changing the course of one’s life and future generations. But if the patterns that led to and traumatic outcomes of hardship are not addressed and healed, then there is no future without trauma.
Sound grim? It doesn’t have to be. If we, now, decide that the beautiful essence beneath our unhealthy patterns is worth the grueling work of healing, growth, and change, then the symptoms of PTSD can be decreased. That’s where I am today. Still plagued by triggers, still pushing people away to feel safe, still comforted by ideation. Yet, still, invested in getting better (and better and better). Dedicated to not dying. Yearning to stay alive.
Because despite a small part of my brain telling me to die, a gigantic part of my brain and the whole of my heart and soul are in love with the beauty of this world.
If you struggle with trauma-related mental illness, I beg of you: do not delay. Look as far back as you possibly can. Where there is not detailed information, look at general conditions, environments, and travails of ancestry and culture. Then work forward from there. Like I said, it can be a lot of rope to unravel. And at times, the seeming lack of progress may make you want to use that rope for ill. Despite it all, KEEP GOING. Accept the reality of living with an illness, use the skills to address it, stay focused on successes, surrender to wise help.
Surround yourself with folks who not only care about and love you – but who want to keep caring about and loving you through your ugliest days and darkest hours. Who’ve seen and believe in your light. Who reinforce your belief in life’s beauty. Who proactively make the effort to understand your illness. Who want to heal, grow, and change alongside you – as well as enjoy the pleasures of life with you!
Find the folks – even if just a few – who will root for your patience, determination, and success as you untie the tangled mess of life’s knots.
May all beings be well. May all beings be free of suffering. Love to all. Holly
The Suicide Blog (Or, How To Keep Living When You Feel Like Dying) Pt. 2 September 18, 2020
“We learn the rope of life by untying its knots.” ~ Jean Toomer
May 8th, 2019
Caution: this blog includes detailed description of a suicide attempt.
If you met me today, you wouldn’t guess that I tried to kill myself one year ago. You would see me teaching trauma-sensitive yoga, playing percussion at concerts, loving my Metro commutes, inhaling deeply under flowering trees. You would see my near constant smile and note my “spark of life,” my “inner light” and “glowing beauty.” You would ask about the “.02%” tattoo on my forearm and overlook the telling scar on that same wrist. You would listen to my story and call me “resilient.”
To most people, “resilient” looks like fighting through and bouncing back. To me, resilience requires growth and change. I ask you: if I’m so resilient, why did I end up in a tub of blood, trying to chop my damn hand off with too-dull blades last year? Most importantly: what’s happened since then to finally make me believe that — YES — I am resilient?
* * *
On May 8th, 2018, I attempted suicide. Possessed by a PTSD flashback, I believed to the core of my being that I was being threatened to the point of great danger; that I would never escape the futility of mental illness; that I would never stop hurting my loved ones during my hostile episodes; that I would never be well enough to hold a sustaining job; that I would never have what I need to live a stable life. After a huge argument with my housemates, during which I cursed worse than a sailor, threw a coffee cup across the room, and accused them of horrible actions, I heard my landlord say the fated words: “You need to find another place to live.”
My mental state was already beyond my control. But at that moment, it was if the devil himself reached into the crown of my skull and sucked out every last trace of reality, positivity, and hope that may have still existed. Darkened beyond reach, I robotically headed to the kitchen, grabbed two sharp knives, wrote a goodbye note in my journal, barricaded myself in the bathroom, drew a warm bath, and settled in. With pure determination and resolve, I cut my wrist as deeply as the knife would go. Not sharp enough. I tried the other knife and the blood started flowing. I kept cutting. But the blood kept stopping. I dismantled a Gillette razor blade and cut more. When it stopped bleeding again, I banged my wrist on the side of the tub until it bled again. And then stopped again. This ritual of cutting/banging/bleeding/cutting/banging/bleeding continued until the tub filled with blackened blood. At times, I passed out. At times, I was fully lucid. Overall, I was pissed off. This — my 3rd suicide attempt in my adult life — would fail.
When the pain of the cuts became worse than I could bear, I stopped trying. My wrist was swollen and bruised; the bathroom looked like a slasher movie. Suicide was supposed to relieve me of pain, not drag me through more. I called two friends and my psychiatrist, and headed to the Georgetown University psych ward for stitches and 2.5 weeks of refuge. They removed the strings from my hooded sweatshirts, took away my toiletries, and checked for sharp objects.
On May 25th, 2018, I emerged from the hospital, skeptical but willing to try and stay alive.
One month after my failed suicide attempt, chef Anthony Bourdain succeeded in his. Until his death, I’d not mentioned my own attempt on social media. Although typically transparent about all aspects of my life, I wasn’t sure how to “go public” with this particular event. I’d always been the writer, teacher, and friend who could guide folks away from suicide by sharing how I’d sidestepped it for nearly 30 years, after my last attempt in 1990. Since that attempt, yoga, therapy, and addiction recovery gave me the tools I needed to process past darkness and ideation — until the tools stopped working after years of misdiagnosis and faulty treatment.
So, how was I going to tell folks that my own advice no longer worked for me? That, despite my best efforts, life’s pain got the best of me? I was ashamed, embarrassed, and afraid to be rigorously honest.
Until Anthony Bourdain’s suicide. Well, no — it was the public’s reactions to Bourdain’s suicide that pushed me to talk about mine. It all started with a June 8, 2018 mini-blog on Facebook, in response to folks’ nonstop posting about “how to recognize when someone is suicidal” and “how to show your depressed friends that you love and care about them and therefore keep them from dying” and the like. I just could not stand the generalizations and misconceptions. Thoughts, acts, and ideas around suicide are unique to each person. I felt compelled to share mine; and throughout the following months, I continued with periodic check-ins about mental health.
I’d stopped blogging on WordPress — not on purpose, but for convenience. Facebook flows are easier to post. But now, with the one-year anniversary of my suicide attempt, I want to compile related posts here. My aim is to continue blogging here, and, to explore other platforms. In fact, there just might be a memoir and podcast in our future…
* * *
Below is a collection of Facebook writings from May 8th, 2018, through the 1-year anniversary of my attempt. I always say: I write transparently to share my experience, strength, and hope, in service to those that might relate, and those that might find something useful. Also, this specific compilation of writings will, hopefully, serve to portray a one-year journey away from a desire to die and toward the triumph of living. There were certainly ups and downs; but most importantly, there were great turning points where my direction shifted firmly away from spiraling downward, to onward-and-upward.
What’s not included in this collection of writings are the posts between, where I was either flowing with joy, trudging through pain, or just plain living. Over the past year, I guided my 2nd and 3rd Yoga Teacher Trainings and taught a bunch of beautiful classes; I watched my father fall, move to a nursing home, and die; my sisters and I reunited, re-divided, and reunited again; one of my dearest friends died; I taught my 13th and final year of my treasured music and yoga summer camp; I started offering yoga classes for the DC Metropolitan Police Department; I moved from downtown DC to the MD suburbs; I watched my beloved hometown protest against hateful visitors; baseball games and nature continued to be a refuge of fun and presence; my work life changed from stable to unstable to stable again; and my dreams and explorations of working with kids as a counselor continued to bloom.
Basically, the past year of life has been exactly that — life. And gratefully, I am alive to tell about it.
* * *
May we all find the courage to share openly. May the world accept our health conditions as worthy of sharing. May mental health topics become natural, open conversations for all. Because it is this unbridled connection and rigorous honesty that will make us want to live. And, MAY WE ALL BE BLESSED WITH RESILIENCE.
To this day, I haven’t replaced my hoodie strings. Perhaps I will, now…
Thank you for reading. Love and gratitude. OM Shanti. Holly
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Here begins a collection of Facebook posts since May 8th, 2018
8 June, 2018
What does a suicidal person look like?
Not everyone who is suicidal looks numb and dissociated. Not all depressed people appear down. Some look resilient, even inspiring. Some look hostile. Some are famous, and you can watch them on TV; some are sitting next to you on the bus, smiling joyfully at a silly child.
On May 8th, I attempted to kill myself. I looked angry, violent and out of control.
These hostile episodes had been increasing in intensity and frequency for years – in 2014, they were misdiagnosed as panic attacks, related to PTSD. Always willing to do inner work and utilize healing resources, I started seeking help. Chakra work, workshops, writing, yoga, meditation, retreats, etc. Periodic therapy but not long term. Pops-in to the doctor for refills of my low dose meds.
I rarely looked depressed to people. I looked positive and loving. Or, I looked like an angry dog, backed into a corner. I lost friends and jobs. I also found friends who could navigate mental illness and focus on the love. However, nobody – not my friends, not my doctors, not me – recognized how sick I was.
After the failed attempt to kill myself last month, the doctors in the psychiatric hospital listened to my stories from recent years and connected the dots. I now understand: my episodes are not panic attacks. They are PTSD flashbacks – dissociated periods of memorized trauma. Since a rough childhood, I’d experienced suicidal ideation. And my last actual attempt was 28 years ago. So for a very long time, I did not have the right diagnosis, support or medication.
Now, I have new meds, new doctors, new routines. A changing Holly in the same old externals. But I’ve turned over a new leaf.
I want you to know: there is nothing anyone could have done to stop me from trying to kill myself. There was nobody to blame. There was, simply, a solid belief that there was no way out of a life that felt cemented with immense pain, triggers, loss and futility…
even while deeply loving the beauty of life itself.
With a mental illness that locks me into false beliefs based on true memories, I can’t win at times. And you can’t help at times.
Thankfully, on May 8th, after 4 earnest hours of self-harm, I was feeling more physical pain than I could bear…and still not dead. I made a call. I went to the hospital. I learned a lot. I emerged.
For some in my life, no explanation will repair the damage done during these bouts of anger and hostility. From others, I’m receiving immense love, mercy and compassion. It’s a tender, raw and emotional time. At times I feel bewildered. At times I feel motivated and clear. I am profoundly grateful for those who are in this with me. You may not have been able to stop me on May 8th, but your unconditional love lifts me farther and farther from it.
Onward and upward.
25 June, 2018
All the feels…
I haven’t really shared about the process of recovering from my May 8th suicide attempt. Particularly since being blindsided by and occupied with my dad’s accident. [Mid-June, my father had a bad fall and went into hospice care.]
In general, each new step of life seems surreal. As if I’ve never lived through a day before now. Every decision, activity, relationship and element of my world is being reevaluated and feels more precious than ever.
Yesterday was the 1st day where I felt happy to be alive – like my old self: purely present and seeing beauty everywhere. But today, I was tired and weepy.
My higher power seems out of reach. My doctors provide positive motivation and clarity. My friends are sharing more closeness, assurance and love than ever. And solitude is sparse.
Tonight, I’m walking home from a recovery meeting under a hazy waxing moon. And feeling gratitude, uncertainty, melancholy, exhaustion, love…
Much love and thanks to you.
27 June, 2018
Nothing to hide, nothing to prove…
I share transparently for a number of reasons: to diminish my own shame about mental illness; to share and seek solutions and resources; and to feel supported. I know there are folks out there, suffering in silence. And I’ve learned – to be silent is to suffer more.
A “cry for help” is not a demand for pity. It is, indeed, a request for help. Without it, we are alone.
Thank you for not leaving me alone! In the month since leaving the hospital after my suicide attempt, you have reached out generously. I am deeply grateful.
Recovering from this attempt is a strange journey. To be frank, I didn’t imagine being here to deal with the aftermath! Duh!
As you might imagine, there are ups and downs. Well, guess what – there were ups and downs before this, too! The difference now? I have a correct diagnosis for my brand of PTSD; and I have a team of resources that I MUST (and am lucky to) call upon. This includes a psychiatrist and his physician’s assistant; a Dialectical Behavioral Therapist with an ass-kicking workbook; a talk therapist for processing the feels; a beautifully compassionate primary care doctor who’s addressing long-neglected checkups. I’m on a high-ish dose of an SSRI medication, which is weird for this natural health gal – yet necessary for the time being. I practice mindfulness with teachers that are experienced and wise. I follow dietary and sleep recommendations. (OK, OK, I’m trying.) Basically, I take direction from professionals who guide me with expertise.
And, I stay connected to friends that know how to – or, want to learn to – be in relationship with the Holly who is striving to heal from her own death wish due to mental illness. It’s been heartbreaking to discover that not everyone is up for the task…but, my heart is healing as I focus on the essence of love in all beings – whether or not they are able to walk beside me.
Before this attempt, I earnestly believed that I was doing all the right things to address my PTSD. And, I sense that most folks around me were accustomed to my strength and resilience. Well, let me tell you: Memorized Trauma Experiences (aka PTSD Flashbacks) kicked my self-sufficient ass to the ground so many times in the past 4 years, I found myself in a bewildering abyss.
Now, I’ve surrendered to the fact that it can’t be me alone (with all the best intentions) making the effort.
A “cry for help” is exactly that. And I am thankful for all of the help I am receiving.
Although I am eager to give back and be of service…I (sheepishly) acknowledge that my priority right now is to accept help. Or die.
Nothing to hide, nothing to prove.
Sending so much love and thanks…
1 July, 2018
Birthday month, thick with teaching summer camp, enjoying Folklife Festival, guiding lots of yoga classes and more. A friend just reminded me that this month (for him) is usually pivotal. For me, too.
I’ve felt myself notably awakening from the post-hospitalization haze.
My heart seeks more. In a healthy way.
How does July look for you?
13 July, 2018
Made it through the 1st 3-week summer camp session, and set the room back up for the next! The kids’ final performances in all of the camp areas were awesome. Percussion, dance, Orff orchestra, flute, violin, guitar, cello, piano and group songs. And, wow, the team of teachers who guided them! I’m fortunate to teach alongside such amazing educators…
…such as flute instructor Angela Blueskies, whose sold-out Sound Healing session I just emerged from at the beautiful Sky House Yoga. I’m feeling washed clean of echoing stairwells, full of excited (aka loud) kids – and full of serenity.
Grateful for all of these experiences.
I had only one major emotional hiccup in the last three weeks, and it was met with caring responses from fellow musicians, camp staff, friends and healers. Tonight, after rising from healing waves of sound vibration, Angela looked me in the eyes (and heart) and said: “I’m glad you’re here. And. I’m glad you’re HERE.”
Right now, I’m glad I’m HERE, too.
Love love love.
23 July, 2018
My brain feels like nails on a chalkboard.
How is your brain today?
28 July, 2018
Good evening, 53…
Y’know, I didn’t think I’d be here for this day. But, here I am! What an organically sweet day it’s been so far. No big deals, just simple pleasures. The company of friends, great food, recovery meetings, sunshine, bus rides, therapy (yup, even on my birthday), meditation, inhales, exhales, hugs, kisses, smiles.
Feeling humbled, grateful, sorry, sleepy, skeptical, hopeful, full…and…loved.
(Yeah, I know…)
Thank you for loving me.
Onward into the 54th revolution around the sun.
After today’s very engaging celebration of 53, I’m looking forward to some solitude tomorrow – to reflect, to take stock.
So much love to you all.
30 July, 2018
My insides are screaming to say Fuck You to the people who treat me like an unwanted problem…who have harmed me…who have been cruel to me…who have betrayed me…
Literally. To find them and face them and tell them to fuck off.
This is not a safe place for a recovering alcoholic with PTSD to dwell.
FUCK YOU ____. Fuck you ____. Fuck you ____. Fuck you ____. Fuck you ____. Fuck you ____.
That’s a good start.
Love love love.
(Yep, that’s your yoga teacher talking!)
31 July, 2018
Phew. Last night’s half-mad/half-silly F-bomb rant took a toll on me. I woke up today with a powerful emotional hangover and horribly sore body. I called in sick to summer camp because I couldn’t stand up without serious wobbling. And I’ve spent all day sleeping heavily.
Raw transparency sometimes takes a toll.
And there are consequences – like, missing the pay for a day of work, and, having the F-word plastered all over my FB timeline. Sadly, at this point in my fresh journey of self-discovery, that rawness is all I have at times like last night, when an interaction triggers a PTSD flashback.
My anger does not always own me. You and I both know that I am a peaceful and healthy person.
My greatest trigger of anger? PTSD itself. I fucking hate my illness. It has wrecked my life so many times – most recently, driving me into a bathtub with a blade.
Since that experience – and all that surrounded it – it’s so hard to feel well and whole. Relationships, jobs, home life are on the rocks. It’s hard to not feel an internal pressure to heal, heal, heal (damnit, HEAL!) in order to change everything. And the external pressures are very real – I must move out of my house; and therefore, I must find more lucrative work. I must find true support; and therefore, I must discern which relationships are unhealthy.
This morning’s paralyzing exhaustion was the culmination of these pressures combined with an enormously stressful few months. All of the resources I share and tools I teach via my yoga offerings are not enough to keep me healthy these days – and this is truly humbling. I must place myself in the hands of a higher power that I’m blind to…which is impossible. I must break my pattern of breaking down…which feels impossible. Still, the only thing I’m trained to do is keep trudging forward.
Because, when I give up, I end up in deeper shit rather than released from it.
I guess it’s time to learn to give IN.
Love love love.
Had a crucial conversation with my doctor. I believe relief is in sight.
I see some FB messages in the queue…thank you. I don’t have messenger on my phone and am rarely on a computer. Please feel free to email me at the address in my FB profile, or, call or text if you have my number.
Love and thanks to all.
3 August, 2018
My lord, I don’t think I’ve been this happy about a day of the week since I had a corporate job.
Today is the last day of summer camp! Y’all know how much joy this annual 6-week gig brings me. This year, it also brought intolerable exhaustion. And super-weird dreams! (Well, maybe those are from the mental illness and medication).
I am looking forward to some “me” time. Pup-sitting all weekend; sleeping in tomorrow; massage Sunday. Cartoons! NPR! Non-rushed Hatha, pranayama and meditation practice. Therapy! (Of course.) Ooooh, and maybe a Restorative & Reiki class at Embrace on Sundayyy…
Infinite options for restoration! Grateful.
What will YOU do to take care of yourself this weekend?
Love love love.
5 August, 2018
Joy will return…
There’s nothing like a 90-minute deep tissue massage to burst buried veins of self-love and -compassion. The heart, ladies and gentlemen, has softened. I can see the light.
Last night a friend and I were reminiscing over Spotify selections from the 90s. The trajectory went something like this: ELO, Paul McCartney, Jellyfish, The Waterboys, World Party. Wait. Stop there. World Party. Let’s listen. And there, in my memory, was 1991 – the year after my 1990 suicide attempt in New Orleans (which was the last attempt before this May). From New Orleans, I accepted my sister’s invitation to move to Florida; and I started fighting my way up from a dark abyss. A deep well of addiction and untreated trauma and depression and promiscuity and you-name-it. Music started to pull me up, pull me out, lift me up. I sold my whole CD collection except 30 choices – only positive, spiritual music and great storytellers. Santana/McLaughlin “Love Devotion Surrender;” Coltrane “A Love Supreme;” Pharaoh Sanders “Karma;” The Waterboys “A Pagan Place;” Van Morrison “Astral Weeks;” Hothouse Flowers “People; “World Party “Goodbye Jumbo.” And more.
Last night, I recalled that in 1991, after moving from Florida to Austin, I saw World Party in-concert. I cried sobs of awe through the whole thing. I was fighting hard! I wanted to rise up. I believed I could.
I want to fight for that joy again.
It’s no secret that I’ve been struggling with anger, sadness, remorse and grief since my May suicide attempt. I’ve been running from the intensity of and after it; to the shock and urgency of my father’s accident; to the tiring demands of summer camp. Well, this weekend, I’ve been breathing, y’all. Catching up on sleep and smiles.
Last night, listening to “Goodbye Jumbo,” I was singing and dancing with a surrender and happiness that I have not felt in a very long time. And today, after teaching a beautiful morning yoga class, then enjoying a nourishing massage, my mind shifted.
And at the end of the massage, I sat up crying and said, “I believe joy will return.”
I think I’ll just leave that right there.
7 August, 2018
Nothing like starting my Social Media perusing by seeing a public suicide note posted by someone dear to me. Thankfully, the police caught him before he used the gun.
The urge to die does not always come from the same place for every sufferer. But in this case, I grasp that he and I both get caught in the grip of: the pain of causing harm to others; the feeling that mental illness is ruining our lives; the overwhelming belief that, although life is rich with beauty and joy and passion, our lives will often hurt way more than we can stand.
The fear that we will never change, that health is out of reach, that growth is impossible.
Well, now. The post-suicide attempt recovery continues – for me, and so many others.
And, wow…today marks 3 months since my attempt, which means I’m allowed back on the Georgetown University psych ward – to bring recovery meetings and be of service.
Gonna make that call…
(Hoping to see my dear one when I travel south for a family visit this month.)
Love love love.
22 August, 2018
“Hi! Nice to meet you! I can be a raging lunatic…”
I came across the attached article (“How to Tell a New Partner You Have a Mental Illness”) while FB surfing. It made me realize how emotionally distant I’ve stayed from romances and friendships – long before, and, most certainly since my May suicide attempt.
For years, my severe PTSD episodes have wreaked havoc on most of my relationships. The main problem? My illness was undiagnosed, the symptoms were untreated, and therefore, I appeared to have intentional fits of rage.
But if anyone truly knows me, they know that rage is far from my intentions.
The most angering part of life is my illness itself, which – when confronted with certain triggers – sucks every ounce of reality, sanity, reason, balance, peace and beauty out of my being, and replaces it with wildly frightened perceptions and monstrous reactions.
So tell me – if I were to reveal this to you on a first date, would you stick around?
Woot, woot! Sounds like fun! Not.
This article encourages transparency of this order. It tells stories of relationships blooming out of full disclosure. But, it leaves me wondering about the health of the resulting relationships! Why would anyone stick around, knowing the potential for being on the receiving end of a PTSD-triggered attack? Why would anyone want to learn how to shape the way they love, according to a mentally-ill person’s needs? To me, that sounds unhealthy.
Or perhaps, that’s just my shitty experience talking.
For years before my recent diagnosis of “memorized trauma experience” (aka PTSD flashbacks), people abandoned ship after experiencing my episodes. Way back in childhood, I was ridiculed by kids who witnessed my uncontrollable crying or anger. Way later, around 2010, I tried to describe to a hurt friend how possessed my brain felt during these situations. Once, I even pleaded, “I’m mentally ill, I can’t control this,” based only on intuition. But the damage was done. Friendships were dropping like flies.
I dug deeply into therapies, resources and remedies for my destructive patterns. However, the patterns only worsened after 2014, when family troubles struck the nerve of childhood trauma, rocketing me into an even denser state of emotional imbalance. I was having “panic attacks” (a tragic misdiagnosis) at jobs, home – even the yoga studios where I worked. Loss after loss, I trudged forward, trying to change, but staying the same. The past four years have been an emotional hell – which I diminished and denied…until this spring, when household conflicts mirroring painful family dynamics landed me in a bathtub full of blood – and then a team of psych-ward professionals helped me understand my disease.
Great 1st-date conversation, eh?
Is it possible that, as described in this article, full disclosure of my mental illness to new friends or dates could lead to healthy intimacy? Because recently, even after learning about the reality of my PTSD flashbacks (episodes where I was triggered into a state of deep fear, which planted a false perception of threat, leading to hostile behavior), some folks who had already distanced me due to my “bad behavior” jumped ship.
I have been asked to move out of my group house because of triggered outbursts prior to my suicide attempt. And after getting out of the hospital, an associate even told me that my past behaviors warranted their abandonment of me surrounding that crisis.
So, no wonder I doubt the positivity of this article! I currently exist within a twisted blend of protecting myself, defending myself, protecting others, and projecting loss.
The silver lining? I now understand that fear has been the criteria for most of my life decisions – and that criteria must change. Still, even though my illness is now properly diagnosed and treated, my insides will not change overnight. There is major internal and external restructure ahead. At this moment, for the sake of forging a healthier journey, I am seeking a new home, new work, new connections. Simultaneously, I’m working with a team of health experts to grow toward healthier choices.
It’s a lot.
In fact, it’s so much that I can’t even imagine founding new relationships. So, I guess I can revisit this article later?
I’m curious – what are your thoughts about and experiences with this article’s proposal? I still wonder if its success stories are actually textbook examples of codependency… Just kidding. Not.
OM Shanti. Peace. Please.
25 August, 2018
I am grateful for folks who share transparently on Social Media. Their commitment to staying rigorously honest (primarily with themselves) about their inner work nudges me to reflect deeply.
This week, I read two posts in particular that helped me glean self-kindness, -compassion, and -congratulation from my typically foggy bog of “when the hell will my sick brain be well?”
Right now, for example, after reading, reflecting on, and then responding to recent posts, I am CELEBRATING my WILLINGNESS and DEDICATION to: face my mental illness; accept the related challenges as opportunities for growth; address my condition with the support of awesome healers; peel away layers of habitual dysfunction; communicate my needs; stay honest when I’m feeling “off;” be accountable and make amends for unhealthy behaviors; and, when loss is a result of my errors, breath my way through disappointment, anger, pain, fear…then trudge my way back to this celebration.
As one friend said, “Knowing is growth.” And it’s true – without plainly acknowledging my condition – and the need for change – I can’t grow. And as I’ve learned the hard way – if I’m not growing, I’m dying. So to speak.
Thank you, friends, for your openness. Whether it’s mental illness or simply unhealthy patterns, we are allies in our conditions…and more importantly…as we commit to honesty, willingness and dedication, we are allies in our growth.
Let’s do this!
Ommmm…Shanti Shanti Shanti.
26 August, 2018
This is awesome!
Hip Hop worship music is waking up my soul on this stunningly beautiful Sunday! My hands are raised and my body is grooving!
You might be wondering, “Huh? Holly’s listening to Xian music?” Heck yes. Y’know, I’ve thrown my arms up to Krishna at Kirtan concerts; I’ve bowed to the Earth at Native American ceremonies; I’ve led the family Passover seder; I’ve sobbed with awe at Al Green’s Church of the Gospel. Anywhere that folks are honoring spirit, soul, higher power…particularly as an avenue for rising up from an abyss of troubles…I’ve either been or want to be there.
These days, I’m not sure what or whom my higher power is. The “g” word feels foreign to me. Three months ago, praying to die, I believed that “god” supported that ending. The end of pain, the end of illness, the end of futility. Since landing alive and back on earth, I’ve been spiritually lost. And it’s not the first time. But every time, something eventually picks me up.
So, when I came across this Spotify playlist, clicked that 1st track, and heard the uplifting lyrics and fat beats, I began to believe that faith can also bring an end to pain, illness and futility. It can free me, as KB raps about here, in “No Chains.”
My question is – how does Jesus feel about my booty grinding to his praise? Seriously. Because I cannot stay still – could anyone?
Love love love.
6 September, 2018
“There is a goodness in the air tonight.”
This thought jumped into my brain just now, after enough positive, caring, loving encounters to restore my faith in the value of living.
A doctor once told me that, for me, human connection is more powerful medicine than any pill. (Yes, I’m still taking my pills.) And, after a day like today – to which many of you contributed – I got shivers through my entire body when the above phrase ran through my mind.
Powerful medicine, indeed.
Thank you. I love you. Goodnight.
7 September, 2018
Mindfulness in the MPD…
In July, Embrace Yoga DC partnered with the Washington Metropolitan Police Dept. for “Yoga With A Cop.” This event was meant to bring together police and community for a simple yoga practice.
Seven MPD representatives from the Special Liaison Unit and 3rd District (Embrace’s neighborhood) showed up – including one woman who came directly from her bicycle shift in uniform, and, four men who practice yoga regularly (two of whom have come to Embrace classes).
Two community members added to the mix.
This afternoon, I return to the 3rd District station to launch weekly classes for our officers – a program we piloted in June. The bicycle officer who practiced in uniform has become our biggest advocate! And, contacts in the Internal Affairs and Homicide Units have expressed serious interest. It helps that one of my MPD friends is a lieutenant, an avid yogi and meditator, and, has PTSD.
Many yoga teachers are pursuing training in Trauma-Informed Yoga. My training has been an organic blend of classical Hatha Yoga YTT, personal practice, and, dedication to applying the practice to my own PTSD experiences.
The 200-hour Integral Yoga YTT I took in 2008 included: encouragement to wear conservative, plain yoga clothes; a standard of using verbal cues only; foundational Pranayama, meditation and Yoga Nidra training; and, practical study of the Yoga Sutras as a design for living. My Trauma-Informed teaching style is strengthened by my genuine appreciation for, dedication to and practice of these very same elements of yoga – “on the mat,” in everyday life, and, as part of my PTSD treatment.
But most importantly, to teach Trauma-Informed Yoga…
I must fundamentally believe in EVERY HUMAN BEING’S innate goodness, desire to grow and ability to transform. Because I not only visit venues where people have the same mental illness as me…I must also be willing to walk into venues and share yoga with folks who may have committed the same harms that caused my PTSD: rape, assault, sexism, anti-semitism, bullying, betrayal, abuse… And I cannot do that without doing my own trauma healing. In order to earnestly and effectively be of service, I must walk the walk, and invite everyone to walk with me.
Back in July, the MPD reps who attended “Yoga With A Cop” chose to be there. They were there because they wanted it – not because they needed it, nor because they were mandated to do it. These willing human beings are curious about or already devoted to mindfulness. And I am honored and eager to share the practices with them.
9 September, 2018
A sweet treat to spark a sweet New Year – 5779. And, of course, to launch 10 days of reflection about and atonement for the shit that went down in year # 5778…
I am awe-filled.
Love to you!
16 September, 2018
I’ve been snapping photos of this tree in East Nashville’s Shelby Bottoms Park for exactly 5 years.
The photos on the right (crispy fall leaves and bare winter bones) were taken after I moved to Nashville, Labor Day weekend, 2013. I moved to be closer to my aging father, who needed assistance. That weekend was the beginning of the High Holy Days…
If you’ve read my mini-blogs for a while, you know that this “move” was horrible! Family conflict, debilitating poverty, dark depression – even with my addiction recovery intact, I hit a damaging bottom. I lasted 7 months in Nashville – and was able to assist my dad notably – then crawled my way back to my hometown of DC.
And then – even through I’d returned to my support community – I would start to suffer from what I now understand as PTSD Flashbacks, which went undiagnosed and untreated for years.
The shot on the left (puffy clouds) was taken on my recent TN trip, during Labor Day weekend. I traveled to visit my beloved father, who – after an accident this past June – was moved from his house in Nashville to a nursing home in Columbia. A bittersweet trip, it gave me the opportunity to see Dad in his current state of advanced dementia; it also allowed me to return to my favorite park, whose nature feeds me immensely.
Something about being out of DC – taking the road trip, staying in a wonderful friend’s home, attending recovery meetings with my treasured East Nashville friends, being in Shelby Park – melted me into a state of compassion that I’ve not felt for a very long time.
Compassion for myself, y’all.
This past May, resulting from these past years of undiagnosed mental illness, I tried to kill myself. Now, since this liberating trip to TN, I thankfully shifted from self-blame and -loathing to pure acceptance and love. There’s definitely more to this breakthrough – the progress has continued to bloom since my trip home to DC. Clarity, strength, stability is returning.
Shortly after returning from TN, the Jewish High Holy Days began.
For me, the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is a beautiful time of renewal, prayer, amends and devotion. I am in love, I am in love, I am in love. With my sweet, sacred Self.
After months of doubting that anything would lift me out of my mental illness to reach wellness and health, I have found faith that this new journey of treatment will bring healing.
I feel free.
Wishing you all a Fall season of breakthroughs and freedom. Love love love.
16 September, 2018
Two poignant encounters today…
Early afternoon, during a break from my “office hours” at Embrace, I saw a man who was in the Georgetown University psych ward with me back in May. He was across the street; and at first, I hesitated to say hello.
At the hospital, day after day, his mental state remained unstable. He’d been found by the Potomac River. Apparently, he’d jumped in; and his face was cut and swollen with wounds.
His mood swings were abrupt. In between, though, he liked to play the piano and sing songs for us. He was immensely artistic, charismatic – and unpredictable. Sweet – and downright nasty.
But today, after my initial balk, I beelined across the street. We hugged immediately, and reminisced about our circle of pals from GU. We were a tight crew, aged 18-and-up, from all walks of life, looking out for one another.
I saw the scars from his May wounds – and noticed some more. He said he hopes to stay out of trouble, and that the only thing that might jeopardize that, is if he “grabs some girl’s ass.” (Sweet – and nasty.)
He asked if he could sing me a song. I answered, “No thank you.” We shared another big hug, and moved on.
Walking home from Columbia Heights tonight, I passed the crowd of young men who like to relax in the park near my old neighborhood. When I lived there, I would pass by on my way to and from the corner market; on my way home, one of the guys and I would playfully chat and trade snacks. He would step away from the group, because they often smoked pot, and he knew about my addiction recovery.
Passing by tonight, we saw each other for the 1st time since I moved away. It was a gleeful reunion, even without the snacks! We hugged and caught up and wished each other well.
I share these experiences to illustrate the joy of connection. Community runs deep and wide, and is defined by my openness to share life and spirit with folks around me…to embrace the hearts of fellow humans.
I could tell hundreds of stories about encounters like these. And I encourage you to shape your own.
17 September, 2018
Will the circle be unbroken?
Yesterday, I posted about coming full circle. It’s felt empowering to have some good days in a row.
Today, however…sh#*. That nice, full circle? Broken.
In therapy just now, I hit another emotional bottom. The doc says that healing happens in cycles. She’s trying to encourage me, I know. But I am doubtful again. Doubtful that illness will give way to sustained wellness, long enough for me to truly improve the facts of my life (finances, home, security, health). I’d walked into the doctor appointment aiming to share all of the healing experiences and breakthroughs of recent weeks, but I ended up crumbling into a puddle of tears and wanting to hide from life. Even though I can identify exactly what was at the root of today’s trigger – and therefore, have the chance to rise from it – I still feel owned by PTSD.
I’m sitting in the waiting room post-session, writing and balancing out. I’ve enjoyed smiling and feeling lighter over these past days, and want to return to that freedom. So, I shall pause here until I regain the positivity – coming full circle, yet again.
Today was a really rough day.
My feelings are at the bottom of a trash can right now. I went to therapy. I went to a recovery meeting. I reached out to friends. Please, Lord, whoever you are… help me change.
19 September, 2018
(After watching the video, “Real Situations Expose Fake People”)
The day I tried to kill myself – May 8 2018 – was a very real situation.
And guess what…
Nearly everything Trent Shelton describes here came true. I’m still reeling from the betrayal. I’m still stuck in this complicated relationship. And my rage is becoming poison. The emotional bottom I hit this week is a direct result of my not letting go and moving on. Of fear shaping my decisions – or more so, my indecision.
So. As Trent encourages:
Will I continue to let this break me? Or will I let it make me?
All day (and now, all night), I’ve been planning my next suicide attempt. Curling up in a ball of defeat – by the fake person, and, by my disease.
But wait! I don’t want to die – I just don’t want to live like this anymore. PTSD can’t keep choosing my actions. And this person can’t keep owning my ass.
Only I can change that.
Wish me luck, folks. Because if I ride with Trent, my tank might get pretty empty for a while. But only from that loss will I gain the room to grow.
Here. We. Go.
(After reading the piece, “A Dress Rehearsal for Our Deaths”)
Beautiful perspective piece about the holy reckoning of Yom Kippur.
“…thinking about your death can bring you much closer to experiencing true joy. It ‘compels us to squeeze out every bit of life out of every day that we have,’ she says.”
Yes, I’ve been up all night, mustering a will to live.
(After receiving a message from FB…)
Dear Facebook staff.
Thank you for letting me know that someone contacted you out of concern for my well-being, after seeing my recent posts. Thank you for sending the hotline number. Please keep doing this for others. Brilliant.
I understand the concern.
Posting transparently about my life is part of my growth process. Rigorous honesty among this amazing community – with whom your media platform keeps me connected – avails me the solutions I seek. Still, not everyone perceives the constructive aspects of my sharing. They are there, they are clear.
If I’m here, I’m here for help. If I’m not here, I’m in trouble.
Posting transparently on Social Media is not for everyone. It works for me, because I have hundreds of kind, wise, experienced and loving friends out there. Bringing my insides into public light frees me from the grip of darkness. And I realize that solutions are abundant. I click on comments and consequently see my way out – as friends urge me through.
I yearn for life and am willing to work toward living.
May my openness and friends’ support serve others. 💚
Love and thanks, Facebook.
Your fan –
(Later that day…)
After a (more than) slight interruption to my originally scheduled program, I’m back to it.
What. A. Week.
Thank you for hearing me, for holding me, for helping me toward healing. You are wise and experienced, my friends. I am grateful for you. May I grow balanced, whole and strong enough to hear, hold and help you, as well.
May my “dark night of the soul” be remedied by returning to ritual – in community, with passion. Off to synagogue I go!
(Just in time for the always-poignant breakout groups and social justice panel.)
Signing off until sunset and break-fast, y’all. I LOVE YOU! L’Shana Tovah and good Yom Tov.
22 September, 2018
Trauma: The Teacher AND The Lesson
“I always share with my students that our biggest traumas are our biggest strengths and deep intimate knowledge that we can use to help/serve others…”
~ Gita Zember
I needed to hear this brave woman’s words today. Although I share the same guidance with my yoga students and teacher trainees, my recent battles with PTSD often leave me feeling like a useless fraud. I’m pondering, “How could knowledge of and experience with my traumas morph into strength and service – when they seem to be getting the best of me lately?”
I’ve always been the one who touted the process of going deep – of facing, addressing and healing from wounds and their scars – because I was an example of the healthy outcome.
Until now. Increasingly, I suffer severely from the symptoms and consequences of PTSD. Despite continuing to seek and utilize a variety of healing treatments, I feel far from healthy. After each dark dip into the abyss of trauma flashbacks, I emerge shell shocked. And sometimes, my treasured brightness returns so quickly that I feel like a dimwit for letting the disease trip me up, yet again. I also wince at the concern I’ve caused in the dear ones who cheer me on, and, the scorn I’ve caused in those who will never understand.
Well, I’m glad I’m writing right now – because gratefully, the answer came to me. This must be a period of learning to understand a deeper layer of my trauma experiences. It makes sense. I’ve felt so bewildered by every symptomatic episode. Clearly, this is completely new territory. Not the same old trauma stuff, hahaha.
I must trust that I am being shown something important and valuable through these current struggles. I must allow the pain enlighten me. And once the process yields new solutions, they will enhance the resources I share with others.
When I do my sacred inner work, and when I trust the messenger of pain – my traumas become my teacher, and, my teachings.
25 September, 2018
Allí está: la luna preciosa.
We missed seeing her through last night’s stormy skies. I’m definitely feeling her fullness now – even 24 hours after peak.
I keep asking her, “What do you want from me? Tell me – what do you want???” I could just sit here and cry over wanting to know god’s will. If only…
Still, over and over, I ask.
What does she want from me?
Horoscope for Leo & Leo Rising
~ Chani Nicholas
“September’s full moon asks you what your struggle is helping you to become more aware of. Sometimes we need strong encouragement (read: no other choice) to do the thing that is the most challenging to do. As the end of September and beginning of October unfold, the problems that you are able to address will set the stage for future efficiency. What structural support can you provide yourself? What psychological support can you connect to? What daily practices connect you to solution-based strategies? Put your energy there and you’ll find that any current concerns become entry ways into incredibly insightful investigations.”
29 September, 2018
A little scared.
A lot hopeful.
Cutting off my hand
to spite my heart…
Tomorrow morning, I will NOT be teaching my long-running Sunday Slow Flow class…and naturally, I’m feeling blue about it.
For many reasons and after deep reflection and counsel, I resigned from my manager and teacher roles at Embrace yesterday, and was told to make it effective immediately. So, not only am I not teaching tomorrow morning – I’m not sure when I’ll be teaching again. And, yeah, it feels weird!
I am posting super-happy photos with a super-sweet message because I feel so awake, alive and hopeful!
Over the past year, I’ve been pushed to let go of a lot. If you’ve read these mini-blogs since last Rosh Hashanah, you’ve seen me grieve a breakup and navigate my dad’s huge health changes. Now, I’m releasing a living situation, a job and relationships that have not served me for a while. Above all, I’m on an exhilarating journey toward letting go of life long behavioral patterns by working with new guides, healers and resources for personal change.
I often refer to my May 8th suicide attempt as the day I “tried to carve my hand off.” Lately, I’ve come to find more poetic meaning. Perhaps I just needed to let go and move on. May 8th was the beginning of this period of intense surrender, due to a string of realizations and breakthroughs regarding unhealthy attachment, codependence, and absolutely untrue, negative opinions of myself. These traits led me to such a devalued, self-loathing state, in which I feared that my triggered behaviors would never change. So, I tried to carve my hand off…I tried to let go completely, to die. And upon failure, I sought and dove into new layers of help. I’ve learned that there’s a sweeter way to let go than chopping off my own hand…all I have to do is tap gently on my heart, and open up to compassion. I see that love is greater than fear. I feel the rewards of release.
I am free.
And in this newfound freedom, there is room for growth, space for joy, and promise of possibility.
Onward and upward!
30 September, 2018
What. A. Week.
The Full Moon.
Another set of soul-mining therapy sessions.
Monthly Ayurvedic massage, interrupted by fussy, sweet little pup.
Posted furniture for sale due to approaching move.
Dry-run Metro commute from new HOME in Bethesda to fave recovery meeting in Takoma Park, for friend’s 6-year anniversary.
Honest conversation at dinner reunion with recovery gal-pal.
First dentist appointment in 5 years!
Eye-opening doctor appointment with sugar, cholesterol and weight diagnoses that demand attention.
Final (who knew?) Basics class in AdMo.
Weekly mindful yoga class with the budding “officers of the peace” at the MPD.
A work meeting and a goodbye.
Gorgeous autumn city walkabouts, FarMar lounging, city strolling and spontaneous quality time with friends.
And, finally, after too many days of overnight restlessness and anxiety – a normal night’s sleep.
Breathe fresh air from the wide open window.
Get out of bed late, for a mid-morning Sadhana of Pranayama and Mantra Japa.
Prepare and enjoy steel cut oatmeal with agni-stoking spices, hemp hearts and banana.
Smudge, bless and straighten up room.
Email love and thanks to yoga family.
Update resume and apply for one awesome job.
Enjoy a toasted sandwich with Prairie Bread, ghee, Chao cheese, Asian pear and Atwater’s plum jam.
Head to Silver Spring for tea before the 5:30 meditation class at UP! Yoga Studio.
Continue the transition away from stuck and sick, to fluid and well.
And tomorrow, October 1st:
Make-up for last Monday’s interrupted massage with a free session!
One breath at a time, y’all. Sending love, sharing strength, wishing wellness.
5 October, 2018
Right now, my FB page is a love song to women and assault survivors. A series of posts that remind me to take care of, celebrate and empower myself.
After spending yesterday afternoon and evening around the U.S. Capitol and Office Buildings, I became bluer than blue. I grieved this country’s great betrayal of women. As I’d posted earlier, I recently watched a woman close to me crumble from the triggers of these times. My heart broke.
Today, sparked by one friend’s uplifting post about the 1st woman to run the Boston Marathon (shared on my page), I sought FB posts with inspirational messages and wellness resources. I’m choosing to deliberately shape my mind toward potential, rather than futility.
Yes, in the coming days, I’ll still grieve if things go any more sour than they already are…I will honor the losses our country is experiencing…and…I will embrace, enhance and rock our/my power.
I pray you will, too.
10 October, 2018
Good morning, sad and beautiful world.
Today, I love my perfectly imperfect self. I hope you do, too. OM Shanti.
For anyone who’s feeling like dying these days…sometimes I imagine a safe, trusted being holding me in their caring arms.
“I will stay with you tonight
Hold you close ‘til the morning light
In the morning watch a new day rise
We’ll do whatever just to stay alive”
~ José Gonzalez
There’s a rhythm and rush these days
Where the lights don’t move and the colors don’t fade
Leaves you empty with nothing but dreams
In a world gone shallow
In a world gone lean
Sometimes there’s things a man cannot know
Gears won’t turn and the leaves won’t grow
There’s no place to run and no gasoline
Engine won’t turn
And the train won’t leave
Engines won’t turn and the train won’t leave
I will stay with you tonight
Hold you close ‘til the morning light
In the morning watch a new day rise
We’ll do whatever just to stay alive
We’ll do whatever just to stay alive
Well the way I feel is the way I write
It isn’t like the thoughts of the man who lies
There is a truth and it’s on our side
Dawn is coming
Open your eyes
Look into the sun as the new days rise
14 October, 2018
Sometimes I mistake fear for pain.
It would serve me to ask myself:
Does this hurt? Or does it scare me?
18 October, 2018
Last night, after a full-on trigger episode, I fell asleep begging for all gods and goddesses to wrap their arms around me for safety.
“No humans,” I said, because I just couldn’t feel safe with them.
I slept heavily until my 6am alarm sounded, interrupting a dream of my dad and bagels.
It was a dark night; yet, from those same shadows, today’s bright mood emerged. Onward and upward.
Dear HP, may my pain bring me closer to you.
11 November, 2018
To witness the dying…
Over the past two days, I’ve had the honor of sitting with my dying father. On another plain already, he gently motions with his hands and softly gazes at things I cannot detect. I wish he’d let go, I wish he’d hold on, I wish he’d let go, I wish…
My sisters, who live near my father in Tennessee, have been navigating this process like champs. A natural mess of tears and reason. I, on the other hand, am on another plain of its own dimension. I sense that this, too, is natural.
Today, I sang and recited Jewish prayers, spent quiet time and said my goodbyes to Dad – I’m still waffling whether to stay close or go back to DC for now. He’ll be put on pain-control tomorrow and will probably leave us soon after.
I’m too tired to write more…
12 November, 2018
One Day At A Time…
THANK YOU for helping me make the decision between staying with my dad during his transition, or, going home to DC then returning when he passes. Your gentle encouragement and beautiful sharing reminded me why I must stay.
As I experienced when my mom passed 16 years ago, there is a personal, spiritual and ritualistic significance to being present with a transitioning soul. Plus – this is my FATHER, who has given me everything throughout life. I was not thinking clearly yesterday, while making my decision to leave TN. In fact, my thoughts were clouded by fear.
As you may know from past blogs, a huge part of my father’s and my relationship included unhealthy financial dependence. Since finally becoming independent in late adulthood, I’ve learned to prioritize work and income. And this colored my decision making process this week. Staying in TN means I’m missing income commitments. In addition, it means I’m delaying securing new work opportunities to replace income lost when I recently resigned from the yoga studio.
So, the ONLY reason I would have left TN is financial fear – and paradoxically, a feeling of responsibility to my father.
However, I must believe that the right work opportunities will be available after this time with Dad. And thankfully, my sisters have given me enough money to stop being afraid, and start being present for the man who supported me in so many ways.
So, I’m staying. And each evening – if or when fear arises – I will revisit your messages, comments and texts. I will focus my entire attention on loving Dad, and sharing this time with presence and reverence.
Thank you, again, all.
I just watched my beloved father die, after decades of watching him live the fuck out of this life.
As he took his last breaths, I repeated, “I love you. Thank you,” over and over.
Dad will forever influence me in so many ways, from deep passion for music, to the ability to love through thick and thin, to a brilliantly effective potty mouth.
Dad was a tough cookie. I learned resilience through hardship – and much, much more – by his example.
Irvin Meyers, may you, indeed, Rest. And Peacefully.
Love to all.
16 November, 2018
Dear Facebook Family,
First, thank you for being just that – family. I never thought that I’d consider social media a source of wisdom, inspiration, strength and much more. But YOU make it that way. And I thank you for filling my newsfeed and my life with great care and love.
Second, deep gratitude for every single word, “Like/Love/etc” click, photo, quote and thought that you have ever shared with me. You’ve brought me through some harsh times, and celebrated the good with me, as well.
Please know that, each time I see that someone has clicked on a post, I take that person into my heart and mind for a moment. I recall the awesome web of connection that brought us together – in-person or online. Life is soooo big – and in delightful ways, the world is soooo small.
Not just this past week – during my father’s final days and passing – but during the big events of my Facebook lifetime, your outreach has truly carried me. I hope and pray that I offer the same to you. Tonight, I’m catching up on your posts and filled with awe at your lives and loves. I wish you all that you need along this journey.
Seeing you in person is, of course, a huge joy, as well! This season, there will be gatherings and offerings and workshops and more. My dad has left me with a strong push toward productivity, purpose, practice and passion. Please stay tuned.
Much, much love to all of you. Holly
28 November, 2018
Some days, the world is so heartbreaking…
…and yet, so beautiful – that all I can do is repeat “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu” over and over, until that last bus ride ends, and the walk home under the stars brings cleansing tears.
May all beings be free of suffering, realize peace and be filled with light.
18 December, 2018
What’s my part…?
Many negative events occured in my world over the past 15 months or so. Family, friendships, work and home were all uprooted by serious events.
And I was wronged by some people. Harmed. Betrayed. Disappointed.
Yet, still, I must ask: what was my part?
When I point a finger at someone else, I’m pointing three back at myself. In the situations where both/all parties have been able to self-reflect and take responsibility, we’ve experienced deep healing and a fresh relationship.
In the situations where someone or I cannot see our wrongs…well, some things must end. (Or, at least, I’m letting go for now. I do believe in healing.)
I must remember, when I’m struggling to see my errors: sometimes it’s simply that I made a bad decision to be/stay somewhere unhealthy. Taking accountability does not always mean that I willfully struck outward in harm (although sometimes, it does), or that the entire event was my fault.
And if I can see – truly see and understand – where I stayed in a toxic situation long enough to get burned, then there’s a huge chance that I will sidestep similar situations in the future. Why did I stay? What fears kept me there? What unhealthy patterns need an overhaul?
Without this reflection, it’s onward to the next painful scene.
It’s my choice – either open the door of healing, growth and change, or, walk by a closed door.
I aim to step through.
Much love and strength as we reflect on months passed…and step forward.
25 December, 2018
Merry Christmas from NoLa, y’all!
What a beautiful landing – over Lake Pontchartrain and the mighty Mississippi. Now, I’m running out before the rain inevitably hits. Feels UH-mazing to be in the tropics…and, to renew my relationship with this city, which 25-28 years ago, held a host of light and dark experiences. Looking forward to shining fresh light over these three days!
Ciao for now!
26 December, 2018
May this day be yet another of looking back in order to move forward. May I embrace the power of acknowledging my bumps, stumbles and scars as gifts. May I step forward in service.
I can’t lie, y’all – yesterday made me squirm! How uncomfortable I felt in this city that I know so well! So far, New Orleans has flooded me with STRONG memories of when I lived here in the early 90s. “That used to be the little postal shop where I mailed packages;” “I lived there before I dropped out of UNO grad school;” “That’s the curb I sat on, watching street musicians and drinking tequila out of a paper bag.”
Well, considering that I last visited NoLa in 2003, at 6-months sober, and I now have 16 years of sobriety (thank god and community), this return ought to feel quite remarkable.
I now know why this visit was a must: upon awakening this morning, I understand that missing New Orleans meant that a key part of my healing is missing.
Most of y’all know that I attempted suicide last May. (Sorry if that felt like a bomb dropping for some.) The recovery has been UH-mazing. Thanks to finally receiving a proper diagnosis from the brilliant psych doctors at Georgetown University, and ongoing healing with a wise and experienced team, it’s onward and upward.
Exactly 28 years before last spring’s attempt, I’d tried to kill myself while living here, in NoLa. Just before Easter 1990. From then forward, I’ve tried everything to understand my impulse toward dying (which has been with me since childhood trauma), in an effort to quell it. It ends up that, as long as my mental illness went un- or mis-diagnosed, it would only get stronger…even if it laid dormant or disguised or “treated” for periods. (Let me tell you – being an active alcoholic during much of that time did not help. But being misdiagnosed while sober was even worse.) Hence my progressively imbalanced behavior over recent years and relapse toward suicide last spring.
Today, here I am, solidly sober, devoted to yoga and recovery as designs for living, and finally being treated for PTSD w/ Memorized Trauma Flashbacks. I’ve not felt this positive in my entire life. As I said, my recovery, healing and growth have been immense since May.
And this trip will be a huge chapter of that story.
As I wander the city today, I’ll aim to be more mindful and present. Yesterday, I hit the ground running, and everything hit me just as forcefully. Although it IS fun to cruise these streets as a “local,” today I will ceremoniously recognize the distance I’ve come from those lost and painful days of the early 90s. In the street folks that unnerved me yesterday, I’ll see my reflection, and offer compassion. At the locations where I felt wobbly with memories, I’ll ground down and honor my journey to the now. And I’ll fuse the wisdom from past experiences with the self-knowledge that serves me daily.
I am grateful to the depths of my being to be alive, to be a seeker, to have what I have…and to not have what I don’t! I honor this life and yearn to serve those with similar pasts, journeys and feelings.
May this day be full of spirit, heart and soul.
Love and thanks to you, New Orleans. Love and thanks.
29 December, 2018
I swear, I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried…
‘They say’ that there are no coincidences. Well, I’m beginning to believe ‘them.’ In the final hours of my trip to New Orleans, I took a streetcar uptown, around River Bend and into Carrollton. I explored longer than expected; so, on the way back downtown, I debated whether or not to stop in the Garden District to see my very first NoLa residence. It’s the apartment where, in March 1990 – midway between the chaotic frivolity of Mardi Gras and the reverent rebirth of Easter – I tried to kill myself.
So, Thursday evening, I was on the streetcar, undecided. It was dark and raining hard. I was wet and tired, and my flight was in about 3 hours.
At the last moment, when the conductor announced “Jackson,” I pulled the cord.
I wasn’t 100% certain of my old address. I knew it was somewhere around Jackson, a few blocks or so toward Uptown. But as soon as I saw the blue Victorian turret, I knew I’d found it: 2357(and 1/2) Magazine Street, Apartment #2. My apartment entrance was in the back courtyard, which was now gated and locked. I rang each apartment’s bell on the fence, suspecting that they no longer worked. Nobody answered. So, after a few moments of noble silence, I left.
As I turned and walked out of the driveway, a woman walking her dog arrived. Victoria lived in the front apartment, but gladly let me into the courtyard, where her dog Sam, she and I spent a little time. Victoria asked me when I lived there and why I left.
HM: I lived here 28 years ago; and I left New Orleans because I needed to stop harming myself.
V: So you’ve stopped drinking and using drugs completely?
(Victoria could have answered in a million ways. But she chose to go there.)
HM: Well, yes – it took me 12 years after leaving New Orleans to get sober; but yes, I’ve been clean and sober 16 years now.
V: That’s great!
HM: Y’know…I tried to kill myself in there.
V: Oh, god…yeah, I’ve been there…
HM: Do you drink and drug anymore?
V: No, it’s been 6 years!
(There’s a bit of a “secret language” among recovery program people. One sign is when someone can tell you the exact length that they’ve been clean and sober.)
HM: That is great! Do you do that alone, or with help?
(Another code phrase.)
V: Oh, I have help. I have a 12-Step Program.
HM: Me, too! Oh, wow, how cool to meet you!
And the rest, as ‘they say,’ is history.
In the recovery program, we say, “We don’t regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.” In those final moments of my NoLa vacation – because I chose to walk face-first into my past – a door to healing, hope, connection and growth opened wide.
Lord, people, I couldn’t make this shit up!
Wishing everyone the renewal they seek as that calendar page turns from 2018 to 2019 – and on every damn day that our eyes, hearts and minds stay open to healing, growth and change.
Onward and upward! Love and thanks! OM Shanti.
31 December, 2018
Lapiz earrings, amethyst heart and palo santo from my New Orleans rebirth trip; and handcrafted mugwort, lavendar and rosemary smudge bundle from Homegrown Healing.
I am grateful for the unexpected, as synchronicity rains down upon me. Let’s just say that, from Solstice through Christmas, and right now, so many positive energies have been aligning. Exhaling thoroughly…stepping forward…breathing in new energy.
And happy 2019.
I’ll just leave this right here:
“…Amethyst is still a remarkable stone of spirituality and contentment, known for its metaphysical abilities to still the mind and inspire an enhanced meditative state. Its inherent high frequency purifies the aura of any negative energy or attachments, and creates a protective shield of Light around the body, allowing one to remain clear and centered while opening to spiritual direction. Amethyst stimulates the Third Eye, Crown and Etheric Chakras enhancing cognitive perception as well as accelerating the development of intuitive and psychic ability. It initiates wisdom and greater understanding, and is a stone of comfort for those grieving the loss of a loved one.
Amethyst’s ability to expand the higher mind also enhances one’s creativity and passion. It strengthens the imagination and intuition, and refines the thinking processes. It helps in the assimilation of new ideas, putting thought into action, and brings projects to fruition. It is a talisman of focus and success.
~ wisdom from Shankari Goldstein
3 January, 2019
Soothe, shift, grow…
Today, I start a new style of therapy. You might wonder, “More therapy? But you’re feeling soooo goooood!” And it’s true, thank goodness!
The fact is, that goodness will not last without ongoing care. Self-care, of course – and, the care of family, friends and professionals. In this new therapy style, I have to accept that Soothing is the 1st step when handling a severe PTSD trigger. For me, at first,that seemed like Avoidance. Because, typically, I jump head first into healing, growth and change. But I’m learning that Soothing is essential. I’ve been practicing this since May, and have experienced more peace and balance than ever!
The point is – if I step back instead of in, I have a chance to shift my response, get grounded, and learn new ways of navigating discomfort.
In this therapy style, Soothing is neither Avoidance nor Self-care. It is a skillful transition from trigger to solution. I’m grateful for ALL the care around me on this wellness journey! The care from others, and, the self-care of yoga, recovery and willingness to utilize infinite resources that I’ve been lucky to find throughout life.
Love to all. OM Shanti.
6 February, 2019
Lucky to be a survivor…
Today, I taught the Commander, Lieutenant and six detectives from the DC MPD Youth & Family Services Division. These folks see and address the worst, y’all.
Their presence, dedication and stillness during class – from intention setting through Yoga Nidra – is remarkable. It is so stirring to watch these officers melt from tension to relaxation with a mindful flow yoga class. And my lord, they deserve it!
I am honored to guide the MPD in this sacred, healing practice. I am grateful to my teachers who trained me in trauma-sensitive yoga. And I am lucky to have the perspective of a trauma survivor.
17 February, 2019
There’s nothing like a good cry…
What. A. Week. In many ways, I feel like the last 10 days define the current condition of my heart and soul.
Being of service, showing up for friends, encountering an ex- with forgiveness and presence…supporting indigenous communities, seeing mentors play live jazz, teaching mindfulness to athletes, kids, and cops…guiding a signature yoga workshop and being inspired by students’ dedication, enjoying new connections and rich conversations, and, navigating, processing and being supportive during my sisters’ current troubles.
Right smack in the middle of all this, I received a Soul Retrieval from a healer. This age-old Shamanic ritual addresses the parts of the soul that have splintered off during trauma. There are a host of contemporary psychology parallels. The goal is to reunite the broken person with wholeness.
Funnily enough, I didn’t think I was ready for the treatment. My schedule has been scattered, my mind has been riddled with resentments, and my health has not been tops. Not to mention – I’d have to go directly from a Soul Retrieval to the police department yoga class via Metro.
It turns out, I was ready. As the healer journeyed on my behalf, I visited “little me’s” who’d been afraid since childhood – and invited them back into my body. I saw a person I’ve raged at for months – and recognized her humanness with deep compassion and understanding. I saw a lot, I felt even more, I cried, I spoke words I can’t recall, I cried more, and I even laughed uncontrollably. I reached a depth of healing that I’ve not been able to access for months. Resentments softened into forgiveness. My past became useful but distant. My mind felt at ease, my heart felt renewed. All at once, I found I could love myself unconditionally. I felt liberated.
And now, this healing allows me to show up for myself, for others and for life like never before. I am free to love.
But this is just a beginning. I have homework! My job is to continue integrating these sweet, vulnerable, long-lost soul parts back into my being. I must do this without trying to be perfect, without avoiding difficulties, without fear. I must do this with love, and only love.
Before this, love was a challenging thing to define. Is it a verb? A feeling? A lofty concept? Although I still can’t explain it with universal meaning, I do know what it is to me. And I’m humbled, floored, flattened with gratitude.
From indigenous protests to jazz festivals, from self-care to volunteer work – my world came back to life over these past 10 days. My homework is before me, but there’s no test at the end. In fact, there is no end at all. Just process and growth. And love.
OM Shanti. Holly
25 February, 2019
Root down, y’all…
In his FB live message this morning, my beautiful friend Bomani was waxing poetic about this wind and its messages. What foundation do we stand upon when conditions want to topple us over? Are our roots deep enough to withstand challenge? When we “get grounded,” are we cemented, or still flexible? Can we sway and still find balance?
Ancient texts have asked similar questions. And nature – most ancient teacher of all – blows these reminders our way on purpose!
My personal takeaway? As Bomani encouraged…I’m rooting down in life’s blessings, in positivity and in gratitude. And on a very practical level, I’ll probably eat some root veggies, do a standing meditation and avoid dry, cold foods.
With this as my foundation, I feel balanced, flexible and ready for the next gust. ‘Cause we know it’s comin’!
Love and gratitude. OM Shanti. Holly
26 March, 2019
The subject – how to help suicidal youth who have experienced trauma.
One expert opinion on this show: only those who suffer in silence end up killing themselves.
As a suicidal youth, with multiple attempts along with constant self-harm, I don’t know what could have shifted my trauma-damaged brain. And I was not suffering in silence. My struggle was quite obvious. I carved my initials into my arm. I got drunk before and after school. I had violent temper tantrums. I did and dealt drugs. And, as a suicidal adult in therapy for PTSD, in recovery from addiction and practicing yoga for peace of mind, I shared my struggle openly. But flashbacks owned me and simply looked – and felt – like bad behavior. Again, my suffering was not silent. But my community’s and my own misunderstanding of my undiagnosed symptoms made me hard on myself; and in failing to “get better,” I gave up on living.
Another expert on suicide says: suicidal impulses are treatable, because they stem from depression.
But having PTSD, and dealing with a “memorized trauma experience” due to a trigger dynamic is totally different from depression. And in a flashback, there is no grip on reality, no stopping the impulse to die. The attempt happens with blind resolve and at lightning speed.
Thankfully, last year’s suicide attempt led to correct diagnosis, excellent treatment and my ongoing focus on wellness. Today, I want to live. But look what it took to reach this point.
Still, even from the experts, I hear generalizations about suicidal folks that just don’t match my own – and probably millions of others’ – experience.
My non-expert opinion is pretty harsh, though. When it’s time, it’s time. Whether it’s old age or cancer, murder or suicide, everyone has their time. Perhaps that doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye, or, to deal with a traumatic death. I just wish the world was an easier place to seek help for sadness, for depression, for PTSD, for any state of mind that craves deadness or death itself. For example, in my opinion and experience, anyone who is getting drunk most days is not suffering in silence…it’s an obvious sign of inner pain.
There’s so much more to write. So many cans of worms are open these days. Each week, more struggling souls are reaching out to me to talk about their own pain.
May all beings be free of suffering, realize peace and be filled with light. May the light of truth shine through the darkness.
Love love love.
3 April, 2019
…hmmm. Today was raw. As I was out and about, between my temp gig and two MPD yoga classes, I was yelled at, called an idiot, treated like an idiot, called a bitch, called white trash and flipped off – among four separate, remarkable instances.
Such anger out there. My lord, we are all hurting so much. I just kept wishing love. But now, I am exhausted to tears.
Sticks and stones
May break my bones
But words can never
Then why do I feel so bruised?
May all of your days be free from attacks of all kinds. May all who attack find peace. May all beings, everywhere, find love.
Onward and upward.
P.S. This is not about me hurting. I’ll cry and pray and sleep and renew. It’s about everyone hurting. Everyone. OM Shanti Shanti Shanti. Peace, please.
5 April, 2019
On the brink of spring…
What a difference two days, sharing transparently, and, feeling loved make. Thank you, sacred FB community, for voicing your thoughts about Wednesday’s rawness. In recovery, when we experience such rattling of the mind and feelings, it is advised that we: ask god to remove the intense emotions; discuss them with dear ones immediately; quickly make amends if harm was committed; turn our efforts toward being of service; and, recall that love and tolerance is our code.
Recovery – from addiction, from trauma, from harm – is all about personal growth, and consequently, growing to understand others. It is about growing toward effectiveness in human relations. And it is a lifelong process.
Spring reinforces these ideas. Although it appears as so, flowers do not bloom overnight…their process began the year before, when their petals fell to the ground…and before that, when seeds and sapplings and bulbs were first planted…and before that, when earth was nurtured for plants…and before that…well, you know where this goes.
All lessons can come from mother earth. And of course, from sharing openly, and listening closely.
I love you all.
8 April, 2019
Around this time in 2018, my mental health was starting to bottom out. Approaching this anniversary is, at once, daunting and inspiring.
More to come…
Love and gratitude.
OM Shanti. Holly
17 April, 2019
To my sacred FB community…
I don’t remember the last time I wrote anything like this here. Maybe never?
I am feeling emotionally low due to difficulties in one single and important area of life – my job search.
Positive thoughts and vibes are appreciated.
Love and gratitude.
Sometimes my ass needs to get kicked…
Last night was one of those times: sitting with my landlord, confessing that my job search has yielded nothing, and accepting the potential consequences – which run wider than possibly having to move. Thankfully, we like each other; and, she’s a wise woman. So, within her stern butt-kicking was the reality check and coaching that I needed. It was humbling, to put it nicely.
I just haven’t been seeing my priorities clearly. Since leaving my last job, I’ve believed that my search for a full-time job in the field I prefer was the responsible thing to focus on. You know – to get a full-time job, you have to treat your search like a full-time job. And a serious full-time job pays the rent, secures the future, etc.
But over these months, my idealism gradually morphed into denial. And I lost sight of my approaching financial crisis.
This crisis. Right now.
So, last night was rough. The solution? Pound the pavement for restaurant and retail work. Put the dreams of a wonderful nonprofit job and grad school aside. Again. For now. Well, just decrease the time I spend on the full-time search. A little.
This morning was raw. Until I reached out. To you.
And here I am, at the end of the day, feeling GRATEFUL. Yes, grateful. Because I spent today being shown that there are so many good things in my life. Including talents, skills, energy, support, positivity, hope, friends, income (little bit), chutzpah, a home that’s more than a roof over my head, and more. Feeling grateful yields possibility. Possibility yields opportunity. And I’m banking on it.
THANK YOU, community, for all of your vibes, concrete ideas and contacts. I promise my networking will be less desperate from here on. Still, feel free to kick my ass when it’s necessary!
Onward and upward!
22 April, 2019
Love, Eros, Life Force…
(From a plaque at the mentioned art exhibit: “Warriors & Heroines: Throughout her career, Sanchez turns repeatedly to females warrior and heroines in classical mythology and history for inspiration. ‘Women have always been tragic and heroic. It is better to see them as love — Eros — or a life force, than Thanatos, or an impulse to dies. Dying has no strength…’”)
Attended the Zilia Sánchez retrospective at The Phillips Collection yesterday, and was caught off guard by the quote on this plaque. In fact, I stood there, frozen, my face in my hands, crying.
About one year ago, over a two-month period, I’d traveled to Florida for Spring Training, attended a beautiful Passover Seder, contracted and battled pneumonia, and then went on a phenomenal Buddhist retreat. I’d also been experiencing increased PTSD triggers – even during the retreat – and was feeling powerless over the futility of repeated and uncontrolled emotional episodes.
Finally, on May 8th, during what I would come to understand as a yet undiagnosed “memorized trauma experience” (aka flashback), I tried to kill myself. I’d had yet another emotional outburst, jeopardized my stability at home and work, and despised the stuckness of my mental illness.
I just could not stand myself.
Nearly a year later, I’m on a different track. Due to a correct diagnosis, appropriate meds and treatment, a shift in interpersonal dynamics, and ongoing wellness priorities, I’ve learned how to stay regulated during PTSD triggers. Yup, they still happen! And always will. The distinction today is, on this new track, I no longer need to react in terror (flight) and defense (fight). I still feel intense emotion – positive and negative. But when negative, instead of rocketing into a flashback, I stay present and respond. Sometimes more gracefully than others – still, it’s progress!
Thank god for the many layers of support on my side – from meds to friends. Today, I want to live this life that I deeply adore.
So, yes, as artist Zilia Sánchez expresses on this plaque and in her art, it is better to see ourselves as a vibration of love and life, rather than the impulse to die.
“Dying has no strength” – living requires strength, and, makes me stronger.
I am Eros, I am love, I am vibrantly alive.
Love and gratitude.
24 April, 2019
Hugely good and bad, happy and sad things happening at once.
Trying to be real with my feelings. But honestly, they don’t know which way to go. Tired. Goodnight and rest well, y’all.
28 April, 2019
A rose between the thorns…
Joy and pain. Sunshine and rain. 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows. Whichever way you slice it, life is layered with good and bad. My job is to condition my insides, so I’m sharing an unshakeable core of purpose outwardly. Sometimes that core looks like crying and grief; other times it looks like an empowered smile. What’s the essence? To be real, to be raw, to process. To get grounded, to get connected, to embrace purpose. And then, to share strength.
My classes this weekend invited yogis to journey through the 1st three chakras. To tap the earth’s energy, to trust connection and to empower purpose.
The world seems to be a shitty, scary, hateful place right now. In the midst of that, I vow to do the sacred inner work that informs my state of being and shapes my way of being – whether grieving or smiling.
As y’all have told me – just keep going.
I love you all.
2 May, 2019
Folks, I’m embarrassed but willing to publicize that I’ve gained 15 stubbornly un-lose-able pounds since going on a specific meds combo last spring, after my hospitalization for PTSD. I know, I know – you’re going to say to me, “But you look great!” because you love me and have observed me feeling quite lively of late. And I agree – being alive feels quite good these days; and that goodness shines from the inside, out!
Lots of positive things are happening right now. I have no complaints. However, I am worried. Over the winter, my doctors said that, along with the weight gain, I’ve been storing bad fats and cholestoral, I’m prediabetic, and my sodium is high.
And I feel it. My clothes either don’t fit at all, or, don’t fit like they should. Especially around my hips and belly, which is where we store LDL cholestoral. Lord, I feel so heavy. Sooooo…
I’m saying outloud:
I’m starting a wellness challenge for the month of May. It involves increased belly-pumping breathing (Kappalabhati), core-focused Asana (yup, that’s me saying “core”), abdominal twists, brisks walks and green smoothies. And. Decreased sweets, oily restaurant food, and gluten.
If you have additional insights or want to join me for any of this, please chime in! My life depends on losing this weight and adopting new practices. Your wisdom is welcome.
Thank you for loving me. Just remember, though – a glowing smile does not equal excellent health.
Love and gratitude.
5 May, 2019
May the wind take your troubles away…
Feelin’ all the feels here, at the Son Volt concert. They just rock so damn hard, with those heart-plucking, twangy harmonies. And I’m remembering that one year ago this weekend, my mental health was deteriorating to ashes.
Wednesday marks one year since my suicide attempt. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact state that is coming over me as I take in this very soul stirring music. Sorrow and awe. Sorrow and awe. I’m sorry I tried to die. And I’m in awe of my love for life.
More later. Back to the concert. It’s encore time…
Love and gratitude…
6 May, 2019
My brain is telling me to die, but my spirit wants to live. I recognize the disconnect and stay proactive.
Although it’s a challenging day, up there in my brain – during a challenging week for my heart – I’m deliberately re-training it toward truth, beauty, openness, positivity. Discussing the Yoga Sutras with a fellow Raja Yogi. Choosing one friend to call and check in with. Accepting an invitation from a friend in recovery. Reflecting. Apologizing. Forgiving. Walking in nature, and also sitting inside the Medicinal House at the Botanic Garden.
Next, I will head to National Gallery, to gaze at another form of creations. Later, some journaling.
Shift happens. I’m doing my best.
Love and gratitude.
7 May, 2019
Some days are better than others…
I knew this week might toss some surprises my way; but I’d been feeling so positive and present of late. Then the emotions started to hit. On Sunday, memories of last year’s mental health issues – which led to my May 8th suicide attempt – started to surface. At first sorrow. And awe. Yesterday was full-on anger and resentment. I thought I’d like to stay home and write – to skip work, skip meetings, skip therapy. After cancelling everything, I became so distraught, I rescheduled the therapist – who did not see that note and did not show up.
I sat in the building’s stairwell, sobbing. Done. Truly giving up. Giving in to the part of my brain that wants the ultimate relief. The end.
But how would I do it this time? In my journal, I wrote the note. At the end, I wrote: whatever way I choose, it better work.
And it did.
Because here I am today. My spirit’s passion for living won the knock-down, drag-out battle with my mind’s negative brain fart. It was exhausting. And rewarding.
For the first time in a life of attempts, ideation and yearning, I saw and acted upon the deliberate path toward CHANGING MY MIND.
First, I stayed put and cried. I imagined the ways until I’d seen them all fail. Then I called one friend and talked out the way that I would continue the mind shift. Not calling a therapist for talking. Talking wouldn’t work. I needed to engage. So, I walked until I could feel my dissociated body again. Until I could see beauty again. And I indulged and connected as deeply as possible.
Along the way, I texted with a yoga philosophy buddy about Sutra 1.33, compassion, and forgiveness. Then, it was time to head home to meet the recovery friend who, first thing that morning, had invited me for tea.
My psychiatrist once told me: “Holly, for you, connection is more powerful than any pill you could take.” I am on meds (a must for now); still, he’s right. Connecting with my body, nature, beauty, beings is the remedy for tapping into my spirit.
And even when my brain says otherwise, my spirit wants to live.
Thank you all for being with me in spirit. I feel you.
Onward and upward.
Love and gratitude.
OM Shanti. Holly
8 May, 2019
Exactly one year ago…
…I was at Georgetown University hospital, getting my wrist stitched up. Four long hours later, I was admitted to the psych ward, where I would live for 2.5 weeks.
Tonight, I’m at the John Paul White and Erin Rae concert, more than ready to start the next 365 days anew.
Bright lights in my heart and stars in my eyes! Let’s do this, y’all.
Love and gratitude.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Thank you for reading. Love and gratitude. OM Shanti. Holly
Haters Gonna Hate November 7, 2016
“Our world is wounded, fractured, broken and burning. We are products of this place and it is our job to heal the world through the healing of our selves.” ~ Chani Nicholas
The difficulty of maintaining peace of mind during this world’s current upsets is obvious. On the eve of the U.S. Presidential Election, I am preparing for a week (or potentially, a much longer span) of holding sacred, peaceful, neutral space for the staff and students of the yoga studio where I teach and manage…the neighbors I pass on the streets…those sharing bus rides with me…social media friends…and many more beings.
How? By clinging to, relying on and willingly using tools that have saved my ass during times of suffering, frustration and discomfort. These practical resources include prayers, yoga and meditation practices, breathing techniques, spiritual teachings and quotes, recovery meetings, talk therapy and more.
I recently saw a meme: “Prayer does not change the world. Prayer changes us, so we can change the world.” Peace begins with me. And perhaps you.
Here, I share readings, tools and experiences that are helping me immensely these days…
* * *
“We put our hope in the awareness and in the promise that there will come a time when greed and injustice will be gone from the earth. We hope for a world completely repaired, all the inhabitants of this planet turning to each other in reconciliation, realizing that no one shall be excluded from the security of life.” ~ Jewish High Holy Day prayer
“May all of creation form a single bond with a balanced heart. May this occur soon in our lifetime.” ~ Jewish High Holy Day prayer
* * *
“OM Sahana Vavatu. Sahanau Bhunaktu. Saha Viriyam Karavavahai. Tejas Vinavadhita Mastu Mavid. Visha Vahai Hi. OM Shanti Shanti Shanti. (May we be protected together, be nourished together, work together with great energy. May our study together be enlightening. May there be no hatred between us.)” ~ Sanskrit Chant
Some people love to hate. They use hatred of the Other to validate their own worthiness – when, the only thing that truly validates worthiness is LOVE. Therefore, people who love to hate are actually deficient in love.
People who love to hate fear that, if the Other receives love, there won’t be any left for them. If the Other is validated, they go unheard. If the Other wins, they will lose their security. Haters believe they must blame, alienate and separate from the Other so they can receive praise, acceptance and inclusion.
Some hateful people believe – at their deepest and often most wounded core – that they are not worthy of praise, acceptance, inclusion and love. They do not understand that they are in dire need of positive validation; so instead, they pursue allies in their hatred – fellow haters, bullies, gangs, cliques and activists that validate their negative beliefs of Others, and, that reinforce their negative image of self.
People that love to hate are looking for love in all the wrong places. They cannot recognize true love when they see it.
Until…we choose to love them despite their hatred.
Why do I know so much about haters? Because I’ve been one. And I’m guessing, so have you. What yanks me out of hatred faster than anything? Remembering that we are all human.
“Meditation on the principle of compassion is a means of erasing our own hatred, cruelty, and fear, and replacing these traits with love, kindness, and a deeper understanding for others. Those who meditate on compassion rise above the primitive urge of self-preservation, and thus their reactions toward others are not motivated by fear.” ~ Pandit Rajmani Tigunait
* * *
“By cultivating friendship with those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, cheerfulness toward the virtuous, and indifference toward the non-virtuous, the mind retains undisturbed calmness.” ~ Yoga Sutra 1.33
I have forgiven the man that raped me, the men that mugged me, the people who abandoned me, and those who betrayed me. Not overnight. No, no, no. Not overnight. Over years and years of commitment to healing my wounds, I have grown to see my perpetrators as suffering beings who deserve compassion, and, their harmful acts as separate. Consequently, over time and with dedication – and after grieving with support – I became able to let go of the traumas. What do I gain? Liberation. Peace of mind. A healed heart. My whole self.
“These four keys should always be…in your pocket. If you use the right key with the right person you will retain your peace. Nothing in the world can upset you then. Remember, our goal is to keep a serene mind. From the very beginning of Patanjali’s Sutras we are reminded of that.” ~ Swami Satchidananda
* * *
“Yogas Citta Vritti Nirodhah. (Yoga clears disturbances of the mind.)” ~ Yoga Sutra 1.2
This promise is the 2nd sentence in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – four long chapters about yoga’s eight-limbed design for living. Because it all comes down to this: the more I know about yoga, the deeper my practice becomes, and, the more inner peace I enjoy.
August in DC was a burning hot month. Hot temperatures. Hot tempers. Heated debates. Desperate actions.
As unrest continued to build, conflicts continued and November approached (you know what I’m talking about), DC only burned hotter.
Still – you can keep your cool as the heat rises and arises. Practice Sitali Pranayama (the yogic cooling breath) and Naadi Suddhi (alternate nostril breathing). Attend Restorative and Slow Flow classes instead of intensely heated or extremely powerful classes. For your own good – and, for the good of those around you – you can keep the peace. You can increase the peace. You can teach peace. You can breathe, embody, sweat peace.
“If my body is made primarily of water and animated by the breath, is it possible to call the water in the body ‘mine’ and the air outside of my lungs ‘the world?’ …and so it becomes hard to talk about a body practice as separate from a world practice. I move my body and I’m moving a corner of the world.
“Yoga occurs when our inner work manifests in the world around us.
“The world of mind and body, in the nondual tradition of yoga, is inseparable from the larger world… The interconnected reality we call ‘yoga’ orients us toward a mode of perception that sees reality as an interconnected web in which our own small story line is only a part and certain not the most prominent.” ~ Michael Stone
* * *
Translated literally from the Sanskrit, “Namaste” is a simple greeting meaning “Salutations to you.” It is not offered to a certain kind of being, nor to a certain part of each being. It is offered to the whole of every being.
“Namaste” cannot mean that one life matters more than another at any time – it means that all lives matter equally at all times. “Namaste” cannot mean that elevation and separation are the keys to justice – when historically, they have been the keys to conflict. “Namaste” cannot mean that out of guilt or pity, we move to “be of service” to those we see as having less than us – it must mean that we see ourselves as equals with those different from us in any way, and, stand together in a solidarity of humanness.
“Namaste” means that compassion is an equal opportunity offering.
It also means that I stop writing about “those haters” and start admitting that I’ve loved to hate.
We cannot truly come together until we can salute the whole of each being and all beings as a whole.
“Mother Teresa diagnosed the world’s ills in this way: we’ve just ‘forgotten that we belong to each other.’ Kinship is what happens to us when we refuse to let that happen. With kinship as the goal, other essential things fall into place; without it, no justice, no peace. I suspect that were kinship our goal, we would no longer be promoting justice – we would be celebrating it.
“Kinship – not serving the other, but being one with the other.
“Only kinship. Inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of the circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away. The prophet Habakkuk writes, ‘The vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment and it will not disappoint…and if it delays, wait for it.'” ~ Father Gregory Boyle
WAIT. FOR. IT.
Haters gonna hate until our love erases their reasons.
Thanks for reading.
Namaste. OM Shanti. Peace.
Remember When I Quit Teaching Yoga? September 7, 2016
Forgive me WordPress readers, it’s been…10 months since my last confession. I mean, since my last blog.
“Fearless” was a rather brief, mid-winter explosion that came just one month after – in the previous blog and all over social media – I announced that I’d quit teaching yoga. “Fearless” disclosed how unsafe I’d been feeling in the world, how my busy-ness helped me hide from that feeling, and, how a friend’s yoga class invited me to be still…and find clarity. In short: “I learned I can simultaneously – and calmly – feel afraid and be safe. If I had run, or hid, or drowned, or denied…if I had not faced and inquired about my fear, I wouldn’t have understood it the way I do now. Although not completely liberated from fear (I need to find the tools to be present and clear with certain everyday things), I own it; and, I distinguish it from situations, places and people. Today, I realized that the hearts of those formerly-perceived scary people are just like mine – and, they are at the fingertips of my fearless, outstretched arms.”
“Fearless” launched months of deep work with my PTSD triggers (which had been popping up since November, and would continue through the holidays), and, a 10-month disappearance from this blog site.
* * *
My November departure from yoga teaching had been abrupt and self-centered.
As explored in my “Taking Stock” blog, “I quit teaching yoga last week. There were so many reasons why; and it was a long time comin’. Still, my decision was rash and reactive – a result of not being honest with myself and not holding myself to truths untold. I might blog about the decision eventually. … The response to my Facebook announcement was full of solidarity from friends, yoga teachers, students and studio owners who are all struggling with, questioning or strategizing against yoga’s shift away from its mindful roots.”
I was scared. Scared that nobody liked my mindful style of teaching anymore. Scared that students would continue to complain. Scared that studio owners would continually pressure me to be something I’m not. And it became hard to remember …what was I, anyway? Was I a traditional Hatha teacher? A modern Vinyasa teacher? An alignment-based teacher? A Chakra teacher? A beginners teacher? A seasoned Pranayama and Meditation teacher? A philosophy teacher?
One thing was certain – I was not an exercise teacher. But yoga trends and studio feedback said “move more, instruct less, explain nothing.” So, I quit. But for my annual New Year’s Eve “Let Your Intentions Flow” workshop, I stopped teaching yoga.
I don’t know what I was thinking! Hahahahaha…
Gradually, I started to get my confidence back. I am a traditional Hatha teacher; a modern Vinyasa teacher; an alignment-based teacher; a Chakra teacher; a beginners teacher; a seasoned Pranayama and Meditation teacher; a philosophy teacher. My practice and teaching was rooted in my first experience with Kundalini yoga, has grown through a variety of teachings and traditions, and, is now thick with 20+ years of reverence for yoga’s incredible value beyond the class slot. Therefore, my classes are never about exercise. They are about passing on every single gem that all of my teachers so generously shared with me. Practical tools that enhance outer strength and inner peace in everyday life – for the rest of our lives.
So, I came back. Tenderly, carefully and perhaps cautiously, I tip-toed toward the yoga arena.
One of the main reasons that I felt secure returning? An invitation from Faith Hunter, the owner of Embrace Yoga DC. Embrace itself had seen its share of pushing/pulling/tugging/nudging/elbowing from the yoga universe. Opened in spring 2012 as a space where Faith could build her brand, guide her Yoga Teacher Trainings, and, develop her trainees as instructors, the studio morphed through a number of incarnations and disappearances over its years. At one point, with the studio offering a skeleton schedule, Faith moved to New York to focus on practicing with her own teachers. Little did we know what else was brewing.
In February of this year, she tenderly, carefully and perhaps cautiously stepped back into the yoga studio biz. Still living in New York, she put the word out to DC teachers: teach from your heart at Embrace. That’s when I dipped my toe in the now-welcoming waters. I offered “Follow Your Heart,” another of my signature, annual workshops. And I started teaching “Yoga For Life,” a weekly pay-what-you-can class.
Over the summer, Faith planted both feet back in DC and cultivated a rock-solid teaching, customer service and management team. In its same bright, beautiful Adams Morgan location, Embrace now offers a full schedule of weekly classes with an amazing group of seasoned teachers. We are one of the most diverse studio staffs in the city – an eclectic collection of yoga influences, cultural backgrounds and life experience.
I am honored to share the schedule, practice and work with these noble beings.
* * *
At this moment of writing, I am choked-up with tearful gratitude. The universe works in mysterious ways. And I am just wrapping my head around where I’ve landed, and, what the near future brings.
I am now the Studio Manager at Embrace. During my part-time hours, I team up with Faith, advisers, vendors, teachers and studio assistants who tackle our business head on! We have accomplished so much since my May start; and I am thrilled with the positive energy and outcomes we are generating.
Beginning this week, I am teaching three (!) classes on the Embrace schedule. On Mondays at 7:30pm, I’m leading our “Basics/Level 2” practice, where we dissect and fine-tune sequences, poses and breathing found in typical Open Level classes. We have “Breathe & Meditate” on Wednesdays at 7:45pm, which re-awakens our wonderful weekly mindfulness community, cultivated in 2014. And “Yoga For Life,” our venue for life-long yogic traditions, continues on Sunday mornings at 8:45am.
This coming Sunday, Embrace will observe the 15th anniversary of 9/11 with “9/11: Urban Oasis.” Our regularly-scheduled classes – including Yoga For Life – will be free. Surrounding those practices, the studio will stay open from 8am-8pm, with Embrace staff welcoming yogis, friends and community to a peaceful space for rest and reflection. I hope to share some time with you (away from the crowd of Adams Morgan Day, BTW).
When Faith is away for weekend teaching travels, we are scheduling “guest teachers” in her Sunday 11am slot. From October 16 through November 6, I will guide “Come Together,” a four-week, pre-election exploration of yoga’s immense resources for individual serenity and community harmony. After warming up with intention-based Sankalpa Vinyasa, we will practice partner and group poses, bringing a sense of collaboration and levity to increasingly tense times.
In the midst of all this, “Diwali Intentions” – our annual observation of this 5-day Hindu holiday – will be held by candlelight at Embrace on Sunday, October 30th, 8-9:30pm. This Sankalpa Vinyasa practice supports the sacred inner work of inventory and intention-setting, and serves as a precursor to our New Year’s Eve gathering.
Faith has graciously offered me – and all Embrace instructors – the freedom to bring our hearts to the table in our teachings. In addition, she has entrusted me with staff guidance, operations supervision and community relations. Perhaps, though, the most breathtaking invitation came when Faith asked me to consider being a lead instructor for her Spiritually Fly Yoga Teacher Training, starting this November. This was one of the greatest honors I’ve ever received. I had to sit down for a moment. I cried a little. My heart swelled with gratitude. I said yes.
I can’t lie (nothing to hide, as always) – all of this feels at once exhilarating and daunting. This is the most that I’ve taught since 2011, when my classes were full and the yoga-workout trend was barely blooming. Beyond shadow of a doubt, I am excited to be once-again teaching my most earnest and foundational offerings. Still, at moments…well… Y’know that feeling when you organize a big party or event, and then fear that nobody will show up? Yup. That happens. Inside of my chest. That anxiety arises at times.
Plus, as a Yoga Teacher Training instructor, my responsibility is deep. Not only must I petition divine guidance to humbly serve in this capacity…I also have to design some pretty serious curriculum! (Which I love doing, BTW. I am eager to start.)
* * *
Being asked to teach teachers acknowledged the worth of my long and devoted journey with my beloved yoga.
The invitation came after a very committed period of inner sacred work, surrounding self-doubt, relationship fears, trust issues and more. It came when the fruits of this rich work were ripe. It came from a person who is my friend, my teacher and my boss! Coming full circle since I quit teaching last November, I see that I wasn’t done…I was just resting. I am re-rooted in the ancient discipline that shapes every moment of my present existence.
And, although feeling a little anxious, my “Fearless” blog reminds me: “…stability and risk co-exist.”
Great gratitude to the gods, goddesses, gurus, guides, guardian angels, great spirits, eternal mysteries and teachers that accompany my direction and decisions. Thank you knowledge, thank you nature, thank you love. Thank YOU.
May we all know that quitting is sometimes resting, and that resting is always empowering. OM Shanti.
Fearless December 21, 2015
Yoga Focus: Taking Stock November 9, 2015
8 November, 2015
This week marks the Indian holiday of Diwali, which is generally known as the Indian Festival Of Lights. Yet, it signifies so much more. Most markedly, the 5-day festival celebrates the triumph of Light over Darkness by recalling the many battles won by virtuous warriors over evil demons. On a social level, it represents a time of families gathering to share sweets and sweetness, couples honoring their partnerships and siblings acknowledging their love. On a practical level, the holiday signifies a fiscal new year, when businesses start a new financial calendar, take inventory and take stock.
For me, the arrival of Diwali marks a period of taking stock in all areas of life, and, of beginning to shape intentions for the next calendar year.
Annually, from late July (my birthday) through the early Autumn (Equinox, Jewish New Year and my sobriety anniversary), I spend time reflecting on the prior year. That reverse reflection shifts into all-wheel-drive when Diwali arrives. There is something about the shift in weather that energizes me inwardly. My dreams start to spark up, my passions start to speak up. I begin taking stock of what I presently “have,” why I presently live and how I presently love. And so on. As I inventory my life, I start to look forward with deep intention. By late December (Winter Solstice and traditional New Year), I am feeling a positive pull toward productivity and manifestation.
So while most yoga studios, yoga teachers and people in general are jumping on the Gratitude bandwagon for November, I am pausing to inventory my life – so I can jump on the approaching Sankalpa train with as much discernment, clarity and resolve as possible.
I quit teaching yoga last week.
There were so many reasons why; and it was a long time comin’. Still, my decision was rash and reactive – a result of not being honest with myself and not holding myself to truths untold. I might blog about the decision eventually. But, for now, I’m consumed with planning my New Year’s Eve Sankalpa Vinyasa workshop.
Wait – didn’t I just say that I quit teaching yoga?
The response to my Facebook announcement was full of solidarity from friends, yoga teachers, students and studio owners who are all struggling with, questioning or strategizing against yoga’s shift away from its mindful roots. And among the post’s comments was one question: “What about New Year’s Eve?” I’ve taught my “Let Your Intentions Flow” workshop for five years in DC. Teaching that late-night session of sacred inner work not only facilitates students’ New Year “resolutions,” it fuels me with purpose. So…when my teacher, who also owns a studio, mentioned that I could hold the workshop there, I said “Yes.”
This in itself marks a huge period of Autumn-supported reflection and inventory – I may change what I offer and how I offer it. As this change brews, I’m excited to look into some dark corners and see what I might illuminate going forward.
Which brings me back to Diwali. Yoga has always given me permission to be authentic, my whole self. It has encouraged me to look squarely at my past, my present and my potential. It has kept me safe through dark times. It has made me curious about that darkness. And it has consistently guided me toward the light of truth.
For this week’s Diwali observance, I’m re-reading and re-posting 2012 and 2009 blogs about the holiday – my perspectives and experiences have not changed. The ideas and practices are tried and true. I hope you enjoy them.
Happy Diwali! OM Shanti.
November 15, 2012 – Diwali Class Featured in Huffington Post!
I am honored (floored, really) to be featured in this Huffington Post blog (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dawn-cherie-araujo/diwali-columbia-heights_b_2131582.html) – “Diwali Yoga in Columbia Heights,” by religion journalist Dawn Cherie Araujo – about our special yoga class last night.
As my friend Sachin notes in the article, the practice was mind-blowing. I will not take credit for that outcome, however – it’s the result of the yoga itself, and a roomful of very strong intentions. Heartfelt thanks to our students, from our wonderful little 8-year-old guest to the rest of the yoga veterans in the class.
Yoga is such a gift. Love love love… OM Shanti.
* * *
November 13, 2012 – Diwali’s Balance of Darkness with Light
“What is important for a movie? Both – light to make it; darkness to show it. The minute you learn to respect and see both sides of the coin as equally good, you can enjoy both. It is only a matter of understanding and acceptance. Let us have that light of understanding. Accept things as they are. Then, life is worth living. The world becomes a heaven on earth for you.”
– Swami Satchidananda
In less than one hour, I’ll teach my annual Diwali-themed yoga class. This Indian holiday is commonly known as the “Festival of Lights,” signifying the triumph of light over darkness. Ancient history tells of a number of battles across the nation ending, with great victories over evil forces. To welcome home the heroic warriors on the dark eve of a New Moon, villagers lit their paths with glowing oil lamps.
Hence the ongoing tradition of celebrating this particular New Moon with lamps, fireworks and other uplifting festivities.
For me, Diwali reminds me of the necessity of both darkness and light.
I used to be very, very scared of the “dark.” The moment a hint of sadness or lowness or depression showed up, I was in action – figuratively lighting my oil lamps to brighten things up. These days, I have found a strength in welcoming times of darkness, struggle, challenge. Not that I like to dwell there for long – I can appreciate a rough patch and at the same time know that I must do some reflection and practice to shed light on its lesson.
So there is a balance. Darkness and light must exist.
As for battles – I will admit that sometime my greatest battle is with myself. Although I have come to be at peace during most of my dark times, there are still situations where my fears can get the best of me. They can lead me into poor choices, rash decisions, intense self-protection. But less and less. Thankfully.
So today, my greatest victory is not when I “win a battle,” but when I surrender my fears and allow the battle to dissolve.
What are your battles? Which have you “won?” Celebrate them tonight! And which have you surrendered from? Celebrate them, too. Recognize your victories. If you are currently in a dark time, have hope for the triumph of light.
‘Tis the season of shortening days. Autumn calls us to enjoy the comfort of candles, fires, warmth. To cultivate our own light. This very natural, womb-like, growing darkness can be an invitation to experience a balance of darkness with light, of light with darkness. Enjoy.
* * *
October 20, 2009 – Where the Wild Things Are
“You need good light to make a movie, is it not so? And then you need good darkness in which to show it. Isn’t that funny?” – Swami Satchidananda, founder of Integral Yoga
I have a confession: I’m scared of the dark.
Well, not “the dark,” as in a dark room, or a dark forest or dark places like that. I’m afraid of the dark-ness within me. That’s right, folks. This Diwali-celebrating, Jewish-new-year-observing, eight-limbs-of-yoga-loving gal gets sucked into the tunnels of doubt, despair and even depression at times.
Another confession: I think sometimes I try too hard to “dissolve” that darkness.
Heaven forbid I head back to that bottom mentioned in my 9/24 “Welcome to the Urban Yoga Den” entry. Even now, nearly 20 years later, when darkness taps at my door, I feel terrified. My solution? Do something. Quick. Light candles, exhale and let go, practice more rituals. Do, do, do.
Y’know all this new moon/Autumn/Diwali activity that I’ve been writing about and practicing lately? Is it healthy and positive, or is it my way of escaping the discomfort of life’s dark moments? The fact is – life hurts sometimes. The question is – should I run away by engaging in non-stop activity; or should I take a deep breath, stick around and see what happens?
I saw Where the Wild Things Are last night. When I first saw the trailer back in July, I sobbed. That kid’s pain leaped off the screen and into my chest. And when he leaped into his fantasy world…wow…without getting into the details of my childhood, let’s just say I related big-time. And that was only the trailer!
In the original Where the Wild Things Are storybook, it take Max 12 pages to travel from his bedroom forest to the wild things’ island. His journey in that little sailboat lasts “through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year.” All of that time and effort to leave the past, the pain, the ickiness behind! And in the end, where does he end up? Where the wild things are – an island of monsters.
Seems familiar to me. Hmmm.
How gratifying to finally see the film after so much anticipation. Spike Jonze hit the nail on the head. I’m getting choked up simply recalling how vividly he portrays a child’s reactions to confusion, betrayal, neglect and alienation. How a child creates a fantasy world in order to cope. How that child learns that, even in his imaginary kingdom, there is confusion, betrayal, neglect and alienation.
I’m that child. I mean right now. I’m that kid. It’s taken a while, but I’m learning that even with the warm glow of Diwali’s lights, even with the sacred space of yoga, even with the refuge of doing, doing, doing – life happens.
Monsters will always show up – on far-off islands, at home, in loved ones and within my own self. Where humans are involved, there will be pain. There will also be joy. Where reality exists, there will be darkness. And there will also be light.
So there’s nothing to be scared of after all.
“What is important for a movie? Both – light to make it; darkness to show it. The minute you learn to respect and see both sides of the coin as equally good, you can enjoy both. It is only a matter of understanding and acceptance. Let us have that light of understanding. Accept things as they are. Then, life is worth living. The world becomes a heaven on earth for you.” – Swami Satchidananda
* * *
October 15, 2009 – Diwali Intentions
Sometimes I feel very emotional after teaching a particularly energized Integral Yoga class. Tonight was one of those times.
For the months of September and October, our classes have focused on Pranayama (see Tips-n-Tools for more on our bi-monthly focus), or breathing practices. Complemented by this week’s waning moon and the coming of Fall, our exhales have come to mean more than a mere letting go of air. Indeed, they’ve become symbols of transformation.
So at tonight’s IY class at Past Tense Studio, under a rainy sky and just four days before the new moon, we imagined our battles, troubles and trials in the palms of our hands. Holding our palms together at heart-center, we honored this darkness, and perhaps grew to understand it.
Next, after inhaling our fingertips toward the sky, we exhaled and allowed our arms to open wide, releasing our darkness. With each exhale we began to dissolve what no longer serves.
The intention in the room felt so deeply human, even vulnerable. How could one not be moved?
Today marks the opening of the Indian holy days called Diwali – from the crescent to the new moon, as that pie-in-the-sky whittles away to nothing, Hindus, Sikhs and others celebrate the proverbial triumph of good over evil within individuals. During this Festival of Lights, as the night sky darkens to moonless, the golden glow of oil lamps fills streets and homes.
Indian folkloric tales share the journeys of historical characters returning from exile, imprisonment and battles to be welcomed by candlelit temples and rows of oil lamps.
And here in the Mid-Atlantic, as the moon disappears and the change of seasons falls upon us, we exhale in yoga class and let go, let go, let go – making room for more light within.
In Autumn, nature begins its own process of letting go. Green grass turns dry brown, leaves turn brilliant colors then drop to the ground, blue skies surrender to misty grey and the sun sinks lower each day. Things appear to be dying in the fall. At the same time, gardeners plant bulbs that nestle in the ground to be nurtured by fall’s fertilizers.
‘Tis the season to say goodbye to the old, to let it die off and sink away. So plant your bulbs and let them rest while you live each changing moment of autumn. Light a candle, wish your darkness farewell, then let yourself glow.
I am setting a Diwali intention. Between today and the new moon of Sunday, October 18th, as that sliver of a moon disappears, I invite you to join me in envisioning your darkness between the palms of your hands – embrace it, honor it, understand it. Lift your fingertips to the sky, and exhale to let go, let go, let go.
May the light of truth overcome all the darkness. OM Shanti.
(P.S. Gratitude to Liz Workman of Nashville’s Belmont Lotus, and many others who believe that our obstacles can be teachers, for the inspiration.)
Resurrection: A 25-Year Journey March 31, 2015
I am planting this seed where the pain of my past no longer defines me.
I am planting this seed where the wealth of my past most certainly defines me.
I am planting this seed where all of my past informs me.
From it will grow my next step, experience, thought, breath.
~ from my Spring 2014 journal, post Maha Shivaratri
* * *
I believe that every outcome is the result of a chain of actions, of simple cause and effect – of Karma, if you will. What happens right here, right now, might seem surprising and mysterious. But that event was actually molded by a series of efforts – seen and unseen – that have been bubbling and boiling for a good, long time. Nothing is miraculous. Everything makes perfect sense.
The seeds, after all, have been planted.
* * *
Easter Sunday, 1990, New Orleans. I was still awakening from my 2nd suicide attempt in one week. I put on a white Esprit sundress and my black Vans deck shoes, grabbed my Canon AE-1 and drifted down to the French Quarter to shoot. My favorite images from that day: 1) Two little kids, dressed in Easter best, flowers in their hair, smiling widely and dancing wildly to street music – at their moment of abandoned embrace; 2) An elder couple, dressed in what we would call “vintage” Sansabelt slacks and polyester blend cardigans, watching the musical mayhem – at the moment that their hands join together behind their hips.
Images full of love and light. Taken in black and white. And I would remain lost in darkness for nearly 13 more years, slowly rising from the dead. Gradually finding my way here.
Easter Week, 2015, Washington DC. I have now been alive for half of my life. This summer I will turn 50, and this week is the 25th anniversary of those final suicide attempts – the culmination of a string of deliberate tries and careless living. Beginning around age 11, trying to smother myself out of grief when my beloved Aunt died…in 6th grade, jumping down ridiculously long flights of stairs, believing I could fly…as I grew up, guzzling down ridiculous amounts of alcohol to kill the pain of what I now know is untreated trauma…during college holiday, crashing and spinning my car across the New Jersey Turnpike while speeding recklessly through Thanksgiving Eve traffic…in-between and onward, drowning in self-destruction of all kinds. Until Easter of 1990, I’d spent half of my life wanting and trying to die.
When my 2nd suicide attempt failed, I raised the white flag. And I’ve been around ever since – increasingly alive to tell the story.
* * *
During those first 12.5 years of seeking healing, my drinking to obliteration would continue periodically. Despite enjoying stretches of dryness, having a regular yoga practice, practicing spiritual ceremony from many origins, returning to my childhood religion, changing my diet, going to therapy and so on, I still could not access a consistent joy for life nor desire to live. And admittedly, over the 12.5 years since getting sober through a program in October 2002, I’ve still reached gravely low points. I planned to jump off of a bridge after a heart-smashing breakup; I punched a wall while experiencing a terrifying PTSD trigger; and, I’ve wanted to rip my skin off during the often uncomfortable yet sacred work of untangling the thickly rooted patterns beneath my depression bouts.
So what’s the difference between the 1st and 2nd halves of the past 25 years? Since getting sober through a program, I have not used alcohol and drugs to hide from, mask or deaden my feelings. I have experienced all of life’s challenges without escape. I’ve used the tools of the program, yoga, therapy and other healing resources to face my past, clear away as much wreckage as possible, and address the origins of my addiction and mental health issues. I’ve grown to accept that certain “dark” feelings and events might be a fact of life – until they’re not. Now, I am rigorously honest about my life; I never go through challenge alone; and I never say no to help.
Today – thanks to that “uncomfortable yet sacred work” of practicing the program’s 12 steps, aiming to live yoga’s 8 limbs and accepting help from a wise and expert circle of counsel – I know exactly where my suicidal impulses originate; I have infinite resources for healing, growth and change; and I am grateful for every moment of the journey that I’ve traveled. All of it. Without this very life, this very story, I would not know how to respond to life’s inevitable trials, nor, authentically and effectively serve others with similar backgrounds and challenges. Today, I show up for life gratefully, with more consistent joy and presence than ever.
So, I believe, my path of obstacles, my pattern of resilience…both are part of a much larger, seen and unseen web of cause-and-effect. Other beings before me went through similar trials as mine, and therefore were available to guide me when I came along. And those beings passed on their experience, strength and hope, so I could then share what has worked in my life with others.
* * *
If I were to believe in miracles…for example, if I believed that my survival of a lengthy romance with suicidal ideation, a deep yearning to be dead and multiple suicide attempts was miraculous, then I must believe that my friend Bob’s successful suicide (or any destructive, disastrous or sad event) was also a magical, mysterious event rather than the result of distinct actions – a combination of his, nature’s and universal efforts. Karma. Not bad or good Karma. Simply Karma.
It has taken effort, not miracles, for me to reach where I am today. Just as it’s taken effort for you to reach where you are. Or anyone to reach any moment. In my opinion.
“Really, Holly?” says a voice within. “If you truly do not believe in miracles, why do you weep every single time you hear these words during the J. Brown Yoga DVD’s deep relaxation period? Every. Single. Time.”
Breath coming in and out of you, heart beating…the sun and the moon and the stars and the planets are all circumambulating each other. Life is happening. And maybe you would observe, or, at least entertain the notion that it’s inherently worthwhile. The fact that you are lying here existing right now is a profound miracle beyond comprehension. And there’s a comfort to seeing life in that way. It makes it easier to overcome the difficulties that are presented, and to really cherish and appreciate the gift of…life.
All in all – this Easter, I will observe 25 years of yearning to live. It feels a bit overwhelming! At the same time that I’m celebrating the journey, I’m grieving for that poor girl from 1990 New Orleans. It’s interesting. Over last weekend, I binged on TV and sugar, and then slept forever on Monday morning. Clearly, habits of avoidance. I didn’t get to the bottom of my emotions until I got on the phone with my therapist, and started describing exactly how I lived back then.
Daily, I would wake up with a stranger, drink mimosas made with cheap champagne bought with my father’s Exxon card, then go by a liquor store on the way to listen to street music in the French Quarter. I would sit on a curb and drink cheap tequila out of a paper bag. I imagined myself a writer. I hung out with celebrity drunks. At the end of the day, I would bring home a stranger. Repeat, daily. I remember every single moment of what I thought would be my last night on earth – the hot chocolate at a café, the visit to a famous producer’s recording studio, the producer’s obvious attraction to my friend, the feeling of unworthiness and impossibility, the weight of hidden trauma and isolation, the denseness of depression.
And ultimately, the triumph of pain.
I awoke the next morning, barfed up a toxic combo of drugs and alcohol, and walked around my sunny spring neighborhood in a daze. After trying a different combination of substances a few days later, and waking up again, I knew 100% that I would never be able to take my own life. But I did not know how I would go on living.
For 25 years since that Easter Sunday – with its visions of love and light – I’ve simply put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes stumbling, sometimes dancing.
* * *
When I recently moved into the house where I currently live, a friend sent a lovely gift and card. “Welcome to your new home! I hope it proves to be a…garden to grow the seeds of your creativity.” Indeed, the seeds have been planted.
Love life. It is, indeed, worthwhile.
Thank you for reading. OM Shanti.
Yoga Class Focus: Gratitude Trumps Adversity November 27, 2014
Sometimes, gratitude does not come overnight. Sometimes days, weeks and months can pass before thankfulness finds its way into a broken heart. But from experience (and lots of it), I know there will be a silver lining to every story of challenge, hardship and adversity. If you’ve read my blog before, you are familiar with my efforts to use yoga, addiction recovery, therapy and related resources to heal from past trauma and cultivate a life of balance and wellness. I’m also devoted to sharing these experiences and tools with others. I’m not perfect; still, I do believe in every being’s potential to heal, grow and change.
And for that – the faith, the belief, the hope – I am grateful.
On this Thanksgiving Day, I am grateful for two specific things.
* * *
“Humility and gratitude go hand in hand.”
~ Swami Sivananda Radha
#1: I don’t know where my father is.
You may have read my past blogs about last year’s family fiasco. I’d moved from my hometown of DC to Dad’s retirement city of Nashville to support him as he ages. There were major issues with his house, his health and his finances. Although I was able to help successfully in many ways, my time there was challenging from every angle – work, health, home, community, family. The most difficult was watching my father fade with dementia. The most damaging was my sisters’ hostility toward me. I became financially, physically and emotionally depleted. After gaining counsel, I made the very difficult decision to return to DC, where – with the support of deep roots and caring communities – I could rebuild from scratch.
Over the past year, I have been ostracized by my sisters and by my father’s community. I understand where their blurred perspectives originate, and know that my side of the street is clean. I was the one who showed up for him devotedly and dependably since my mother died more than a decade ago. Because throughout our lives, Dad and I have shared an authentic love beyond description. This October, he told me he was having surgery for skin cancer on his head. Our last conversation was November 9th, the day before his procedure. And now, I can’t reach him, he’s not reaching out to me, my sisters and his friends are not contacting me, I have no idea how he is, and I can only guess where he is.
And…I AM GRATEFUL? How?
- I am not the only one who loves my father. Dad has his own higher power(s). I must have faith that he is being cared for. Plus, I have the chance to utilize my own toolbox of wellness resources in order to love him, forgive my sisters and cultivate compassion about the family dissonance. My prayers are for his whole health, and, for a joyous Thanksgiving, wherever he is.
- My friends are my family. This year, I was invited to multiple Thanksgiving meals. There is an “Orphans Dinner,” a “Vegetarian Friendsgiving,” a “Gluten Free Thanksgiving” and assorted gatherings in communities I’ve been part of for years and years. My “family of choice” has also chosen me – we share similar roots, shared experiences and a yearning for healing and growth.
- What a difference a year makes. Last winter in Nashville, I accepted a Second Harvest food donation for my family. It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life – but, that box of food went a long way when resources were short. This past week, I joined a group of volunteers at a DC nonprofit, giving turkeys and groceries to families in need. This experience widened my gratitude for where I stand today. Things are far from stable, but thanks to seven months of recent steady work, I have food in my fridge…thanks to returning to DC, I’ll share holiday meals with dear ones…and thanks to gleaning the best from a past of hardship, I am able to serve others in ways that I once needed.
* * *
“Once you know that suffering is for your benefit… You’ll gladly go through it.”
~ Swami Satchidananda
#2: I was recently fired from my restaurant job.
Exactly four weeks before, my boss sat me down for a glowing progress review. A month later, she scornfully scolded and terminated me. I’m a willing, honest and dedicated worker. When I make mistakes, I take responsibility and seek solutions for improvement. Over that last month, however, there was scrutiny. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. And then, bam…see ya.
And you know what? I AM GRATEFUL.
Oh, sure, I’m also feeling a mixture of injustice, anger, financial worry and general upset. With slight hints of self pity. I’m human. But in the end, this is clearly a case (as many friends have remarked in their own ways) where “god” or “the powers that be” are doing for me what I could not do for myself.
- It is a blessing to be free. I have been liberated from a place that handles professional affairs in a manner that I will not accept.
- When one door closes, another one opens. Since being fired, I have received numerous offers to teach yoga in studios, at schools, for birthday celebrations, for nonprofits and more.
- My confidence is boosted! I still must look for sustaining work (because teaching yoga does not pay the bills). And that last job – my first as a waitress/server – was at one of the most popular and busy restaurants in the city. So I am thankful for seven months of training and experience. Even while navigating interpersonal challenges with staff, I honed all of my past professional skills in customer service, marketing, event coordination, catering and more to become an awesome server. And I can take that anywhere. In the meantime, generous friends at a family-owned restaurant are giving me a few shifts, so I can keep up my chops.
- That job was a gift. One of the managers knew that I’d had a tough year away and – knowing that I had little restaurant experience – gave me work, so I could come home to DC and start strong. Over those seven months, I was able to get on the road to financial recovery. And for these next five months, thanks to generous landlords, I have a roof over my head, and the potential to continue chipping away at bills and debt through new work.
- I have some healing to do. I believe that I am a healthy woman. Truly. In body, mind and spirit. Thanks to that workplace experience, I am tackling yet another layer of sacred inner work. I had the opportunity to see how staff dynamics can trigger my PTSD – particularly now, after such a tough year with family dysfunction. Thanks to being healthy enough to take accountability for my part and see where I need to grow, I am venturing on a fresh direction toward wholeness.
* * *
“…she learned that surrender is quiet.”
~ from “Snake Oil: The Art of Healing and Truth-Telling,”by Becca Stevens, founder of Thistle Farms, a nonprofit serving women recovering from addiction and sexual trauma.
I’m a fighter.
That’s exactly why the recent job termination meeting was such an ironic victory. I had good reason to defend myself. However, I was silent. As the list of “wrongs” was aired, I squirmed internally and took mental notes. At times, I couldn’t help but look surprised. Although frustrated, I pursed my lips. I kept my feet firmly on the ground, my hands resting on my legs, my mind clear and my mouth shut.
Surrender is quiet.
Funny – I’d read the above line from “Snake Oil” on the bus ride to the meeting with my boss. Chapter 3, “Seeds of Healing,” introduces us to a number of Thistle Farms program participants, who work producing healing balms, bath salts and oils for the nonprofit. “Val, like every employee of Thistle Farms, began every morning in the meditation circle before she began to work. She said during her time at Thistle Farms she learned that surrender is quiet. She says in order for her to heal and forgive, she has to surrender everything. Through the journey of surrender, she learned how much quieter it was than all the fighting in prison, with family, with the world.”
Interesting timing, eh? The evening after being fired, it hit me – I had been fighting a lot at that job. Fighting my own fear of failure and financial insecurity; fighting my own negative voices; fighting other’s accusations; fighting for consistency; fighting for staff accountability. After that much battle, it’s clear: the job simply wasn’t meant to be.
As for the family situation, I’m not as quiet. My grief tends to shout, and, I’m having a tough time quelling that voice. There’s still a bit of wrestling; but I know most of it is within my own soul.
Still, it can feel good to give up. To wave the white flag, and accept what’s here, now, real and true. That job is gone, and it’s time to move on. I can’t reach my father, so I must focus on other joys. For me, acceptance is the 1st step toward Samtosha – one of yoga’s five Niyama, or value-based observances, as described by the Eight Limbs in the Yoga Sutras. Samtosha means complete contentment with whatever exists. And such contentment has the potential to transmute into GRATITUDE for the silver linings or lessons. With consistent observance and practice of surrender, acceptance, contentment and gratitude comes the mindful serenity that yoga promises.
I have to ask myself:
Do I want to walk around in misery and resentment about my adversity; or, do I want to cultivate inner peace despite hardship and nurture forgiveness despite hurt – and therefore contribute to harmony around me and in the world?
* * *
Aside from mentioning it in the August Yoga Class Focus blog, I never officially wrote about the September and October theme of GROWTH. I reckon I was too busy growing, and encouraging the process in others. So here we are in November, jumping on the GRATITUDE bandwagon! It simply cannot be helped. C’mon, aside from being connected to Thanksgiving marketing, it’s the perfect tie-in to yoga philosophy. Not to mention, exploring GRATITUDE invites us to take stock, offering an inroad toward New Year’s Intentions.
Nearing the end of 2014, I might say that my last year included a doozy of bumps and bruises. Justifiably, I could focus on the family problems, the job loss, my ongoing PTSD issues and my related fears about the future. On the other hand, I could exercise the yogic tenant of Pratipaksha Bhavana, and replace those negatives with the positives listed above.
The act of being grateful gives me something warm to hold in my heart, even when the chill of adversity breaks it. Gratitude softens me enough to squarely face my wounds. It keeps my mind open to – eventually – giving thanks for what initially shut me down.
No matter where you are in the world, I wish you a day of THANKS-GIVING. Heck, with yoga’s guidance, we could enjoy an entire lifetime of gratitude. I’m certainly aiming for that.
* * *
Thank you for reading; and, thank you for practicing with me – even if/when you are miles away. OM Shanti.
Pick Yourself Up, Dust Yourself Off (from the uyd archives) November 15, 2014
When I am struggling, friends sometimes say: “Go read your own blog!” Well, this past week has been a doozy of curve balls and losses. I recalled the blog below, from December 2010. I’m a bit embarrassed to share it, because it feels like I’ve been mostly depressed since then! Truth be told, the past 4 years have, indeed, been a severe string of betrayal, physical assaults, family hostility and loss. So, yes, I just went and read my own blog. Because this one – written in the midst of processing a trauma – is “Holly at her best.” Transparency, counsel, action, hope, resilience. Onward.
Thanks for reading. Love to you and all. OM Shanti.
* * *
YOGA CLASS FOCUS: ABUNDANCE – GROWTH
Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again. – Dorothy Field, 1930s Musical Lyricist
When I was around 6 years old, my mom would drive my sisters and I to a farm outside of DC for horseback riding lessons. A few weeks into our series, a horse threw me to the dirt! I remember bouncing along the ground (I was a chubby little gal), standing up, brushing myself off, and getting right back on the horse – before my teacher or mom could give that standard warning, “If you don’t get back on the horse, you’ll never ride again.” At that young age, I instinctively knew that getting back on the horse was my only option.
So, as I navigate the “throws” of life – even those that take a longer recovery – deep down I know I’ll bounce back.
Reaching the close of 2010, I wish I could promise friends, students and readers that THIS IS THE LAST TIME I’ll share about the betrayal I experienced this past summer. I, myself, wish this will be the last time that I dredge up that pain in this blog. The positive? Each time I write about the pain, I inevitably write about the healing and growth.
Thankfully I’ve been programmed that way from a very young age!
You must know that you can swim through every change of tide. – This morning’s Yogi Tea bag message.
It feels like everywhere I turn these days, writers, teachers and songs are encouraging me to drop my guard and jump into life with abandon. I’d love to. And I appreciate the encouragement! But the truth is, I’m terrified.
Fears related to the summer’s emotional trauma (and its related past-trauma triggers) are bubbling up again for a few reasons. Lately I’ve received invitations to connect with human beings. (Go figure!) A little romance, some friendships. Gratefully, despite (or perhaps due to?) my history as a trauma survivor, deep in my heart, I adore humans, humanity and humanness. In addition, with 6 months between the summer’s emotional shell shock and today’s invitations, my trust in others is gradually reawakening.
So as new life beckons, I simultaneously feel like jumping in…and running away.
I have been taught – and so I believe – that there is great value in sharing about difficulty and the process of surviving it. Not just for my own release and rebirth, perhaps also for someone who has gone or might go through something similar. So here goes. And maybe, this will be the last time.
Who says I can’t be free
From all of the things that I used to be
Rewrite my history –
Who says I can’t be free?
– John Mayer
Falls from horses were not the only dangers of my childhood. My family household was chaotic and violent, driven by addiction and emotional illness. Through a certain age, I found solace in music and god. I wrote and performed songs (escape), often sang myself to sleep (comfort) and craved spiritual experience (protection). At the same time, I existed in a state of self-preservation and readiness – prepared for the sky to fall at any moment. Witnessing the model of my three older sisters, who frequently ran away from home, I kept a small night bag packed with pajamas and toiletries, in case I ever had to run.
Eventually, the false strength of self-reliance and isolation won out over the gentle support of god and music. I took care of myself and often had to play other family-members’ roles. I learned to construct elaborate lies about the screaming fights, ambulances, lateness to school and other troubles. And for relief from the hiding and responsibility, my own addictions kicked in by age 11.
My parents are not to blame. The inevitable fallibility of lineage shaped them as parents, and they did their best with what they had. As did my sisters, whose only choice was to protect themselves and therefore grow apart from each other and me. Although I was resentful toward my parents beyond my college years, I eventually grew to see the bigger picture, and soulfully love and appreciate Mom and Dad for all they offered.
I share this family background to illustrate how it informed my adult life. Self-reliance, isolation and addiction do not nurture “normal” maturity! Poor decisions led to dangerous situations and more trauma. My gravitation back toward spiritual reliance began around Easter of 1990 after I hit an emotional and physical bottom while living in New Orleans. That summer I would teach myself to meditate by focusing on one sense at a time. This was the beginning of my relationship with the present moment, with “what is,” and with inner peace.
Some believe we are here to work out our past karma.. i need to remind myself that karma is not punishment.. just consequence. – Ricky Tran, Yoga Teacher
For the next twelve years, I sought personal wellness – and to learn how to relate well with others. I continued meditation, started practicing yoga (yay!), used therapy, experimented with different religious and spiritual traditions, changed my diet and pretty much tried anything that might make me feel better. Despite my best intentions, I also continued manifesting different shades of the violence and chaos of my childhood.
Continued active addiction, associated behaviors and unaddressed past trauma cemented me in old patterns. Not until 2002, when I had a moment of clarity and sought help for addiction, did life crack open and truly begin to change.
Our December  class focus is Abundance. I am sharing honestly about my past because for a long time, I felt ashamed of my journey of stumbles. Now I believe I have nothing to hide. And because of my own transformation, I have faith in every person’s ability to recover from the serious mistakes or conditions of their past. All it takes is the willingness to ask for help. Abundant growth is possible for all.
Today, all of my positive influences from the past 20 years work in-concert to encourage productive relationships, wellness of body, mind and spirit, productive relationships and serenity. At the same time, just like for everyone else on this Earth, life happens. Sometime life throws some curve balls. And sometimes we get hit by a pitch.
I was hit by a pitch this past summer. The man I’d been seeing for 6 months revealed something shocking that he’d been hiding. Not only did the lying hurt horribly, in addition, the nature of what he was hiding could have endangered my own well-being, and, it triggered much of my past emotional trauma. Sadly, I lost trust and love for everyone. I lived in fear.
Thankfully, the week before that bomb was dropped, I had emerged from a week-long Off The Mat Into The World training at the Omega Institute. The “Yoga, Purpose & Action” Intensive taught self-inquiry, collaboration and activation as tools for cultivating a more sustainable approach to service work. These became the exact tools that I used to trudge through the relationship shock. I didn’t run, I didn’t hide, I didn’t go back to addictive ways.
Despite the fear, I forced myself to reach out (ugh), and I got support (ahhh).
Always do what you are afraid to do. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Poet & Essayist
At one point in the Fall, I was catapulted into an impenetrable state of anger and disgust after unexpectedly running into my ex. It broke my heart to harbor such negative emotions, when all I yearned for is to love and trust human beings again. I gained counsel with Father Tom Ryan – a Catholic Paulist priest and Kripalu yoga teacher – who was firm with me regarding solutions. He made concrete suggestions for ritualizing the transformation of anger/disgust into forgiveness/compassion.
While I was integrating those suggestions into my practices, I had a session with Somatic Therapist Lois Clinton, whose nurturing and skillful treatment awakened a sense of safety and trust. It’s hard to describe how Somatic Therapy works. In my experience, we identified certain grounding resources (i.e. deep three-part yogic breathing), constantly redirected to the present moment by working with open eyes (vs. getting stuck in the past with closed eyes), and discharged physically stuck trauma (i.e. vibrating hands, clearing lungs). It was subtle and yet powerful!
With the clarity from my session with Lois, I followed through with one of Fr. Ryan’s suggestions. I wrote a brutally honest letter to my ex – with absolutely no intention to send it. On the New Moon of Diwali, I burned the letter. Sure enough, as I watched the ashes and scraps of paper float down a swirling, swollen creek, the negativity was released, I felt a thousand pounds lighter, and the shift toward complete healing was profound.
I couldn’t be more grateful to all of the teachers, healers and advisers who stepped up to the plate to support me through this tough time. Decades of being willing and open toward these liberating processes have opened doors to immense transformation and emotional sobriety. When life happens, I am fortunate to have a huge tool box of resources, practices and people who support me through anything – from celebrations to disappointments.
Trauma is a fact of life; so is resilience. – Hala Khouri, Off The Mat Into The World Co-founder
Earlier I mentioned that there are a few reasons my fears were recently triggered. This week, I attended a spiritual gathering where the guided meditation was about forgiveness. Immediately, I acknowledged the potential risk of participating, and decided to stay anyway. The instructor asked us to recall an instance where someone hurt us…and then, to offer that person forgiveness. It was tough. I had to open my eyes to see I was safe, surrounded by (yes) trusted spiritual fellows. I could feel my entire body vibrating. Tears flowed. I wasn’t sure if I was forgiving or releasing. But I knew I needed to stay in the process.
Pick up your crazy heart and give it one more try. – Ryan Bingham, Songwriter
This morning, I was struck with a note of sadness about the summer situation. I am grateful to say that, for the first time in months, I did not connect this morning’s emotion with all the sad traumas of my past. It was, simply and specifically, sadness about the loss of my relationship and how much it hurt to be lied to.
Regarding the fresh fears from social invitations…I am rigorously honest with each person, letting them know the shakiness I feel about connecting, particularly romantically. One day my heart will be ready to try again. I know that I must make myself humanly vulnerable again. I’m just not there yet. But I will be. I will bounce back.
You will not find a spiritual master that will suggest you play it safe, or a sacred text that advises you to avoid pain at all costs. – Max Strom, Yoga Teacher and Writer
To me, some “self-help” messages sound like the old idiom “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” That harkens of my childhood of packed bags and lonely songs. But when I read firmly encouraging words like Max’s, I yearn so deeply for love, trust and emotional freedom that I cry.
Thank you gentle teachers and butt-kickers, skillful healers and wise advisers for the abundant encouragement, inspiration and motivation you have so generously shared throughout my life. You assure me that all experiences – throws, stumbles and curve balls of all kinds – are opportunities for growth.
I am scared. And I am growing, too.
OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.
ATONEMENT October 3, 2014
“We cast into the depths of the sea
Our sins, and failures, and regrets.
Reflections of our imperfect selves
What can we bear,
With what can we part?
We upturn the darkness,
Bring what is buried to light.
What hurts still lodge,
What wounds have yet to heal?
We empty our hands,
Release the remnants of shame,
Let go fear and despair
That have dug their home in us.
Opening heart –
The year flows in,
The year flows out.”
~ Marcia Falk
+ + + + +
This poem was part of the Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) services I attended with my father in Nashville nine days ago. And today marks the final 24 hours of the High Holy Days. Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – begins at sunset.
The intensity of this poem truly captures the depth of inner work that Jews approach each year at this time. The new year comes first, then a ritual of casting away obstacles, then a period of forgiveness – offered and requested – and finally, Yom Kippur. Tonight’s and tomorrows prayers, reflections and fasting bring us to neutral, gift us with a blank slate. We step forward with healthy, peaceful, loving intentions after having done our best at releasing past transgressions – committed by and against us.
Phew! Like I said: intense. In 12-Step Recovery, there is a similar process. And in many spiritual traditions, there are processes of examining our behaviors, discovering their roots/motivations, making amends, and, forgiving ourselves and others.
SOMETIMES, THE GREATEST AMENDS AND THE DEEPEST FORGIVENESS ARE OWED TO OUR SELVES…
For me, this was one of those years. Yes, I made mistakes in my actions toward others; and I did my best to process, understand, take action about them. There is a bit more work to be done there; and it will be done promptly.
However, reflections this week have led me to a certain “blueness.” Not depression, not remorse. But grief. Grief of years lost to unhealthy, toxic, harmful and self-destructive behavior. This fall – right now – marks the 25th anniversary of my darkest descent into alcoholism’s painful grip…25 years ago, I was in the midst of the worst time of my life. It’s heartbreaking to recall how much I harm I did to myself, how little honor I had for life, how badly I wanted to die.
No details. Not here. Not yet…
So today, I am reflecting back and also standing right here, in this present moment. After September’s Yoga Class Focus of GROWTH…well, I’d say that I have grown a lot this past month! And as I prepare for Yom Kippur’s 24-hour rally, I am setting the following Sankalpa (an intention of deep resolve and purpose, stated as if it is already happening):
I DEEPLY LOVE AND FORGIVE MYSELF.
Because today, 25 years after not even knowing the meaning of these words, I truly do love and forgive myself.
I wish this for you, too.
THANK YOU for being a part of this beautiful life. You help me know that I am loved, accepted, understood, supported and cared for.
LOVE TO ALL. ShalOM Shanti.
(Book was a gift from my dad – one of my family’s original prayer books for the High Holy Days.)