Still Here, Still Standing

14557_1308787279173_1215328008_30948435_7422599_nSome days I hardly recognize myself.

It’s not just when I look into the mirror and see some bald chick looking back at me.

Or that I spend an inordinate amount of time laying around and watching TV  because I don’t have the energy for much else, or may be experiencing a low grade depression.

It’s not my preoccupation with what’s going on with my body, or what’s going into my body, or what’s coming out of my body (yeah…maybe a little TMI there…sorry.)

It’s not even that my world has become so very small, cloistered as I am for the most part within the confines of my home.

No.

It’s that so many of the ways in which I identified Who I Am seem to be falling away, like it’s all up for grabs right now.  Everything from my employment to my appearance to my activities to my health.  Seriously, all of it.

And I’m learning to be OK with that, in a very “Shit, are you kidding me right now??” sort of way.

My biggest challenge is to feel safe while going through this disintegration phase. It’s kinda tricky.  A lot tricky, actually.  It’s forcing my roots to shoot deep deep deep into my foundational beliefs.  To actually question what is is I believe in – Who I believe in – and why.  Because right now, these beliefs are my grounding.

I love trees.  I’m a tree hugger from way back, and I’ve always related more to being a tree than a flower. (I started this blog back in 2007 because of my connection with a tree …you can read about that here.  And wrote again in 2010 about identifying as an Oak tree here.)

Picturing myself as a tree is actually beneficial.  As a tree, I remember to bend with the storms of life so I don’t break.  And if something does break off, it doesn’t mean I’m finished.  Dead leaves and dead wood should fall away.  Pruning is healthy for me.  Hardening off my bark ensures strength to endure.   Deeper roots help me to stand.

And this is good.

ONE DAY WHEN I WAS OLD

by Clarissa Pinkola Estés

I remember one day when I was young,
forty-five years or so old,
I woke up an old woman that morning.
Not quite in body all the way, but close.
And also in mind.
And I thought, “This is good.”
For also, in the face I was changed,
a little bark-chipped and creased,
like a tree long-lived enough
after having been planted so long ago
by some winged bird
accidentally letting fall a semi-sacred seed
into some almost impossible place,
precisely the way most of us came to earth–
unplanned, and yet sticking to the place
where we were dropped,
growing, growing flowers and fruits
set into our DNA–
and this too was good.

I leaned through the window
of my bathroom mirror,
and touched her old, cracked face…
I soothed back her black hair
with fire opals
in its strands of white.

And I saw as I leaned in,
There were permanent diamonds
in her tear ducts,
those gotten from years of use
and pressure in dark places.

And I gazed at the body
she and I share,
and I saw that rubies
had grown into all my cuts
and that tiny mirrors shone
in all my widders and spalls…

and I saw that I was old
and strong
and delicate
and fierce, like a queen
who has ruled the lands within her reach,
not perfectly, but despite brutal winters,
she was still alive,
the heartwood hardened off just enough,
the tender capillaries still able to carry
the juice and the warmth.

And then, twenty-some years later,
I crossed the crone line,
wearing the tissue-paper crown
with the sacred words “Still here,
still standing…”
engraved upon it.
These words of triumph for all of us elders,
these words “Still here… Still standing,”
they’re the ultimate royal “Ha!”,
the ultimate para la vida “Ha!”,
to life, with life, all of life, filled with life.
Us, crossed now, the crone line,
para la vida, filled with life.

I remember one day when I was young,
forty-five years old or so,
I woke up an old woman that morning.
Not in body quite all the way, but close.
Also in mind, and this was good.
And also in the face I was changed
with all the marks of rings like a tree,
and this too was good.

I looked at my body
and saw that rubies had grown
in all my cuts,
and mirrors shone in all the widders and spalls.
And I saw I was old and strong,
like a queen who had ruled herself
not perfectly, but well.

And I leaned in and touched her old, cracked face,
and I saw the permanent diamonds in her tear ducts
that were gotten from years of hard use
and pressure in dark places.

I remember one day when I was young,
forty-five years old or so,
I woke up an old woman.
And I have been more and more free
ever since.

______________________

CODA

And so may it be for you.
And so may it be for me.
And so may it be for all of us.
Amen.
And as my grandmother used to say,
“Amen… and a little woman.”

_______________________

“One Day When I Was Old,” a blessing-poem by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Copyright ©1990, 2010, All Rights Reserved, including but not limited to electronic, performance, theatrical, musical, graphic, film, commercial, derivative. Uses: You are welcome to use this blessing poem in non-commercial ways without adding to nor deleting any part, just using the work in its entirety along with author’s name and this copyright notice attached.

Where The Light Is

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“The Warrior of the Light is a believer.  Because she believes in miracles, miracles begin to happen.  Because she is sure that her thoughts can change her life, her life begins to change.  Because she is certain that she will find love, love appears.” ~ Paulo Coelho

I took this photo the other morning while out looking at my garden beds.   Even though I’ve been growing them for years, Milkweed – and their seeds – have really captured my attention in the last couple of weeks.  All of the plants are currently filled with pods bursting with beautiful potential. On any given day I’ll find their seeds clinging to the tomatoes vines, climbing the lemon tree, or sitting on the earth like a little angel, just waiting for Someone to bury it.

To me, these seeds are particularly beautiful with their tiny filaments that help catepillar1.jpgthem “fly”.  How apropos, since they’re the sole nourishment for Monarchs.  Without these common, easy to grow plants, Monarch caterpillars wouldn’t have food.  Without Monarch caterpillars, there’d be no butterflies….and how sad would that be!?!?  Monarches are already disappearing by the millions. So even though I only have a few of them, growing Milkweed is one way I can help them survivr.

Seeds are miraculous.  Take pomegranates, for example.  A single pomegranate seed, planted at the right time, in the right soil, with the right care, will produce a tree.  That tree will eventually bear fruit – lots and lots of fruit – and each of those fruit will be packed with more seeds! Like, an average of 680 seeds!  That’s amazing!

We’re talking about 10s of 1000s of seeds produced in a single growing season from a single tree and it ALL comes about because one little dot was sown.

What mesmerizes me most about this photo (taken with my cell phone and unfiltered) is the little ball of light at the juncture of the filaments to the seed. It’s almost as if the seed is alive with energy.  I’m sure there’s some logical explanation for it, but I don’t care.  To me, this is miraculous.  I literally cannot stop looking at it.

Every seed is programed to become a specific plant, each after it’s own kind.  It’s impossible to plant a watermelon seed and get a zucchini.  And given enough time, a single seed can reproduce itself a million times over, feeding other life forms who – in their own way, and according to their own kind – will produce their seed and multiply.

What starts out so tiny and singular…something that could easily be overlooked, stepped on, mistreated or eaten (smiling)….has the potential to change the world.

Just like a single thought can change a life.

Thanks, Paulo.

Seeds Of Change

seed-packets-peasWhat is it about woundedness that is so powerful in engaging others?  Whether it’s a physical ailment, a childhood trauma or a recent heartbreak, it seems that when we start speaking to the world through the voice of our wounds, the world responds back in spades.  Suddenly, the flood gates open up and everyone has a story to share. Strangers immediately become brothers and sisters, and don’t show the least hesitation in sharing deeply personal and painful experiences.

Years ago, at the recommendation of a therapist my husband and I were seeing, I began going to 12-Step support groups for Co-Dependants Anonymous and Sex Addicts Anonymous.  I also joined a couple of online communities for the same purposes.  Initially, it was a huge relief to be able to share my stories with people who had “been there, done that.”  Compassion, encouragement, and support surrounded me.  I soon discovered that I wasn’t alone, there were people more fucked up than me (no judgment there, just sayin’…), and  I didn’t have to have secrets anymore.

I was validated and heard – two things very important on any healing journey.

But something began to happen about 30 days into it.  I wasn’t finding the groups helpful any more.  The people began to annoy me, the meetings drained me, and I no longer felt like I belonged. I simply couldn’t bear the constant rehashing of everyone’s issues over and over again, with so little focus placed on the solution.  And my skin crawled at the idea of saying, “Hi, I’m Grace, and I’m an addict.”  The words just didn’t want to come out.

“Once an addict, always an addict” is one of the major philosophies of the traditional 12 Step Program. and I was having none of it.   I may have developed some maladaptive “survival” behaviors, but those were things I LEARNED to do as a child. And surely, anything learned could be UNLEARNED, and new behaviors put into place – right?

So I quit going to meetings and began seeing a solution based program.   It wasn’t long before I stumbled upon a wonderful Buddhist Bodhisatta, a psychologist, who was running an online recovery program, and immediately I felt at home.  I had found my tribe.  And under his care and instruction, true healing began.

To this day I thank the Recovery Gods that I listened to those little warning bells, and removed myself from the 12 step programs.  It didn’t take more than a year before I was free…completely….of addictive behavior.  My recovery came from being in a “wellness” focused environment – not a “sickness” focused one.  I spoke and prayed and meditated and affirmed and manifested health into existence, having surrendered it all to God’s grace.  My thoughts and words shifted. aligning with freedom. wholeness and well being.

And my whole life changed.

I was thinking about this yesterday when, for what seemed like the millionth time, I sat at the computer to write a post and came up empty.  Several times a few sentences managed to make their way to the page, but the flow was missing.  I’d type and end up staring at the screen for 5 minutes.  Then I’d try to “force” something, but I would quickly lose interest and delete the page – completely uninspired.

Then, the epiphany.   I don’t want to write about breast cancer, my daily challenges and experiences.  Not right now.  Even though it is the “big” issue in my life right now, even though ’m undergoing treatment, and yeah, it’s been difficult at time, and even though there are times when I absolutely need to talk about what I’m going through – it’s not what’s in my heart to write about.

I no more want to identify as a breast cancer “survivor” than I did a “recovering addict”.  It doesn’t feel right.  I am NOT a disease, and my life is made up of so much more than this single season!  As powerful as it’s been, as transformational and life altering, it does not – and will not – define me.

This mindset explains why pink ribbons don’t fill in my space.  In fact, now that I think about it, the only pink ribbons I do have were given to me by others! The beautiful handmade blanket covered…the t-shirt….the handcrafted key chain.

Don’t get me wrong!  I am SO very appreciative of these thoughtful gifts.  The outpouring of love, support, prayers, gifts and encouragement I’ve received has been an amazing blessing.  But it’s been my friends and family who have filled my life with merch and slogans like, “Fight Like A Girl” and “Kick Cancer’s Ass” and “Save The Tatas”.

The only thing I’ve personally done that would ID me as someone dealing with cancer is my bald head.  Otherwise, no one would know if they saw me. AND THAT’S THE WAY I WANT IT.

I’ve been receiving messages from Spirit in the past couple of weeks.  Every time I turn around, I see something about the power of words.  I am being reminded of something I learned several decades ago, and that is this:  The power of life and death and in the tongue (Proverbs 18:21), that it is out of the abundance of the heart that we speak (Matthew 12:34), and that the tongue of the wise brings healing (Proverbs 12:18).

Words contain the power of life and death, blessing and cursing, health or illness.  They are containers of vibration.  The Hidden Messages in Water – the work of renown scientist Masaru Emoto – shows that even the written word carries vibrational energy that impacts life is near it. Words let the Universe and everyone around us know exactly what it is our hearts and our minds, and repeating the same thing over and over again is, in itself, a creative process. (Hence the power of chanting).

So I’ve been confronted by Spirit recently:  What is it that I am saying?  What thoughts am I repetitively thinking, what prayers?  What WORDS am I using?  What the HELL is coming out of my mouth?

This morning, I’m  making a decision…..setting an intention.  I want to speak – and write – only those words that bring the vibration of healing, restoration and renewal into my life.  Just like back in the “recovery” days,  I’m going to focus what I want, and not on what I have.

Words are like seeds we plant in the unseen ground of our tomorrows. And I know exactly what I want to grow.

“We have totally forgotten that this Universe is the outcome of vibration. This Universe is not communication. This Universe is not money. This Universe is not love, it is not sex, it is not beauty, it is not even God. That one line is true: “In the beginning there was the Word, Word was with God, and Word was God.” That’s all it is about. What is a word? Creative vibration.”  Yogi Bhajan  7/18/84

AlienNation

wigIt’s 1 a.m. and I can’t sleep.

It’s the steroids.  Tomorrow is Round 2  (I always think of boxing every time I use that phrase.  It’s SO apropos, I should get a pair of boxing gloves to wear when I go in!).  I have to take steroids the day before, during and after the treatment.  They are actually one of my least favorite of the non-favorite parts of of this but they somehow prime the cells to take the chemo better.

Whatever….

So here I am, in  front of my keyboard, looking for some more release.  This has been another week of highs and lows.  The last couple of days I’ve been feeling pretty good physically – almost back to “normal”.  which has been awesome.  Especially since I shaved my head yesterday.   Not sure what I would see with the Big Reveal, I ended up quite relieved and barely shed a tear.  For months I’ve been worried I’d have some weird flat spot or lumps, or would look like a giant embryo.

Praise the BBC Gods (that’s Bald By Chemo, btw…),  it’s actually quite shapely! Yay! My husband even called me beautiful (OK, he’s just a good guy anyway, but still…).  Note to anyone out there facing this: being shaved is FAR less traumatic than running your fingers through your hair and pulling back something that looks like a Tribble. tribbles

When I was finished, off to the wig shop I went and ended up finding a super cute one.  It’s actually in the same style that I’ve been wanting, in a color I’ve worn before.  And thanks to a fabulous tip from one of my favorite Drag Queens, Pandora Boxx, I knew exactly what to do with it to help it look even more natural.  That’s right, Pandora messaged me on her InstaGram account.  We’re BFFs like that. Pandora Boxx

One of the challenges of the week was the letter that came from my employer telling me they were terminating my health insurance at the end of the month.  Sure, I’d be offer the same plan via COBRA, but if you’ve had to deal with COBRA, you know how expensive it can be.  Fortunately, I can get onto my husbands plan.  It’s not too much extra a month in premiums, but I suddenly have an annual deductible to meet.  Like I needed another Change to navigate….Oh, well.  It will get done and from what I hear, with the meds they’re pumping into me, it shouldn’t take too long to meet that deductible.  One drug alone is $10,000 a pop.  Thankfully, for now, we have the money to pay.

What a world we live in, where, right in the middle of a health crises, your employer can legally term your benefits and tell you they are going to have to fill your position.  Sure, when/if I go back, they will put me at the top of the list for any “future vacancies” (uh, I was the only one who did what I did),  but I’m not holding my breath.  That’s just so much legal speak which really means, Girl, you is OUT and when you come back, there won’t be anything for you.  Maybe they’ll hoping I will quit so they don’t have to lay me off.

The irony is, I don’t ever want to work for this company again.  Seriously.  I just want to stay employed so that I can continue to collect State Disability until done with my treatments.  And then?

THEN I want to do what I talked about, and written about here, for ages.  I want a whole new career path.  Something where I can spend my time, talents and energy making a positive impact on the world – and not just on some cold, morally challenged corporate bottom line.  I want to be of SERVICE.   To bring a little light into someone’s darkness, or provide a product or service that helps someone in their every day lives.

I want to do what I love, with people I love doing it with, for the highest good of all of us.

And, most importantly, I want to have FUN and experience JOY while I’m doing it!!

So, this letter is actually a push in the right direction.  Sure, it would have been nice to have the company I’ve worked for for nearly a decade put a little more value on my life, my livelihood, and my contribution to the company.  But I’m not surprised in the least.   We don’t vibrate the same, if you know what I mean.  I’m truly alien there, just trying to keep my space – and my spirit – clear of all the toxicity and drama.  Being an honest and upright person in the midst of ass kissers, double talkers and promise breakers is stressful.

Breast cancer has not only been a wake up call, but a call to action.

Now, all I have to do is figure out what that new life might look like.  Since I still have several months of treatments to go through, and a bunch more healing to accomplish, I’m not ready to start putting out applications.  But I can live my life and see what happens.

And I can DREAM.

Speaking of dreaming, my husband told me that while I was napping the other evening, something quite extraordinary happened outside my bedroom window.  He said that at least a hundred dragonflies swooped in out of nowhere and were swarming around and around.  This is NOT something that happens here, although I did find a dragonfly vortex on my driveway many weeks back.  Oh, how I wish I had been awake to see this!!

The DRAGONFLY has shown up in my life during some other very transformational periods in my life.  I wrote about my conversation with one here in fact.  Reading her words again brings such comfort and assurance.  They ring as true tonight as they did over a decade ago when this happened.  Knowing that a 100 dragonflies were involved this time, well…that only makes me feel even better.

Yes, it’s time to dream.