Breathing

I began a new meditation practice a bit over a month ago.  I’ve done a bit of meditating off and on over the years, but never a consistent practice.  This is my first time incorporating some form of meditating into my every day.  I’ve been following a 8 week online course that I think will give me enough tools to keep going.  I’ve chosen to take on a bit more than the course suggests and instead of meditating once a day, I do twice starting and ending my day with at least 20 minutes of yoga or mindfulness or sometimes on weekends a nice long walk in the park for a an hour or two.

I am lucky to be able to structure that much time into my day.  I am also struck by what it’s meant just in this past month.

It began with the passing of an old friend and mentor.  I couldn’t go to the funeral because driving hours just a month after having had a seizure wasn’t safe.  Breathing, just stopping and breathing paying attention to my body allowing myself to stop and mourn while hundreds of miles away from the people I wanted to be allowed me comfort and kept me from despair.

As I continued my breathing each day,  I began to feel the tingling in my body and sense the healing glow and warm energy.  It reminded me of dream I had several years ago.  In that dream my body was filled with thousands of acupuncture needles and those needles were drawing in and releasing energy from the sun.  My body was healing through the sun’s energy and warmth.   I’ve noticed in these weeks my short memory feels stronger.  There have been no seizures.  And, old memories from long ago are resurfacing as if my body is acknowledging and dealing with them now that it is ready.

Some of those memories are hard.  The last two nights I’ve done a meditation called a body scan.  I just lay in my bed and breathe.  As I breathe, I’m listening to a guide that instructs me on paying attention to my breathing and focusing on different parts of my body.  The body scan is my favorite meditation that I’ve done thus far.  I’ve done it many times in the past month.  The difference in these last few nights has been in my breathing.  I found both nights a point of fear, a point in my breath where the bottom just seemed to drop out.  I’d remind myself that I am breathing, that I can breathe, and again the bottom would drop out of my breath.

Tonight, I remembered.  I was 16 or maybe 17 and working as a dishwasher at a place called Gracie’s, an Italian restaurant maybe 6 or 8 miles from our house.  It was a slow night, most nights there were.  I wasn’t feeling well.  I hadn’t been eating, was overworking myself with school, work, and extra-curriculars.  I probably hadn’t been sleeping well either.  And, I’m guessing I’d been taking a steady diet of ibuprofen and Tylenol already by that point to feel like I was doing something to address the emotional pain I was feeling.

I lifted a pot above my head to put it away on the shelf and suddenly I couldn’t breathe.  Gasping for air, I told Alan, the head cook, that I needed to leave.  He let me go home.  I drove home that night after dark, unable to breathe and not knowing why, speeding then slowing, speeding , then slowing.

I got home to an empty house.  Dad was at some party at his girlfriend’s house.  I was in tears and afraid.  I called him and he heard the fear and my gasping breath.  He was home in just a short while and we were in the car heading to the hospital.  I clasped his hand the whole way.  By this point my whole body was tingling and I couldn’t feel anything.  I understand that I held on pretty tightly.  We were both terrified.

The emergency room personnel didn’t take long to figure out what was happening and to give me a paper bag and some saltines.  I was hyperventilating and I needed to eat something.

I carried a bag with me for a while after that and learned how to slow my breathing by putting my head between my knees too.  Eating was tough to learn.  I wonder if it was at that visit to the ER that we started to accumulate the brochures about anorexia?

By the time I was 18,  I was 5 ft 9 and 110lbs.  I just took a look at an online BMI calculator and found that actually put me below the 1st percentile!  I don’t know that I ever had anorexia. For a long time I denied the possibility.  Now, I look at it and recognize some things. I was hurting and that emotional pain centered itself in my breathing and my stomach and I simply could not swallow food.  I was feeling out of control and needed something I could handle, something that I could control.

Still, I was a good girl and didn’t want to hurt anyone, except maybe myself.  So, I tried, and eventually, over time pizza, ramen noodles and lousy cafeteria food at college saved my life until I was able to really start the journey to caring for myself.

All that in my breathing exercises, and something else– I have always been a good girl, never wanting to hurt anyone else even at the cost of myself.   When other kids came to the point of raging where they’d throw stuff and break things, I remember being so angry at the world that I went up to my room and wanted to throw things, but I didn’t want to break anything, so I threw Kleenex.  It is not the same effect.  Eventually I took to just hitting myself or scratching my wrists.  I used to have tiny bruises on my thighs in my teenage years.  I remain thankful for the things that I didn’t know back then about drugs and suicide.  That lack of knowledge probably kept me alive.

I didn’t have a bad life in those teenage years.  I had a family that loved me, good friends at school, lots of ways that I was involved in church and community.  I was smart.  I had a future.  But yet I was hurting, hurting to the point where I could have taken my own life.

Breathing tonight I started to cry,  I remembered someone, my dad’s girlfriend from those years.  Hilda was a good person, had a nice family, cared about my dad and our family wasn’t horrible or evil or anything.  But, honestly, in those days back then I didn’t want her around, I didn’t like her.  I’d never have said that to my dad or to her.  I always either treated her respectfully or tried to just stay out of the way.  I blamed my dislike on her style.  I was hippie kid of the 1990’s, scruffy and ready to save the world.  Hilda had perfectly coifed hair, manicured nails, and makeup all the time.  Appearance was important to her in how she looked and in how she acted.

There were things I didn’t see though then and I cried for them tonight.  It wasn’t Hilda’s style or the way she behaved that was at the core of why I didn’t want her there.  It was where she stood.  That hair and makeup was standing in the place where the most beautiful bald head and jaundiced skin I’d ever known had been.  I wasn’t over my mom’s death just a few years before and did not want anyone in her place.

Breathing is sometimes a process of forgiveness, acceptance, and allowing things to be.

I can now say it was ok for me to be angry and fearful.  It was ok for Hilda to be there.  It was ok for my dad to continue his life and it is ok for me to continue mine.

With all this processing in my heart and soul I just say to all of you out there who have those kids in your life who are quiet, who are well behaved, who are reserved and not stepping out of line when you know that they’ve been through hell, just walk with them, take care of them, keep them safe.  Thanks.

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