Salt Water

Finding 52 folks – this is the first post of YEAR 4!

Blogging has been a thing that long. What a way to celebrate an amazing life, a difficult story, and such incredible love all around me. PLUS, my first publishing journey is coming to completion very soon, the Finding 52 book (its title to be released on my next blog) should be ready for retail in the next 6-8 weeks! I promise to let everyone know when plans for the book launch are set and how to get your hands on it.

In the meantime, here’s what is happening…

Earlier in the year I wrote that I was ready to share my story in public – in person – face to face – wherever and with whom ever. Since that declaration, I have been a session speaker at a Domestic Violence conference, I signed up to volunteer as a mentor and facilitator for a local agency working in the trenches of Interpersonal Violence challenges, and a couple of days ago, me and Hubby led a group of police officers and health care workers through a workshop designed to increase participants understanding and empathy for victims.

Although these opportunities to share my story have gone well at the time, they leave me with residue to process afterward. This would make sense, right? It is like re-living some of my darkest days and describing to strangers intimate details of the hard lessons I learned through it all.

Maybe hard is the wrong word. Many people have harder things to work through than my stuff – true! However, I am not living anyone else’s story. Just mine. And some days, the struggle is so intense and vivid, that I am convinced nothing could be worse. I think you all understand the kind of hard I am talking about. We all have some form of it.

After the workshop was over, my adrenalin was pumping. I could not stop shaking for the three hour drive home. My sleep that night was restless as I kept thinking about something Hubby said to the group. Even though I tell people at the start of any session that this is my current story, that I am living it now – still –I sometimes do not remember that myself. But when Hubby explains to an audience of intent participants how I experience haunting night terrors where he must wake me, it provides evidence of a trauma permanently etched somewhere in my emotional memory.

I used to feel this terror in my waking brain, remembering the repetitive hurt distinctly. Slowly – with Love – these fears faded until I thought they were no longer affecting me. I was wrong.

Since sleep was eluding me this night, I got up early and headed for the gym at the office to work on some cardio. I plugged in my favorite Netflix series and put my brain on numb. After a few minutes I had an urge to increase the resistance – work harder – go faster… so I did.

The vertebrae’s in my back started to twinge – no surprise there, backpain has been a constant for many months. I ignored it.

My shoulders and neck also started to complain with a chronic tension that has been in remission for a few years – back again today. Strange. I shrugged it off.

My feet started to tingle like they were going numb. I disregarded that, too. Something was pushing me, but I was not privy to what.

I finally stopped because it was time to get to work, but I took a few minutes to stretch. Normally I head to the large matted area, where there is a perfect spot between fluorescent lighting to put my feet up the wall but not stare directly into the glare. This spot did not feel right, so I headed to the fitness studio, choosing a single mat of solitude. I had not stretched here before.

As I laid down to rest my tired body against the cool fibers ready to absorb my sweaty frame, a rush of emotion released within my body and came flooding out of my tear ducts.

What is this? Did my sappy Netflix series do this to me?

No. It was from ME – inside of me, a stirring and storming of painful memories, with stiff, uneasy emotions looking for relief. It seemed like I did not have a choice, so I let the tears flow. As I cried, I asked to be shown where this pain was coming from. My heart took me to the times when younger AJ was alone – and afraid – and wanting so desperately to be loved, to be held, to have hope.

With as much compassion I could muster, I gently whispered to her:

You are not alone.

You are strong.

You get through this.

Hang on, little sister. An amazing life is waiting for you.

This experience made me think back to a time when I was in the same city where Mum had her cancer treatments. I had not been back in a very long while, so the city streets and directions looked unfamiliar. I was trying to find an address by following my nose – avoiding GPS as my own quiet rebellion against technology.

I headed toward what I thought was a possible route, but nothing looked the same as it did over 25 years ago. On the route, I started to feel nauseous and unwell. I did a checklist of anything I ate that day. Nothing on the naughty list, so it was a puzzling feeling.

Then an undeniable sense of anxiety washed through me. At first I thought, am I actually worried about being lost? I do not usually react like this. I like rolling along until discovering where I aim to be.

This oddly anxious and nauseous feeling had no apparent explanation, until I turned a corner to suddenly see the cancer center I had visited too many times when Mum was undergoing chemotherapy. I instantly wanted to vomit, the sensations were overwhelming. Clearly, my physical body recognized the road we were on and reacted with memory of that, but my brain, did not.

And… The neck and shoulder pain that materialized while I was exercising was a direct result of one of the final injuries from my ex. He pushed me by the throat, from a standing position onto the bed, where he jumped on top of me. I felt something snap inside my neck as he used his body weight to press down and squeeze my throat until I almost lost consciousness. I did not see a doctor afterward, so am left with a limited range of motion and pains that recur without much provocation.

There is more…

In the first year of freedom, I came into contact with a woman who had a similar story to mine. She was brave to seek help, eager to put in the work to rebuild her relationship, but not at the cost of going right back to where things had been – abusive and violent. I was a small part of the pieces that came together to positively change her life, but because I was in my role as a professional, she never knew how closely our stories were connected. She was a tattoo artist by trade, so when all my work with her had come to an end, I commissioned her to design and deliver my one and only tattoo.

This symbolic tattoo sits on my left sciatic joint, a recent mysterious source of great discomfort that finds me knocking on every practitioner’s door for relief. Since I decided this tattoo would represent my hard-fought freedom from oppression, is it a coincidence that area on my body is now kicking up a painful temper tantrum? I think not.

No matter how much happiness and freedom I enjoy in the life I celebrate living now, this trauma is stored somewhere inside of me, appearing when significant moments arise, nudging me to be aware – make adjustments – seek balance – encourage healing.

When it comes to figuring out the dynamics of a healthy body and mind relationship, I do not know what is trickier – having a brain that cleverly forgets the worst of bits of our experiences or a body that never forgets them.

There may not be an answer to that. I might have to continue working through these mental and physical tensions with strategies that allow mostly temporary relief, like – cranking out a good, salty sweat – dropping a million salty tears – playing in salty ocean waves while soaking in warm, sea air – and always being ready to speak softly to that crying girl on the gym mat.

You are held. You are safe. You are loved.

So very, very loved.