Lean Into The Discomfort

This is Day One of my pot-less situation. I used up the emergency stash yesterday because I know myself, and as long as it’s here, I will use it. I know I can live without it, but the thought of such a life seems dull. I bet all drug addicts rationalize their addictions, and I am no different. I miss it already. I’m depressed that I have none, and although my coping strategies are excellent, life doesn’t seem as interesting when I am sober.

My thought is that after a few weeks without it, I will see that marijuana is what is holding me back in life, instead of propelling me forward. Perhaps we will both start working again and so many things will improve that I will have no other course of action but to admit that I don’t need it in my life. Even though I want it.

My relationship with cannabis (and it is a relationship) has been the only constant in keeping my spirit happy. When I was alone, lonely and afraid, it kept me anchored to each day. I learned how to use my dependency to motivate myself to do more to ‘earn’ the right to use. I cleaned my house, walked, took the dog for a walk whenever I wanted to feel okay about being dependent on marijuana. I learned to engage in my real life and home in order to feel okay about being a drug user.

I am more patient and understanding when I am using cannabis. My body feels safe and secure. My spirit feels happy. My mind feels unified, even when there are several conversations going on up there at the same time.

Pot has a reputation for making people paranoid, and possibly being linked to developing schizophrenia. I often experienced paranoid thinking when I was high. More correctly, pot allowed me unrestricted entry to the thoughts that usually didn’t make it past my conscious filter. Some thoughts were paranoid stories that fleshed out my greatest fears, using players from my life as the subjects. Some thoughts were truths I didn’t have a place to integrate into my disordered thinking. Some thoughts were dark, old, things that my memory sanitized years ago.

It is scary to let your fear roam unrestricted in your mind. It’s scarier still to board the paranoid thought train and go where it takes you. You dip your thoughts fully into your worst nightmare, where you begin to feel all of the associated pain and hurt, even if only in your imagination.

Fear doesn’t keep pain away. It creates a lush breeding ground for paranoia. When I was high, I would meditate about a problem, and let whatever associations naturally formed, play out. If I wasn’t afraid to think the thoughts, they naturally resolved themselves when I realized how unlikely most of my fears are.

I have a strong belief that the bond I have with the cannabis plant is sacred and an essential part of my healing. I resent that I need to detox from something that feels right. On the other hand, I also need to know if life is better with or without the plant. I am not looking forward to the dry life, but perhaps I will be amazed at the benefits of living without cannabis.

Detox. Meh.

I have had a relationship with cannabis for more than a few years now. I have gone back and forth with fear and worry that my use of cannabis is somehow damaging to me spiritually, or that I am trying to escape from something I don’t want to deal with. In November, a new friend who grows his own medical marijuana stopped by with a ‘Welcome to BC’ gift for me, with assorted samples of the bud he grows. I have likely never received a gift that made me happier. I have been enjoying that bag immensely.

Yesterday the day came that I have been dreading. My stash had dwindled down to one bud. There might be enough there for an emergency puff or two, but this morning I find myself in the position of having no more pot, and a renewed reason for a tolerance break.

There isn’t much joy in the idea of living without cannabis. It’s like a daily appointment to meet with the part of myself that can’t seem to rise without it. I feel relaxed and safe in my body when I use it. There is a part of me that doesn’t care what the rest of the world has to say about using marijuana in lieu of a pharmaceutical drug. For some reason, it’s totally okay for people to have an alcohol dependency. In fact, it’s socially sanctioned. Lots of people are afraid of cannabis. Maybe it shows you more than you want to see about yourself.

I would be under the influence of cannabis every waking moment if I could. I love the way it makes my body feel free and at home. I like the way my mind works, even if it makes other people less comfortable. I feel like the me I am supposed to be, rather than the person who is always trying to do and say the right thing. Pot lets me bypass the filter that stops me from saying, doing or even thinking the things I want to, AND my body feels great. For me it’s a win/win.

I take this tolerance break because I can feel it’s time. The medicine doesn’t work as well after a while. I have decided that I won’t be getting more until I can afford it myself, or until it shows up again organically in my life.

I love you Mary Jane, and I will see you as soon as I am able.

Art Imitates Life

Pain and distress is as much as aspect of our experience as love and happiness.  Often we only honor the comfortable aspect of ourselves, while pretending, or avoiding the aspects that give us pain.   Turning our attention to our lesser-loved, and more troubling feelings gives us access to parts of ourselves that need to be heard, held and helped. Sadness can connect us to the truth of our pain, the honour of our experiences, and the ability to move past it to something better.

In the early weeks of 2014, I was completely overtaken by The Artist.  S(he) wanted to see if other people were hiding pain too.

I wanted to know if other people would experiment with their sadness, and see if they could make some progress with their own pain.  They didn’t really understand what I was doing, and luckily they didn’t care.  They were brave, and they trusted that it was worth trying.  The agreement was that no one had to participate, but once they did, the image was mine to keep.  I used one image from each subject, as part of a collective project.

It took about 7 weeks to shoot 19 people.  I had no problem finding volunteers, but a few people backed out at the last minute, understandably.

Some thought it would be difficult to cry for no reason, but once we got down to it, the tears often started on the interview couch.  I was not surprised to find out that everyone had something to cry about.

There were aching, soulful sobs, and tight, angry tears, and sad lonely tears of things long ago left behind.  I shot 19 women, and each story is unique.  The tears are easy to spot, but are hard to look at sometimes.

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The process allowed me to connect personally with things that used to be ideas.  Areas of expertise that no person wants to claim. I can’t explain what happens when you see yourself in a way you didn’t expect.  Or when you find your face looks fierce and proud when you thought it would look weak. What a pleasant and grateful truth to see a warrior in the mirror, and not a mouse.

Around the same time, there was a photographer that got a lot of attention for the images he shot of John Schneider crying on a shoot for a show called ‘The Haves and Have Nots”.  I had not seen these images, although they happened right around the same time that I was absorbed in my self-portrait series.  The parallels were obvious.

JS had just lost his father, and he allowed the photographer to capture images of his pain, after the required images for the show were complete.  I thought they were breathtakingly beautiful.  Some of the people who had seen my project sent me the link to the photographs.

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http://www.jeremycowart.com is the artist (and photographer) that captured these images.

I always loved John Schneider when he was on the Dukes of Hazzard.  I loved him even more after I saw these images.

I understood these images more than most, and I thought it ironic that these sort of feelings are welcomed and congratulated as brave when it’s done by a celebrity.  I don’t know what I had expected from my own set of images.  I imagined they would be experienced as uncomfortable and interesting. I thought people might be interested in exploring the boundaries of experiencing emotional pain, and discussing the feelings the images provoke.  I thought there was some value to looking at the opposite of the feelings I was regularly being paid to produce.  I thought it was art.

I was so wrong.

Someday I believe these images will be seen by the people who will understand them.  Maybe then I will understand why they were so important to me that I destroyed my career, and my comfortable, veneer-covered life to make them.

I hope I will be able to know why I spent all of my waking time thinking of these images, and trying to make more.  Something in me wanted to be certain I knew I was deeply unhappy.  I believe most people are deeply unhappy in many ways, but are so brainwashed by the way we ‘live’ that they can no longer feel their disconnect.

I realize it’s probably only art when a famous person does it.  I think JC’s images are powerful and real.  This is the only kind of work I’m interested in creating any more, and there seems to be little market for it.

How will I ever sell people on the idea that feeling their own real, authentic feelings, is the gateway to a life connected to the real world.  In this place, there are no tv’s or cell phones.  There is nothing to distract you from the job of being human, and reveling in your own experience of life.

The paradox?  You must awaken to your own discomfort, to live the way you are meant to live.

Art Imitates Life

I realized in  early January 2014 that I could easily trigger a PTSD flashbacks. You might wonder why I would do that.  I am an artist at heart, and probably an emotional junkie.  I was attracted to the intensity of the feelings.  I LIKED FEELING THINGS, even if they were sad. I wanted to see for myself what was happening, and decided to set up a self-portrait set at my studio.  I used a piece of music that had consistently, and inexplicably made me cry when I heard it. For nearly an hour after I shot the first episode, I couldn’t look at these photos.  I paced nervously.   I knew whatever I captured was important to me, but I didn’t know why.  The feelings in my body were highly manic, excited, anxious, and agitated.  My heart was pounding. I was  worried that my measurements for the self timer would not be accurate, and the images would be out of focus.  Which they all were.  I was devastated that my first real art experiment was a bust. Failure was feedback.  I could not be both the observer and observed in this situation. I asked a close colleague to shoot my self portrait.  When I viewed the images from the second attempt, I was moved beyond words.  They painted a heartbreaking tale of sadness, betrayal and pain.  Each image showed a different emotion.  They give a face and an expression to a terrible experience.  Seeing her, made her real. cropped-multiplemeheader.jpg I even made a video of the images, and invited my clients and friends (over 2000 Facebook contacts) to ask for the link to view it.  I didn’t understand what was happening to me, and I was afraid.  It was a personal ‘art project’ that was really a cry for help.   No one asked me what the hell I was thinking, why I was crying, and what possessed me to show it to the world.  I was single-minded in my belief that this project was important.  The reality is that it was only important to me.  I vomited my mental health crisis onto the internet, and not surprisingly, no one knew how to react. At first it was really disconcerting, to show a part of myself that was so raw and unpleasant.  Soon, it became liberating.  It was a very unusual vantage point of life, and one that I found I curiously empowering.  I scared people with my pain.  I triggered their own fear.  Gone was the happy, smiling, complacent Jane they had been accustomed to.  In her place was a falling-apart woman who was not doing a good job of tucking in her crazy. There was a part of me that saw how much pain I was experiencing without really causing any real alarm bells to go off.  I was having a spiritual emergency, and the community response was mostly silence. So of course I did it again. I asked a different friend to shoot my 3rd attempt.  The  story was even darker.  The images were frightening, sickening, and painful to look at.  I viewed them with shock and  nausea. Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 12.20.50 PMScreen Shot 2014-12-08 at 12.19.54 PM I didn’t shoot any more images of myself, and my PTSD flashbacks.  I had seen quite enough. The Artist and The Professor conspired together to allow me a way to see The Scared Child that was hiding in my mind.  She must have been very relieved to finally be surfacing.  She was the driving force behind my need to heal. I am not sure how many people I hurt in this process.  I pursued this project like it was my only job in life.  I blew up my life in public, caused my business to tank, and began the slide into a deep depression that I wouldn’t begin to shake until the end  of May.  On the bright side, I had proof that there was really something wrong, and I needed help. I ended up in my doctors office, crying uncontrollably, and begging for medication to relieve the live-wire stick person that was living inside of my body.   I left with prescriptions for Effexor,  Zopiclone, and a referral to province-funded therapy.

Batten Down the Hatches

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That was me, pre-Christmas 2013.  If I knew what I was in for, I probably would have locked myself back up, and taken my chances.

Now that I know what I have gained, I am glad I kept fighting for myself.  Life is different now, and more complicated.

It’s also rich and full in a way I never imagined.  I have seen most of my life long personal dreams come true in the past month or two.  I have accomplished things that I gave up dreaming of long ago.  If my mental health hadn’t taken my old life hostage, I might not still be around.

A mind can hold many secrets, but once a light is shined into the darkest parts, they can no longer survive.

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The storm brought me to my knees, and them raised me back up on my feet. I found my strength, and my many muses in the fragmented parts of me.

I am grateful to the storm that turned my life, and all of my beliefs about myself, upside down.

Coming Out as a Collection of Parts

Telling people you are being treated for DID is not something I have really brought myself to do just yet.  It is a hard topic to introduce.  People have shown me their extreme fear and reluctance to be around me as I have struggled in the past year.  I have spent a great deal of time alone.

The most recent version of me was completely unaware that I had any mental illness at all.  It kept me busy and distracted all of the time.  I relate to this song:

 

Not the part about throwing up in the bathtub, or picking up daddies in the playground.  The part about keeping yourself distracted all the time so you never notice how alone you are.

“You’re gone and I gotta stay
High all the time
To keep you off my mind
High all the time
To keep you off my mind
Spend my days locked in a haze
Trying to forget you babe
I fall back down
Gotta stay high all my life
To forget I’m missing you”

‘High’ is a metaphor for any activity, drink, drug or person that kept me distracted and unaware.  I was keeping myself entertained every second of my day.  Before one thing was over, I would be thinking about the next thing I was going to do.  I didn’t live in the moment.  I wasn’t committed to the future.  I had erased the past.  My life was in complete chaos.  My home was like a bomb shelter.  Disorganization was my preferred coping strategy, although as a strategy, it only succeeded in reminding me what a fuck-up I was, and how I was never going to get it together.

I didn’t know what I was missing.  I was a shell of a person.  When I looked in the mirror (which I mostly avoided), I was looking at the reflection of my body, but couldn’t find me in the image.  I am not sure why these thoughts never seemed odd to me.  I suppose no one was talking about how much they identified with the person they were.  I identified with my thoughts, and with my experiences.  I had strong opinions and felt deep pain, so I assumed I was just like everyone else.

I was unaware of the extent of my incredible disconnect to my physical, emotional and spiritual world.  After my mental health started slipping last December (with the onset of emotional PTSD flashbacks), my extreme disconnect kept me from losing my mind with fear.  Occasionally there would be a few days, or a week where I seemed to be losing my ability to remain unafraid.  There were times of such extreme worry and fear that I had to separate from the thoughts just to remain grounded.  One of my most upsetting flashbacks caused me to mildly lose my grip on reality.  I have never felt such fury.  I felt like the terminator as I strode furiously towards the man who was the object of my anger.  His crime was apathy.  That was a real eye opener.

After many of these flashbacks, it became clear that my body was creating an opportunity to release stress from within my body, and find a way to introduce emotions that I had never had the freedom to express.   In many ways, finding my inner FURY was incredible.  It was freeing and exhilarating, as well as terrifying.   Keeping friendships during this period in my life was a great challenge.  People stayed clear of me as I imploded, which only infuriated me more.  I was angry at myself for surrounding myself with people who were unable to handle the reality of what was going on.  This might sound like I am blaming the people around me, but in reality, I had surrounded myself with people who were not equipped to handle the gravity of my issues.

It is easy to be unaware of your highly fragmented identity when the relationships in your life are mostly superficial.   In these situations, everyone is disconnected and exchanging what seems to be meaningful information, but what is truly filler in the sandwich of life.   These people are wonderful people, but they weren’t wonderful for me.  Introducing mental illness into a party crowd is a definite killjoy.  🙂

Without these relationships, I wouldn’t have seen the emptiness that I had come to accept as true connection to others in my world.  I had been trying to create important, meaningful relationships with people who did not want to have them with me.

It was the start of a fall that took months to complete.  When it as over, I was mostly alone, and happy with the step back I had taken in my life. As I quieted every aspect of my life, deleted my social media accounts, and stopped reaching out every time I felt afraid, life began to make much more sense.    I clawed back as much of myself as I could.  I retreated from the many places I had extended myself, and found peace and clarity that had been eluding me when I was in the middle of my own chaotic life.

 

 

 

 

My PTSD: Emotional Epilepsy?

What if there were a type of seizure activity that affected emotions.  And those types of people were having a kind of seizure that is brought on by extremes in emotional sensitivity, as well as physical sensitivity to the energy of the environment.
If you were in a situation where extreme emotion arose, you might find that your physiological response to the stimulus so greatly aggravated your emotional responses to the stimulus that it caused you to experience a dissociative break in consciousness, which would be your body’s way of dealing with a highly unpleasant situation that you didn’t need to remember.
Physical states of ecstasy release a great deal of physical energy from the body.  Perhaps these emotional seizures do the same on an emotional level, when the physical level is not able to be expressed.
This is my experience of my PTSD flashbacks.  They descend like an emotional shitstorm, blurring physical sensation, memory and intense fear.  They have presented in different ways, sometimes when I am triggered emotionally (usually unknowingly) and sometimes when I am physically active.  I feel like each time there is a release of some previously stored emotional and/or physical content.  Sometimes there are smells (like ammonia, dirt, rotting things), often there is intense fear, usually there is a parallel physical response like a wildly beating heart, sweating, pounding in my head.
There are no visual or auditory components, except occasional thoughts arriving which I cannot corroborate from my own memory.  They are frightening and interesting, and as my inner observer (The Scientist) notes the physical and mental symptoms of the FB, other parts of me are experiencing the FB on a visceral, emotional and psychological level.