Today marks the beginning of dieta, a period of cleansing my mind, body, and spirit, so that I can be best prepared for the work to come. In this coming two weeks, I am placing restrictions on my nutritional diet (eating as much fruits and veggies as I can, plain rice, no salt, spices, or fats, and limiting protein to grilled chicken and hard-boiled eggs; no alcohol), intimacy is to be cut-off (no sex or intimate contact with ourselves or each other until after the retreat), and guarding what comes into my mind whether through television, the internet, podcasts, books and articles, politics, and social media (so I am basically removing myself from technology wherever possible, until the end of December).
These may seem like pretty extreme steps to take, and indeed it feels like a mountain of restrictions, but I am motivated to receive as much as I can from this endeavor, and so I am willing to show respect, and discipline, leading up to it. It will be challenging, but the best things in life often are.
As I detail what it looks like going into this, it occurs to me now that I should write down a bit more about what led me here… I intend to write a lot over the coming days, weeks, months – perhaps I should have a proper jumping off point: When did this part of the journey begin, the fork in the road to Ayahuasca?
… I am sitting here, preparing my thoughts, and the image of Forrest Gump came to my mind, him perched on the bench preparing to tell his story to a stranger – funny, what random things our minds conjure…
“It began in 1984, the day of my birth…”
Ha! As if.
I might insist, instead, my dramatic entrance into the lead role of this story came when I was just 19. Home was the house behind Orchards, the backyard with the perfect view of Mt. Hood on a clear day. The Pacific Northwest, fresh air, the smell of wet dirt, quenched ferns and soft, cool moss under bare feet. Home was still where mother lived with my two younger siblings in need of perhaps a bit more supervision. Home was beginning to look a lot different than how it did when I was a child. Home, for me, needed to be anywhere else.
Waitressing at Ihop was a good gig; I liked serving people and I was good at the busy work, but my shifts were long and I often had nothing good to go home to. Just another day, another tip – uncertain, so unsure, where my life was going. I had a group of solid friends, the kind you grow up with and make young mistakes together, but none of us really had direction after High School. Most days it was hard to figure out what “home” was becoming (my mom’s issues were directly affecting the entire landscape, for all of us), much less figure out how to steer my life away from the same chaotic fate. Too young, really, to find that motivation and drive alone; nobody in my life was pressuring me to do anything besides what looked a lot like just getting by. I wanted more but did not know how to have it. I craved stability, affection, guidance, and even boundaries from my parents. I craved someone to stop me in my tracks and knock sense into me that how I was living would not wield a positive reflection of my capabilities, my intelligence, my worth. Yet, as much as I wanted, well, what sounds a lot like the role of a parent, there I was: nineteen years old, working a job as a waitress, with no idea how big the world was, or what it could offer me, and I felt completely alone. Nobody was telling me to want more, to go and get it. I knew in my gut I could try harder, but I felt so defeated by everything that changed in my teenage years and I had nothing left to give from myself. I was well on my way to a life of just getting by…
As it always goes, one night – they say, one night changed the entire story.
*Insert quiet, handsome machinist*
Everything changed, within days. It was mere weeks after we met, when my belt and scarf hung over the bedpost and I remarked how my stuff magically keeps finding its way into his house, he offered to share his home with me.
What happened, for me, was that I went from having instability, to predictability. Loneliness and solitude to a companionship and friendship that kept us up into early morning hours talking about life. He became my safety, he became my home, when everything else I had known, for so many years, was that my home had been broken, ever changed, and with that separation came the loss of my safety and affection and guidance. He gave me the things I was missing, filled in the gaps, and I felt complete, for the first time in my young life I knew, without a doubt, where I belonged.
When you give someone that gift, when you become that home, it forever is going to change you. Our time in that little house, our hands in the dirt planting the Hyacinth that still bloom every spring… the way we understood each other, quietly, as if we had been listening for 50 years and just knew what the other was thinking. Instead of going to parties and socializing like our friends, we watched Seinfeld at night while we ate nachos at the foot of the bed. We talked about religion and science and knew each other’s secrets, and at the end of every long day we rushed home to that little house to sit together in front of a fire while he strummed the guitar and I sang along quietly.
It was my perfect bohemian fantasy before I ever I would think to create one – many years too late. Except, he was real. We, we were. We loved intensely, and I was… Sure. Of my home. I was sure it was him, the one I was meant to spend the rest of my life with. We were engaged a year after we met and everything made sense – it all made perfect sense. Direction; where my life was going was wherever he would be.
Funny how I sat here for a while, thinking to myself again – how do I go from that part to the next, and then add all the shit after that, to explain how this really went? I know I haven’t the time or the mental fortitude to stick it out on these keys long enough today, to really get to the heart of it. I feel, however, happy with where I’ve begun, because for me the start of the story is indeed when I first fell in love. When I found home for the first time in the arms of a man whom truly loved me, too.
But the parts that come after . . . They would make so little sense without explaining the pain, and I cannot explain the pain without first the love – oh, bother, as Pooh Bear says. . . Hmm…
Okay. It sucked, what happened next. The end of one story and the start of all the others after.
Death is final, but what is not final is the end of love, and I got both in close succession. First, the end of love, well no I cannot call it that – the end of that story, and then, death. Except, worse still, is in my heart they’re so closely related but the details are not for this day. Death is final, losing love is not.
I was dealt some heavy, difficult cards shortly before my mom died – the end of the story with my first love, the end of knowing my mother came simultaneously, and then a few short weeks later, she was dead. Dead as dead is dead. Never coming back.
I lost my love, and I lost my mother.
Nothing was safe. No home. Stability caved on a cracking foundation and everything I knew about my life, about love and protection and, fuck, even the concept of “fate”… Nothing I believed in made sense anymore, and I began the dark next phase of my life. Outwardly everything seemed to be okay, I smiled in pictures at the beach and walked the paces to look like I was moving on, but after that loss (and moving away from my hometown one month after my mother’s death to California, and then to Texas) I was broken. Beaten down, unsteady as it comes… Looking back, what is funny is I got a degree in that time after I moved away, and had my first baby, and I was married to her father, but I do not remember it as well as I remember everything that came before it. I was in a fog. Going through the motions. I married the first person I dated after my first, whose home I moved into in California after I left Washington. We bought a home, got pregnant, did it all the “right” way… I was walking the steps. But I was never the same person, I carried a darkness inside me, a longing, a bitterness. Most of all, I carried the regret that I hadn’t been brave enough to change my path, to return home to the only place that was ever mine, to the one person whom had ever shown me love the way I needed it. Hurt makes you fearful, and the pain I knew in my gut, in my spirit, it was enough to cripple me until I was motionless, and eventually felt too stuck in what I chose to ever change it.
I was afraid of what everyone would think if I forgave him. I was afraid of the ramifications of going back when everyone knew and thus everyone had an opinion. I was afraid of broken trust and difficult conversations. I was afraid of never untying the knot which held one mistake to the death of my mother, because neither could be undone, and could I love him the same knowing she is never coming back? I was afraid…
And so, I stuck. With my choices. I stayed for my daughter, and the commitment I made to give her the happy life she deserved. I stayed to honor the marriage I committed to and tried to make it work with him so that we could both raise the child we made together. It always remained with me, throughout all that time, that I left something undone, and that I left a part of myself – maybe the biggest part – with someone else. That haunted me at night, not just the searing loss of it, but the knowledge that it was staying with me, despite everything I was doing, on paper or so it seemed, to move past it. This old love, this old story, this old pain… It never left me, no matter what I tried to do to convince myself I needed to just let it go.
So, it came that our relationship ended (as it probably most often will when one person is still in love with their first love and not emotionally invested in the marriage), and I found myself alone with my child living in his parents’ guest house on a beautiful property in the Texas hill country. We remained there for a few months, she was just barely over a year old, when I met my second child’s father. River trip on the Comal, he was friendly, and I was interested – three months later, here comes another baby. Shotgun wedding sure set the tone as every month to follow was pretty much what happens when you mix gasoline and a match; all the passion that led to the baby erupted into both of us feeling utterly stuck, hating each other for this stupid thing we did, but there she was – this brand new baby girl, so we did what we had to do and fought through it, literally and figuratively. When he finally left us she was oh gosh maybe 5 months old; it was a sigh of relief, but I was penniless (not his best move) and once more completely unsteady. At least I was alone, finally, because the storm of he and I together was just too much to bear. I was grateful at least to just be able to breathe without feeling suffocated by anger all the time.
Twenty-eight years old, single mother twice divorced in the space of two years’ time; at this point in my life the story had devolved so drastically from anything I pictured for myself, I was – well, just getting by. I never had help unless you count the occasional financial blessing from family or bonuses at work so it was hard to manage rent and bills, but my apartment was very nice, I had a new, running vehicle, and a few close friends nearby to help get me through. At night I would turn up the music and dance in my living room, and then I would turn off all the lights, double lock the doors, and crawl into bed with one or both of my baby girls curled up beside me. Life had taken its turns, and I was going to be, if nothing else at all, the best mom I could be. I chose this life, and these two girls…
Of all the mistakes I have made, what I hold most guarded is that my decisions allowed my children to grow up in two separate homes, like my parents did to me, and I did not just do this once, I did it twice. My daughters will never know anything but this arrangement, but I will forever understand these were my choices which gave them this story; I’ve had to work through and forgive myself for that, and I do what I can to make it as easy on them as possible – of all of it, this is the heaviest piece on my heart when it comes to what I regret in this long, tangled story.
I am going to stop there when it comes to history, for one thing because I’ve already written 2,411 words, and second because it is not time to tell the last part yet – the part when I meet John and inevitably arrive right here, in this house, in this chair, in this life I lead now. What I wanted most to illustrate the history was to illuminate the difficult parts – the parts that feed into why I am going to the retreat I mention 2,500 words ago…
I’ve been through a lot. I am 35 now, goodness sakes how the hell did that happen? My road has curved and hit dead ends and I’ve even fallen off a few cliffs along the way, but I have known what it means to pick myself back up again, do what it takes, and go forward. . . At least, it appears that way.
Remember when I said that thing about carrying a darkness around inside of me? Well, that part, through all of this, never left me.
I’ve had periods of total surrender to the moment – childbirth comes to mind, and the weeks after, when life is so new and different and beautiful that you cannot help but be fully present. Times with my husband where we were lost in each other, vacations and experiences around the world, times when we are simply dancing all together in the living room to Michael Jackson and laughing because it is just another Tuesday night. I’ve had great, blissful moments with my family, and I can say without a doubt, beyond any measure, that since so long ago, these are the happiest times I have known here, in this house, with these people I call my own.
Yet, the darkness.
It is there. It remains.
I am talking about the twinge of pain in my chest in a quiet moment, the kind that swells from your very heart and pulses one single jolt of energy into your throat and instantly you cannot swallow. It comes and just as suddenly fades, like a wave you cannot ignore. It comes, and you know why, because he turned his head just that certain way and it reminds you of someone, and it is fleeting and even a bit unnerving, but you want it back. You say nothing because why would you, but you felt it. Like loving that hard creates muscle memory and everything which reminds you of it after it ends – your body reacts, it has to, the cells were trained to react to his face, that feeling it gives, and your heart reminds you. I always feel it right in my throat.
I am talking about the feeling that I will never be safe again, that my foundations crumble time and again, and it all began with the one I needed the most. How it began, why, what, how, when, where… Why… Why… . . why?
I am talking about finally stopping myself in my tracks, giving myself guidance, and being the parent I need, for myself, and finally declaring that it is time to try something different. . . I am talking about not living in fear, of the unknown – of what it means to let these stories go – I am talking about loving myself enough to believe I am worthy of this good story that I am living in now, I am good enough to love, I am strong enough to give my children the best of myself, and I am not going to live in fear that this too shall end.
The past needs to be let go.
I need to finally release my hold on this darkness.
I need to release my hold of this old story, the love itself, and all the pain that came from losing everything, so long ago. I need to forgive myself, and those others, and look beyond what caused the pain to see the beauty in each and every ending.
I need to release my perception that I am unworthy of love and find healing from the trauma handed to me from my mother weeks before her death. I need to believe that I am worth the effort, worth the patience, worth the time.
I need to release the guilt, shame, and regret I feel for having chosen everything the way that I did, after I left home. For giving my children the legacy of divorce and struggle, and the pain of being raised in two separate households.
I need to release my inability to trust myself, and others, especially those closest to me – fearing either me or them could completely dismantle this life in a moment; I need to learn to give myself completely over to vulnerability and honesty, to be the kind of person capable of building a meaningful life. Trust is key.
I need to find emotional tranquility and stop being so reactive in my relationships, a trait I learned when things became so unstable when I was a child; I need to stop lashing out in my fear of losing control.
I need to …
I need to release.
All of it. From the first love, my foundations, and everything I gave away when that love flew away. To how I live my life presently, today, in the next branch of the tree: Release, resist nothing, and just let it all go.
That is what I am doing.
I am letting it all the fuck go.
It might be hard. Very, very hard. It might be beautiful. Very, very beautiful.
I have known both in my life. Very hard, and very beautiful. Sometimes at the exact same time…
The last time I saw my mother, the very last time, it was Christmas, 2005 – she died 3 weeks later. As I was leaving the little family gathering, I agreed to give my mother a hug. She asked for one, as all my siblings looked on, anticipating my reaction – those of them old enough to know, they knew – what she had done. I reached my arms around her neck and held her close, and she said I love you, and I quietly whispered I loved her, too; we both must have sensed it – that this would be our earthly goodbye, but I never would have believed it to come true. 39 years old, dead three weeks later right before her 40th birthday. I was 21. Very hard, and very beautiful.
I am ready for whatever comes. Whatever it is. Because I need to release this story. Whatever challenge I face in the ceremony itself, with the medicine, I am ready, because I have known darkness long enough to be familiar with it, and I know I will get through whatever comes because I am open to heal, open to loving myself through this. I have waited so long to love myself through this kind of healing, because I think I’ve felt worse in real life than whatever it can throw at me.
I just know, for sure, this is the next right step in my journey to step into the present. I must set down my bags and stay awhile in this new life, and to do that I need to untangle and unstrap all the belts, ropes, and tape that are keeping these burdens attached to me. I need to separate myself from this load on my shoulders, and I need help to do it. I have tried to untangle these knots on my own, and I am ready for some assistance to really understand why I keep myself tethered to these stories at all.
Ayahuasca. The next right step towards healing. It might seem extreme that this would be the choice I make now, but I believe. I choose to believe, there is no harm to try it. There is no harm to try – and I think, maybe, that might even make me quite brave.
I think this next right step, this choice; it is the perfect teacher to help me understand the things I’ve fought to preserve all these years. Answer the why, or at least help me accept the what…
I am ready to let go, and accept whatever comes.
The start of a brand-new chapter.
The damn book has been so interesting this far in, I cannot wait to see what comes next for me.
Letting go. Into the great wide open.
So much better than remaining stuck where I am when I know there is so much more waiting. I just need to unravel the start and watch it fly away – step outside of myself and see what I am now, presently. Not weighed down and heavy. No longer stuck in the dark but searching so eagerly for the light. Within and all around us.
I am so ready to be in the Light.
It was a beautiful story, but I am ready to write the next chapters instead of stuck way back at the beginning. It is sad, to let go, but beautiful, because that old story has nothing to offer me now, and it only holds me back.
I am ready. To let go.