Tag Archives: trauma

The Importance of Laughter and Play for Children in Foster Care

playground

It was noisy.

The seven year old was laughing. Laughing very, very loudly. Running through the house, the little blond haired boy was chasing our five year old daughter. Indeed, both were laughing, and the noise was echoing through the entire house. It wasn’t long before they begun this game of chase that our three year old joined in.

It was noisy. And, it was beautiful.

For the first time, our seven year old son from foster care was laughing. In fact, it was the first time the seven year old had even smiled in our home. Andrew had been living with us for four months, placed into our foster home due to severe and horrific abuse from the hands of his mother; his mother, the person who was supposed to shield her own son from all harm. Instead, his mother had abused her son so traumatically over a long period of time in his short life that Andrew had never really been given the opportunity to laugh. This innocent seven year old child had never known what it was like to, quite simply, have fun; never given a reason to smile.

The first months of Andrew’s time in our house often saw my other children, both biological and adoptive, try to invite their newest foster sibling into their world of play and imagination. At each invite, and each opportunity, Andrew would instead cling to my wife and I, choosing not to engage with the others. When either my wife or I were in the kitchen cooking, in the bedroom folding clothes, or other house duties, the seven year old would stand closely next to one of us. If either of us were sitting down, the child would sit next to us. Either way, he would never speak, simply cling to us, in his own world of trauma and anxiety.

Today, though, was different. For some time, Andrew was watching some of the other children playing in the lounge room, while my I was in the other other room, taking care of the dirty laundry. Perhaps it was the consistent approach from my children; perhaps it was his curiosity; perhaps he realized that his siblings from foster care were not going to hurt him. Whatever it was, Andrew finally joined in, and when he did, it was as if the flood gates of laughter had opened. I watched in amazement as this seven year old, this seven year old who never once expressed any emotion of happiness, joy, or amusement, was laughing. This seven year old boy was healing.

Laughter and play are wonderful ways for children in foster care to begin their healing process, as they help these children in need cope with their stresses, traumas, and anxieties. Indeed, as children in foster care begin to find a sense of humor, they will find it to be a resourceful tool they can use. As Paul E. McGhee, Ph.D. states,
“Your sense of humor is one of the most powerful tools you have to make certain that your daily mood and emotional state support good health.” Continue reading

Is More Money Really Going to Make You Happy?

iStock_000006667499XSmall“Everything else in my life is great. If only I was making an extra $1200 a month, I’d be the happiest woman on the planet.”

I said that. I really did. Fortunately I said it to my really great friend and co-author Darren Weissman in one of our Skype calls. He let the words sit and steam a bit (fresh manure does that when it hits cooler air temperatures). Then, without a hint of incredulity, he asked, “You really believe that?”

In that moment I did. It was true! If I had just that little bit of extra cash on a steady basis I wouldn’t have to keep dipping into my diminishing savings to pay all the bills. I wouldn’t be afraid anymore. I’d feel secure. I’d be secure!

Yeah, right.

In the face of his quiet question, the bubble of delusion popped. My vision of a safe, predictable future based on a little extra cash evaporated. I laughed as I admitted I’d let the lie of “security comes from externally-based tangible assets” seduce me yet one more time.

But Darren didn’t let me off the hook. Instead he guided me through his LifeLine Technique—a process designed to reveal and transform subconscious emotions, memories and programs and just as swiftly rewire the brain into new, more intentional patterns.

In that hour I processed buried memories of the harrowing life and death drama that had been my birth experience: mother in a coma, premature caesarian delivery, baby me shoved in an incubator… a full-on drama with residual fears and trauma that hadn’t been dealt with in 62 years.

We finished the LifeLine and Darren left me with an intention I’d set during the process: I am absolute connection feeling beautiful. But more than anything else I was left with a stunning reminder that personal transformation and developing inner security is a process that doesn’t happen overnight.

Peace comes and goes. One minute I’m happy and gloriously confident for no reason at all. I know that life works—that whatever I’m doing is fine and that I’m exactly where I need to be.  The next moment an unexpected expense, a casual comment or a memory trigger a typhoon of emotions and fears that in turn stir up old beliefs and a desire to race back to old solutions (like a steady paycheck!).

Now I’m up, now I’m down. It’s like I’m riding an old, wooden, splintery seesaw in my underpants. OUCH! Worse, my whipsawing emotions stir up judgment. I shouldn’t feel this way.

I should radiate happiness at all times. I should feel assured that following my heart means success. I shouldn’t fret over bills or snap at a friend telling me how poor the room service was at the last fabulous resort she visited in Spain. An inner spiritual glow of peace should follow me everywhere, gracing all others in my path.

Right. And I should sign my charge slips Mother Theresa.

Where did I pick up all this “sweetness and light” crap? Apparently there’s a tell-all biography revealing that even our iconic Sister Mary Mother to the World wasn’t nice all the time—or even very happy. And JK Rowling of Harry Potter fame whose personal net worth is now somewhere in the vicinity of $1 billion confesses to having fear and feelings of financial insecurity.

“I still worry about money,” she said in a recent interview. “Funnily enough it bears no relation to what is in your bank account, it is purely emotional.”

No kidding.

So, if taking a vow of chastity and poverty and serving the world’s poor for a lifetime isn’t enough to generate constant joy, and being a fabulously wealthy, beautiful, more-famous-than-God author isn’t enough to generate constant security and happiness… what the hell am I beating myself up for?

Maybe I’m just human. Maybe, like Mother Theresa and Rowling, I have emotions and hidden programs and subconscious fears and issues driving me. How not? I was forced to draw my very first breath of air on this planet by being slapped on my very wet, very naked ass. We all were. And it just got tougher from there—and a lot more beautiful.

Accept it all. Let it all in. Breathe. Embrace the pain and joy. See it. Feel it. Hear it. Embrace the fear and the wonder. Don’t try to change any of it or glue on a smiley face. It’s all okay. And if it’s all okay, I’m okay.

I tell myself this a thousand times a day. And it’s okay that I need to.

Gift to the Soul: The Space of Presence

Photo Credit: Kalliope Kokolis
Photo Credit: Kalliope Kokolis

For many of us this is a season when it feels that we are going faster and faster. Everything’s racing, through school semesters, wrapping up work commitments, entering the holidays; the currents of life are in full tilt.

Given the time of year, one student fell into a period of intense stress resulting from a cycle of classes, studying, working and little sleep. He didn’t realize how long he had neglected to write home until he received the following note:

 Dear Son,
Your mother and I enjoyed your last letter.
Of course, we were much younger then and more impressionable.
Love,
Dad

As you know, it’s not just students. Some months ago a friend described getting caught in this state busy-ness while trying to get her daughter to school. She was busy getting things ready while her daughter was trying to show her something. Every time her daughter would call her over she would say, “Just hang on a moment. I’ll be there in a second.” After several rounds of this, the little four-year old came out of her room tired of waiting. She said to her mother, hands on hips:

“Why are you always so busy? What’s your name? Is it President O’mama or something?”

Along with the speediness we have the sense that there is not enough time. It’s interesting to observe how often we are living with that perception. It is usually accompanied by a squeeze of anxiety:

“I’m not going to be prepared,” and a chain of insecurities. “There’s something around the corner that is going to be too much,” “I’m going to fall short,” “I won’t get something critical done.” There’s this sense that we’re on our way somewhere else and that what’s right here is not the time that matters. We’re trying to get to the point in the future when we’ve finally checked everything off our to-do list and we can rest. As long as this is our habit, we are racing toward the end of our life. We are skimming the surface, and unable to arrive in our life.

Thomas Merton describes the rush and pressure of modern life as a form of contemporary violence. He says:

“…to be surrendering to too many demands, too many concerns, is to succumb to the violence.”

When we’re speeding along, we violate our own natural rhythms in a way that prevents us from listening to our inner life and being in a resonant field with others. We get tight. We get small. We override our capacity to appreciate beauty, to celebrate, to serve from the heart.

Our mindfulness practice offers us the opportunity to pause and rediscover the space of presence. When we stop charging forward and open to what’s here, there’s a radical shift in our experience of being alive. As we touch into this space of Hereness, we access a wisdom, a love and a creativity that are not available when we’re on our way somewhere else.  We are home, in our aliveness and our spirit.

 © Tara Brach
Enjoy this video on: The Space of Presence

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Participate in “OWN” Television Series in Washington DC Area with Iyanla Vanzant!

iyanla

 

READ APPLICATION PROCESS BELOW AND APPLY ASAP TO: “iyanlahelpdesk@gmail.com

WHAT: The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), is seeking participants for the “Help Desk” series featuring spiritual life coach Iyanla Vanzant!

WHEN:  Sunday January 12th, 2014 (specific time TBA)

WHERE:   WASHINGTON DC area (specific location TBA).

WHO: Iyanla Vanzant is the host of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network’s Number 1 reality show “Iyanla: Fix My Life,” in which she helps individuals in crisis whose relationships and lives have broken down.   Iyanla is a frequent “Oprah’s Lifeclass” guest teacher and is a regular columnist in O, The Oprah Magazine.  Iyanla is the author of 16 books, including an astounding 5 New York Times’ best sellers, With her no-nonsense approach and underlying message of, “live better by loving yourself,” Iyanla has ignited a universal spark of self-discovery.  Iyanla’s new release, FORGIVENESS: 21 Days to Forgive Everyone for Everything  (SmileyBooks), is on sale now.

Iyanla is an acclaimed spiritual life coach, empowerment orator, minister, Emmy award winner and New York Times best-selling author whose focus on faith, personal development and loving relationships has captivated and inspired audiences around the world.

Description:

Help Desk is a television show on OWN that features renowned self-help experts making themselves available in public spaces to provide advice to anyone who needs it.  Help Desk is a deeply substantive series that grounds some of the great wisdom provided by today’s top experts and helps people live better and more fulfilling lives.  Although the event is public, we are looking to secure a select group of participants who will be given priority to sit down with Iyanla.

What we are looking for:

We need people who are seeking advice to help them with a specific life issue or circumstance.   Below are a few examples but we are open to hearing about any particular issues you would like to discuss:

-Divorce or breakup
-Loss of a family member or friend
-Coping with job loss
-Overcoming addiction
-Issues revolving around sexual identity
-Overcoming specific anxieties or fears
-Difficulty with weight loss/eating disorders/body image
-Parenting issues
-Issues surrounding financial hardship
-Sex and relationship issues
-Dissatisfaction with career/feeling trapped.

Requirements:

1. We need applicants to be available during the day on Sunday January 12, 2014 in the Washington DC area. Specific time and location TBA.
2. Provide simple description of yourself (age, profession, relationships status) and contact information (email and phone number).
3.  Photo of yourself
4.  Single paragraph description of the specific life circumstance that you need advice to overcome.
5.  Specific question(s) you would like to ask Iyanla.
6. If selected, applicants will need to sign an Appearance Release.

Send email with answers to the above questions to:    iyanlahelpdesk@gmail.com

Lessons from kayaking: Finding a Way to Be With Fear

Leaving the Marina with Morro Rock in the background and the MorMost of us spend a lot of our lives tensed up in fear, or pushing against fear.
The fear might be fear of:
  • Something going wrong
  • Not being good enough
  • Not being loved
  • Losing something or someone we hold dear
What fears do you live with?
The key to being with fear is in contacting what is here now, rather than trying to push it away. Here’s a story from the river that helps us understand that.  In kayaking, you learn about what is called a keeper hole. It’s a swirl in the river that catches a boat or a body and pulls it down under the water.  You can drown because you get stuck in that swirling current and you can’t get out of it.  If you get caught in a keeper hole, the only way out is actually to dive right into the center, down as far and deep as you can, toward the bottom, because if you get to the bottom you can swim out the side of the swirl.
So you do the opposite of what your instincts tell you to do.  Your instinct, of course, is to fight your way to the surface.  But it won’t work; you’ll keep getting pulled into the hole.  No, you have to dive down into the hole.
It’s like that with fear.  Our instincts are to pull away, to ignore the fear, or to distract ourselves.  We naturally want to escape the pull, the uncomfortable sensation, of fear.  But the skillful way of dealing with fear, just like the keeper hole, is to go into the center of it.
The training in facing fear is to directly contact it…to lean right in.  This is not something to do if your fear is from trauma.  It could be too overwhelming.  If you are dealing with trauma, you might need someone to work with you on that fear.  So you might try finding a thought that brings up fear,  a mild or moderate fear, and letting yourself feel the sensation.  Breathe right into the place you feel the fear, really letting yourself experience it for a moment.  On the out breath, let the fear disperse into the vastness of space around you, or the ocean you are part of.  See and feel the fear moving out into that larger space.
When you are kayaking on the ocean, or on a large lake, you can sense yourself as part of that spaciousness.  Allow the fear to disperse into the spaciousness.  You might find that it is possible to be with the fear, rather than push it away, when you are aware of your oceanness.
© Tara Brach
Enjoy this talk on Finding the Juice in Fear

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photos by: mikebaird & mikebaird

Happy Veteran’s Day from Intent

veterans

As many of you are celebrating your day off (we are taking a mini-break today on Intent as well. Regular blogging schedule will resume tomorrow), we wanted to remind you why it is we have today to spend with our families, to catch up on various left behind projects, or go see that movie we’ve been meaning to see. We live in a country of free choice and liberty because of the brave men and women who volunteer to defend those freedoms. Today is to honor them and the invaluable service they provide for America and its inhabitants. Everyone here on the Intent Team would like to offer a sincere thank you to all those who have served here and abroad to allow us the freedom to run a website that hopes to provide help and support and wellness to all those around the Internet.

Help us celebrate Veteran’s Day by checking out the Veterans hangout Mallika Chopra hosted as part of The Chopra Well’s “Aspire to Inspire” series this past May. If you have a Veteran in your life that has suffered an intense trauma or struggled with PTSD, introduce them to the Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans Coping With Trauma course from the Intent Shop.

Thank you again Veterans for all you do. We are eternally grateful for dedicated service.

Sincerely,

The Intent Team

How are you celebrating this Veteran’s Day? Leave your thanks and appreciation in the comments below! 

Absolute Cooperation with the Inevitable

Mystic Poppies.The modern-day mystic and Jesuit priest Anthony de Mello once said: “Enlightenment is absolute cooperation with the inevitable.” This statement struck a deep chord within me. It seems to me that what he meant was to be absolutely open to life as it is.

Think about the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean that flows from the tip of Florida up along the eastern seaboard. If you were to put a straw in the water, aligned with the Gulf Stream, it would move with the flow of water. The water moves through it and carries it along on the current. Everything is aligned; it’s total grace. Now, if it’s misaligned, and it’s not moving with the flow of water, it gets spun around and moves off course.

Aligning ourselves with the flow of aliveness is an essential part of our mindfulness practice. Like the straw, if we move out of alignment, we’re moving away, spinning about, in reaction…in some way unable to be one with the flow of grace. So we seek to stay aligned, letting the flow of life move through us.

What are some ways that we remove ourselves from the channel through which our life flows?

I noticed this happening the other day when I was driving home. I have my own accustomed speed, and the person in front of me was going much, much, much slower. You know what that is like, don’t you? Now, I wasn’t in a rush to get somewhere. I wasn’t on my way to the airport to catch a plane, but it didn’t matter. I was driving at a speed that felt really different from my preferred speed. I was experiencing impatience and anxiety, and it was building. Everything in me was leaning forward. I felt like I couldn’t be okay unless the situation changed.

So I paused, mentally. I recognized that I had a demand that something be different than it was at the moment, and I tried to let go of it. This example is a small thing, but this happens in many ways, some small and some much larger, in our human experience. We get caught in feeling that happiness is not possible unless things change. Consequently, we cause ourselves tremendous unhappiness, because we’re demanding that things be different.

It’s interesting to notice how this happens. I think it arises from our social conditioning about what brings happiness. We are led to believe that we need certain things to be happy: “If I can get this job,” “If I can earn this much money,” “If I can buy a house in that neighborhood,” then I will be happy. Or we might think, if only I were healthier, or thinner, or if my boss quit so I could have a different boss, or if I had a different spouse…and on and on.

We wait for things to be different in order to feel okay with life. As long as we keep attaching our happiness to the external events of our lives, which are ever changing, we’ll always be left waiting for it.

What if we were to pause and align ourselves with the current?
What if we moved with the flow of what is?
What would that mean for you in your life, right now?

Aligning with what is here is a way of practicing presence. It allows us to respond to our world with creativity and compassion.

What is actually happening is that we’re opening to the universal intelligence, the universal love that can flow through us when we’re aligned. When the straw is aligned with the current, the Gulf Stream flows through it. When we’re aligned with the flow of our lives, there’s a universal wisdom and love that flows through us, which is our true nature.

© Tara Brach

Adapted from Radical Acceptance  (2003)

Enjoy this talk on: Absolute Cooperation with the Inevitable

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photos by: hipea & h.koppdelaney

Lift Yourself Up with a Gesture of Kindness

almost mayThe next time you find yourself in a bad mood, take a moment to pause and ask yourself, “What is my attitude toward myself right now? Am I relating to myself with judgment … or with mindfulness, warmth, and respect?”

Typically, you’ll find that when you’re anxious, lonely, or depressed, you’re also down on yourself in some way, and that undercurrent of feeling deficient or unworthy is what’s keeping you cut off from your own aliveness, as well as your feeling of connection with others.

The way of healing and homecoming begins with what I call “a gesture of kindness.” You might for instance put your hand on your heart—letting the touch be tender—and send a message inwardly. It might be “It’s okay, sweetheart.” Or  “I care about this suffering.” Or, “I’m sorry and I love you.”  Often, it’s simply,  “This, too.”

Sometimes, this gesture of kindness includes saying “yes” to whatever’s going on—the yes meaning, “This is what’s happening, it’s how life is right now … it’s okay.”

If you’re really down on yourself, you can also say “Forgiven, forgiven.” Not because there’s something wrong to forgive, but because there’s some judgment to let go of.

As you offer yourself this gesture of kindness, take some moments to stay with yourself, to keep yourself company. Allow whatever most wants attention to surface, and sense that you are the loving presence that can include and embrace whatever’s arising.

Then, see if you can widen your attention, and notice what or who else is floating in your heart space. Perhaps you’ll intentionally offer a gesture of kindness to a friend who’s struggling with disappointment, a family member dealing with illness, or a teen caught in self-doubt.

As you continue to practice offering yourself and others this gesture of kindness, you will discover that this response to life becomes increasingly spontaneous and natural.  In time, you’ll recognize it as the most authentic expression of who you are.

—Tara Brach,  Labor Day Weekend, 2013

Enjoy this short talk on Dedicating to Kindness

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photo by: paul bica

The Radical Transformation From Self-judgment to Compassion

Way of the heartWe were three days into a weeklong meditation retreat when one of my students, Daniel, came in to see me for his first interview. He plopped down in the chair across from me, and immediately pronounced himself The Most Judgmental Person In The World.

“Whatever I’m thinking or feeling when I meditate … I end up finding something wrong with it. During walking practice or eating, I start thinking I should be doing it better, more mindfully. When I’m doing the loving-kindness meditation, my heart feels like a cold stone.” Whenever Daniel’s back hurt while he was sitting, or whenever he got lost in thought, he’d rail at himself for being a hopeless meditator.

He confessed that he even felt awkward coming in for our interview, afraid he’d be wasting my time. While others weren’t exempt from his barrage of hostility, most of it was directed at himself. “I know that Buddhist teachings are based on being compassionate” he said bitterly, “but it’s hard to imagine they’ll ever rub off on me.”

Like Daniel, being hard on ourselves is familiar to many of us. We often distance ourselves from emotional pain—our vulnerability, anger, jealousy, fear—by covering it over with self-judgment. Yet, when we push away parts of ourselves, we only dig ourselves deeper into the trance of unworthiness.

Whenever we’re trapped in self-judgment, like Daniel, our first and wisest step towards freedom is to develop compassion for ourselves. If we’ve injured someone and are embroiled in guilt and self-recrimination, compassion for ourselves allows us to find a wise and healing way to make amends. If we’re drowning in grief or sorrow, arousing compassion helps us remember the love and connection in our life. Rather than pushing them away, we free ourselves by holding our hurting places with the unconditional tenderness of compassion.

When I asked Daniel how long he’d been so harsh on himself, he paused for several moments. “For as long as I can remember,” he said. From an early age, he’d joined his mother in relentlessly badgering himself, ignoring the hurt in his heart. As an adult, he’d treated his heart and body with impatience and irritation. Even in the face of a tormenting divorce and a long bout of chronic back pain, Daniel hadn’t been able to acknowledge the intensity of his suffering. Instead, he’d criticized himself for having screwed up the marriage, for not having the sense to take proper care of himself.

I asked Daniel to tell me what happened in his body when he was judging himself so harshly, and he immediately pointed to his heart, saying it felt bound by tight metal cords. I asked if he could feel that right in this moment. To his surprise, Daniel heard himself saying, “You know, this really hurts.” I then gently asked him how he felt about this aching. “Sad,” he responded softly, his eyes welling up with tears. “It’s hard to believe I’ve been carrying this much pain for so long.”

I suggested he put his hand on his heart, on the place where he most felt the most discomfort, then asked if he might send a message to the pain: “How would it feel for you to say, ‘I care about this suffering’?” Daniel glanced at me, then looked down again: “Strange, I think.” I encouraged him to give it a try by whispering the words softly. As he did, repeating the phrase slowly two more times, Daniel’s shoulders began to shake with quiet sobbing.

Like it did for Daniel, offering ourselves such care might feel strange and unfamiliar—or even downright embarrassing—at first. It might trigger a sense of shame about being needy, undeserving, or self-indulgent. But the truth is that this revolutionary act of treating ourselves tenderly can begin to undo the aversive messages of a lifetime.

Over the next few days, whenever Daniel became aware of judging himself or others, he’d check in with his body to see where he was feeling pain. Usually he’d find his throat, heart, and stomach tightened in fear, his chest heavy and sore. With a very gentle touch, Daniel would place his hand on his heart and say, “I care about this suffering.” Because he was sitting in the front of the meditation hall, I noticed his hand was almost permanently resting there.

One afternoon, Daniel came to tell me about something that had happened earlier that day. During meditation, a scene had arisen in his mind of being at his mother’s house, engaged in an angry exchange with her. As he tried to explain why it wasn’t irresponsible for him to take a week off to meditate, he could hear her disdainful reply: “You lazy bum, why don’t you do something worthwhile with yourself.”

This was the same sort of demeaning message that in his youth had made him want to shrivel up and disappear. He felt his chest filling with the heat and pressure of rage, and in his mind heard himself shouting, “You bitch, you don’t understand! You’ve never understood. Can’t you just shut up for one minute and see who I am!!”

The pain of anger and frustration was like a knife stabbing his heart, and he was about to launch into a familiar diatribe at himself for being such a wimp, for not standing up to her, for being a meditator filled with such hatred. Instead, he placed both hands on his heart and whispered over and over, “I care about this suffering. May I be free from suffering.”

After a few minutes, the stabbing anger subsided. In its place, he could feel warmth spreading through his chest, a softening and opening around his heart. Feeling as if the vulnerable part of him was listening and taking comfort, Daniel said, “I’m not leaving you. I’m here, and I care.” Throughout the rest of the retreat, Daniel practiced like this, and some of the most painful knots—the wounds of his young, anguished self—slowly began to release.

When he came in for his final interview, Daniel’s whole countenance was transformed. His edges had softened, his body was relaxed, his eyes bright. In contrast to his former awkwardness, Daniel seemed glad to be with me, and told me that while the judgments and self-blame had continued some, they were not so unrelentingly cruel.

No longer imprisoned by constantly feeling like something was wrong with him, Daniel was beginning to notice the world in new ways—other students seemed more friendly; the acres of forest were an inviting, magical sanctuary; the dharma talks stirred up a childlike fascination and wonder. He felt energized and somewhat bewildered by the fresh sense of possibility in his life. By holding himself with a compassionate presence, Daniel was becoming free to participate more fully in his world.

Like Daniel, whenever we’ve become addicted to judging and mistrusting ourselves, any sincere gesture of care to the wounded places can bring about radical transformation. Our suffering then becomes a gateway to the compassion that can free our heart. When we become the holder of our own sorrows, our old roles as judge, adversary, or victim are no longer being fueled. In their place we find not a new role, but a courageous openness, and a capacity for genuine tenderness—not only for ourselves, but for others as well.

Adapted from Radical Acceptance (2003)

Enjoy this talk on: Cultivating Compassion

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The Accident That Changed My Life (Part 2)

165Click here to read Part 1.

By Margaret Westley

My optimism carried me through the extent of my six week hospitalization. Life in a hospital is far from easy, but amazing medical care, family, and friends supported me through multiple surgeries and challenging rehabilitation therapy. However, optimism would only take me so far. And like with any traumatic event in life, a person needs to take time to heal.

More surgeries followed the summer after my accident. One morning I noticed a wound had appeared on my residual limb and it turned out to be an infection that traveled to my bone. More bone would have to be amputated. Though I knew the surgery was necessary, I was tired – tired of surgeries and setbacks preventing me from scheduling an appointment with the person who would fit me for my first prosthetic limb.

A shift occurred. Instead of letting myself feel disappointed, I looked for ways to control the situation and prevent myself from feeling sad. I started with eating as little as possible. Being hospitalized only increased my odds for losing more weight. Eating was the last thing from my mind. The fact my wrists were getting thinner and my stomach more flat were pluses in my eyes. I started to tell everyone I was too tired to eat.

At the grocery store, I started checking labels and counting calories too closely. Low fat, fat free, low carb, carb free were my favorite categories. Though I was a size four/six, the Slim Fast Plan became my new best friend.

Externally, I was upbeat and smiled, but inside I wondered why I had started to be afraid to cross busy streets, and why I trembled during class and why when I looked at a line in one of the textbooks all of the words looked the same. Most people had made positive comments about my weight loss, but I’d already decided I was not yet thin enough. So I joined a gym and survived on coffee, bananas, and diet cereal.

The gym became my refuge where I worked out two or three times a day, and when I felt lightheaded I sat on the toilet in the bathroom until I stopped feeling like I was going to black out. I rarely went to class, but when I did, the bathrooms at school called to me. The quiet in between the stalls was one of the few places I felt safe.

I didn’t yet know eating disorders were a symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I didn’t even know what PTSD was.

The crash came. My bed was a close second to the gym as my favorite place to be. Everyone thought I’d gotten too thin. I couldn’t balance a full time school schedule, appointments with doctors, lawyers, prosthetists on top of learning how to walk all over again. People began to tell me I was too thin, encircling my emaciated wrists with their fingers to prove I was not eating enough. There were too many questions, and I didn’t have all of the answers.

Withdrawing from school, in my eyes, was the only option. Since I no longer was a student and did not live in the dorms, I sought the guidance of my mentor who had a friend who owned a bar with a boarding house on top of it. The next chapter of my life started in a room the size of a closet. The quiet comforted and frightened me at the same time. I knew it was time to listen to what it was my body needed.

At times, it felt like my world was crumbling, but I knew I would not have made it that far had I not had hope. I found a therapist who specialized in PTSD and eating disorders. She told me I could be sad, mad even, and that I wasn’t crazy. I just needed to take the time to heal.

Yoga became a life saver. I stumbled across the first class I ever took in the East Village. Interestingly enough, I was not nervous. It was as if my body knew being on a yoga mat was where it belonged. At the end of class after the deep relaxation the teacher said, “namaste” and I burst into tears. I knew then yoga and other mindfulness based modalities would be a part of my life forever.

People often want to know about my healing process. Process is a word I prefer instead of overcoming because I don’t want to overcome anything. I want to learn how to be. My amputated leg isn’t going to grow back anytime soon and to be honest, I wouldn’t want it to. I focus not on what I lack, but what still remains.

Life continues to be challenging. My residual limb swells when it’s hot outside and shrinks on a cooler day making it difficult to walk a lot of the time. Phantom limb sensation and spasms are constants. I get tired more easily than before and bed time rarely is past 9:30 pm.

A little over a decade has passed since the accident happened. Sometimes it feels like it was twenty years ago, and there are days where I am shocked it wasn’t just yesterday. I have some regrets, but being hit isn’t one of them. No matter what day it is, I take the time to connect. In the morning, I lie on my back and breathe. Sometimes I cry. A lot of the time I smile. Laughter happens often. There is no shame. Just one incredible journey.

* * *

mwestleyMargaret Westley is a writer, fundraiser, certified integrative nutritionist, and yoga teacher. Each of these professions were inspired by a near death accident she had when she was eighteen years old and got run over by a bus, which resulted in a broken right ankle and losing her left leg below the knee. Though the recovery was tough, Margaret has always seen the accident has a huge gift! Over the years, she’s been a face-to-face fundraiser, worked in a café, been an office assistant, a healthcare attendant, meditation/yoga teacher, and is currently building a fundraising business and writing a memoir. Everyday, something or someone reminds her about how amazing life is and, for that, she is eternally grateful.

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