With all the reminiscing about Costa Rica this week, it came to me that I want to share the year 2011 with you. A unique year, mostly a personal sabbatical to more fully immerse myself in my trauma recovery and explore my creative side. And travel. Oh boy, and travel. Other things happened in my life that year, such that each month developed its own character. Having begun the year painting, by year's end I had decided to paint a mandala filled with mandalas, one for each month.
It's helpful to know that, back in 2009, when my world was crashing around me, I came up with an acknowledgement and intention:
- Not so fine in 2009.
- Alive again in 2010.
- A bit of heaven in 2011.
The years 2009 and 2010 are stories for another time... suffice to say there was a LOT of darkness, fear, and anxiety in my life, and by late summer of 2010 I realized I really needed to step away from work to dedicate time to healing. I was blessed to have enough savings to do so. And I had begun working weekly that year with a therapist who specialized in anxiety disorders, which, in my case, turned out to be the result of very early life and pervasive developmental trauma. Which was triggered by my return to the US in July 2009 after living and working in London for four years. Welcome home...not!
The hopeful bit here is that my therapist was certified in and practiced Somatic Experiencing methodology, which actually retrains the nervous system away from old patterns into new healthy patterns. With twenty years of experience behind her, she was exactly what I needed.
And so the year 2011 began:
January brought a silent retreat, my first experience with process painting (I'll write about this some day), a trip with friend Linda to visit friend Jeanette who lived north of Chicago, where I had my first walk ever across a frozen lake. We spent a day in Chicago, the city of my birth, having lunch with my aunt and uncle, popping over to Navy Pier and Millennium Park, with Lake Michigan ever in view. We also spent a bit of time on the Magnificent Mile, and took the El back to near my uncle's home, where our car was parked. My friends indulged me by stopping in at the corner tavern for a beer. This was the area of my roots, where my parents grew up, met, fell in love, married, started a family.
As always, I felt the energy of the city.
February was spent in Costa Rica, which you can read about here.
In March, I visited my stepdaughter Annie in Phoenix. We took a side trip up to the Grand Canyon, which I'd never seen in person. I loved learning about the geological history of the place. Imagine the impact of a trickle of water that became a river that created this grand canyon, With its now (for me) identifiable layer upon layer of sediment turned stone.
I took some time on my own, hiking down to a spot where I sat and soaked up the beauty of this immense space. I'd brought my journal and water color pencils and lingered, capturing my experience as best as I could.
I recall the silence, pure silence. The sun on my face, the stunning beauty of my surroundings.
God is good, nature is incredible.
April. Oh, April! I could write a book about you! From the US to London to Jordan to Israel back to Jordan back to London (on the day of Will and Kate's wedding!) then back to the US, this was the trip of trips. I actually created a spreadsheet to help me pack, because:
- I was visiting in London before and after my other travels, and it was forecasted to be cold.
- I was trekking in Jordan for a week - to Petra - and I had a standard trekking "kit" that had to fit in a certain camping bag and backpack/rucksack. I would leave my large suitcase in London.
- I was touring in Israel for 9 days immediately after the trek, and the clothes for that time also had to fit in my camping bag. Thankfully the weather in Israel at that time of year is typically mild, and I would also be able to wear some of my trekking clothes. After I thoroughly laundered them.
There's so much to share about this trip that I won't even try right now. Except to say that on the very last morning in Jordan, I developed traveler's sickness. Not too bad at first, and I was able to go with my bestie Anjana that evening into London and to Buckingham Palace. There were hundreds of people around, still celebrating the wedding festivities, and the mood was so happy and light. I keep London newspapers from that day as keepsakes.
Unfortunately, by the day of my return to the US, I felt so sick that I could barely move. My heart goes out to ANYONE who has ever had to travel ill. At the stopover in Chicago I was able to buy Pepto Bismal and Dramamine, which eased my discomfort just enough for the last leg home. Some days later I began to feel better.
Just in time to succumb to severe reverse culture shock.
I spent most of the month of May reeling from the reverse culture shock, thankful to return to weekly trauma recovery therapy. Devoid of energy, I filled the pool in my backyard, blew up my raft, and floated the time away, easing slowly back into the reality of being back in the US.
Originally, when I started my sabbatical, I thought I would give myself six months, Somewhere in April I released that expectation. I was glad I did, because the end of May brought an unexpected and significant change. My father, married now for almost eighteen years to his second wife (my mother having died in 1991), had to separate from her due to health issues they each suffered, leaving them unable to care for each other. Just like that my in-town siblings and I became responsible for him and his many needs.
Short story - a major adjustment all around, with temporary accomodations for Dad at my sister's house.
Early in the year, I had talked with my younger sister Maureen about what she wanted to do for her 50th birthday. Turned out that we both had the same thing in mind: an Alaskan cruise with all six sisters. And since she lived near Seattle, WA, it was fairly uncomplicated to arrange. And so, in early June, Kathleen, MarySue, myself, Maureen, Terez and Laura all gathered at Maureen's and we celebrated her birthday in style.
On a side note, Maureen had recently recovered from her last of many reconstructive surgeries after removal of an acoustic neuroma in 2006. She lived with chronic tinnitus, dis-equilibrium, left sided deafness, left eyelid and facial paralysis (partially corrected with the reconstructive surgeries). We hoped this would be a celebration also of her healing. But while the "outside" was sorted, her emotional and mental well being suffered, neglected. We would learn more about this on the cruise.
Leaving Terez and Laura in Seattle, the rest of us boarded the ship and enjoyed each other's company and the amenities and outstanding natural beauty of the cruise. Kathleen and I experienced sea sickness, and her skin color was actually almost green before she gave in and used medicine. Curiously, Maureen did not suffer from it... we joked that her dis-equilibrium countered the rolling of the ship.
We chose various excursions, during which Maureen and I watched a sperm whale dive out of and back into the water, an maneuver called breaching. Later, on another excursion, Kathleen and I would be delighted watching killer whales breach again and again.
The month ended with me back home, deeply concerned for my beloved sister Maureen, wondering what I could do to help her. As well as continuing in my own healing journey and helping find Dad a permanent place to live.
July - wow, how do I explain this?
Easy part first. Thunderstorms - my very favorite weather.
Hard part second. I had been referred for adjunctive therapy with a very qualified local hypnotherapist (note the inclusion of the word therapist, so not just a hypnotist). In my first session I had the most unique experience of my life. Enough said. For now. In two subsequent sessions, we made what we agreed was great progress, even doing what is called breath work.
What I didn't understand at the time is that it was actually way too much way too soon.
I spent the month of August mostly in shock, severe depression and anxiety, longing to be back in London where I had been so happy. And also in therapy, often twice a week. My Somatic Experiencing therapist had been on holiday while I was seeing the hypnotherapist, and when she learned that we'd done breath work, she explained that my nervous system was not ready for it.
The end result was actually a re-traumatization. Well, shit...
September would bring a much needed respite. My friend Sheila (from our Costa Rican adventure), invited me to visit her in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. We timed the trip for peak foliage. However, due to the weather conditions there, the color green still predominated. On the bright side, she had a house on Lake Winnipesaukee, and we spent several lovely days and nights there. It was warm enough to lie out in the sun and swim in the crystal clear COLD water - so refreshing for my body and soul. One evening we sat out, watching the sunset, lingering as the sky turned more beautiful by the moment, reflecting perfectly in the still water.
We also traveled into Vermont and up into Maine so I could have my first Maine lobster (actually two firsts - Maine, and lobster). Check that off my list of things to do.
October found me on retreat again at Shantivanum (Sanskrit for Forest of Peace). Beautiful wooded farmland, rolling hills, regular prayer and meditation times and homemade vegetarian fare deeply nourished both my body and my soul. I painted, journaled, slept, hiked, slept, slept, slept.
And decided I was ready to go back to work.
I have always been blessed in my work life, essentially being recruited at every turning point into something different that would add to the foundation laid by previous job experiences. And so in November, I began contracting with a consulting firm, traveling most weeks to the client site. Figuring by this time that I would not be moving back to London in the foreseeable future, I adopted a sweet ten year old black cat named Shadow. Shy and affectionate at the same time, she was good company to have around when I was home, and she managed ok by herself when I wasn't.
That's the great thing about cats.
December, still traveling, getting worn out, developing bronchitis. I was so determined to have a Christmas tree, that when I bought one, I also bought a new Christmas tree stand, and asked the guys to place the tree in the stand for me. I hauled it like that into my house, and filled the stand with water. That might have been the year that the only decorations on the tree were the lights. It was still beautiful, and it smelled so good. The year ended with me on a two week holiday, thankful that as a contractor I was not limited by the company's vacation policy.
It also ended with me learning that I would likely be moving to the Middle East in a few months for a one year contract.
And so, having pre-proclaimed "A Bit of Heaven in 2011" and definitely having experienced lots of bits of heaven, I also encountered a good number of hellish experiences. But isn't life like that sometimes? We may be doing fine and suddenly without warning be knocked sideways with unexpected news, illness, etc. By the same token, we may experience unexpected grace, blessings, growth.
When all was said and done, 2011 certainly went down as one of the most remarkable years of my life.
I learned much, I suffered much, I learned more, I healed some more.
And I got ready for 2012.