Archive for June, 2011

Hannah (left) and Sam

Recently, I came upon the phrase “life is for the birds.” Literally, it was personified at the garret window.

After a stressful day, sitting at my writer’s desk, I looked up to see Hannah and Sam turning this rather negative phrase into one of positive simplicity, love, and light. Watch here (raise the volume to hear the birds).

My scrunched-up shoulders relaxed as my two cats showed me, in their calm moments of observation, how to unwind, to breathe, to be.

Hannah and Sam also reminded me that it was time to look forward, in anticipation of good things: when a door closes, somewhere a window opens (even if, as in the garret, the window is miniature).

Life, apparently, is not for the birds, but for the cats. (And, while I may loathe the garret, I’m pretty convinced that Hannah and Sam love it!) TLS

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This entry begins with a home movie of Hannah and her little brother, Sam, playing “Hide and Seek,” which I captured on my phone’s video camera last night, just after I arrived home to the garret. I’d come from a very difficult therapy session, with my mood dark and down and complicated, when this simple scene played out before my eyes, causing me to let go, to laugh out loud. Hannah and Sam have inspired me to share this story of my own kind of hiding and seeking. Watch the video, and then read on…

A few years ago, during the night, Hannah’s unpredictable pounce and dash on top of my bed, my legs and body, triggered a PTSD response: a death-terror. Although a healed, rational part of me understood Hannah was a cat, my reflexes reacted as if she were a rapist there to violate and destroy me, and my life. I did not think I could survive leaving my bedroom, my body or heart, open to Hannah, to anyone. So I put the door between us.

To my dismay, the door, with its splintering wood and chipped white paint, would not shut. It did not fit properly within its frame. As if it had outgrown its own space, its top left edge stuck to the outer portion of the adjoining wall. Pushing my body up against it with all my might, I attempted to force the door completely closed, but failed. A rule of physics dictated my goal futile, but I stood back and tried to defy what was fact, again, and again, and again, as panic from my unresolved past pumped through my body.

Asking my (then responsible, pre-garret) landlord, or anyone, to help was not an option, because I would be questioned as to the reason why I needed the door completely closed – what kind of thirty-three year old woman was too afraid to sleep with her bedroom door ajar? Why did I not feel safe? Had I no trust in those who lived in the other units of the house? Did I really think they would do something to me? I thought that, and more. I thought I would be ridiculed, and evicted.

Battling PTSD, I experienced a deep kind of banishment from the world, because of what had happened to me, because of the many ways it still so strongly affected me two decades since, because of the obstacles – my feelings and beliefs – it engendered. Every day, the events and their aftermath were with me like intruders, stealing my sense of belonging in every-day life.

As I began to rough-handle the bedroom door, Hannah looked up at me curiously from where she sat on the hardwood floor. She twitched her whiskers from side to side, then quickly stood and scrambled far away from the unpleasant unfolding scene. Watching her go, I felt strangely abandoned, and alone. I wanted her to stay, like a supportive friend. I wanted her to be like a person, as opposed to a cat.

I resolved to do it myself. First, with sandpaper, then with a screwdriver, then with a knife. Two hours later, my hands cramped and torn and bleeding, the door finally clicked securely shut. I kept my bedroom door closed to the world from then on. At night, because the door did not have a bolt lock as the apartment’s front door did, for extra security I jammed a brown plastic door-stop into the space beneath its bottom edge. Because the door-stop came in a package of two, I placed the spare beneath the front door for further protection. This became my habit. Although I had not initially planned on it, I left my bedroom door closed not only all night but all day as well. This became the rule. This was how I contained my fear: I exercised what I thought was my power.

This was the manner in which I created a false sense of security. The truth – and deep down I knew it – was that closing the door did not obliterate the reality behind it. It did not change my past or prevent it from entering my space and pervasively affecting my life.

I hid behind the door for two years, until we moved into the garret. Then, something changed within myself, and I let Hannah in.

However, ten months ago, when I adopted Sam, I had a setback: at bedtime, Sam’s noises aggravated my PTSD. While I knew logically that I was simply hearing the sounds of an energetic kitten, my body remained on-guard and I could not sleep. Against my own desire, what I believed was for survival, I shut the door, not knowing when, or if, I would open it again.

Then, recently, insomnia came for a visit. At 3 a.m., with my throat sore and swelling from a cold, I stared up at the bedroom ceiling, my thoughts swirling on aspects of my PTSD recovery: I tossed and turned and grappled with the knowledge that I’d come to in therapy, how, after the abuse, I went into hiding. For twenty years, I shut down a core part of myself, to the world, as if I’d induced a kind of medically-necessary soul coma, for survival. This, and its effects – the losses of certain life opportunities – gripped me with a kind of life-panic. What happened happened, and could not be changed, and there I was, finally awake, all these years later. I couldn’t bear to be alone in this state. So I opened the door. When I got back into bed, Hannah and Sam congregated in my doorway. I felt their presence there, in the darkness, and dozed off.

When I awakened to daylight, when I opened my eyes, I saw these two souls sitting there with me, patiently waiting. Hannah waved her tail and Sam began to meow, and I got up to face the day.

I have not closed the door since. When I opened the door, for good, I came out of hiding for connection, companionship, safety, for more. I was seeking the simplest form of freedom, openness, lovingness and my life.


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