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Trusting Yourself in the Aftermath

The Logical Heart Knows Best

We are all born trusting the world. We have to. If we’re fortunate, we are held when we cry and are watched over conscientiously as we explore and grow. Our needs are met and we are kept safe. We continue to trust.

Inevitably, there comes a time when no one is there to protect us. The reality of adversity smacks us. It is a universal rude awakening where we learn to fear and mistrust. The first time something hurts us, for example, we curiously touch a hot kettle. It’s shocking, it hurts, we get burned. Then we have to learn continuously, re-framing the world from this alarming awareness.

We are not safe after all. We realize things are not always as they appear. The kettle can be cold, safe, or hot, dangerous. We are vulnerable. We have to be vigilant to protect ourselves. There will not always be a loving protector hovering around to save us.

We learn through experience what to trust, developing faith in ourselves, in our own guidance and abilities. We develop in a typical progression through all the stages to adulthood. By then, we believe we have a grasp on the ways of the world and what to expect. We venture out and become fully independent. We believe we can create the life of our dreams, having confidence and trusting that we will prevail. The fear would paralyze us if we didn’t have faith. To have the courage to venture out, we need to trust and believe in ourselves.

Somewhere along the way, we all, every one of us, lose our innocence in varying degrees at multiple defining moments over our lives.

A pivotal point for me was being stranded in Hawaii. I was 6, my brother 3, my sister 1. Our mother had a nervous breakdown. She was Bipolar/Schizoaffective. That’s when I realized there was no one I could truly depend on except for me. That was when the entire world shifted. I lost my innocence that summer. This traumatic experience also laid the framework for some patterns I developed in response to this loss. I am gradually dismantling these patterns because they have been holding me hostage. The irony is that when something is woven so deeply in your layers of development, akin to geographic layers of earth, you aren’t even aware of them until they’re excavated, or a fault line appears or they erupt.

Because we live in a relationship with everyone and everything, these relationships help us stay connected, aware, and true to who we are and to whom we are developing into. This process is unending. Our relationships impel us to reveal what’s holding us back from living and loving completely. They mirror back to us what needs to be seen, trigger us into awareness, or cause cracks to appear in our intricate layers, where we can then mend, restructure and heal.

But until this happens, until something jolts us into questioning, we stay safe and comfortable by doing what we’ve always done, on autopilot. Autopilot keeps us on the same trajectory to places we know so well. We’re programmed, it’s automatic.

For example, I believe that I have to be sure to stay responsible and make certain that everything is taken care of in our household because that’s how it’s been for me since Hawaii. I had to look out for my siblings. Being the oldest, we didn’t have a mother, so I became the mother. I mother everyone now. It’s a lifelong pattern. And, it’s holding me back and yet it is also how I’ve been able to hold it together and stay resilient. It’s one of my best characteristics. It’s what drives me.

Underlying this caregiving that I do is the belief that I can’t trust the world. Abuse, exploitation, and betrayal all fuel this loss of faith and lack of trust, especially in my own judgment. How can I know what’s up and what’s down if I can’t even trust myself? These painful life-altering events occur where it feels as if I were all alone in an alien apocalyptic wasteland. So I really can’t depend on there to be solid ground supporting me because my world has been full of landslides, sinkholes, and spewing lava, jolting me into a different awareness where I rely on blind instinct, self-reliance, pure will while expanding, transforming within, surviving. Outside of me, everything shrinks into a colder, hostile, shape-shifting sphere filled with hidden landmines and booby traps.

The one thing I can do is look out for others, which gives me a sense of accomplishment and control. If I can keep my loved ones safe and well, that’s something outer, physical, concrete in which I have faith and trust. I can rely on myself to at least do that. I am a good mother.

These past few weeks I have had nostalgia tugging at me. I think back to that time in Hawaii. It’s like part of me is still there. I feel homesick. My coworkers were reminiscing about New Orleans pre-Katrina. And I recalled one of my favorite coworker’s accounts of when she was little, living in the newly built projects and how nice they were, I could see her and her mom in my imagination, sitting outside on benches, in an outdoor atrium surrounded by tropical greenery, serene joyful smiles on their upturned beatific faces. As they were talking about the places they loved in New Orleans, my heart panged, I teared up a little and Hawaii flooded my mind. I’ve found myself doing image searches for Hawaii in 1970. It’s as if I’m trying to come home to myself, to reunite with my long-lost innocence.

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Also, over the past few weeks, friends have related to me their stories of painful betrayal, where the rug was pulled out and it felt as if someone reached into their chests and grabbed their hearts out. How it is so disorienting where suddenly everything you thought you knew is called into question, your entire world is turned upside down, like a bomb just exploded and you are stranded and have to salvage the shattered fragments to reassemble them in desperation.

It is a grieving process. It is an attack on you plus a loss. So you do the best you can. It’s all anyone can do when this massive assault wallops you, blindsided. I thought I had things under control, that I could handle whatever difficulty I faced. I felt I had figured it out at last that I would never go back to old methods of coping. Finally, I was healthy and confident. Then wham, pow, rata-tat tat! Kapow! Boom! Whooosh….. freefall. Then sliding down that slippery slope into the abyss.

It’s confounding, how you think you’re doing better, then it hits you again, you get a little better, then it hits again, up and down. Oh, I think I’m finally over it. Then something small happens. I get triggered and afraid, nope, not done yet. The self-doubt, the nagging unanswered questions, the explanations were not satisfying, the pieces not fitting. “How could I be so wrong?” How do I find my way back home to the me that is solid and true? I feel like a will-o-wisp, a figment of what I used to be. It happened again, that loss of innocence ever-deepening, a smooth, dense, flat space growing in the center of me, taking root.

Is this what it is to be human? Am I growing denser and stronger and bigger from the inside? Are my heart and soul breaking open to get to the fertile seed buried at the core of me? Sometimes this place feels like despair or resignation, sometimes it feels like a black hole. Lately, it feels like acceptance, like I am becoming fortified, strengthening with quiet resolve. That I am becoming more human if that makes sense? Is this what it means when they say, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?” It feels as if I am containing a vast, rugged mountain within me, or that inside me is a universe, kinda like those magic tents in Harry Potter, where the outside is standard, but when you walk in, it’s massive. It feels like the energy is coalescing and I am undergoing a subtle yet tremendous transformation.

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Or am I just fooling myself? Am I being tricked into regaining my confidence, trust, and vigor…only to be bamboozled again? Kinda how Lucy tricks Charlie Brown with the football every year. He goes to kick it and she jerks it away at the precise instant and he falls smack on his a**? How to trust again? How to believe again? Dare I keep hoping?

What other choice is there? Not much, really. To keep living is to keep trusting, hoping, believing. Every breath is an affirmation of choice. I am still here. There remains a purpose for me here. So I trust that. I am still here. Just make it through each moment of vulnerability as it comes.

Feelings/thoughts are temporary.

Change is constant.

Your body is temporary.

Your spirit is constant.

Eventually, the pieces form familiar places where I feel like I am home again. And I dare to come out and play because it’s no fun staying safe in that cave. My feet plant solidly in the grassy earth and something stirs from within my vastness… I like to imagine it’s a supernova 🙂

And then I hear, “How grandiose you are, you’re just you, the same scared little girl who cried every day in second grade when your teacher teased you and your classmates, followed suit, crybaby.” How confused and sad you were, your mom was away, in a mental hospital, many you came to know because you visited her sometimes… East/Jackson, Mandeville/Southeastern, you recall the glass test tubes with rubber stoppers that your chemist dad filled with pills to keep track of, an early form of pill organizers that he devised. I always thought of mad scientists. She was always sitting on the toilet, crying. I’d stare helplessly, then go about the business of being a 3-year-old.

So I don’t want anyone else to feel motherless. I want everyone to be taken care of and shown the utmost respect and love. I want everyone to know that even though they may feel like a lost 3-year-old that they are always loved and cherished beyond measure. And I try to live my life being as kind as possible. Yet I fail. I am human and I throw tantrums inside and get frustrated, but I keep trying. I try to understand, have compassion and forgive, especially forgive myself. Because if I don’t, I can’t be fully free to forgive others. It’s a day-to-day process, acceptance, gentleness, forgiveness…love.

There are losses of innocence that are straightforward, for example, death, accidents, illness. Others involve drama, ego, deception, and manipulation. We chalk these losses up to layers of unresolved trauma, pain and ineffective, maladaptive methods of coping and character deficiencies, immaturity. These leave us spinning and reeling. They ensnare us in a tangled mess that unravels incrementally. Some of us never escape, the tentacles snatching at our ankles, grabbing us for another round until maybe eventually we change, heal, grow, become aware enough to see the way out 🙂

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And so I keep re-framing and consciously work on keeping the higher ground, the bigger picture, to disentangle myself, so I can be my best self, so I can be loving and productive. To not beat me up for being human. Yet also I work on being responsible and as proactive as I can. I stay connected to the wisdom of the still, small voice within which is a portal to the infinite power, the energy of everything, that deep abiding love…to spirit. And I want to help those around me who are struggling with putting the pieces back together.

What helps me is to consider that everyone is doing what they know how to do, given their life’s circumstances. That people are free to be and do whatever they wish, but that many times they are behaving unconsciously, on autopilot. Addiction compels many people and fear, along with their wounds, dictates their lives. Sometimes people don’t change what they’re doing/being until they become personally uncomfortable until the world upends for them. They will not see until the pain becomes great enough to jar them into awareness. Until the pain of not changing becomes greater than the comfort of staying the same. That it doesn’t matter how hard you try to get through to them. They can give you lip service and fool themselves as well until something wallops them into reality. Sometimes people do change and accept responsibility for themselves and the drama they’re creating, others continue to resist until their last breath.

We all are fully responsible for how we respond to life. After the initial emotional reaction/response/trigger… we can pause and make choices. We don’t have to stay on autopilot.

I’ve learned that everyone has a beautiful, innocent soul, that we are all made up of the same star stuff, yet we are all vastly different in our human experiences. How we maneuver is determined by individual, unique perspectives with differing levels of consciousness, wisdom, maturity, and understanding. So when someone says they understand me and I am communicating effectively, yet their actions do not match their words and it’s clear they don’t really hear/understand me? I now have the wisdom to know that they cannot grasp fully what I am saying. That either they aren’t capable, or they just don’t care because it isn’t hurting them, they are comfortable, so they continue doing/being what has always worked for them. It has nothing to do with me. And I can either accept it or remove myself from the situation if it’s a deal-breaker if I am being dragged down by association… because I can’t change another person.

It’s all a great mystery.

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I choose to continue questioning, being accountable, trying to stay aware of how I am contributing to this world. I choose to keep healing myself so I can enjoy life. There isn’t a magic bullet, it’s an ongoing process. We all have times when the pain wakes us up. And we see that we have choices to make.

I try not to play that blame game, to rise above the drama. It’s so challenging sometimes, though. I have a few chips on my shoulder, I’ve been working to shake them off  🙂

Forgiveness is the choice that makes the biggest difference. And sometimes we think we’ve forgiven, only to realize there are layers of forgiveness as well. That anger and resentment that bubbles through? That points to where we need to change a situation, or where we need to accept, let go, forgive and heal. It’s up to each of us to be responsible and figure it out. Either that or keep on creating the same old situations where we blame the outside world when actually, we have so much control from within, it’s largely up to each of us, individually, making internal changes. By choosing peaceful, loving ways of being. To heal that old wound that keeps resurfacing. Sometimes the best thing to do is to end a relationship, to realize when enough is enough, and do that most difficult, scariest thing.

We have enormous power, yet we forget this because life seems to betray us. My view is that when we feel betrayed is when we glimpse a truth that we have been resisting. That it is an opportunity to grow, become ever more aware, to crack open to reveal the ancient places that need healing and forgiveness. To transform into ever more compassionate, strong, loving, conscious, expansive, creative, and loving human beings. After all, we’re all human. We’re not here in these human physical bodies to avoid the experience. We can’t bypass being human. That’s what I tell myself when I feel I should be more saintly or spiritual. Although higher ideals help me cope and be more loving… I’m here to enjoy and experience my being human and humanity in all its glory. Sometimes I forget what a miracle this is. I have to remind myself to enjoy and love now, stay in the moment where I am free.

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It really sucks when we’re grieving. Actually, it’s so much worse than that… but it helps me to believe that there is a purpose in everything, that no time is ever lost, that every experience is an invaluable gift.

“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” Haruki Murakami

To all you beautiful friends. I am here if you need a hug or an empathetic ear. I always want to help.

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Michelle Miyagi
Hi! I was an RN, BSN in mental/behavioral health for 27 years. Now I'm helping empower caring people like me to prioritize themselves by maintaining healthier boundaries for more freedom, peace, and joy. I am also active in Long Covid advocacy.

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