Trauma survivors, you are familiar with where I am today.  Overwhelm.  I put it that way because it is a physical state of being when it comes over me.  As Tara Brach puts it, it is a “felt sense in the body” which in my case keeps me paralyzed and unable to move, make decisions, accomplish the tasks of the day.  The depths it can take me to are extremely debilitating.  Voices creep into my mind, and even with years of therapy and meditation training, trying to keep them from taking over becomes an effort of truly epic proportions.  Countless hours in my life have been lost to this state of mind.  I imagine this must be where all the memories are that I can’t access, lost in the space of fight, flight, or freeze, with the latter having been my most available strategy for coping with assault.

Having just spent the Thanksgiving holiday with my parents, the chorus is especially loud today.  My father,  formerly tormentor-in-chief, used to be unable to stop an outpouring of verbal acid that left ragged patches of emptiness in both my brain and sense of self.  He no longer remembers me now, nor recognizes me, if indeed he ever did.  He wanders through days of not knowing, incapable of dressing himself, stepping into his sleeveless undershirts, one leg through each arm opening, puzzled that he can’t make the article of clothing stay up around his waist.  He makes tasks for himself, like carrying around a basket of winter hats and gloves for no reason he can name, perhaps recalling the days when his medical bag was his constant companion.  He asks my mother, in a stage whisper, “who are all these people?” as his children and grandchildren move about his house.

We take a walk together, my father and I, and he displays an alarming familiarity with people on the street he doesn’t know.  He has been forced to choose between making the assumption that everyone is known or accepting the reality that no one is known.  His comments are meant to be harmless, could easily be brushed off by the strangers he approaches, except for his too intimate touch or pat on their physical person.  They jerk protectively away from him, and one man looks like he’s going to haul off and punch him, save for my murmured apologies.  The look he gives us is withering in it’s judgment, the type commonly given to parents of unruly children, intimating “for god’s sake, control him or don’t come out in public!” (Dad was always lousy with boundaries, and this lack of awareness twinned with his dementia has become dangerous)   This is my father’s worst nightmare, what he always dreaded might come in his future, having watched his own father go through it.  Dark humor between my siblings and I of “karma” gives meager, if any comfort, and no satisfaction.  The gears of thought, of processing, are stuck in us both, his in forgetting and confusion, mine in a thick stew of unresolved emotions.  Walking through my hometown with him, a place where he was once a beloved caretaker of so many lives, I wish he could be happy.  The one whisper of movement in the muck of my mind right now is metta meditation.  There may not be much that I can do for him, and staying in the quagmire of my thoughts is of no help to either of us.  One tool, from the still emerging set of skills I’m trying to develop through meditation, is metta; a wish for all beings to feel safe, happy, healthy, and at peace.  Overwhelm, metta.  The trail is shimmering to life as I repeat the word, letting it silence the voices from all places, persons, times.

May I feel safe, may I feel happy, may I feel healthy, may I feel a sense of peace, of ease.

May my Father feel safe, may my Father feel happy, may my Father feel healthy, may my Father feel a sense of peace, of ease.

May all beings feel safe, may all beings feel happy, may all beings feel healthy, may all beings feel a sense of peace, of ease.



~ by janetlandis on December 1, 2009.

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