27 September 2017

Past Life Hypnosis pt. 1

I want so badly for hypnosis to be the thing that saves me.

It has been months and I have been putting in the work: I see a grief therapist. I do some yoga. I cry when I need to. I hold it in when it's not an appropriate place. I've only taken one sick day. I have other conversations about other things. It probably looks the same from the outside, but I guess I wouldn't know. I think my voice sounds the same. But I am stuck, my heart aches only downward. I can't remember anything that happened this summer. Every day was a blur into the day that followed, the day before. It never rains and I want it to so badly. I want the weather to keep me inside. I miss my train stops constantly.

I came to the whole idea of hypnosis a few weeks ago on the way to work. A writer I respected had done a past life regression session for an article and was able to recall a life in which she had died of Malaria. A life in which she had been an angry male British soldier who was colonizing Africa and she had felt the dread of death. She had to relinquish control of her unit and that was difficult for her. Something about the randomness of events called to me: maybe my darkness was rooted in another world. Maybe there was another version of me, maybe many. Maybe there was hope. Maybe I could skip to the end.

She had crawled from her tent so she could die while looking at the sky.

I found a hypnotist on yelp that day and called him later that night. His reviews rave that he cured directionless lives. I think that I am lost enough to need a cure. I need to do something because the pain is unbearable, inoperable.

"I just can't get over this feeling," I tell him over the phone and pacing my hallway. "This feeling that I knew he would die. I didn't know it until my mom told me, but it just... it just made sense. Like I couldn't see the whole picture until that moment, but I had always been looking at it."

There is silence and then he says, "I believe you." A roar of tears comes through me and the room tips up and down. "You have most likely been through this before. You and your dad are soul mates and you have likely lived many lives together." I make an appointment for the next week.

In the following days, I tell everyone I know what I am doing. I even tell people I know won't understand, but I can't help myself.
Ben comes with me and we sit in the office waiting room like two frightened children. Ben has been rereading my college copy of Hamlet and I want to hide it away from him. It's foolishly covered in notes obliviously explaining scenes, highlighting irrelevant passages. As we sit in the waiting room I think to myself that Hamlet was once the saddest story I knew. I had felt so trapped with him when I'd read it. It was the first Shakespeare play that I really figured out and that I understood and loved. I think that there was a time of my life where I analyzed the behavior of someone else's father's death. There was a life of my own before this moment. Hamlet used to just be a play I loved. Now it was a book that triggered me. I am someone who can be triggered.

The hypnotist takes me into a room and I turn around and lock the door behind me.

"No, no!" he shouts from his desk. "Don't do that." I shake my head, dazed and I unlock the door. I don't know why I did that. I genuinely do not know.

We sit down and he speaks to me like all the answers are obvious. Like, me being a Sagittarius and my father being a Cancer was all there was. He actually threw his hands up in an "ah-ha" moment when I revealed the dates of our birth. Of course, we didn't get along. He was water and I was fire. I squint and gaze off. I do not have time for birth signs and after some time we move on.

I lay down with my shoes off and go into a deep meditative state. A tape recorder is placed by my head and then I am weighted and relaxed all at the same time.

"Tell me what you see," he says gently, but truthfully I see nothing. I am terrified of the crash and fight my natural instinct to imagine it. I lay there for minutes upon minutes waiting in the darkness. Please put me somewhere I think to myself Please let there be something. I go backward and backward. I am sinking and floating all at the same time. Black, black, black. Dark, dark, dark.

"What do you see," I am asked every few minutes. The blackness of my closed eyes is consuming me. I worry I'll fall asleep.

"Nothing," I tell him. "I don't see anything."

"Try to remember."

"I can't remember anything."

"Look down."

And suddenly I do. There are boots in grass.


I have thought so many things would work. I have had so many innocent thoughts-- I didn't even know I had such innocence left.

I have spent so many years analyzing myself, aching over missed moments. Missed opportunities to be cool. To be smart. To be present enough to feel a moment into its completion. As we drove to my parent's home the night of I thought to myself that I had never felt more alive. I was finally turned on, high volume. I was pure emotion. I had nothing to give, nothing to hide.

My life after my dad's death is simpler. I don't look over my shoulder the way I used to. I am in the deep end and my feet don't reach the ground. The past had broken my heart, but it doesn't call to me the way it used to. The sirens are still on the shore, but I have wax in my ears now. I just sail by.


***


It takes hours. I am cold most of the time. I am rooted in the chair where I lay, but I am recalling things. I can't see much, just two specific moments in my life. A moment of fear and anxiety and the moment in which I die. I see my face and I feel my body. I worry for a friend. I think that I have chosen the wrong husband. I die young and painfully.

When I come back, my first thought is that I am God. It is the clearest takeaway. I don't think I'm the God, but I cosmo-shocked into a new world of what God means to me. It was nothing grand, rather obvious. As if it has been in front of me all this time: anything I want to believe is in me. I had reached into the void and nothing had reached back towards me. I climb out of the chair and walk out towards Ben in a daze. 

***


A few days later I am in my apartment and I need to re-pot a tree. I have been putting it off for a year because it is one of my most difficult plants. I have additionally been putting it off for months because I have worked myself into a headspace where I cannot ask others plant questions-- this really was the bond I had with my father and if I can't ask him then I will ask no one. But I won't let this mass cane die from my stubbornness and I know what needs to be done. I buy the kind of soil my dad always had me buy and some plastic pot off Amazon. They sit in my living room for weeks until one night I feel brave and impulsive and I tell Ben I need his help. I set the new pot up with a draining system and fill it with soil.

"I need you to hold the pot the tree is in," I tell him. "And I'll pull it out and put it in the new pot." I wrap my fingers around the trunks and bend down.

"Wait, Lisa!" Ben says letting go of the canister. "This was your first plant! I'm afraid we're going to hurt it and it will break your heart." I stop and take a step back to assess the tree.

I remember when I bought it, in the dead of winter while I was working in the suburbs. It was $65 which was a fortune for me then, but I drove it home in the front seat of my car. I have watched it weaken in winter and strengthen in summer. I have trimmed its leaves and washed the dust off its trunk. I have rejoiced new growth and bragged about it to friends. I have called my dad frantically asking why the leaves would curl, when do you fertilize, how do you actually keep something alive?

"You're either watering it too much or not enough," he told me.

"How can you tell which one it is?"

My dad just laughed. "It's just either!"

I look at Ben who is concerned. "What do I do then," I ask him, stepping even further back. There is dirt on the floor. I will need to vacuum later.

"I don't think you should do this," he tells me.

I stand with my hands on my hips for a minute and then I step forward and wrap my hands firmly around the trunk.

"Ben, just hold the pot," I say. "I know how to fucking uproot a tree because my dad taught me how."

And I pull it out perfectly.

25 August 2017

lately

The days are slower now, my body alternating between different stages of molasses. My hours seem to be filled with mostly morning, or maybe it's just the time I am most connected, the most aware. I awake stuck to sheets, suddenly swimming upward from the deep end. I never wake with an alarm and I haven't in years. My eyes crack a few minutes before and by the time my cell phone erupts into a symphony of automated tinkles and bells, I am staring at creases in my ceiling, my hands, my stomach.

I feel so much the way I did while I was in Russia. Always walking, always quiet. Words whirl around me, but nothing clicks. I remember a time on the Moscow Metro and begging Ben to translate a conversation between girls my age, missing desperately any conversation. He told me they were talking about their friend, nothing special but it cradled my heart. Nothing special talks with friends were things I ached for only then and only now. The carelessness of words, a life with all the pieces still in tact.

People do speak to me: they ask me to step aside, what I'd like in my coffee if I dropped something, but I hear none of it. It feels like winter or some stage of it at least. The emptiness, the complete decision by the earth to be quiet and to hibernate is felt by my body. But it's not real; summer is everywhere. On people's skin, in their hair, on the streets. I am some version of my own January.





I color my hair a bright shade of red and I think that now it all looks right. I look like someone troubled. It was all too manicured before or something. This is what people do, right? Shop too much? Lay in bed thinking of a million reasons to call off work? Change their appearance dramatically? I do everything that everyone else probably does, but I am bored by all of it. I feel silly and obvious, but I can't stop it no matter how aware of it I am.

Walking is almost the hardest part. There is never anything I want to listen to. Sometimes I find a book or a podcast, but I eat them fast and alive and then my days are silent again. My feet drag on the pavement, my eyelids are slick and heavy. I flick through songs, radio stations. I think to myself that it isn't the music I want to change, but my mood. I'm not really listening anyway.




Ben goes to Indiana for a weekend and I have Katie over. I pay $4.99 to rent a scary movie, but halfway through a car slides off the road and we pause the movie. I start off by saying how fine I am with seeing car accidents, how many I've seen in my life, how I was even in one when I was in high school. It's been easy for me to detach, how truly I feel nothing. And then it starts coming out of my mouth like ribbons and I pull and pull and now I realize I have said too much and I am far over my own boundary and no, I'm not okay with car accidents. I am not okay when I see them when I hear about them. They break me open in every way I can be opened. They are the ender of my life. I talk and talk until I realize that I'm crying, no I am sobbing and I am sobbing in a way that is usually private, but I can't stop it and I cry as hard as I can.

"Nothing has ever happened to me before," I tell her. "I always thought things did, but nothing really has. I'm just such a regular girl. The quietest of all Midwest girls. Nothing ever really happened before this."

She listens and nods. She says the things that people who are good at listening can say. Only a few people know how to speak the right way. I am must have done something right to have more than one. And I do calm down, I always do. All crying ends, this I know.

I ask her what her Catholic upbringing would say about my dad's death.

"Does your God take people to punish others?"

"No, no," she says gently. "Someone in my church would just say that God needed him and that this will help you become a better person. They'd say this was part of your path and this will lead you to do something greater."

"But what if I don't become anything?" I ask. And this is my biggest fear. "What if I just lead a regular life? What if nothing changes about me at all?"

We think on this. After awhile we finish the movie and fall asleep together in my bed.



Ben and I buy plane tickets to New Hampshire for Thanksgiving and I feel pure joy writing that in my calendar. I keep a grateful journal the way my dad always did and I write three things I was grateful for that day. Sometimes they are big and sometimes they are small, but I force myself to finish it every day.

  • I am grateful I like all my clothes
  • I am grateful Ben's hair looks the way it did when we met
  • I am grateful I have comfortable pillows 
  • I am grateful for TV that makes me laugh
  • I am grateful for Harry Potter
  • I am grateful for the unshakeable bond I have with some friends and family
  • I am grateful that my cat sleeps with me every night
Ben works late but is never too tired to bake with me when he gets home. Somethings are the same as they were before and some things are better. We make s'mores bars and flavored cream cheeses. I pickle cucumbers and clip my beloved pothos to grow for Christmas presents in a few months. We talk as we do everything and I play music Ben has never heard off my iPhone.

We work from home sometimes, but never in the same room. I like knowing he is nearby though. I hear him speak Portuguese and love him in the same way I always have. Sometimes I wander over to him while he has a break and I find myself asking him the questions I always like to ask like, where the Mariana Trench is and what do you think is at the bottom? What's the biggest dinosaur there ever was? How can a plane break the sound barrier? What is the story of how we met? Do you still think I'm pretty?





My living room continues to thrive with strong, healthy plants. The ones my dad gave me for Christmas are vibrant and getting tougher as the days past. I wash their leaves and say goodbye to them when I leave for work. Someone asked me the other day how often I replace them and I was shocked.

"What? Never. I don't kill plants. I've had most of them for years," and I realized how truly proud I am of my plants and how big of a role they have in my life. I find endless peace in watering them, trimming off their dead leaves and rotating them around our sunny flat. Sometimes before I leave in the morning, I catch my cats on my windowsill, hidden by trees and my heart is filled with nothing but pure and simple joy. And it's like all at once I get it. I just get it all.







02 August 2017

Feel Good Lost: Things That Helped

After my dad passed away, everything made me sick.

The morning afternoon (or afternoon, since no one fell asleep until well after the sun, was up) my mom sent Ben out to our family's favorite bagel shop to get something for us to eat. She hadn't expected guests and now the house was full. I sat in my usual spot in our sunny dining room and stared at my warm, handmade chocolate chip bagel- my favorite breakfast in the world- and my stomach only felt dark and empty.

"I don't want this," I whispered and got up to walk around the house.

Almost everything happens the way it does in movies. People bring a lot of food: big bowls of pasta, loaves of bread, plastic dishes of salad. People came in and out throughout the week, but I also remember the house being empty. I wish I could say I remember exactly how it was for sure, but it always just seemed like the morning. I remember the sunshine everywhere. I think it had been cold.

After the funeral, I went back to my apartment and lay in bed for one more week. My company had been generous with my time off and two weeks seemed perfect: one week to be hysterical. One week to be quiet.

But my quiet week was met with a storm of desperation. All I wanted was to feel better, to fix my crumpled stomach and broken heart. Smooth it out and put it back to the way it was. I traced through my memory to self-care videos on YouTube; British girls with Lush hauls and makeup store binges. There seemed to be answers out there and I just needed to land one.

so here are some of the things that actually helped

a hot water bottle in a sweater


My sweet friend Catie sent me a care package that timed up with the week I went back to work. And I was really hurting. My first week was a blur filled with all raw emotions. Genuine breakdowns, moments where I couldn't hold tears back. Running to the bathroom, grabbing a girl I hardly knew to ask for comfort behind a filing cabinet. I ended up working out a schedule that broke up my week with time to work from home, but that first week I did all five days and right in the middle of it I came home in hysterics to a package addressed to "Lisa Lilac" (her nickname for me). 

Inside were her beautiful prints, pouches filled with herbs and stones specifically chosen for grief, but most all a hot water bottle in a little sweater. I don't know if I have ever loved on something the way that I have loved that bottle. I cradled it in my arms while I watched TV and I slept with it every night for probably the first two months. If there is one thing I could tell anyone dealing with grief it would be to buy yourself (or someone else!) this. It brings immense comfort, literal and emotional warmth, something to physically nurture your broken heart with. 

rereading harry potter



One of the first things I started asking people after my dad died was what I should read. I am a lover of books and I was specifically looking for literature, not self-help, to get me through this. I was recommended Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, but after a couple of chapters, I found it too on point and someone identifying my feelings before I could to be very off-putting. I look forward to a season in my life when I am ready for her always guiding words, but I couldn't read about grief head on. 

Instead, I started tracing through my memory to find a hero who had lost a parent but still went on to lead a happy, adventure-filled life. Live a life after grief. After a couple of days of googling and staring mindlessly at my bookshelf, my eyes landed on Harry Potter. I immediately turned to Ben (who rereads the entire series once a year) and said, "Harry misses his parents right? That's a thing!" 

Ben looked at me very seriously. "Yeah, he does. He misses them all the time and struggles with it consistently throughout the series." 

So there I went. My mom actually read all of the books too (though she is much quicker than me and it took her about a month), but we both found such profound comfort in revisiting this classic. I think the natural reaction to death is to surround yourself with materials and information, but I found that to be very suffocating. My life was already surrounded and truthfully, I wanted to swim up for air. I chose to dip my toes into other worlds where death and heartache are real and present, but where characters choose to move forward, choose to face their pain and also live beyond it. I haven't thought of many books beyond Harry Potter (I am still finishing up Prisoner of Azkaban so I still got another few months with it), but if you have a suggestion that is similar, please let me know. 

my plants


I don't know if I would recommend going out and buying new plants if you're dealing with extreme grief, but I have a steady green thumb and took a lot of plants from my dad's wake to join my home (PSA to funeral attendees: send plants, not flowers. Flowers are great, but plants can be taken home and loved. My brother, my mom and I have filled our homes with greenery). At the end of the funeral, we divided up what could be realistically taken and having new life in my home forced me to get out of bed to water and clean leaves, as well as learn about new species I wouldn't have necessarily picked up on my own. 

My home has become a jungle of sorts (just like the home I grew up in), but now all my plants have stories and are beautiful and sweet and fill me with such joy. I took care of them and they took care of me.

things that did not help, but I spent money on thinking they would
- an oil diffuser 
- expensive pajamas (like, really expensive)
- new candles 
- an earring from Catbird 
- Two tops from Madewell
- bath bombs, bath oils, anything for the shower really (though I have found that sitting in a shower for an extended amount of time is very triggering-I struggle a lot with intrusive thoughts, which I hope to write about later)
- an Italian bathing suit 

I ended up spending money here and there with the thought of "treating myself", but I really don't think it's a time to treat yourself. This is a hard truth, but nothing will make you feel better in the beginning. You are in the ocean now and the waves will come. Save your money, go through the pain. Lay in bed in your regular pajamas with your usual candles going and watch TV. Take normal showers. Don't try and buy the pain away. It will hurt, but it will also ease up. Just go through it; the hours are long, but the days are short. 



If you have any additional comfort tools, please share them. I'd love for people to be more of both what to get for themselves and also what to give. You can often times feel so helpless both in watching and experiencing and I think being able to send helpful gifts is wonderful (though, genuinely anyone who reached out in any way at all has a place in my heart. I remember everything).

Thank you for reading, as always.  

06 June 2017

Feel Good Lost: Oscillation

The week after the funeral, I return to my creaky apartment in the city. 



And I go crazy. 


I do everything people say you will do, but it happens fast and moves like a flip book. I move through the stages of grief moment to moment: anger, denial, bargaining, acceptance. Bargaining, denial, anger, acceptance. He died, I should have known. It's ok, I'll get him back. Over and over. I change the channels on the TV,  I put on a different perfume. I buy two candles at $40 each and I alternate the scents in my room. I want to feel good. I want anything to feel good. I think to myself that I will pay any amount of money to feel good again. Anything. 

I become obsessed with religion, but I can't really bring myself to go anywhere with it. I think: I'll wear a burqa and hold e-meters, let you record my secrets. I'll dress in white robes and I'll go down to the river. I'll roll my eyes into the back of my head and speak in tongues as a crowd cheers me on. Hold my head under water. Give me a carpet, I'll pray five times a day. On my hands and knees until the skin rubs raw. I won't eat for a month, I'll give up pork, beef. I won't drink wine, I won't listen to loud music. I will travel to the dusty road in Alabama where the devil sits with his guitar and I'll trade him my soul. He'll draw it like a thread from my lungs. I think over and over how can I bring you back, how can I just bring you back. If you just showed me I could do it. I feel alone in every room I go into. 

I think often that I am too young for this. That I am not ready. I want a different life. Give it back, I will do anything. I'll believe in anything. 

***


I spend a lot of time googling celebrities who lost their parents in their twenties--not when they were kids, when they were in their twenties. That part matters. I keep a list on my phone: Gwyneth Paltrow, Tig Notaro, Casey Wilson. My mother makes me swear on the day that the Chicago Tribune posted pictures of the crash that I will never look. I promise her, so I look at Princess Diana's instead. I study them while I'm at work, I pull them up while I'm in the bathroom. Before I go to bed. I read that her heart moved from one side of her chest to the other. I don't know how my father actually died and I break down and cry about this hourly. The hours turn into days and then into weeks. I think on loop how did you die though? Why didn't I just ask someone the night of? How can I ever know? How can I find the bravery to just ask? 

***

I have more anger than I think my body can handle (though I know now that your body can handle it all). Everything I thought I couldn't live through, I have lived. Somehow. You could too.

I feel sick with rage. I eat terrible food and my stomach hurts both sharp and dull. I take so many pills to sleep that my mom tells me it's not addiction she feared, but that I would fall and hurt myself. The next night I hit my head on a door knob. I wake up in the morning achy-necked and cold. I realize I cannot die in her lifetime. I feel anger that I have lost that too and think that I should be allowed to die whenever I please. But I cannot. I can never die, never grow old. I slow down with the pills. 

A man asks me for change on the street as I leave my fancy building downtown. It is my third day back at work. As I shake my head and tuck my neck into my wool collar he yells after me and asks why I am ignoring him. I think of turning around and unleashing my burning rage on him like a storm out of my fingers. I want to tear the potted plants from the concrete planters that dot the scene around us. I want to smash the car windows. I want to cause chaos on this perfectly manicured street. I see myself screaming my father was killed two weeks ago! I am not ignoring you, I am fucking broken! I am a rocket hurtling towards the moon. I am a nuclear war. I am Hiroshima. I am the word shattered.

I tuck a strand of my nicely highlighted hair behind my ear and walk on. I think of the cliche I have heard time and time again: "Everyone is fighting their own hard battle". I look up and down Michigan Avenue and I think that mine must be the hardest, but I catch myself and pull away from that thought. No good has ever come from comparing one grief to another's unknown. 


***


A boy who is dead is in the news and I read his story every chance I get. He drank too much at a frat party and fell down the stairs. His parents are suing 18 of his frat brothers for his death. For treating him as though he were drunk and not someone who had been critically injured in a fall. I think about the need to punish others; to sue. In lieu of your own pain. I can see how that would be a logical outlet: burn others and keep your heart at a simmer. Crush the world for crushing you. Take away other people's children because they were there for when yours was taken. I can feel it. I could look his parents in the eye. 

I ask my mom if there were any amount of money in the world that would make her feel better and she gives me the answer I expected. I think of what it would be like to have millions, to never need to work again. But there is no fantasy to be had because all I really want is for my dad not to be dead. Money cannot buy life, it can't actually buy that much at all. Not the good stuff anyway. I wish I could call the boy's parents and tell them to just work on their hearts. I think that at the end of the day they will still need to look in the mirror. They'll think that their faces look different too, I bet.


***


I am broken and living in the same moments. I relive them on a loop. I watch it from my eyes, from my brother's, from the police's. My mother tells me that they had all sat quietly until she heard our car in the driveway. She actually thought to herself wait until you see my daughter. It will be like a movie now. 

I see myself holding my mother protectively in the center of our living room, my eyes are dark and wild and they shoot like darts from man to man. I roar. 


WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED


I am shaking and violent. I want to scare them. I want everyone in the room to be so scared of me that they undo this. That they turn to each other and give the signal to turn back the clock; we are not the family to mess with. I have never experienced such anger in my life. How dare they come to my home and look at me, look at my mother. I feel dangerous. I cradle my mother, our roles exchanging seamlessly. 

The men bend their bald heads, their eyes unable to meet mine. The coroner steps forward. He is the smallest one of the bunch. I think that these must be the police who wrote the reports, who found my dad. The small one is the guy who gets woken up. He knows what to do with dead bodies. With dead dads. 

"Well," he says quietly. "Your father was killed in a car accident around midnight. A single car accident. He drove off the road into a pole. When the paramedics arrived they felt a pulse, but it was very light and only for a moment."

I am tightening my face and I stare so hard at him he takes a step back. I can hear the boys coming in from outside. I have forgotten there are people in the world besides my mom and dad. My mom lets go of me and runs to my brother. And then I am no longer coiled and dangerous - I am just a girl standing in a room full of police. I am just someone in a home that is no longer her home. The priest comes up behind me and hands me a laminated card with a picture of Jesus in a glittery crown of thorns on it. 

"It's non-denominational," he says. 


***


I have nowhere to put my anger. It sits in my stomach like a tumor. Like something that should be cut from me by a team of doctors. I do not want anyone to feel good and I think that all the time. I write an Instagram post about it and I tell everyone to call their parents, but I admit it's just myself who I wish had called her parents and told them...him that I loved him. That I really, truly loved him. That I wasn't mad about the small things anymore. That I had never been mad at all. That all I feel is love. 

I think that I want to write a blog series called "Feel Good Lost". I want to feel good and I want to be someone who wants others to feel it too. I think that if I ever wrote a book I'd call it "Cold Room Mountain Top". I guess it sort of sounds like three different Murakami books I didn't finish, but talk about like I did. I think of my life now as a path up a mountain and I thought that right away, the night of. In that living room with all the police and the priest and the card with Jesus. It all fell away and I just saw a mountain that reached high above the clouds. I told everyone about that image in my eulogy, while I pulled at my black tights and wiped my tears onto my palms. 

"My dad would tell me there was nowhere to go but up," I told the crowd. "He'd say, 'Lisa, you just got to keep climbing.'" 

So I do. I climb up a little every day. I go to work. I talk to my friends. I read here and there. But I think that what I'm climbing to is just a cold room. I don't think there's anything that great to be found. I'll climb to it though and when I get there I guess I'll climb down. Or climb somewhere else. 

All these metaphors are dumb, they are just all I have. 







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