The last week in New Hampshire was an intense one. There were a series of revelations that led me to where I am now – in an era of a new spring, where the buds are budding, their tiny leaves plaintive and unfurling. The practices that I’ve been learning this past year: mindfulness, meditation, listening/communication, presence, and awareness, are finally beginning to fruit and I am discovering peace that I’ve been searching for.
My middle name is Sae-Bom, which in Korean means New Spring. Over the years, I’ve found that my spirit reflects my namesake so fittingly in a perennial flux of seasonal growth. The winter is associated with a melancholic moodiness in which I face an issue or circumstance with an indelible desire for learning and growth. Even in the darkest of my times, I have held on to even the slimmest shred of hope and that is all I need to keep on, keeping on.
Jim likens it to a “pit bull-like” determination. It may not be the most elegant or graceful, but damn do I put up a fight! It is with this strength that I press onward into what always opens up into a Spring season of my life where finally I break through the resistance or ignorance into the sunlight. Then, comes the Summer where I reap the benefits of what I learned and by Autumn, do I sow the seeds for the next cycle of personal growth and evolution.
Jim and I were posted up on Pawtuckaway Lake in New Hampshire for a little over a month and a half for a house sit. Over the course of our stay, it was yet another rollercoaster of ups and downs, my mood swings and irritability were racking me with their ever present, and yet beguiling, nature.
One day they declared themselves ruler over me and then the next, they were diminished, a minuscule version of their once powerful selves. And then the following day, they got themselves juiced up on some happening and swelled again to a gross and disproportionately gigantic size. If you’ve ever watched the raunchy adult cartoon, Sausage Party, picture the Douche, and that’s what my egoic pain-body is like.
It felt hopeless and I was helpless. The air was fraught with exasperation and tension, which cleared like a passing storm and then returned again like monsoon season in Thailand. While April did not bring many showers where we were, my emotional life did and it was a hurricane in my head, my eyes were always wet and on the verge of crying for no reason. I felt such melancholy and hurt, a cornered animal with her back against the wall. If you have been following along, I’ve been writing this same story since June so, what’s new?
Well, I didn’t realize this at the time, but this story did not begin in June. This story began years ago in my childhood and that melancholy and hurt has followed me like a deft shadow on my back. It traipsed alongside me, darting in and out of conversation, when I left home and has been with me, lurking just beneath the veneer of daily life in all its niceties. And it is this darkness that I have been wrestling with this past year and these dark waters that finally broke the last week in New Hampshire.
It started one evening when I was contemplating our move to Texas. I had just gotten off the phone with my sister after a light and easy chat about her new baby and motherhood. Turning to Jim who was in the kitchen munching on some snacks as he is wont to do, especially that of the peanut butter tradition, I noted aloud that I had not asked what her thoughts were on the pandemic and COVID-19.
It came to me that I hadn’t bothered to ask because I assumed I knew what she would think about it. In a diminutive way, I made her into a cardboard cut-out in my mind, one-dimensional and static. I shared that with Jim, and in turn, he then asked what my thoughts were, really, on the pandemic and our move to Texas. Giving it some serious thought, I said, “Honestly, it hasn’t hit me yet. And it probably won’t until I’m a week in Texas and then I’m like ‘Holy shit, I’m here!’” Thinking about it more, I confessed, “There’s a sense of detachment to it just like with everything else … “
I was distracted thinking about this detachment that pervades my life, an unwelcome barrier that exists like a phantom, when Jim came over to me saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry, babe!”
Utterly confused, I felt my body become defensive and armed, prickly almost. I felt myself growing insulted before I consciously knew what was happening. “Why?” I asked, probably accusatory.
“Because someone must have really, really hurt you for you to detach so thoroughly,” came the reply, “I just got how detached you are.”
In an instant, I was irrevocably changed. I looked at him squarely and we stared at each other as I got myself be gotten the most intimately anyone has ever gotten me. No one has ever come close to understanding my detachment, whether they be therapists or friends, and it is unnerving and a very lonely place to be.
Tears came to my eyes unwittingly as he wrapped me in a hug, engulfing me in his warmth. And I felt something in my chest, a hot and fiery sensation that exploded in my heart and radiated outward. It warmed the body everywhere it touched and expanded its fullness like a balloon. I almost had to catch my breath as the moment shook my center of gravity. I didn’t feel like an island anymore, someone had finally gotten through my defenses. This feeling was new, strange, and unfamiliar. And it enraptured me with its fullness. I realized that what I was feeling was love. And what was notable was how rare this feeling was; I think I may have felt this sensation once before.
An intense healing session had just occurred, a mile marker along this journey of me coming back to life; something had been freed and a burden was shed, the connection to my heart was being plugged into its electric socket and we both knew what had just transpired. Our connection was transcendent and no words were needed to convey our mutual understanding. Jim murmured to me, “We make a great team.”
This event would have seemed almost surreal to me were it not for the fact that for the first time in a very, very long time, I was fully present and aware. My eyes locked with Jim’s and I was right there with him. For this, I was so grateful. To be in the world and experiencing it fully with another, rather than locked in my head with concepts and the intangible, desolate and disparate from the world and others, is more than a gift, it is a homecoming.
The next day, as if by coincidence, on the day of the death of Jesus Christ, Good Friday, the mood in my disposition flipped. I was back in the lulls of my previous high. The nether regions of my soul reached for me and I turned to them like Lot’s wife taking one last fatal look back at Sodom and turning into a pillar of salt.
What transpired that day was hysterics, grief, and misery. I was deeply unsettled and unsettling, some part of me was restless and it tapped me awake, reminding me, “Annette, something’s wrong! Something is terribly wrong! Pay attention! Alert!” And I was sucked into its vortex all day.
In the evening, I found myself alone upstairs in our bedroom with the big windows overlooking the lake. No one was around to humor my hysterics and with no one to entertain the tantrums of my inner child, it was up to me. With this in mind, I set my determination straight and wrapped myself in the large comforter, mimicking a womb or cocoon. What I was seeking was to be in darkness, tuning everything out but my consciousness.
Then, I started screaming. All the negative energy that had pooled in my blood throughout the day and from years before. I screamed and screamed at the top of my lungs into a pillow, reserving nothing for later but adamant on releasing it all then and there. I was going to get to the bottom of this bullshit. I screamed at the fighting, I screamed at myself, I screamed at Jim, I screamed for my hurt, I screamed for the misery, I screamed all the hatred and resentment, I screamed all the tears and heartache, I screamed at all the shit, and I screamed at the world a harsh, shrill, and ear piercing scream that cut through my heart like nothing I had ever heard before.
I kept going, telling myself, “You’re going to scream until you can’t scream anymore. Get it out! Get it out! GET IT OUT!” And I did just that. I kept going. And when I did, it began to transform.
I sobbed all the melancholy in my soul, all the mucky, yucky, viscous density that weighed me down like a lead balloon all the way to the bottom of the ocean, drowning me.
I cried and screamed and snotted.
I screamed at my childhood. I screamed at my father. I screamed at my mother. Then, my anger turned to grief and I unleashed my rage at her defense. I screamed for her grief, hurt, and trauma. I was so fucking angry at their presence and I raged on her behalf at the world. I screamed for all the fear and ugliness that she had to encounter and endure. I screamed that I couldn’t protect her. I screamed at my mother’s mother for hurting her. I turned my rage on her. I screamed at my grandmother’s mother for hurting her. I raged for all the women in my family and our collective melancholy, sorrow, grief, loneliness, and hurt that lived in our family tree. Sobbing, I called on all of them to be present.
And with heaving gasps, I pressed on, it wasn’t over yet. Once I couldn’t scream anymore, I turned inward and asked myself, “Why aren’t you okay? Why can’t you be okay? Why can’t you be okay? What do you need, Annette? What is it you are looking for?” I asked myself again and again and again this line of questioning.
Combing my history and experiences, I noted that this feeling of being unsettled and restlessness had been present as early as middle school and had never left. I thought it would go away once I was in college and had freedom. When it didn’t, I thought once I graduated and was done with school, it would expire and yet, it lingered ever present. “Quarter-life crisis,” I called it at the time. Well, when you’re thirty, is it still a “quarter-life” crisis? Or is it a way of being, a state of mind? When I finally sobered up from abusing drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes I thought I would find stillness. When I integrated meditation and mindfulness practice, I thought inner peace would find me. And yet, here I was sobbing hysterically and screaming my guts out into a pillow, under a blanket. “So what the fuck, Annette, are you looking for??” I asked myself.
In a moment of stillness after I asked this question for the bazillionth time, I felt that hot and pulsating sensation in my heart from the previous day, that moment I shared with Jim wherein I was gotten and felt love burning a hole in my chest, a smoking gun. “Ah, Love!” I sat up straight when I connected with this answer. It was all coming together now, the puzzle pieces of the road map I was on.
My entire life, the fullness that had been missing contributed to a deep-seated feeling of unrest, so that no matter where I was, I was never satisfied. I was constantly thinking about what’s next, something better, because where I was, wasn’t enough and so I filled this deep hole with things: experiences, adrenaline, sex, drugs, alcohol, partying, and chaos. And even when I removed those factors and lived a clean life with healthy foods, meditation, exercise, and a loving relationship, the unrest continued to haunt me as a clingy specter. A vacuous black hole that gnawed at me as a constant hunger. In my 20’s I gave myself a tag name, Voraz y Loco, which in Spanish translates to Voracious and Crazy, because I was a hungry, hungry girl who lived on the brink of chaos and adrenaline.
Through dank alleyways, in buttoned up lecture halls, windy cities, foreign countries, airports, train trams, ocean breezes, the barrel of a rolled up dollar bill, the smoldering end of a joint, forlorn kisses, lovers’ arms, stolen glances in mirrors, fields of country wild flowers, hallucinogenic trips to outer space, night markets in other world countries, the back of a speeding scooter, professional cubicles, and the success of achievement I’ve been searching for that feeling of fullness, that feeling of my heart bursting and bubbling over. That feeling that keeps me here with people and let’s me know I am alive.
The greatest of them all. I thought I knew love. It is so prevalent in culture, I thought, “Of course, I know love!” and never thought to ask myself if I knew what it felt like. The truth is because I was so detached from my self and the world, I was unable to actually FEEL it, let alone love myself or another. And that feeling was what my soul was hungry for my whole life, some good, old Lovin’.
An Easter Resurrection
The next day was spent coming out of my reverie state and within a few days, the weather had changed. As Jim and I left the house for groceries, the weather was remarkably light, sunny, breezy, and beautiful. It was Easter Sunday and it was my resurrection. You know when you take a frozen chicken out of the freezer to thaw? I’m that piece of chicken and I’m coming back to life like Lazarus! Huzzah!
Epiphanies about Darkness
Over the next week, I came to a few realizations about my mood swings. One, is that I had been glamorizing mental un-wellness. It seemed to me that all the great writers and artists were a little unhinged and it was oh-so-romantic to be crazy and fraught. All the good stories are about disenfranchised characters and among these, the best characters are larger than life and eccentrically wild.
Think Breakfast at Tiffany’s: a beautiful woman who chain smokes and is so unattached she can’t even bear to name her cat. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: two crazy characters full of zest and quirks, ingesting every drug known to man, as well as those unknown. Think Vincent Van Gogh and his well-known consumption of absinthe, which led to his cutting off his own ear. Hemingway was also an absinthe drinker, and I imagined him spending long days at the bar, observing the lives of sailors and the open sea. To me, the picture of a taciturn and brooding writer sitting at the bar with a smoking cigarette in one hand and an alcoholic beverage in another, was worthy of emulation. I didn’t read stories about happy characters living the good life. In fact, that sounds a bit boring and there is something to be said about that.
Later that week, I had a conversation with a friend about the recurring presence of violence in his dreams. One day, as he was meditating upon this, wondering why this was so, his mind asked him, “Isn’t it what you like?” And it dawned on him that indeed, the movies he consumed were violent action and war movies. He was consuming all this violence, so no wonder it was seeping into his dreams.
In a similar fashion, the movies and shows that I love, “mind-fuck” genre, tend to be surreal and toying with the psyche and the notion of reality, with a general feeling of unsettledness and eeriness. Think Fight Club, Donnie Darko, Primer, etc. Isn’t it true that what we consume is what we become? The more I consume this type of media, the more it infiltrates my mind and builds my world. I create it.
The latest of these that I watched was the cult hit TV show, Twin Peaks by David Lynch. While it is beautifully rendered and very original,
it is also dark, creepy, and eerie, generating a feeling that something is not quite right. It is furtive and subversive. The last scene is a chilling, surreal dream sequence that left me feeling disturbed.
The more I consume this type of media, the more the feelings they generate are in my body and the more my body becomes used to these emotions. It is normalized and becomes a part of my baseline to feel moody, dark, unbalanced, unsettled, and off-kilter, while feeling at peace, serene, calm, and full of loving energy seems far off.
It has been almost 2 weeks since we left New Hampshire and life has been good. I am more centered and peaceful than I have been in a very long time. Something was shed in New Hampshire, a burden that I had been carrying for a long while, and I also freed myself from the bondage of my mind. I set down the melancholy and sadness that I had been given, saying, “I don’t want to carry this with me anymore.”
To be continued …