A dream: I had been shot twice in the area around my heart. I didn’t realize at first that I’d been shot, didn’t feel anything, but then I looked down at my chest and saw that I had two bloody wounds. I felt a tingling sensation, a quiet pain. It wasn’t the pain that concerned me but the knowledge that the wounds were much deeper, more severe than the pain indicated and that I just couldn’t feel the full intensity of them yet. I didn’t know if the wounds were fatal so I was asking a police officer for his assessment; he seemed to reassure me that I would be okay.
The wounds, I suspect, are symbolic of my father’s death and the slow process of connecting to such big emotions. I have, for a long time, been disconnected from my emotions (a defense mechanism); my yoga and writing practices have helped to sync up my mind and body so I can feel what I am feeling, but, still, it is a slow process for me. I randomly cry in the car in response to a story on NPR (often one that seems, on the surface, unrelated) or a song.
Lately, what triggers me to feel are beings that are helpless or in pain. Since I was a little girl, I’ve had a soft spot for animals. Books like Where the Red Fern Grows were almost too much for me to handle; I cried like I had lost my own family member. As I grew older, I hardened and closed my heart and didn’t feel with the intensity I once had. I had learned that it wasn’t safe to be that vulnerable. My consistent yoga practice has enabled me to re-open in the places I closed down. This opening brings with it connection and love and, also, vulnerability and pain. Recently, posts and petitions on social media about animals that are suffering hit me at the deepest place in my core. I want to save them all. I want for them to be safe and comfortable and loved. I can’t stand the idea of them being alone and scared.
My brother’s recent decision to give up the dog he adopted, a dog who has anxiety and abandonment issues that affect his behavior and make it too difficult to have him in a small city apartment, sent me into a tear fest. I couldn’t speak when I heard the news because my throat was so full of emotion. I cried for days. My words to my brother, just weeks before he made the decision, were: “Don’t give up on him!” I had sensed it.
My brother said something recently that surprised me: he said his dog’s face reminds him of our dad. We laughed and my brother’s wife asked what he meant but I knew immediately. It had occurred to me that my reaction to the news about the dog was connected to my father. My father was in pain for a long time, ever since I can remember, trapped by his addictions and suffering immensely. He was also kind and big-hearted and cared deeply about other people, especially my brother and I, who he loved fiercely and completely. He couldn’t show it in the same way a father who is “available” and “well” might, but I always felt his love.
We could not help my father. I watched him slowly devolve, deteriorate. I was in high school when I began to understand that something was very wrong. About a year before he died, I had little contact with him. There had been so many ups and downs (homeless shelters and veteran’s rehab and finally recovery and a period of health, but not for long) and I finally understood he would never change. I didn’t make a conscious effort to withdraw but it happened naturally (on both sides; he didn’t contact me often either) and the whole time I felt sad and guilty but every time I picked up the phone to call him or thought about visiting him, I could not do it.
The guilt is still there but I am dealing with it. I see it. And I know it’s the last thing he would want me to feel. I also know that he’s free now, unshackled from the chains of addiction. Our emotions are circuitous and grieving is not a linear process. We can only take it step by step, and allow the light to trickle in. As Rumi wrote, “The wound is the place where the light enters us.” But we have to look at it first.