“Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.”
It happened gradually. Angry outbursts when driving. His way of trying to shut me up. But I don’t have a history of shutting up just because someone else wants me to be quiet. The first time it happened, we were driving in his car on the way to a weekend retreat with some of my friends, something I look forward to immensely every year. I had asked him when he was planning to come over and put up my gazebo like he had promised several times he would do. It didn’t seem like a big ask since he had already voluntarily said he was happy to do it. The car started to speed up and his face got red. He started shouting at me about all the demands I constantly made on him and to “BACK OFF!” So, I backed off.
Other similar experiences followed
A similar situation arose when we were headed to a restaurant a few weeks later and I asked him when he was planning on finalizing the paperwork for his divorce. We had been dating for almost three years by then and I was no longer happy for him to still be married. Again, the red face and the shouting. But that time, I did not retreat.I simply told him that if he wanted to continue to be with me that he should extricate himself form his marriage. It was his choice. We continued arguing, not with my voice being raised. We ended up having a mostly silent meal together which was extremely uncomfortable for me. I decided I needed to take a break for a while.
Learning mindfulness was the most important thing I took from DBT
I had earlier completed a DBT course at my local hospital. It was once a week for twenty-six weeks. The first time we did mindfulness meditation, I was more than uncomfortable, I was scared to death because the idea of being alone in my mind with my thoughts was terrifying… But I stuck with it.Mindfulness eventually became very important to me as I put it into practice. I started by practicing when brushing my teeth in the morning. It appealed to me because it allowed me to finally get a handle on the anxiety that had plagued me my entire life. Every day it became a little easier to let go of my longing to change things from my past and worry less about the what-ifs of my future.Gradually I let him back into my life, cautiously at first. I tried to talk to him about the outbursts but he was not interested. I had made up my mind at the beginning of the relationship though that I would accept him, warts and all, so that is what I tried to do about his hostile behavior toward me.We started planning a summer vacation and decided to go to Hawaii. There is a particularly beautiful beach near Hana on Maui that calls my name on a regular basis and I wanted to show it to him.
Hana is about a three hour drive from the airport along a famously winding road with stunning vistas on the driver’s side. It is so gorgeous that about 500,000 people brave the drive each year. I booked us an airbnb and off we went.We arrived at our airbnb and I was a bit nervous about how secluded and isolated it was. But the host seemed friendly enough and he had a beautiful dog, named Kodi with whom I bonded instantly. The feeling was mutual, I think.
We left our bags in the bedroom and headed off to Waianapanapa State Park where the beach is located. As soon as we arrived, I had a pit in my stomach. He was not the least bit interested in the sights; stood like a statue near a small inlet, arms crossed, frown on his face. After about 20 minutes I suggested we return to the airbnb and we did.
Mindful of what was unfolding
I questioned him later when he tried to kiss me after we we returned, and I went in to lay down because I was wrung out. He came in after a little while and leaned over to try to kiss me. I looked up and asked, “Why now?” because we had not been physically intimate for 12 months since he had developed erectile dysfunction. When he first started having trouble with his erections, I’d reassured him that it didn’t matter, that there were literally hundreds of ways for a man to make love to a woman which did not include vaginal penetration, He was not the least bit interested in trying to please me so we stopped having sex. That night near Hana, I eventually got up and went out to the living room and tried to talk to him about it.
No yelling or screaming, just talking
He did not want to talk and, at some point, he must have felt so provoked by me that he stood up, crossed the room, grabbed my left arm and spun me around and then struck me on my back twice. Hard. I was so shocked because although he’d displayed his temper before, it was the last thing I ever expected him to do. I quickly called the Maui police but ended up not asking them to attend because he was not an American citizen and I didn’t want him to be arrested. Instead, I texted my daughter. She insisted that I leave immediately, which I couldn’t do. I had not been added to the rental car’s driver’s list. There were no buses or ubers. We were a three hour drive from the airport.
The blow catapulted me over the edge into a deep chasm
where all the suppressed memories of my childhood assaults at the hand of my father had lain buried for decades. I started to sweat and left my body. I didn’t realize I was dissociating at the time. My previous Borderline Personality Disorder was instantly changed into that of cPTSD. I had been assaulted by my father for years as a child and adolescent and now my partner, the man I had trusted more than anyone I had ever known had just assaulted me as well.. As I struggled to try to process it, I spiraled down into despair which was later replaced by full-on rage. I was so confused at the way I could have such feelings of love for someone and such rage at the same time. Then I remembered that
DBT teaches us that two things can be direct opposites of each other and still be true
Over time, I processed the assaults of both him and my father through Radical Acceptance. It was a long process but I used mindfulness to help me through it.The day I first heard about the virus outbreak in Wuhan, China, I knew that some rough times were on the way. I am not one to catastrophize or easily go into panic mode but I knew that we were going to be in for a rough ride. I started to self-isolate that very same day after first stocking up on some bread, peanut butter and jelly and other food staples.I’m now entering Week 6 of my self-imposed isolation and it’s not getting easier, it’s getting harder. Practicing mindfulness is what is helping me get through this experience. In the beginning of my mindfulness journey,
Mindfulness was the key then and it still is now
I would go into my bedroom and lay down on the bed, put in a mindfulness meditation CD and close my eyes. The hardest part was the idea of paying attention to my breath. My mind kept darting off in a million directions. But as time went by, I found myself relaxing more and more. After I got up, I felt strangely refreshed. I went to my Google calendar and scheduled a mindfulness retreat each day for about 10 minutes for the following week.
What happened next was an unbelievable journey
We feel stress and anxiety because of something in our brain called the Amygdala, a tiny little pocket or neurons deep within our brains in what is known as the limbic system. Most of us have never even heard of the Amygdala but we all know its function intimately because it is responsible for our fight or flight response. The fight or flight response is triggered when we sense danger. It evolved during caveman days when predators lurked everywhere and the world was a very dangerous place for newly forming humans. The fight or flight response is a chemical reaction that occurs instantaneously in our brains. You can’t control it and you can’t stop it. All you can do is learn to manage the response as it manifests.Though most of us rarely encounter a sabre-tooth tiger when we are walking to the grocery store we will still experience the fight or flight response when we are stressed. Many of us are experiencing high levels of anxiety and stress from being locked down because of the Covid-19 virus because of all the uncertainty about what the future holds. It’s normal to experience these feelings. Mindfulness is the act of “staying in the present moment.”
For me, a person who lived most of her life with a disorder called Borderline Personality Disorder, learning to practice mindfulness was especially important. I had lived with anxiety my entire life. Worrying about who might not like me, or who would hurt me or betray me. Worrying about who would leave an important relationship and who would ever love me. Learning to practice meant putting that worrying on hold. Something that was extremely difficult for me to learn how to do. It’s important to realize some things when you start.
Mindfulness is not a thing, it’s a place, a state of mind
You don’t get good at it all at once, it happens in stages.
It’s like building a muscle, it takes practice to really perfect how to do it.
Your mind WILL wander away and when that happens, you simply acknowledge the thoughts or feelings that arise without making a judgment about them and return to your meditation practice.
It is impossible to stay in a “mindful” place all the time. It is something you return to over and over again, as needed.
You have to “pay close attention to it “while you are doing it.
Practicing mindfulness during lockdown has been hard sometimes but it is what has kept me sane. I have always struggled with my fears of the unknown and those fears always brought me a lot of anxiety. When I am practicing mindfulness during lockdown, there is no past, there is no future, there is only the now. I know I can not return to my past and change anything that happened any more than I can change what will happen tomorrow.
Mindfulness means “letting go” of my need/desire to control things
I’ve always been a big control freak, a true Type A. Mindfulness has helped me let go of that kind of behaviour and this is, ultimately, what has saved me.Mindfulness takes practice and attention. It is not a quick fix but it does help over time. Covid-19 has turned our world upside down. In the face of such a thing (which can feel like a huge disaster for most of us) it is easy to fall into a pit filled with despair and fear. Instead, for me, choosing to stay mindful of the present moment keeps me from going down that rabbit hole and getting mired in the muck of the “what if” world. Instead, I take each moment as they come.