• aubreygannredmon

The Forgiveness Chronicles - Part III: Sweet Relief

Updated: Dec 31, 2020

The Forgiveness Chronicles, Continued

Part III: Sweet Relief

My right hand was soaking in a bowl of hot, soapy water. My Mom had a knack for picking out the best smelling soaps. I closed my eyes and felt the warmth, smelled the fragrance of something I would always come to associate with calm - something floral, something nostalgic. She picked my hand up and lifted it out of the bowl, sitting it on the towel in between us on the kitchen table. Though it was late in the evening and the sun was setting, the house was still hot from the day. We didn’t have air conditioning. The windows were open, and the attic fan was on, the sticky air tickling the curtains as it cooled my damp skin.

My mom poised the tweezers above my palm, selecting which splinter to dig out next. “I just don’t know what you got into that caused this,” she muttered. My entire palm was swollen with splinters, hundreds of them, some large (which she had removed first) and an entire constellation of small ones.

I looked down at my lap. “I was playing, and slid my hand over a bunch of wood,” I lied.

There it was. The first lie. The first shovelful of dirt over the memory.

“I still don’t know what kind of wood would cause all these splinters,” she continued to muse.

I looked outside. A streetlight came on next to a telephone pole across the street as I gazed out the front window, whose shutters were open to help the breeze. “A telephone pole,” I manufactured quickly.

This seemed to satisfy her. “Ah. Yes, I think you’ve learned a valuable lesson,” she said as she gripped on to one of the smaller ones and yanked it out. “But don’t worry. The pain is only temporary.”

My Mom was often so philosophical about things that she could easily be mistaken for cold; nothing could be further from the truth. I would come to learn as I grew older that my Mom’s philosophical tranquility had been borne from her own great sufferings in life. As I grew older, I would only ever catch glimpses of the sources of her pain: snippets of her childhood and a loveless mother, the grandma I never met; the photo in Great Granny's album that showed my Mom in a wedding dress with a man that wasn't my father; little comments about her life before starting a family.

As a culture, we do not stop to analyze pain. Everything we are taught, conditioned, and programmed to believe in society concerning pain generally has to do with either one of two topics: avoidance or machismo. The machismo aspect has to do with how much pain we can take on in order to accomplish something extraordinary, as though pain threshold is a competition and the ability to survive it will earn us some kind of a trophy for being “tough." Avoidance, however, is rooted in a fear of pain and discomfort. We are conditioned to believe that pain is a terrible thing that should be dodged at all costs. The opioid epidemic is the epitome of this sort of thinking.

Some of this avoidance culture has to do with expediency; we are too busy to be in pain, whether physical or emotional. We are taught that we must "plow through" and be productive; but if we are in pain, it is difficult, if not impossible, to be productive…at least by conventional standards. A good example is childbirth. Our culture is programmed to believe that having a baby naturally is an incredibly painful experience. The fear associated with the women on television screaming, sweating, and gritting their teeth reaffirms this belief. The women are often portrayed and winding up in these positions unexpectedly, introducing the added element of uncertainty – which breeds more emotional pain – because we do not know how long we will have to endure the intense pain we are told about. The easiest way to avoid all this is to simply schedule a C-Section and be done with it. The mother gets a nice dose of anesthesia. A curtain is put up so she doesn’t have to bear the horror of watching her belly be sliced open. The baby is removed, she is sewed up, and then she is given pain pills to ensure her “comfort.” She feels nothing, she sees nothing, and she and her doctor have a reasonably good idea of when all this will happen, when it will be complete, and when she can be discharged home. Pain has been averted. Sounds great, right?

What if we suspend those beliefs and judgments for a moment and imagine another possibility? What if the pain is not some terrible thing to be avoided at all costs, but instead, it is treated as a sacred messenger? What if the pain is trying to tell us something? What does pain have to teach us about what is happening in our lives? Is it just that we are experiencing physical pain, or is there something deeper going on? What if we anesthetize – which really equates to muting – the message pain is trying to offer us? Will is cause us to make a wrong turn? Will we inadvertently prolong our suffering in some other way? The only thing that even led me to ask these questions was my own failed experiences with anesthetizing pain.

Since doing a deep dive into the metaphysics behind pain, I have come to realize one very important universal truth: pain has its roots in resistance. When we resist, we experience friction, and friction in turn creates pain. I first became aware of this connection through what I considered to be the sacred rite of passage: childbirth. I want to preface the story that comes next by letting every woman out there reading this to know I will never judge a woman who made choices different than mine. We each made the decision that was best for us in the moment we occupied in our lives. There is no guilt in that. When I was pregnant, I knew that I had to do it naturally, without anesthesia. The reasons for this will be come clearer as the Chronicles unfold. For now, it is enough to say that I felt compelled to explore a home birth with as little intervention as possible.

In my obsession to prepare as much as I could for this massive undertaking – which seemed silly, given the fact that women have been birthing babies unassisted in fields all over the world for millennia – I learned just how radical my approach was. Most parents-to-be took birthing classes at night once or twice a week during pregnancy. I, on the other hand, had a doula come to my home for an afternoon with a full sized model of a human pelvis. She showed me that when we resist gravity by laying on our backs for labor, the opening of the pelvic floor can constrict as much as two inches. Someone might say, “so what? Its just two inches, no big deal.” The person who thought it was a good idea to birth babies on our backs and that two inches didn't matter was probably a patriarch who would never know the reality of childbirth for himself. Tell a woman who is squeezing a baby’s head out of an opening the circumference of a pencil eraser that two inches doesn't matter! Two inches suddenly matters to the mother and the baby. A lot. I traded in those night classes for weekly prenatal yoga instruction, which my best friend patiently guided me through. She had four boys of her own, and the last two had been born in a birthing center, not a hospital. I couldn’t have found someone I trusted more to help me grasp the concept of pelvic floor opening and breathing techniques. The entire approach was designed to face the fear and address it; it was one of finding the path of least resistance, to assist the body, not resist the body.

During labor – which was admittedly painful, though nowhere near as painful as I had expected from watching mainstream entertainment – I experienced something truly empowering for the first time in my life. I was firmly and completely planted in the present moment. Nothing existed outside of that moment, and nothing existed outside of me. When the contractions came, I just did what I had been practicing for the last eight months: I breathed. There were no moments of agonizing screams tormented struggle. I didn't fight the process, my body, or the baby. It was pure non resistance, and in that non resistance, I gained freedom and peace. I don’t think anyone would have ever believed it; fortunately, I had my husband and midwife as witnesses to confirm this and tell the story to others. Suddenly, a different narrative about pain became possible: it had the power to transform. With each contraction, I was taught to use the breath to assist the body in opening. And so it went for five hours. I learned, in the most exquisite and selfless way possible, how to move through pain, rather than dominating it or avoiding it. The either/or dichotomy was false. There was another way. There was always another way. I wouldn't make the connection until much later that this experience had been so powerful precisely because it had emanated from within myself; nothing external was required for empowerment or validation. It was easily the biggest accomplishment of my life, and one of my greatest teachers.

The problem was that I had compartmentalized this experience into the little box of childbirth. It would take seven years before I began to innerstand the full implications of what I had experienced and would begin to assimilate the lessons from this incredible slice of personal history into a plan I could replicate into one of further healing.

Thirty-three years after my Mom had picked the splinters out of my palm as best she could, I was sitting in my office trying to decide whether to book trips to conferences in Las Vegas, Aspen, and Branson for the year. Its going to fall through, the voice inside me said. It felt true; I had been dragging my feet on making the reservations. But logically, that intuition made no sense, and I rolled my eyes at myself. There is no reason a year’s worth of plans would just evaporate; sure, I had considered many times before the possibility of some great societal upheaval, but 2020 hardly seemed like the time, despite the growing polarity and overall weirdness of the world. Cataclysms were something only Doomsday Preppers and Mormons entertained in their daydreams. My health wasn't that bad...yet. I shook my gut off, clicked on the “purchase” button, and began booking trips. I went to grab the pen next to me to write down confirmation numbers, and it fell to the floor. I caught a glimpse of my thumbnail as I was picking up the pen. Another splinter had emerged and was working its way through the nail. This, combined with that quiet voice inside of me would ever cause me the amount of foreboding I experienced, created a nagging sense of foreboding.

I cleared my throat. My paralegal and I shared an office. "Got the flights to Vegas booked," I chirped. I thought actually saying that would make me feel better. It didn’t.

For the last three decades, I would occasionally get splinters that showed up in my palm, my nails, my fingertips – they would just “randomly” appear at odd times. I remember one of the first ones. I was in my twenties. I had showed it to my Mom.

“Can you believe this?!? I have a splinter in my fingernail!” I said, showing it to her.

She lifted up her right foot and pointed to a faint, gray speckle. “See this? This is from when I stepped on a lead pencil when I was a kid. These things happen,” she said reassuringly.

Not long after that splinter had emerged, the second set of traumatic events in my life had unfolded. Everyone will probably read this and think it is a coincidence. I have never believed in those.

The splinter, as odd as it may sound, was a omen, a reminder: pain results from resistance. For a split second, I was transported back to the point in time where I had gotten the palmful of splinters. My right hand reached behind me, to try and stabilize myself as I was being pushed down to the ground. My hand slid across the worn out, faded, dirty, old wood that comprised of the back wall of the shed. As my hand slid down the wall, I could feel the splinters breaking off into my palm. I could feel the friction. The resistance between my skin and the wall, but also, something else…the friction between my will and the boy’s.

I now wonder what my journal would have looked like if I had tracked each time a splinter surfaced from my right hand…would it have tracked the trail of resistance and traumas, both big and small, in my life? Was it a portent of the pain to come if I were to resist the small voice within? I was dissolving so many old programs and beliefs by this time that anything seemed possible, even something so seemingly insignificant as a splinter. Against my better discernment, I had ignored the little splinter working its way through my thumbnail. I was too busy. I had too much work to do. I had convinced myself that I needed to be productive.

About a week later, I had my second attack. At the time, we thought it was an adrenal attack; later, I would learn that it was most likely a stress-induced heart attack.

Within three weeks, all travel plans were unraveling because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Even as I write this, I can hear a skeptic’s voice in my head. “That’s a f*&$ing ridiculous exaggeration, thinking a goddamned splinter could have predicted all this shit.”

What makes it so ridiculous, though? The fact that it is a splinter? The fact that it is a premonition? Or the fact that outside of the person experiencing it, there is no frame of reference or context at all with which to place its significance?

The pandemic gave me the gift of time (though I am sure there are people in my life who would have preferred I had not had so much time on my hands!). I spent a lot of time thinking about that splinter as my hands worked the dirt in the garden during quarantine. The splinter nagged at me, persistently, quietly whispering at me to be explored. What might have seemed like some disproportionate thing – a tiny splinter warning me of a huge, life-altering event – wasn’t at all exaggerated or peculiar to me. I couldn’t ignore what I felt any longer.

Confronting the resistance and fear within myself was an obstacle I had to overcome before I could determine my worth; despite everything, the medical medium's conversation about worth echoed deeply inside, somewhere. In a way, it reminded me of a probate estate. When people die, the legal world stops the clock and freezes the instant in time: the moment of death. In that snapshot of time, everything is inventoried…the rare coin collection, the three legged cat named Lucky, the couch Uncle Bobby peed on last time he passed out drunk after Christmas dinner, the gently-used Subaru with stains from the grand kid's juice boxes in the backseat, all the bank accounts (even the ones no one knew about!), and all the Hummel Dolls that *might* be worth some money if you have anyone in the family who knew how to maneuver on Ebay. Most of the “junk” – Mom’s two closets full of golf clothes, Aunt Judy’s rock collection, Grandma’s antique books, the small appliances that might or might not work – were disposed of first. Then, as the proceedings progressed, the big assets were appraised (valued) and then either fought over, distributed, or both.

Fear was one of those “junk” assets. It didn’t have sentimental value because it wasn’t pleasant to hang onto. No one looks back on the fear-inducing moments with the "golly gee" warm fuzzies. No needs a blender that only works on the middle setting when it is half full and will only make chunky “smoothies”…it just takes up space. It was the vehicle in the driveway that had no wheels and the engine didn’t work and no one could find the title. It required far more work than it was worth to get the damn thing running again. But it sat there, accumulating code violations, and would cost more to transfer than it would to donate and have towed away for parts. So not only did it take up space, the space it took up also became a problem as it sat there and decayed, devaluing everything around it. So that is where the journey to discover self-worth and forgiveness had led me: the crammed basement storage room of my life. The spot where all the things didn't know what to do with ended up. I had shut the door and only ever opened it to throw something in before slamming the door shut real fast so nothing could tumble out. Nothing in these was useful, though. It was just sitting, taking up space, threatening to pose a problem. I needed to clear out the fear, up-cycle it, and only then could I look around the room one day and see what was really left to work with.

Processing the fear and trauma meant that I would have to go back in time to moments that I had suppressed, repressed, and actively continued to try and forget. I would have to live in those moments, suspending all logical judgments, and to occupy the space of a witness, a casual observer. That, in and of itself, terrified me. I knew, though, that like a rotten tooth, the decay would not get better with time. Too much time had passed already. I needed to seek the truth.

Normally, those who delve the depths of consciousness do so under the careful watch and guidance of an experienced shaman or counselor. This was quarantine. I couldn’t just go on an ayahuasca trip and commune with the Oneness of the Universe in a retreat center somewhere in Peru. Instead, I learned meditation techniques. The breathing and visualization had worked in childbirth. It had helped me to let go of the resistance to flow with and become one with the pain to assist my body in opening and showing me its own wisdom. If it could work for the physical, it could work for consciousness. I had nothing to lose.

By this time, I was spending an hour most days in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. There was nothing to do in there but heal, and breathe. My shaman had suggested I visualize the chamber as a cocoon, a place I could go for transformation. This became the catalyst for some of the most profound meditation experiences I would enjoy. The bag was zipped up. The oxygen hissed behind my head. I put the oxygen tubes in my nostrils and closed my eyes, breathing deeply as the pressure increased in the chamber.

I allowed my breathing to slow. I would breathe in for four seconds, I held my breath for four seconds, I exhaled for four seconds, and then I held my breath out for four seconds. I fell into a deep rhythm and relaxation with the breath.

“Spirit, please show me the Central Sun of the Universe,” I asked.

I saw my physical body lying on the bed below me. At first, I was just a few feet from my body. Then, I began to slowly drift up. I lifted up through the ceiling into the attic (is that what it looks like up there?!?), then I saw the shingles that made up the roof, then I saw my entire yard and the surrounding houses below. I kept lifting, and all the while, I saw a sparkling, gossamer thread trailing from my belly button to my body somewhere below. Before long, I saw the Midwest, then the United States, then the planet below. Space whizzed by in a flash, and suddenly, I found myself staring at the most magnificent glowing light I had ever witnessed; it was opalescent, shining of all colors in a brilliant, sparkling white. Though shining brighter than anything I had ever seen, it was not hot. It was a cool, crystalline light. The purity of it was palpable.

I allowed myself to bathe here until the nudge of consciousness told me I was ready. There was a feeling of wholeness, serenity, and peace. As I slowly separated from this light, I saw a second gossamer thread emerge.

“Ride it,” Spirit urged.

I willed my consciousness to become one with this thread and soon was traveling through space and time directly to the Central Sun of the Milky Way Galaxy. There was a pause. Energy was added. Then I was back in this tube of light, flying through the Galaxy, before pausing again at the Sun in our Solar System. Picking up more energy, this next segment was a blink. I found myself staring down at the planet. Slowly, my Spirit descended back towards Earth, bringing all this energy with it, as it followed its gossamer thread back to my physical body. I saw the light stop just inches above my head, then a portal opened where my crown shakra was. The light poured down through my body, permeating every cell and wrapping it with love, healing, and protection. Through the shakra system it traveled, until it shot down below my feet, deep into the Earth, connecting with the center, the heart, of the planet. I paused and felt Her heartbeat synching with my own. I was surrounded in a tunnel of protective light.

“You are ready to remember,” Spirit encouraged me. “It is safe to feel. Nothing can hurt you.”

I was transported back to the first trauma in childhood. I saw myself peek through the door of the shed and look around. I was scared to go home after the trauma because I was afraid that if my parents found out what had happened, they would blame me and they would not love or accept me anymore. I was terrified that I was some kind of monster, that I had done something rotten to deserve this as a child, and the fear of retribution plagued me. The profound sense was firmly implanted in my root shakra; unconsciously, before I headed out of the shed and began to run towards home, I grabbed my bottom. It burned. The burning wasn’t just pain from something physical; it was the seat of my shame and fear.

In an instant, I had a complete innerstanding that the fear of rejection, of not being loved or accepted, had taken on many forms throughout my life. When I was bullied after we moved from that place in Independence, the insecurity others felt was transferred to me. The bullies experienced the same insecurity I did; in a flash, I saw one of my tormentors cowering in a bedroom, listening to her parents fight. She was scared; she thought it was her fault, though it wasn't. We shared a frequency that allowed her to offer that energy to be transferred, and without knowing it, I had accepted it. Like attracts like. The bullies had fears about their own abilities and inadequacies that they were unable to cope with, and so they projected those fears out into the world. I accepted that those who bullied me knew more about me than I knew about myself; by believing that something was wrong with me, that I somehow deserved to be bullied, I accepted the energy and made it my own by internalizing it further. It fit the narrative I had unconsciously developed about who I was.

The fear was compounded when I hit my teen years and began looking for an escape from the bullying, and then, the memories from the childhood trauma that had begun flooding back into my consciousness. I watched my mother drink and knew intuitively that she held her own traumas and pain deep within herself, and the drinking numbed the darkness within her. When I abused substances, while I would feel great for a night or a weekend, sooner or later, I would run out. I would need more. The relief was only temporary. I was afraid of the memories coming back into my mind’s eye. I was afraid of the feelings. I was afraid of being seen as an addict, so I hid my substance abuse. I was afraid of being a loser, of making more mistakes, and so I walked the tightrope that many functional addicts do: I hid my substance use and would fill the productive hours full of activity to not only disguise my problem, but to excel by societal standards in spite of it.

But even then, the amount of substance that it took to continue masking the pain kept increasing. It required more and more money to maintain. I saw myself as a dirty, worthless, degraded woman…it wasn’t much of a leap that I would then use my body for profit. I started dancing at a strip club and made more money than I thought possible. The trauma was compounded. Every time I would look at the faces of the men sitting before me, I would sink inside. It felt familiar, and in that way, it was comforting. An old familiar sting. The other women were similarly traumatized, so I shared a bond with them, even if all of us were incapable of having any kind of meaningful relationship with one another at the time. There was at least an understanding among us, and in that pain, we were somehow less lonely. The financial gain didn’t bring the sense of accomplishment or self-worth that I desperately sought; the fear of anyone finding out what I was doing for a living became yet another darkness that hid below the surface of the summa cum laude façade I was building, threatening to shatter the “false reality” I was creating to cover up the trauma. In that sense, I didn't belong among most of my peers at work. Most had succumbed to this place in life; I had not. Everything seemed so fragile, so tenuous. There was the tension between getting totally inebriated to avoid the pain and enjoy this false sense of bliss that would wash over me – the Sweet Relief as I came to know it – which was completely at odds with a fear of getting too out of control that I would do something dumb and ruin everything. There was fear that I would get abused again. In those first fledgling relationships, I was frantic for love and acceptance, and so I chose partners that would tell me what I wanted and needed so desperately to hear, but who treated me horribly. I stayed with them, despite the dissonance, because my fear of rejection was so great.

I was shown one of my first boyfriends. He sat on the porch swing with a Kool pressed between his lips. Before long, another woman in the neighborhood was jogging by on the sidewalk. I waved. I envied her golden curls, so unlike my flat, thin, fine hair. She smiled and waved back.

He turned to me with a smirk. “She should be running.”

“What do you mean? She looks happy. I love her hair,” I commented, watching her round the corner and disappear from sight.

“If your thighs ever looked like cottage cheese like her thighs do, I would chain you to the back of the car and make you run it off.”

I swiveled to turn and look at him. Why did he say that? What did that even mean? “But why? She doesn’t need to be pulled behind a car to motivate her to run.”

“I would make sure of it,” he said casually, as he took a drag.

I realized that there had been many, many moments just like that one in my relationships. In this dimension beyond time, I could remember them all and sense them all in the snap of a finger; suddenly, they were all there, the entire collection. The fact that there were so many told me something: I picked relationships based on who showed me the most affection in the beginning, not based on the quality of the connection or personality of the individual I was entering a relationship with. I not only wanted to see the best and believe the best, I was willing to ignore all the warning signs just to feel acceptance. I had been desperate to belong. I craved the certainty of something stable, to be able to label it, as though the label alone would make it last. But labels were flimsy; they would dissolve eventually, and the only thing I would be left with was the stark reality of energetic imbalance. Inevitably, something would occur; the words wouldn’t match the actions and an illusion would be destroyed. I would be forced to confront the fact that the relationship, as labeled, was a lie; it wasn’t what I had thought, hoped, dreamed, or expected it to be. I always feared the inevitable destruction of the unsustainable label because I knew what it meant: rejection, loss of acceptance, loss of love.

I was often confronted with this theme of staying in bad relationships for stability’s sake, often at great emotional – and sometimes, physical – expense, allowing myself to be of benefit to the other person’s desires without deriving what I needed in return for the sake of avoiding the shame and pain of failure or loss. I often anesthetized my way through the severing of such relationships. I had not learned the balance of giving and receiving energy.

I was then brought to another major trauma point in my life.

Most of those with substance abuse issues who were dealing with a lack of self-love and rejection that I had encountered preferred depressants, but not me. My friends who used opioids and alcohol as their primary anesthetic seemed to want to escape their pain through numbing it completely. I didn’t like feeling hazy, numb, nauseous, and lethargic. I had something to prove, a façade to maintain. I sought to feel powerful because inside, I lacked anything resembling empowerment. I needed a boost to my will and motivation to keep going. I liked feeling energetic and invincible. Stimulants offered me everything I convinced myself I wasn’t and wanted so desperately to be. Unfortunately, it was the most expensive thing I could have picked in more ways than one.

The opioids that many around me used also scared me; I was most fearful of getting addicted, and even more fearful of contracting a disease from a dirty needle. One of my grandma's brothers had died of AIDS and the impression that had left on me was marked. I had witnessed firsthand the first time one of my friends tried heroin; someone offered it at a party. My friend had told himself what every addict had told themselves, which was, “just this once.” But then, the incredible euphoria wore off. They would then spend the rest of their lives chasing that first high, only surpassing it when they overdosed. I lost a few acquaintances this way. The numbness would require bigger and bigger doses to reach even a semblance of the high they chased. And, sooner or later, the needle was introduced. It was quick and heavy, no time wasted getting to where they wanted to go. With quick and heavy came incredible highs and devastating lows, and so, a vicious cycle was born. I saw their lifeless eyes as the poison snaked its way though the veins and knew it wasn’t for me. I suspected that stimulants would have a similar vicious cycle, but my warped logic opined that at least if I avoided heroin and stuck to stimulants, I could avoid the needle. I could be tested for ADHD, and I could get the stimulants I desired legally, so no harm, no foul. I realize how absurd that sounds now, but the logic had at least worked in that regard. I never touched heroin or a needle. I had felt like I had accomplished something major in just that avoidance alone.

There were two very traumatic incidents that occurred back-to-back that involved my substance abuse. They were inextricably intertwined.

The first incident started benignly enough. I was now to the point where a prescribed dose no longer left me feeling anything but slightly better than normal. I had taken triple the dose that morning and was enjoying the rush of invincibility that coursed through my body like life, like electricity (not the poison it really was). My boyfriend had rented a cabin for the weekend and had picked me up to take me to go see it. On the way, he picked up two friends. One of the friends had a big bottle of Gatorade with him in the backseat.

My mouth was really dry, and I said so.

“Wanna sip?” he offered, handing me the bottle.

I reached behind me, grabbed the offered bottle, and took a drink. There was nothing special about it. I thought maybe they had spiked it with vodka, but it tasted exactly like Gatorade. I saw my disappointment in the sip. Something inside of me wanted to go straight to the edge, extend my arms out, and look danger straight in the face that day. Little did I know what I was inviting.

It wasn’t long before I began feeling odd. I was suddenly tired. I remember rolling up my hoodie and propping it between the car window and my head. I was going to take a nap. Only, I wasn’t exactly tired. They thought I was asleep. I drifted in and out of the conversation in the car. I kept hearing them refer to "GHB." The acronym had no meaning to me at the time. The music, as usual, was loud. I didn’t really think much of anything. My limbs tingled, and I focused on the sensation.

Once we got to the cabin, my boyfriend made everyone drinks. I was a vodka drinker, and so he had mixed mine with fruit punch – the only mixer they had on hand besides the big bottle of Gatorade. This time, the effect was strong. I saw myself stumbling over to the bed and laying down. My muscles lost all their life. I was wide awake, but paralyzed. I opened my mouth to yell but nothing happened. I tried to move my arm, my hand, but everything had gone limp. What happened next was something out of a depraved horror show. Each one of them took their turn with me. As I watched, paralyzed and limp, it dawned on me that they were trying this “GHB” stuff out; they were giving it a test run on me. The very thing I was terrified of had happened again, and like the first time, I had walked right into it. Unlike when I was a child, this time I felt rage. As a child, I had no comprehension and so rage was absent. The rage had only come later, upon remembrance and realization. This time, the rage was immediate. Everything inside of me was screaming, but the paralysis kept me silent. Everything in me was resisting, everything in me hurt, but I could not fight. In an instant, I knew that I had been in control just hours and minutes before, but had never realized or appreciated the control I had had over my own body and in my ignorance, had ceded it to others without a second thought. Rage was quickly replaced by another very large dose of shame and self-loathing. I was terrified that I might be pregnant. I was terrified that I might have contracted something. The dark emotions swirled into a toxic stew and gained momentum.

The effect this had on me was devastating. When the drug wore off, I demanded that my boyfriend take me home. He begged me not to tell anyone. He insisted that they were just having fun, they didn’t realize the dose had been so big, they didn’t realize I hadn’t consented (I saw just how outrageous that was, to claim that someone paralyzed on a bed didn’t consent!), and all other manner of unicorns, leprechauns, and pixie dust, which just deepened the rage, shame, and self-loathing. The reality of what had happened, combined with the shattered illusion of the relationship and the realization that I was not loved, had brought about a despair so deep and a need to escape so profound, that I wanted to leave this stinking planet and all the pain it inflicted. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to die; that wasn’t necessarily the goal. Nothing, at that point, was logical. I told myself I just want to check out for a long while, I wanted to fly, or at the very least, I wanted it to be like my childhood. I wanted to forget completely.

That weekend, I wasn’t careful with my dose. I didn’t start slow. I didn’t pace myself. Any fear I had of destroying my carefully crafted and shellacked image was gone. The need to escape took over everything. Within hours, I was soaring. A wave of superficial euphoria and power rose through my body and crashed over every inch of me. I was almost to the point where I felt like I could actually fly, if only I would just try. I was at a house party. I decided to take more, to see how high I could really go. I was at the top of a flight of stairs and I spread my arms wide. Now was the time to fly. Except, before I could jump, I felt a POP! inside of me. It happened fast then. I didn’t have a chance to register what was happening. I was falling face-first down the flight of stairs, my body non responsive. I landed on the floor in the foyer below, my hands in front of me, nothing functioning quite the way it should. With the last bit of wherewithal I had, I rolled over and was facing the ceiling, where I was focused on swirls of blue cigarette smoke doing its dance in a dim light. Bottles clanked somewhere. The bass from the music was so powerful, it shook the floor and the vibrations rattled against my rib cage. I saw someone step over me. No one stopped. I just stared into oblivion, numb and fading.

I began to sweat. My limbs began to shake uncontrollably. I felt fluids running from my nose and the corners of my mouth, tickling my skin as they trickled down my face and drew rivers down my neck. Black began to crowd my vision, and the stars began to twinkle on the periphery. After that, the last conscious thought I had was that with all the black and stars, I had finally made it to space.

I was surrounded by a blinding white light. Everything felt soft. There was a strange but beautiful music. Almost like singing without words. There was no pain, no fear, only an overwhelming sense of love and beauty. I had never felt so safe, so whole.

“You can stay here with us, but if you do, you will not have accomplished what you were incarnated to achieve.”

The voice came from…somewhere. All around me.

“What is there to live for?” I had asked. I was uncertain.

“You have plans,” was all the voice answered.

“I will go back,” I decided.

The journey through my past traumas ended as I was startled out of my meditation when I heard the oxygen machine switch off and the valves open, deepening the hiss of the valves as the pressure was released from the chamber. I didn’t need to relive the most recent set in the chain; they were still painfully fresh. This time, though, I saw the recent traumas from an entirely new perspective. All trauma has purpose, and pain was the sacred messenger of transformation, if only we were willing to allow it to move through us, and show us its secrets.

I never abused substances ever again; by the time I was processing these things in the chamber, I had been clean nearly 18 years. When I walked back into this life, only a handful of people ever knew what happened. Fate had dealt me another close call; my life was still intact. I could have easily gone back to using, but I didn’t. I had decided to quit cold turkey. To facilitate my recovery, I had moved to Hawaii after graduating from college – one place still considered United States soil that was as far away as I could get from the sources of my trauma. I had been determined to find my own way, free of the constrictions of who I had been, the triggers that surrounded me, and the familiarity of too many things that kept me from seeing something new. Looking back, it was one of the better decisions I had made. There was only one major flaw in my plan: it still didn’t address my need for outside validation of my worth.

I was proud of the bravery it took to go back in time and relive those events not only sober, but in the process of intensive healing with an acknowledgement of what I had endured. I allowed myself the space to feel everything. When I returned from that journey, I was changed. New seeds had been planted; they were the seeds of compassion, where I truly began to realize that I didn’t deserve those things, even if I wasn’t completely blameless. I was able to acknowledge that I had made decisions that weren’t in my own best interest, but for the first time in my life, I wasn’t judging. I was observing and witnessing from a new perspective; I was there purely to learn...and so were the other souls who had shared these journeys with me. They had endured their own pain; we were here to experience the contrast. Had it not been for the pain, suffering, longing, and loathing, I would not have had such a deep appreciation for love. With these acknowledgements, I was conquering my fear of addiction, my fear of being without the substances, my fear of failure, my fear of not meeting expectations, and my fear of rejection. I was striking out on my own to claim the self confidence that I could survive without a crutch.

These were monumental things, large strides in the healing process. As with anything, there were layers. I didn’t realize it then, but I had only peeled off a few layers. The pain, as my Mom had assured me, was temporary. I was able to resolve a large chunk of it. I had begun to feel better. But...there were still other layers yet to peel back on my journey to authenticity; I would still be confronted with my definition of what constituted a “crutch” or how to value myself without external validation.

In the years that followed my abandonment of anesthetizing pain, I made great strides in tackling these issues. Perhaps the biggest strides were made during the miraculous events of conceiving my daughter and becoming a mother. I had assumed – erroneously – that once my daughter was born, I had healed most of these wounds. I remember vividly patting myself on the back and congratulating myself for having crossed the finish line after she was born. I conquered pain! Little did I know that my Mom’s death was looming on the horizon and that this event would unravel even more layers and deeper truths about who I really was, the purpose I had chosen for myself in this lifetime, and the truth that some roads must be journeyed several times before all their secrets can be excavated.

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Aubrey gann redmon TM

Chronicles: Adventure,

Art, Sustainability