Distraction and prayer.

Last week I bought a rosary. I’m teaching my fingers to pray.

The idea is simple. Each bead stands for a prayer, recited repetitively, from memory. Across the course of the rosary, you say three or four different types of prayer; but each prayer takes on its own rhythm and the process becomes meditative. The chattering, whirling mind becomes still, distracted from its thoughts (shit, must add that to my to-do list; ok, can’t forget to do grocery shopping tonight; must remember to collect my music from home on the way to rehearsal; I wonder what sort of bird that is?; my foot hurts; I’m hungry, did I have lunch?; damn, is my lunch-break over already?) in the simple recitation of words; and that part of my mind which exists behind and beyond words is freed to find stillness.

Sometimes it works, and it’s easy. I feel myself lulled into the iteration and reiteration of simple prayers, each one of which says something about the Creator, each one of which lets me a little deeper into the Mystery with each echo. I feel my inner self – that part of me which exists deeper than words – still, and I feel a sense of Presence, of connection with Something, in a way that I cannot yet find the words to articulate. Sometimes I feel that this is something I’m called to do: to discover contemplation, and the Being of God, through this tactile rendition of age-old, oft-spoken words; to discover my own stillness and silence – and in that, to discover the Source of my being.

Today it didn’t work. Today was the day from hell, and even the act of recounting it in my journal left me exhausted and stressed and wanting a drink. Today my mind was whirring like a tiny tempest, like an engine in neutral when the accelerator is pressed to the floor: constant what ifs and I should have saids, and the circular going over and going over of all the day’s situations that went wrong, or could have been better handled, or that are still to be dealt with…and that part of my mind saying the prayers was distracted by that part of my mind screaming that this is a MASSIVE ISSUE! and NEEDS TO BE DEALT WITH RIGHT NOW!, and all I could do was try to gently draw my mind back to the meaning of the words that it was saying so mindlessly, and try to remind myself that it’s ok to be distracted, and that God exists in distraction as much as in blissful, contemplative focus, and that it’s the mere act of trying to pray that is pleasing to the God who communes with us without our even knowing.

And that, in my year of care, and my year of enough: my attempt to pray is an attempt to live this sense of care. To care for myself; to care for the Source of all Which makes itself vulnerable in Its relationship with me; Which takes the risk of rejection in loving me. And that this is enough. Sometimes, the attempt is enough.

It’s all ok. And sometimes, that too is enough.

This is not a happy post. Sorry.

This is what flashbacks are like.

You can be fine. Absolutely fine. Having a great day, laughing and joking around, enjoying other people. Singing well, feeling on top of things as though you’re actually making a contribution. Actually confident for once, actually feeling as though you’re in the right place, doing the right thing. As though you’re meant to be there – all’s right with the Universe. Then, abruptly…

It’s normally the small things that set you off. The big things you can anticipate: they come with a neon warning flashing over their heads. Trigger!, they scream. This will upset you – and so, because you’re braced against them, they don’t. You get through them and wonder what all the fuss was about.

It’s the things you don’t see coming that shatter you, like the slap that’s so much more shocking because it came from behind, it was a surprise, there was no bracing. In this case, it was nothing more than a hand moving too quickly, and too forcefully, for my war-zone instincts, my abused mind, to cope with. Not even anywhere near me; but in my general direction, and on what, if I were closer, would have been a perfect trajectory with my left cheekbone – and abruptly, nothing exists in the world but that threat. The world narrows and shakes and shatters like a broken photograph frame and all I can see is that image, a fist coming towards my face. I know I’m in the middle of a rehearsal; I can see the music in my lap when I look down, the small black dots and markings on a white page which are supposed to hold meaning, and beauty, and which suddenly are senseless; and riding over everything, a fist coming towards my face. It’s like being plunged underwater, and held there, powerless: pure immersion, pure confusion, pure sensation, pure panic. Sheer, mindless terror that screams silently: get out, get out, GET OUT!, and I break and make a run for it and manage to get outside before the tears and the shaking start.

It’s funny – when the beatings were for real, and when the fist coming towards my face was designed to make painful, bruising contact, I barely reacted. Going limp, protecting myself, passivity – that’s what kept me safe. If you fight, if you try to flee, you get hurt more. Now that the threat is not real – nothing more than a harrowing, soul-deep image burned into the deepest, most elemental part of my mind – my body reacts with terror. All the fear that I should have felt the first time round, all the instinct-driven compulsion to escape – every fibre of my being screams it. And if a flashback is the equivalent of being plunged into icy, burning waters and being held there, helpless and captive to a memory that pins every part of me to its surface – well then, the panic attack that follows is being caught up in the torrent of those waters and swept along, defenceless and unprotected, until I come to rest somewhere hard – in this case, in the lee of an outside wall of the Cathedral, drenched by gentle, soaking rain, cold to my bones and whipped by a hard cold wind – sensations strong enough to override the touch of panic on my skin, of the flashback which now rides my very core. Sensations strong enough to keep me present, to keep my battered mind from withdrawing into itself.

Now, writing this some time later – my mind, after an episode like this, ceases to be capable of holding onto a sense of the passing of time – I just feel tired. Exhausted, my very bones are tired, my soul feels heavy with it. I want to sleep, to shelter in the darkness of my flat, my haven from the world – to wrap myself in it, hide beneath it as though it can protect me from the demons that exist only in my own beaten mind. Tomorrow the sickening shame will set in, another wave I have to ride.

I am ok. Exhausted, drained, ashamed, but ok. I’ll keep putting one foot in front of another and tell myself that this is just a setback and try not to be too judgemental of myself. But, seriously – sometimes having PTSD sucks.

11 July, 2013.

Winter’s morning.
Chilly distant sun,
its warmth too gentle,
too self-effacing,
to burn away the ghostly mist
which swirls like incense,
like unanswered prayer,
between the trees;
and smooths itself like a mantle
over steely river waters.
Or the frost which guilds the surprised grass
with the crunching sound of silver
and the chill
of diamonds.

Soon the sun will ride the high sky,
and the mist will vanish like a hope,
and the frost like a memory,
and the winter’s day will descend
into ordinary loveliness.