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Week 12, by Tammi Scott

“The simplest and hardest thing to do each day is to be here- fully, completely, without turning away.” This first sentence of The Monkey and the River perfectly captures my struggle to show up and be present for as long as I can remember. It started out as a survival mechanism for a toddler who was conditioned, violently at times, to be someone other than the curious, emotional, rambunctious, loving escape artist that she was. Back then children were to be seen and not heard or they were harshly admonished or punished. I also grew up in a household where I didn’t know from one day to the next what would get me in trouble, what would get me hit, slapped, punched or knocked into a wall.

The lesson I learned from that was I was unacceptable. So I learned to close in on myself as much as possible. I watched others and became a mimic and a chameleon. I didn’t have to or want to be anywhere as myself but I’d become anyone you wanted, always fearful of being abandoned or abused, or both. I was the class clown, making everyone laugh. I was the good, obedient best friend who agreed with everything and did as I was told. I was the one going along with the crowd so I could be a part of.

When there was no one to imitate I would lose myself in books and television, hiding from myself and life. This worked for a surprising amount of time as children will do anything to survive; to go along to get along. Until I hit puberty and impending transition to junior high school. Suddenly my world was changing from what I knew in elementary school and I was terrified. Being a mimic or burying my nose in a book could not save me from the realities of growing up at this stage. The things I was afraid of back then seem so silly now, but my fears and the feeling I had no one to turn to caused me to make some deeply dysfunctional choices; which again looking back were simply survival mechanisms.

The first and most heinous dysfunctional choice was to try and kill myself at the age of 11. No one found out because the pills I took ended up making me vomit repeatedly. Enough so that my mom noticed and took me to the emergency room. I was too terrified to tell them what I’d done so the doctor chalked it up to the stomach flu and I was given a flu shot, in my ass. The next choice I made was to start using drugs, while still 11 years old. Since my mother had it in the house, I had regular access to them. That was the dysfunctional golden ticket that helped me get through life! I drank and used drugs for the next eighteen years as I continued to glom onto whatever friend, group of friends, boyfriend or man would have me.

I used other people to give me a role to play for them. This was how I observed life, thinking I was “on the inside” when I was simply “misled into a prison of false living, where my insights might be accurate but counterfeit because I have refused to enter the life I was watching”. I can see that so clearly now because you see, today is the eve of my 25th sober anniversary. November 18th, 1996 was the first day of my second, and so far, final attempt to get clean and sober from drugs and alcohol. It was the day where I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.

The day where I didn’t know it yet, but when I began the journey of being here, without turning away to something destructive; without turning inward to hide. Removing my dependence on drugs, alcohol and other people was the start of understanding how much I’d been conditioned to abandon myself over and over again.

My sober journey has been one of the most important endeavors of my life. It’s right up there with the birthing, raising and loving of my three children, who are now adults. I think maybe because I had to birth, raise and love myself along the way; and that shit was hard. I didn’t do it well or even close to perfect most of the time.

Because of my history with hiding from life and abandoning myself, I struggle with the last part of what Mark writes in The Monkey and the River, “At some point, we may even need to retreat from the world in order to be in the world, the way a chick matures in an egg in order to be born.”

I worry that the times that I retreat from the world feel like I’m hiding or abandoning myself.

What struck you about this week’s reading?


Book Club Schedule:

  • Week #13 <<<BREAK>>> Happy Thanksgiving
  • Week #14 Everything We Need through Becoming the Poem, Kim Prendergast, Dec. 2
  • Week #15 The Empty Saddle through This Belongs to Everyone, Eva Tsoureka, Dec. 9
  • Week #16 FINAL book club round up Zoom, Saturday, December 18, 10am pacific

A link will remain here to week 1 in case anyone wants to review the spearheading guidance. Week 1.

12 Comments

  1. Thanks for this! I would have been the ying to your yang. Growing up I learned to take care of others needs before mine and despite a lot of work I still fall in this trap. If I fix you, I will be OK. And my drug of choice is really work. I can work and work and work. Which seems like healthy coping until you realize it’s not. Focusing on others and work is a great way to avoid what I need to be well. Working on being present has forced me to be more vulnerable with others and this is really scary for me. Recently, I shared with someone I love how my emotions were tied to never feeling like my feelings mattered. Unfortunately, this was not met with the empathy I expected or deserved. In fact, it was met with opposite. In the past this would have put me right back to shut down mode. But lately, I have been able to decide no one is doing that to me anymore. They accept my feelings and my vulnerability or not. That is their problem. I am putting my shit out to the world and no one is putting baby in a corner anymore. While I am not quoting Nepo here I truly believe this reading is helping to lead me to a more open and vulnerable place.

    1. Kim, thank you so much for sharing these important words and thoughts. I’m so sorry your authentic sharing was met with the opposite of what you needed. It is SO hard when people we care about don’t get us in such profound ways. Damn skippy no one’s putting baby in the corner!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Not anymore!! Yes!!! I think it was Brene who said that when we start walking the path to authenticity and courage, one of the hard things will be people no longer getting us and the potential for us to feel betrayed and let down. This is hard stuff..but I’m so glad this book is leading you to a more open place..that is what this tribe is all about!

  2. Tammi, I feel so bad for your having such a difficult childhood. The more I find out about people’s childhoods, the more it seems that a normal childhood is abnormal. No matter our individual timetables, we are learning how to take care of ourselves, finding better ways to cope, and connecting with people who understand and appreciate our journeys. Happy 25th sober anniversary! You are a very strong woman. You have a lot of insight. Are you writing a memoir?

    1. Thank you for your understanding and well wishes on my sober anniversary Sue. I feel that healthy meaningful connection with myself and others is an important part of my purpose in the Second Act of my life.
      As for the memoir question, I get asked that a surprising amount of times and I have no simple answer… Time will tell if I have the heart and fortitude.

  3. Kim,
    How very well I understand your ying to my yang and I appreciate your understanding and insight more than I can say. I, too, experience vulnerability and bouts of being uncomfortable while practicing being present. Thank you for sharing how you relate.
    I’m sorry that your willingness to share your truth wasn’t met with what you needed… and HELL NO, nobody puts baby in a corner!

  4. Tammi,

    Thank you for sharing your journey. I’m so sorry that your childhood was so painful. Your story is an journey of incredible personal growth, and is very inspiring. Congratulations on your 25th anniversary. Your Second Act is going be something great! ❤️

  5. I’ve been missing from most of this virtual book club. I love Tracey & Mark Nepo’s work, but it has proven too intense for me at this time in my life with travel and ongoing illness & emotional turmoil. I’ve been holding onto some guilt and shame about not being involved as I had planned, but decided to check in anyway. I am so glad that I did.

    Tammi, My best friend also has many years of sobriety and I have learned so much through seeing just a small part of her journey. So congratulations on your 25th anniversary! It is such a huge accomplishment and worthy of much celebration! You may not have done it perfectly, but what does that even mean? Making it to 25 years is good enough. And you clearly did not abandon yourself over the long haul if you have made it this far.

    Kim, I am so sorry that your recent vulnerable share was not meet with empathy. Your response is inspiring to me as I have been in a position lately of regretting all of the hard personal growth work that I have done for these very reasons. Ignorance is bliss as they say and having all of this knowledge and experience doesn’t seem to be making anything easier for me. There is no going back, but I have recently been feeling regret for taking the more difficult path and wanting to jump ship. I feel shame admitting that, but its better than keeping it all bottled up.

    I feel like I have been in the retreat-from-the-world-so-I-can-be-in-the-world mode for an extremely long time. I am still not were I want/need to be to not withdraw. I am still either withdrawing from others or from myself. My health not being good is a large part of this. I have been struggling to heal adrenal issues etc. for a long time. Without healthy adrenals I can’t be in the world without losing myself, but I am getting so sick of myself over here alone. Sigh.

    Thank you Tracey for providing this platform.

  6. Oh dear Tammi, thank you so much for sharing your story. A big Hooray for the 25th year anniversary, a wonderful celebration of life! I am in awe of your strength and courage. Congratulations dear..

    Here is my first attempt at writing a poem and my writing piece inspired by this week’s chapters.

    Behind a curtain
    Invisible something vibrating in fear
    A lifeless poem, a mantra in vain, whispered in repeat
    Longing for belonging
    An oblivious drop in the vast sea surrounded by infinity
    An unidentified something of the unidentified everything

    I still remember holding my breath behind the pink curtain, locked in my room, trying to grasp every sound from the outside.
    Is he here? Did mom tell him? What are they talking about? Am I in trouble?
    ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

    While being away, 5843 miles apart, our relationship got better. He had to let go of his own interpretation of protecting me, retire from the inspector position that he had assigned himself to.
    I had to let go of the need of proving right and learn how to be without feeling that someone is there on guard to take action in every single tiny misstep.
    We both had to learn to love each other in a more loving way.

    I’m thinking about our last conversation. Just a year after I left.
    We are sitting outside, on the balcony, facing the Hagia Sophia church in its big courtyard, where I used to play while growing up in my hometown.

    I would spend my evenings in this courtyard, playing with the neighborhood kids and he would go out on the balcony, whistle in his own unique way for me to go back at the speed of light. Have I ever enjoyed that innocent, carefree and timeless childlike play? Always alert of the returning signal, in the shadow of punishment to be put back in line.

    My brothers and I were trained as soldiers, just like him. Out of love, for our own good, in order to become good and worthy adults, useful in society.

    And here we are now, talking as grownups, same level beings.
    I knew he had little time left, he pretended he knew nothing, or not. Too afraid to ask.
    He knew that something was wrong, but it seemed he preferred it that way. So I let him be and just listened.
    “Did you know that SHE (my mom and his ex wife with whom he spent 22 years) wished me dead?” He asked.
    He was so angry and I was so sad. It was all her fault and again I was in the middle. As always.

    “You know what?…I hated you too” I said and burst into tears.
    Took a big breath in and started telling him about all those times that I was hiding behind the curtain in my room, praying to god, so he wouldn’t punish me again.
    It’s crazy how afraid I was of him..
    I would see his number on my phone, saved as “DO NOT PICK UP” and immediately start shaking.
    Inhaling for 5 sec, holding for 5 and releasing slowly for 5, practicing my lines before answering.
    I remember being in the car once, driving really fast after realizing that I wasn’t not gonna make it on time to my office, debating if it’s a good idea to go straight to that tree and cause an accident in order to have the perfect excuse.
    That’s how much I was afraid.
    And it’s not that he was violent, it was his interpretation of being a good dad, based on his own experiences. For him, children should be obedient, a bit of slapping was required so they could learn and become good citizens.
    That’s like the number one rule in “Raise worthy children, responsible citizens” parenting book, the seventies – eighties edition.

    He is now asking for my forgiveness and I ask him for his while surrendering to his arms, and opening my heart to offer as much love as I can, knowing that there is nothing left to say or do to make him forgive her.
    …………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

    He was such a strong opinionated man, I would have never imagined that he would change his mind. But he did, almost 10 years later.

    10 years of me trying to identify the something and the everything.
    Pausing and observing. Questioning and listening. Searching and finding. Understanding and connecting. Learning and unlearning. Going forward while diving backward. Lighting every hidden spot of existence. Releasing any shadow of darkness. Becoming one with the light, deeply connected with all there is. The existence itself. In order to be reborn as a whole.
    As Nepo says,
    “At some point, we may even need to retreat from the world in order to be in the world, the way a chick matures in an egg in order to be born.”
    It was in one of those moments of retreating from the world, during my Theta Healing meditation, while being deeply connected with all there is, where wisdom and love exist in its pure essence, that I requested to communicate with him.

    And there he was standing above my right shoulder, “ I have forgiven her” he said before me even asking. His eyes were filled with love, releasing sparks of silver light, his voice was soft and firm, he looked like an old man with the energy of a newborn, completely surrendered to knowing without trying to understand, like having the answers without the questions. The pure form of knowing and trusting.
    His only regret in his experience of the life that he had shared with me, he now confesses, is that he didn’t give or receive as much love as he could. He didn’t have time to care for love, to turn inward, desperately seeking for outside validation, like he was constantly trying to prove his worthiness..

    “Open your heart more and teach others to do the same, especially your brothers, the older one is repeating my own mistakes, help him understand”
    There was no hint of judgment in his words, all coming out from his untethered soul.

    “Oh God, I wish I knew how” I thought..
    I trust YOU, he said and disappeared into the vastness of nothingness.

  7. What a stunningly beautiful and honest post, Tammi. Thank you so much.

    This line: Removing my dependence on drugs, alcohol and other people was the start of understanding how much I’d been conditioned to abandon myself over and over again.

    Ugh..felt it right in my gut.

    It’s not helpful, but I’m still sorry that your childhood was marked by violence. What a terrifying experience for you, and completely incomprehensible to a child’s mind..but of course, the mind does what it does which is make sense with the only thing that’s available…the body that it is in. Having shared sacred spaces and words with you now for several years, I can say that you most certainly are no longer hiding yourself away. What you bring to those who come in contact with you, time and again, is light and love. You are a beacon and have so much to share. I empathize with your concern that the times we pull back could be times we are hiding. I’m not sure there’s an easy answer to that query, but as Mark indicates and as I’ve felt in my life, there are def times when we need to pull back. This isn’t hiding. This is gestating or self-care or whatever makes sense to us. It’s the time before. I love the idea of befores and afters. And that which comes in the after period of those times..as I’ve experience with you time and again, is something damn special.

  8. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!! Hope you all have a wonderful holiday. I have nothing to say about this weeks reading because I just did not feel like doing it. I did want to thank you Tammi for your touching and honest post. Sobriety is very difficult and many people never get there. You are strong, brave and very inspirational. There is no such thing as a normal childhood only different levels of dysfunction.

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