si dawson

experiments in self-improvement

Month: October, 2013

Love Stories 3: Red vs Blue

A friend challenged me to write a story a day for seven days, on love. I’m going to post one a day.


“I’ll fucking kill you” he screamed, slamming his fist into Blue’s sternum.

“Yeah yeah,” taunted Blue, blinking a little, “you and whose army?”

Blue danced around Red, keeping just out of reach, shuffling his feet back and forth mockingly.

“So much talk,” taunted Blue “for such an old man. Perhaps you’d like a wee nap instead?”

Red darted forward with surprising speed and ferocity.

Peppering Blue’s stomach and ribs with blows, each massive hit shaking the ring and emphasising a new word.

“She’s. My. Wife. You. Fucker.”

Blue stumbled backwards and doubled over, “What the hell” he gasped, “are you talking about?”

“I’ve seen you. Your car hidden in the alley when I’m late home from work. I’ve seen you jumping the back fence. You both think I’m so stupid, don’t you?”

Red’s spittle flew, joining the sweat already coating the mat between them.

“You think I don’t know what you two have been up to?” Red raged on, barely coherent.

With visible effort, Blue straightened and looked Red dead in the eye “You know nothing.”

“You always had to be the best, didn’t you?” cried Red. “Always the favourite. Everyone loved you. And now…” he choked, “now you’ve taken her away from me too?!”

Tears streaked Red’s face. He scraped futilely with the back of a glove. “You’ve taken her from me.. ” he mumbled, disbelievingly, “what else have I got? Nothing.”

He advanced on Blue once more “You’ve taken everything I love, you fucker.”

Blue quivered as Red rained ground shaking punches once more.

Blue blocked tightly, elbows tucked in, gloves covering his face. He felt a rib crack but couldn’t slow the onslaught.

“You’re my fucking brother” roared Red, “how could you do this to me?”

He swung a fearsome right hook, smashing Blue on the side of his skull. As Blue slumped backwards his guard dropped, just in time to catch a thundering upper cut to the chin.

Blue’s feet left the ground and he crumpled lifelessly to the mat in a heap.

“Your birthday” his voice bubbled out through blood and spit, “organising party… surprise” as he fell unconscious.

“Fuck,” thought Red, “my 40th. I’d completely forgotten.”

He looked down at his little brother.

“Fuck.”

 

Back to the first story

Next story: A Scorching Summer Evening

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    Love Stories 2: Old Clare’s

    A friend challenged me to write a story a day for seven days, on love. I’m going to post one a day.


    Old Clare Bowden leaned back in her chair and spat on the floor.

    At 26 most places wouldn’t consider her old, but around here she was Old Clare. Always had been, always would be.

    Some folk reckoned she’d been a wise man in a past life, or something, but she held no truck with such nonsense.

    She’d picked up her pappa’s chewin’ baccy when she was three and hadn’t stopped chewing since. She’d been Old Clare then, and she’d be Old Clare till they buried her aneath the dead grey stump out the back of the saloon.

    She’s in the Last Chance Saloon, as she usually is. A chilly March afternoon, light sparse upon the ground.

    She’s been here since noon, when she normally wanders in. She’d finished her morning chores, taken a leisurely stroll to the pisser, then settled into her favourite corner of the bar to fill up again.

    She’d never lived anywhere else, but this saloon was her home.

    Years ago before she was born it’d had a sign above the door. The Two Star Saloon it’d said – or so she’d been told. The sign had blown down in a storm and never been replaced. It didn’t matter. Folks for three counties knew it as the Last Chance and refused to call it anything else.

    Story goes that Benny, the longtime loser who owned the place, got in deep with the mob.

    Round these parts the mob comprised of Phil Jenkins and his inbred cousins Bob and SueBob. The thing with a pecking order is – it never matters how high the top goes, only how low the bottom.

    The Jenkins clan had six teeth between them and couldn’t shit in a pot with a gun to their head.

    That’s all you really needed to know about Benny.

    He lived in fear of not making his weekly payments. He knew it. The town knew it. The Jenkins boys knew it. He’d gone wrong one time too many, and in every real sense this saloon was his very last chance.

    Still, the whiskey here wasn’t as watered as most and the rats kept away, long as the music kept playing.

    Old Clare liked it.

    Mostly folks left her alone. Mostly she left them alone. It worked.

    They’d arrive at their differing times and drink for their differing reasons. Each finding a place in the bar and a space alone in their thoughts.

    In their own maudlin way, it was a solace, a refuge, a place of peace.

    If the town had had a church, this would have been it.

    Sober, Benny could never have been mistaken for a priest. Ten shots in he was close enough for anyone living within spitting distance of the saloon, which meant pretty much everyone.

    With the sun fading and Tuesday drawing to a close, Benny’s congregation was topped up and meditating deeply. A silence fell over the saloon, barring the usual rattling tinkle from the half broken piano in the corner.

    Old Clare was happy.

    No particular reason, although alcohol has been known to bring states of euphoria to the weaker minded, of which this saloon had many.

    No, Old Clare was just happy being here. Many folks go a life-time never knowing their place in the world.

    As children, they dream of glory; of meaning; fame; money; of changing the world.

    As adults, these dreams become more mundane. Paying the rent; limbs and joints working once more without pain; children growing up healthy or at all; someone to hold them at night.

    As the saying goes – the young man dreams of money, the old man dreams of death.

    Old Clare though? She knew her place in the world, and that place was right here. Right here in her seat in the Last Chance Saloon.

    She couldn’t have put her finger on why – but as they say, when you know, you know.

    Old Clare knew.

    So instead, she put her finger on her trusty six shooter.

    It had got her through more scrapes than she cared to remember. For someone who kept to herself, trouble had a way of finding her.

    Old Clare enjoyed the peace and quiet, but if you asked her in just the right way, she loved the rough and tumble more.

    A chance to grab her pistol firmly, squeezing the trigger with a firm purpose and clear knowledge of the outcome.

    In the bad old days that could have happened three, four times a night.

    There was always hope for the future.

    She’d been warming up again recently. Shooting the odd varmint that came her way. Once or twice a day, just to keep her hand in.

    She’d had a feeling that her time of quiet was coming to an end. That she needed to shake the cobwebs from her system, get her head clear again. Kick the dust from her boots and the rust from her spurs. Her gun was going to be seeing action again, real soon now.

    She didn’t know when it would come, but in the meantime, she would wait. She drank, and she waited.

    The sun was settling, a chill biting through the air. Benny was smearing the dirt around the bar with a filthy rag. Mike the grocer was asleep in a corner. All was well in the world.

    The door to the saloon creaked open.

    Phil Jenkins.

    It slapped shut behind him, hitting SueBob in the mouth, knocking his last remaining tooth into the dirt outside.

    Bob shoved SueBob out of the way and lumbered in, bumping into Phil.

    “Gawdammit Bob,” drawled Phil, “how many times I gotta tells yah? Get the hell off me. Go pick up yer brother.”

    Bob dragged him off the ground, as SueBob futilely shoved the now filthy tooth back into his gaping mouth.

    “I’m here for mah money” shouted Phil, desperately trying to regain some sense of authority.

    “But it’s only Tuesday!” whined Benny “I ain’t got yer money till Friday.”

    Old Clare quietly swung her chair around, unlatched her holster and fingered her trigger. She didn’t like where this was going.

    “I don’t care” muttered Phil, “I wants mah cash now. I gots some business expenses comin’ up.”

    “But…” started Benny.

    “…and SueBob needs dental work from your damn door” he continued, waving his gun at the ceiling.

    “But Phil, I ain’t got thah money” cried Benny, “I never has the money till later in the week. These bums…” he gestured miserably at his congregation and stopped, tears in his eyes.

    Phil leered delightedly at his cousins, “Well boys, know what this means?”

    “No, please no!” whimpered Benny.

    “Shut yer mouth!” snapped Phil, whipping Benny viciously across the temple with the butt of his gun.

    Benny crumpled wordlessly to the floor as Phil turned casually away.

    “Well folks, y’all knew this day would come. Benny can’t pay his debts, so we’s taking over.”

    Mike lifted his head off the table at the commotion, wiping drool into his dusty sleeve.

    “What the hell?” he muttered, more to himself than anyone else.

    “You ‘eard me” shouted Phil “We now owns this place. Time for a new name! New owner, new name. Let’s see, what do you boys think?”

    “Uhh…” muttered Bob, the sharper of the two.

    “Never mind” Phil hurried on, “we’ll get tah that later. Right now? First order of business.”

    “Enough” interjected Old Clare, quietly.

    “What’d yous say?” demanded Phil, glaring as if he’d never seen her before.

    Old Clare spat her baccy onto the floor.

    “I said, enough” she repeated, “Benny has done nothing but pay you for years, for no reason other than he’s too stupid not to.”

    “How dare yah speak to me like that?” screamed Phil “I runs this town!”

    “Don’t yah mean we runth thith town?” slurred SueBob.

    “Shut yer hole” said Phil, turning his attention back to Old Clare.

    “Old Clare, I is warning yah for the last time, sit the heck down and shut up or… suffer the consequences.”

    “No” stated Old Clare, as simply as if she’d been offered beer instead of whiskey, “leave Benny, leave the bar, and leave us be.”

    “Kill her!” shouted Phil, waving his gun at his cousins.

    Bob was fastest, yanking his gun from his holster. But Old Clare was already drawn and shot him clean through the shoulder. He dropped his gun, swearing.

    SueBob was still fumbling when she shot him too. He’d been crouching on the floor and she hit him square in the chest sending him flying backwards.

    Bob screamed and rushed at Old Clare, gun forgotten. All fear gone, nothing left but hatred and fury.

    Phil wasted no time. He sighted on Old Clare and pulled his trigger.

    Old Clare dropped to the floor with a grunt. Blood poured from her chest as Bob tripped, kneeling on her face as he crumpled past her.

    Phil walked slowly towards her, groaning quietly on the floor, “I warned yah Old Clare. Stay the heck out of mah business.”

    “This isn’t your business,” wheezed Old Clare, “this is my home” and with that she squeezed off one final shot, right between his eyes.

    With a look of utter surprise Phil Jenkins tumbled backwards and into a table.

    Bob scrambled back to his feet, accidentally kicking Old Clare again as he did.

    “SueBob! SueBob!” he cried, rushing over to his brother’s body. Tears now welling on his face, he dragged SueBob’s body from the saloon.

    Benny groaned from behind the bar as Mike the grocer helped him to his feet.

    Benny shook his head clear. He looked around the saloon. He picked up Bob’s gun and then slowly, quietly, with growing conviction began giving orders.

    In time, the night’s ruckus was forgotten. The town moved on, as towns everywhere do.

    Benny nailed a sign behind the bar, “Old Clare’s”, and out the back, beside the dying grey stump, a beautiful new tree quietly but surely grew.

     

    Back to the first story

    Next story: Red vs Blue

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      Love Stories 1: Backwards School

      A friend challenged me to write a story a day for seven days, on love. I’m going to post one a day.


      “I love you I love you I love you, I wish you’d never been born” she screamed, stamping her foot.

      “Now Tamara, ” soothed the teacher, “is that any way to talk to an enemy?”

      “But I do, Miss, ” she whined.

      “Tamara, stop apologising, or I shall be forced to take you from the Head Master.”

      “I love backwards school Miss, there aren’t enough rules!”

      Tamara pouted, then, begrudging every muscle twitch, slowly turned around.

      “Tommy,” she hesitated, “I hate you.”

      “I never even noticed” replied Tommy, grinning.

       

      Next story: Old Clare’s

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        Identifying Trauma

        Being able to identify trauma is useful in two situations:

        1. When someone around you starts acting like a banana
        2. When you start acting like a banana

        When something happens that reminds us strongly of a previous event, it often feels as if that earlier, awful thing is occurring all over again. Thus, we react to the feeling of the original trauma, not what’s currently happening.

        Part of this comes down to how our brains work. Our brains react near as dammit identically regardless of whether we’re actively experiencing something, or merely remembering it.

        This is why talk therapy can actually exacerbate PTSD (here’s the actual research) – talking about something forces the patient to relive the event (at a brain level, even though not physically), thus putting them through it all over again.

        The real trick is – if you’re in a situation where someone is being a banana and you can tell it’s just a trauma reaction, it’s a lot easier to stay calm and loving. Thus, voila, life gets better (and easier!)

        Being able to stay in a calm, loving space is an incredible gift to give someone you care about, particularly if they’re suffering at the time (as they would be).

        So, what are the key identifiers?

        (I’ll explain as if it’s always the other person – but the same things apply when we’re ‘watching ourselves’ in any given situation)

        Over-Reaction

        Something seemingly minor happens and the person massively over-reacts? This is always a good warning sign.

        Now, it is possible they just ate some bad clams, are stressed about work, are tired, hungover, or whatever. Typically though, you can adjust your baseline understanding of their ‘current behaviour’.

        If they’re already grumpy as hell, it’s quite possible the over reaction is nothing – or just a continuation of their already-shitty-day.

        However, if they’re basically calm, then suddenly go nuts? Ahh, it’s most likely nothing to do with you or what’s just happened; they’re reliving a previous trauma.

        Incongruous Accusation

        If someone gets upset, then starts accusing you of a, b or c… and those things leave you scratching your head and wondering, “What the hell are they talking about?”, that’s a very good sign they’re really not talking about you at all.

        They may be accusing you of things you’ve never done, or putting a spin on the current situation which makes no obvious sense at all.

        Also common are phrases like “You always…” or “You never…” when it’s maybe the first time you’ve done something. In other words, using unexpected absolutes.

        If it genuinely sounds like they’re talking about someone else? They probably are. That’s the original trauma coming to the surface again.

        Patterns

        This is similar to being accused of something that doesn’t make sense.

        Sometimes you can see patterns in the way someone reacts to similar situations. For example, they may say an identical or very similar phrase. They may also get angry and go on the offensive (fight) or shut down and leave (flight).

        Recurring behavioural or speech patterns are a very strong indicator that what’s actually happening is a reaction to earlier trauma.

        Now of course, refusing to be dragged into a shit-storm is actually a mature response. However, the key difference is how intensely the person is reacting.

        Having calm energy and acting from a loving place is ideal. Tense or intense reactions, even if externally seemingly identical, are often indicative of something deeper.

         

        Obviously, all these things are visible in ourselves too. The key is to just pay gentle attention and note when it feels like maybe we’re overreacting, being irrational, or repeating ourselves.

        The more we do this, the more fine-tuned our awareness will become. It will also help us when paying attention to others.

        Once we notice that what we’re experiencing is merely the echo of an earlier trauma, we have a choice.

        1. We can chill out, let it go past, and not react to it (ie, loving but neutral)
        2. We can heal it (awesome!)
        3. We can behave as usual, and run around with our hair on fire (less awesome!)

        The key thing to remember is this: if an earlier trauma is provoking the reaction, then dealing with the current situation will have relatively little effect. It may calm things slightly, but the real root cause is elsewhere, not what’s right in front of you.

        So, for example, trying to rationalise the current situation will be more or less a complete waste of time.

        Trying to calm the person down by resolving the immediate problem will only offer a temporary salve – the trauma will come back again (because it hasn’t been dealt with). When it does, you’ll have the same over-reaction, accusations and patterns to deal with.

        The good news is this gives us plenty of chances to truly, deeply and completely heal any trauma. In fact, exactly as many chances as we need.

        And thus, day-by-day, we grow.

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          How To Heal Trauma

          Trauma is a funny thing.

          Not, as my Grandma used to say, “funny ha ha”, rather, “funny peculiar.”

          Now obviously there’s a huge range in terms of what might be deemed traumatic.

          At one end of the scale, it could be as slight as someone not listening to you. At the other are all the usual horrors: war, crime, catastrophe.

          My interest in trauma is very simple: I want to heal it. All of it.

          Trauma makes us over-react. It upsets us. It makes us miserable. It hurts those around us. It limits us.

          The important thing is: we have the freedom to choose to get rid of it. Always.

          You can’t change the past (duh), but you can change how you feel about it and how it affects you.

           

          Kinds of trauma

          What kinds of trauma are there?

          Very briefly, and speaking very generally, there are two kinds:

          1. One off events

          Something that happens only once at a specific time and place. Eg, a car accident.

          2. Ongoing repetitive events

          The important thing to note here is: this could be by the same person (eg, a parent’s abuse), or it could be different situations with a common theme and effect, eg, repeatedly finding yourself in the same kinds of destructive relationships or shitty jobs.

           

          Emotional effects of trauma

          Regardless of which kind of trauma we’ve experienced, there are typically two flavours of outcome:

          1. We get a single strong emotion resulting from that trauma (eg, we feel extremely hurt when someone ignores us)

          2. We get many different emotional outcomes (eg fear, anger, sadness etc)

           

          Now, to be sure, this is a very simplified model. However, simplicity here is useful. Otherwise these situations can quickly become overwhelming and make us feel like they’re impossible to resolve.

          So far, this is all pretty straight forward. The real question is: how does this help us?

          Here’s where we get to the practical bit.

           

          How to break it all down

          In some rare cases, you can aim fast and loose at the issue, and pull it all out in one hairy chunk.

          Generally though, it’s easier to take it in smaller steps, otherwise the experience can end up a little like this:


          (from the Vidiot From UHF, a thoroughly ridiculous and awesome film)

          Breaking the trauma down makes the healing less intense, while also giving you the chance to evaluate and check progress at each stage.

          This is why it’s suggested that rather than healing on “My Dad beat me as a child”, you heal on “That time when I was 14 when Dad hit me in the face in the kitchen.”

          If you take each specific instance like that, it’s very easy to assess how you feel about that single incident, even if you still feel pretty crappy about (in this case) your Dad in general.

          A good way to measure progress is to use what’s called SUDS – a Subjective Units of Distress Scale.

          This is a fancy way of saying: Rank it from 0-10 on how bad it feels. 0=totally peaceful and loving; 10=worst pain imaginable (based on your opinion, no-one else’s).

          Depending on complexity, it can also be useful to heal on a single emotion at a time.

          In the above example, getting hit in the face might result in:

          • fear
          • sadness
          • helplessness/powerlessness
          • anger
          • betrayal

          and so on.

          If you focus on healing each specific emotion, you’ll see very clearly the progress you’re making.

          The other useful thing? Once we’ve cleared a handful of the related situations or emotions, the rest of them will often simply fall away with zero effort.

          It’s as if we’ve cut the heart out of a tangled up knot and the rest has dropped to the floor. Which is, of course, exactly what we’ve done.

           

          Always aim for the root

          Often we’ll recreate traumas in our lives.

          This sounds a little insane, but hear me out.

          Our brains are magnificent pattern recognising machines. So, once we experience pain in a given situation, part of our brain will be on high alert to try and prevent us experiencing that pain again.

          Now, in terms of getting bitten by a tiger, this facility is brilliant.

          However these days our stimuli (and outcome) are quite different. It’s not a clear-cut tiger/no-tiger situation. It’s often a subtle human interaction.

          Thus, it’s much easier to mis-interpret situations in ways that accidentally recreate that traumatic pain in us.

          If there are two ways to interpret a (possibly quite innocent) situation, our brains will latch on to and identify it as the traumatic one, thus experiencing the very thing we’re trying to avoid.

          Put another way: We like to be right – even when that hurts us.

          Or, yet another way: What we resist persists.

          The trouble is, if we heal on this most-recent-occurrence, we’re not really getting to the heart of the matter. So, it’ll be far less effective than going back as early as we can remember.

          So. In terms of trying to heal the trauma completely, it’s important to try to get to the root cause. Ie, the first instance of the trauma. Even if it’s an unpleasant emotion caused by a single incident, we will often experience that emotional resonance in a different situation later in time.

          Even with repetitive-instance traumas, starting at the first one will usually yield the most benefit.

          If you’re not sure which was first, just going as early as you can remember will always be beneficial.

           

          Wash, Rinse, Repeat

          You don’t have to heal everything all at once. Often, in complex cases, it might take quite a while to get to the bottom of everything.

          I’ve certainly had incidents I’ve had to revisit repeatedly to truly understand and clear what initially had seemed quite straight forward.

          Persistence is always recommended.

          You also don’t have to do it all in one day. Often it’s clarifying to do a little bit today, have a sleep, then come back in a few days time and hit it all again.

           

          How we get stuck

          Often when trauma has been with us for a while, we can get into a rut.

          It may feel like the pain has become part of our identity – witness people who choose social media handles with their primary illness in the name.

          It may also feel like it’s impossible to deal with, particularly if we’ve tried and failed to clear it completely in the past.

          Once we get used to it, we may actually like (yes, like) having it around. Maybe it makes us proud of what we’ve achieved. We may feel like we don’t wish to let go of it, because “It’s made us who we are”, and so on.

          For all these reasons, accept that it’s a marathon not a sprint. It’s ok if it doesn’t all get cleared right-here-and-now. It’s ok if it takes a little time or effort.

          A good tip also: if you feel either of the above may be true, heal on those beliefs first. Once they’re gone, and you no longer feel helpless, no longer feel like it’s part of you, then healing the actual trauma will be a ton easier.

           

          Summary

          When healing any trauma:

          a) Be Specific
          Not only to the specific incident, but also the specific emotion involved. Small steps are easier.

          b) Be Persistent
          Don’t be afraid to revisit an issue, particularly if it still feels like it’s “not quite at zero.”

          c) Go easy on yourself
          It doesn’t matter how awful or trivial it might seem to anyone else. It’s your issue. You’re the only person whose opinion matters.

          d) Heal any stuckness first
          Don’t make it harder than it needs to be. If you feel stuck, heal on being stuck first

          Oh, and most importantly? Don’t forget to love yourself. Even if you feel like a massive fraud saying “I love you”, it all helps. The more you say it, the more you try and act it, the more true it will become.

           


           

          If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that while I’ve covered lots of the subtleties of healing trauma, I haven’t actually touched on HOW.

          Here’s why: The how really doesn’t matter so much. What’s critical is setting a strong, loving intent to heal it. The tool you use is less important.

          Now sure, some tools are more powerful than others, but really – the key is to find something that resonates strongly and is reliably effective for you.

          Since most of this blog is about healing, I’ll link to some previous writing on the subject.

          Here are some tools that I’ve found particularly efficacious (in no particular order):

          EFT:

          Any Future You Want, Simpler EFT, Map ‘n’ TapMap ‘n’ Tap 2

          Releasing:

          Release Your Crap, This Crappy Feeling

          Love:

          Food Is Not Love, But Love Is Food, The “I Love You” GameI Love Myself For Hating This, Learning To Love Everything

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