Breathing. It sounds so simple until one breaks it down. A slow intake in of breath, a mindful exhalation: these actions are not so simple when one is accustomed to running on empty.
I stepped into the yoga studio with trepidation. I had signed up for a beginner’s class, believing that at least there would be one other person who didn’t know anything. The class was deeply, physically satisfying. I felt good and returned without hesitation for a second class. Most of the second class was focused on integrating breath with movement. I felt dizzy, disoriented and confused about why it seemed so difficult for me to follow along.
Austin’s accident happened the day of my next class. I didn’t go back to yoga for six months. When I did return, I tried another type of yoga. Kundalini yoga brought me back into my body after the trauma. So much that I fought back tears at the end of each class. Kundalini ends with a song that I have now forgotten but at the time I remember holding Austin in my heart as we sang about holding love and coming home.
Austin was in the first month of a string of treatment centers at the time. His letters home were threatening, angry, sad and confused. Each time I received one, I would hold it and breathe for a long time. Sometimes an hour would pass as I sat breathing, trying to focus on inhaling and exhaling, hoping to still the emotions pushing at me through the envelope. I knew what would happen if I read his letter without preparation for it had happened many times before. I would open the letter, hope pushing behind my eyes, anxiety running through my brain, and read his words. You are the worst mom ever! I hate you so much I could kill myself! His anger would tear my skin and sear my brain. I wanted a respirator so I could stop doing the work of breathing. Breathing was painful because it was keeping me alive.
Getting one of his letters turns me to high alert. I am like a small town hit by a tsunami. Like a small town, I am prepared for a certain set of crises but there is no preparation for the unthinkable. By the time I start receiving his letters, I am barely recovering from the previous trauma. I am rarely able to sleep, I function on automatic most of the time. I am stumbling through life and I am barely breathing.
“I feel calmer,” says my client as she exits the office.
I lay down then on my own couch, place my left hand on my abdomen, my right hand on my chest. I inhale deeply, pulling the air down deeply into my lungs, my belly rising. Tears begin streaming down the sides of my face. I exhale fully as my body releases both tears and breath. Breathing deeply is difficult because it pulls me into the present, it pulls my mind away from the trauma of the past and the possibility of trauma in the future. It pulls me into a present where I am simply a mother struggling to do her best.
And, in this present, in this moment, as I breathe, I am forced to accept that I can do nothing. I cannot change what is happening in Austin’s mind; I cannot control how it will heal or how he will deal with life. I am being forced to accept that no matter how much I do not sleep and no matter how much I want to be somewhere else, I can only be here, each moment, where I am. My mind refuses to accept this however, it’s too damned hard to accept. The lesson I have just glimpsed here flees. My sobs subsided, I get up and return to my land-of-not-living. I am no longer aware of breathing.
********Once I feel ready, I open Austin’s letter. ‘Ready’ means I have made room for myself. My focus is not on Austin or what his words will say. My focus is that we have contact, that he continues to choose to be in contact with me despite his fury. The letter today is really no different than his previous ones although today he has given me a date by which I must comply with his demand to come home.
“Are you okay?” asks my partner.
“Yeah, I just need to breathe.”