The Story that is My Life

My life as it has been and as it continues to unfold is a story. One story made up of many stories. One complex, yet simple story. One sometimes messy, but so beautiful story. One story that I wonder if it might be interesting to be told.

This blog is my attempt to put part, or parts, of that story into words, pictures, or whatever form my mind can wrap itself around or create from within myself to express what it is like to be the one inside Cindy's Story. This is an exploration on my part and on yours in reading, and seeing, and maybe even hearing. It is not necessarily chronological. It might not always make sense, but it is my expression. It is me.

You are invited to see how my story unfolds.....

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

To Breathe - Do I Want To?


(Warning: Part of this post is a difficult read. It may be triggering to some people.)

Breathing is normally something that we don't even think about.  We just do.  We breathe in and out throughout the day over and over again.  It is something we don't consider until we find there is a change in our breathing, there is a challenge with our breathing, or we feel like we can't breathe at all anymore.  At least, that is the way that it has breached my awareness in many ways in these years I've been breathing.

During my sophomore year at Redmond High School in Central Oregon, I swam on the high school swim team. At first as I swam, I would just swim one stroke after the other. Then I learned to count the stokes I took between breaths. I think I probably started out taking one breath every two strokes, but then I got to it being most comfortable for me to breathe every three strokes. During practice, our coach would have us swim with taking fewer and fewer breaths between stokes. This built up our lung capacity so that during races we could go faster, taking less time to breathe.

There were other times that I would see how close I could get to the other end of the pool while swimming under water before I had to come up for a breath. I would swim and swim and swim pushing myself further and further until I could stand it no more. My lungs would be completely depleted, and I would be just about to suck in water, when my head would breach the surface, and I would gasp for a breath. Later in life, I found, when I had a membership at a gym and would go to swim laps just for exercise, that counting my breaths as I swam was very relaxing. It would take my mind off the concerns of the day and put me in a rhythm which seemed so natural. 

Often we notice our breathing when we are doing different forms of exercise. Take backpacking up a mountain as I have done in the Willowa Mountains and in the Sisters Mountains as one example. When strolling along the flat trail at the bottom of the mountain, I didn't think about the fact that I was breathing. As the trail began to get steeper though, my breathing became a bit deeper. After a while, the continual straining of my leg and other muscles as I carried my loaded down backpack caused me to huff and puff so that I would have to stop for a break to relax and catch my breath again. Then, we would continue on up the mountain again. The great thing for me when backpacking was the sigh of relief and amazement upon reaching the summit of the mountain and looking out over the land on all sides. Seeing God's creation like that is breathtaking!

Breathtaking, literally though is something else.  There was a time, when I lived in Kenya, that I thought I might suffocate from not being able to get enough air to breathe. Mary Kamu (the mother of the Kenyan family that I lived with) and I had taken a bus to a very remote location one day because it was too far to walk there. When the day was almost over, and we were ready to go back home, we went to wait for the bus along a dusty road.  Now, there was only one bus that would be coming that night so we knew that we would have to get on it if we wanted to get home. We didn't want to be stuck out in the middle of nowhere for the night with no way of getting home. So, when I saw the bus coming with men hanging out the door and riding on the top because it was so full, I wondered what we were going to do. The bus stopped and men jumped off for a moment and started pushing us through the packed bodies into the center of the bus where people were holding on to what they could, and others in seats were holding babies and live chickens.  I was pressed in on all sides and could not move. I couldn't get enough air in my lungs in the crushing pressure of the bodies on all sides of me, so I grabbed the bar above me and leaned my head out over the ladies, children, and chickens that were lucky enough to get to sit on top of each other in an actual bus seat. It was only by doing this that I was able to breathe for the ride home. Oh, what a great feeling it was to squeeze off that bus at our stop and be able to breathe again freely!

Breathing When It Was Hard:

My breath has not just been affected by physical issues and exertion, but also by emotional and mental issues and exertion.  There were times that I was hurt so bad emotionally that I thought I was going to die from the pain, that I was going to lose my breath all together. I remember specifically two incidents like this. In both, it involved someone that I loved at the time more than anyone else. 

When I was 23, my Australian boyfriend flew me to Australia to see him and meet his family.  I had been living in Northern Ireland apart from him for an entire year. I believed with all my heart that I was loved by this man, and I thought that he might even ask me to marry him when I was in his country. Once I was there in Australia and had met his family, he took me on a drive in the "outback" to a beautiful secluded spot. There he proceeded to tell me that he had not really wanted me to come visit him. The pain that I felt stab my heart in that moment, in the middle of a country in which I knew not another single soul, was so great that I could only cry, sucking in gasped breaths between sobs. That trip ended any hopes for a relationship with that man I loved.

At another time in my life, I had a friend who was one of the few people whose love and caring I truly trusted and counted on during some times of intense sadness and struggle in my life. One day, my friend turned against me suddenly. I remember cruel statements being directed at me as we talked on the phone one night. I don't remember exactly what was said now as I think back on it, but I do remember that the phone was hung up on me in anger, and I felt a gut wrenching pain like part of me was ripped out. I found myself crying so hard I couldn't breathe, coughing just to get a breath. Trust was broken, and something I needed was gone. 

Later, as depression took over my life, fear and anxiety became a big part of my days. This came in many forms including panic attacks. I found it very difficult to be in rooms with crowds of people. This meant that going to church and sitting through a service was almost impossible for me at times. I would sit in the very back of the room near a door so that I would be close to an escape route if anything were to go wrong. Many times, my anxiety did become too great for me to bear, and I knew I needed to get out of there right away. I would start feeling my chest tightening up and giving me pain. I would breathe in quick short breaths trying to control myself and almost start hyperventilating because of it. The problem was that even though I was close to an exit, in my panic and fear that everyone was looking at me and that they could tell what was happening to me, I was unable to move a muscle. So, I would stand or sit there frozen in one spot with tears brimming in my eyes while I tried to breathe in a such way that the people around me would not notice that I was about to die or maybe go crazy in the midst of them all. It is amazing to me that I did not completely pass out from panic and lack of oxygen to my brain at those times. It was so hard to breathe. 

Breathing can be intense. I know you probably won't like to hear about this next example, but it is part of the story of my breathing so I have decided to include it. During my time of emotional sickness, I often did things on purpose to harm myself physically. It was a way I had of coping with the pain that was inside me. By causing myself physical pain, in those moments, I could forget the emotional pain. These moments were so intense and focused that I wouldn't be able to breathe while doing completing what I was doing. I would hold my breath to concentrate and to stand the cutting pain. The problem was that once the deed was done and I breathed a breath again, the emotional pain was back, right there waiting to have my focus back on it, and now to add to that emotional pain was the pain and shame of what I had just done. 

To go even further than that example, there were the times that I didn't want to be breathing at all. This next thing might seem kind of funny to you in a way, but sad too, considering my state of mind at the time. Back when I was really depressed and wishing I would die, I decided that I would try smoking cigarettes. I thought that maybe I could get lung cancer or something, and I could die that way. So I tried smoking a number of times when walking alone to the MAX lightrail train at night in Portland.  It wasn't nearly what it was cracked up to be, breathing smoke into my lungs. Yes, it did hamper my breathing and even make me cough and choke a few times, but I decided that it was going to be too annoying in the long run and would end up making me feel stupid. I didn't need that. I already felt bad enough about myself. Besides, even if it is said to be bad for your life, smoking was going to take much too long to kill me, so I gave up on that idea.
If smoking wasn't going to end my breathing fast enough, I thought maybe I could just hold my breath and will myself not to breathe again.  Could I die that way? I tried many times while laying in my bed at night, but every time my body won over my mind, and I would breathe again. I could not push through until I lost consciousness. Plus, I was smart enough to figure out that if I did hold my breath long enough that I blacked out, as soon as I did pass out, my body would make me breathe again, and then I would eventually wake up alive. 

I used listened to this song when I was wanting to breathe no more.  Maybe you can sometimes also identify with this feeling.

"Breathe No More"

I've been looking in the mirror for so long.
That I've come to believe my soul's on the other side.
All the little pieces falling, shatter.
Shards of me,
Too sharp to put back together.
Too small to matter,
But big enough to cut me into so many little pieces
If I try to touch her,
And I bleed,
I bleed,
And I breathe,
I breathe no more. 

Take a breath and I try to draw from my spirits well.
Yet again you refuse to drink like a stubborn child.
Lie to me,
Convince me that I've been sick forever.
And all of this,
Will make sense when I get better.
But I know the difference,
Between myself and my reflection.
I just can't help but to wonder,
Which of us do you love.
So I bleed,
I bleed,
And I breathe,
I breathe no...

I bleed,
And I breathe,
I breathe,
I breathe-
I breathe no more.

Encouragement to Breathe:

There were a few people of God in my life during those years in which I just wanted to stop breathing that encouraged me to keep breathing. They prayed to God for me. They were there for me and encouraged me to talk about my pain and to keep struggling to survive until breathing could come easier. Many times they just sat with me and let me do nothing but be with them. They loved me unconditionally even in the midst of my feeling of dying.  They showed me the love God has for me when I have nothing left.  

Sometimes I imagine that my loved ones were singing these songs to me to help me breathe:


"Just Breathe"
(Pearl Jam)

Yes I understand that every life must end,
As we sit alone, I know someday we must go,
Oh I'm a lucky man to count on both hands
The ones I love..

Some folks just have one,
Others they got none

Stay with me,..
Let's just breathe.

Practiced are my sins,
Never gonna let me win,
Under everything, just another human being,
Yeah, I don't wanna hurt, there's so much in this world
To make me bleed.

Stay with me..
You're all I see.

Did I say that I need you?
Did I say that I want you?
Oh, if I didn't now I'm a fool you see,..
No one knows this more than me.
As I come clean.

I wonder everyday
as I look upon your face, 
Everything you gave
And nothing you would take,
Nothing you would take,
Everything you gave

Did I say that I need you?
Oh, Did I say that I want you?
Oh, if I didn't now I'm a fool you see..
No one knows this more than me
As I come clean.

Nothing you would take,..
everything you gave.
Hold me till I die..
Meet you on the other side.

More encouragement for me to keep on breathing when I didn't want to:


Please tell me you'll fight this fight 
I can't see without your light 
I need you to breathe into my life
Don't tell me this is goodbye 
I won't grieve - it's not yet time 
Each breath breathed is keeping hope alive

So keep breathing
Go on breathe in 
Keep on breathing 
Go on breathe in 
Just breathe

Each breath breathed means we're alive 
And life means that we can find 
The reasons to keep on getting by 
And if reasons we can't find 
We'll make up some to get by 
'Til breath by breath we'll leave this behind
All you have to do is breathe

Finding Easy Breath Again:

In my quest to find easy breathing again, one thing that I started with was meditation.  Not meditation that empties my mind, but a focused meditation on items of truth and imagery that brought moments of rest and peace for my mind.  Meditation often begins with focusing one's mind on one's breath, and breathing in a controlled way. 

One example of this meditation is to imagine a stream or a babbling brook.  Each drop of water comes down the stream, passes by, and keeps going on it's way.  Next imagine that you are a pebble. The pebble is dropped in the stream and slowly drifts through the water landing on the sand in a protected spot at the bottom of the stream.  Then you, as the pebble, look up to the sky through the water from your peaceful resting place.  You notice a large leaf that is floating on top of the water coming down the stream.  As the leaf comes closer for a moment it blocks the light from shining down on you.  At this moment, as in life when something bad blocks the calmness of our mind, instead of focusing on the leaf and becoming angry and depressed about it, we just think to ourselves, "Yes, this leaf is here (or this bad thing in my life is here).  I acknowledge it, and now I will let it go (my anger, my frustration with myself, or my hopelessness), letting it continue to float by on it's way down the stream until it disappears." 

I also like to meditate on comforting Scripture verses.  My favorite, and the most comforting to me is to just sit with my eyes closed, to picture my Shepherd and Daddy, Jesus, sitting and holding me, his arms wrapped around me with such love and unwavering strength and gentleness.  We are silent.  I feel his warmth around me.  His chest rises and falls with each breath he breathes for me as I rest completely, with my weight against him.  I hear his heart beat.  My muscles, every one of them, completely relaxes in his arms.  Then I hear him ever so softly whisper, as if thinking to himself, "I love this girl.  She is my daughter, and I will always take care of her."  Then bowing his head to my ear, he says quietly to me, "Come to me, weak, weary, and worn down, and I will give you rest.  I love you.  Now rest."

Day by day in real life I breathe in.  I smell the fresh smell that comes after a long awaited for rain.  I take a deep breath of the roses while I walk through a garden. When I walk in to a bakery, I breathe in the welcoming smell of freshly baked bread or cookies.  And on a day when I get to see one that I love and his scent comes upon me, though I may not even know it, I breathe in and am happy.

Breathing out, I breathe with a happy sigh of happy moments in real life: a moment of seeing my newly born nephew for the first time; a moment when I know I am now free from the bindings of a sin in my life; a moment of pure joy and rejoicing when I see a follower of Jesus being baptized, showing their commitment to Jesus to all those around them; a moment when I know that that person who was dead in sin, is now going to be alive with Christ in heaven forever more.  Yes, I breathe out a sigh of thankfulness to God.

Finally now in my life, I find myself breathing in and out easily and contentedly, knowing that I am not the one who struggles to find my own breath or stop it, but that God's presence living in me is the very air I breathe. My life is his. 

"I need you, Jesus, my Lord and Savior."

(Michael W. Smith)

This is the air I breathe
This is the air I breathe
Your holy presence living in me
This is my daily bread
This is my daily bread
Your very word spoken to me
And I I'm desperate for you
And I I'm I'm lost without you

This is the air I breathe
This is the air I breathe
Your holy presence living in me
This is my daily bread
this is my daily bread
your very word spoken to me
And I'm, I'm desperate for you
And I'm, I'm lost without you
And I'm desperate for you
And I'm, I'm lost without you.
I'm lost without you.
I'm lost without you.
I'm desperate for you.
I'm desperate for you..
I'm lost, I'm lost, I'm lost without you.. 
I'm lost without you
I'm desperate for you

I keep breathing because of Jesus, what he has done for me, and his desire that I be alive to draw others to himself.  Jesus will be the air I breathe into eternity.

The Word of God says, "This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live, and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life..." (Deuteronomy 30:19-20a).  

His very presence living in me; the air I breathe.