Growing Up (in the) Church

Preface:  These thoughts come to me in the midst of a new, budding relationship.  Yes, there is a “new Boy” who’s been nothing but kind and thoughtful.  Still, it’s been a hesitation of mine from the start that he “identifies” as Catholic.  I know identifies is a funny thing to say in defining someone’s religious choice, but for me he’s not the Catholic I grew up with—he’s more of the John Pavlovitz type—to the point where there are times that I want to say to him, “You’re not really Catholic then.”  In my mind, to at least help me make sense of it all for now, I’ve divided it up to the Catholic Church as a business, and Catholic the religious practice.  But to back track a bit, he’s seems (and has stated) that he genuinely does not care that I identify as spiritual.  Which makes me question if I am hypocritical in my own spirituality that I do question the sustainability of our relationship because of our beliefs.  I won’t let myself completely off the hook with that thought, as I do want to make sure that I don’t deny others of the religious and spiritual freedom that I was denied growing up.  However, I do want to acknowledge the weight and heaviness of the religion classes and lectures I sat through as a kid.  I thought I had processed it all before this relationship, but it seems that the Universe is offering me a new challenge.  As a brief example (with the rest being in metaphor below)…I’ve felt the need to bring up things that I normally would not want to do so early in a relationship so the new Boy has a clear idea of what he is getting himself into.   After much stumbling on my words, I told him I had no plans to ever get married (leaving out that if I ever change my mind, I want to get married outside the confines of four walls and by a woman).  I can’t blame all of that on the Catholic Church…part of it has to do with my parents’ divorce, my young and married uncle dying before turning 30, and the narrative I created in childhood around that.  But there is the religion class where we were told that the obligation in marriage was to procreate…and while I love kids I’ve never wanted them for myself (plus, Pacer is the best little girl I could ask for!).  And the whole “two become one” thing always seemed skewed in the man’s favor.  Finally, there’s the whole patriarchal and oppression thing that surrounds most religions…but that’s been written about more eloquently by others, so I’ll end this very long preface now.

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I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe

I try to cry

But I am drowning

Cleansed, I hear them say

But from a made up sin I did not commit

My clothes are white

But then my body grows, and its back to black

I run down the street on wobbly legs

I’m screaming:

Hear me

See me

Acknowledge me

All heads turn the other way.

I am but a ghost.  A Ghost?

No, for I am a woman.

I trip and fall.

I am but a ghost with bloody knees

Is this my cross to bear?

I choose to wear only bones

To be more like a Man or further hidden,

I no longer know.

Still, without this chest

Without my life-giving blood flow

There’s less force to do the things that I am told

Like my body is only for him

And the children to come after

For that is what is required for me to become seen

If I am good

Am I good?

It is only years later that I inhabit my body again

That I realize it wants to sing, to dance

To come forth as only the feminine spirit can

So I choose to run

And run

And run

Miles, valley, rivers, and mountains later

I break free of the chains, my cross

Finally, I have found my Heaven within.

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The evening after writing this, I cam across this amazing video: Be a Lady They Said

 

 

Conversations with the Mountains: Stop Playing It Small

And the mountains said to me:

Stall tall, stand strong.

In our shadows we’ve humbled and strengthened you.

Each summit you’ve earned.

Together we’ve weathered the storms.

Small in stature does not mean small of heart.

Pretending slightness does not serve you,

Nor does it serve us.

For we are not apart.

The scar on your left shin,

A symbol of what you’ve left, what we’ve left in you,

The blood bond that can not be broken.

Our magma core, the power of our love.

Your power to shine.

Like a wildflower growing between the rocks.

The freedom of flight in your wings, no longer climbing but flying between peaks.

With the strength of the mountains, you will soar.

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I Worship with the Trees

I worship with the trees

Everyday, we whisper our praises to the wind

So our prayers of peace may spread

No four walls can contain the magnitude of our love

 

To whom do we worship?

Not a whom or a what

For the too trained mind, we fear you may not see

 

I worship with the trees

We stand tall with our roots, connections to our tribe

We give glory to the birds, nesting in our branches, whose wings grant us higher perspective

 

I worship with the owls

Together we hoot and holler as we

Welcome another starry night

As the deer nest in the fallen leaves below us

 

I worship with the stars

We shine bright as we look down at the lovers staring back up at us

We send our light to them, so filled with hope, despite the surrounding darkness

We, the beacons that will allow us all to find our way home

 

I worship with the mountains, strong and steadfast

We welcome each season, rejoicing in the hot summer sun, 

The changing leaves of fall.

The blanket snow of winter, 

The sweet rains of Spring. 

 

I worship with the rivers, the rivers that carry our tears away

We shout with joy as our grief turns into mighty waters of something more

We watch with wonder as our tears give reason for the wildflowers to grow

 

I worship with the wildflowers

We turn our faces to the sun, soaking in its warmth

We grow as hues deepen, and celebrate the insects who feed from our sugars

 

I worship with the dogs

We run wild and free on trails that run high and deep

We renew our faith with cool sips of snowmelt

 

I worship with the Sky

We part the clouds and with the show of our rays we praise all that lives below

Could we love more? 

Mother Earth in all Her beauty…

 

I worship with the Earth

We stare up at the endless Father Sky, where possibility hides

We rejoice and cry with our children wandering our plains and valleys

 

I worship with the humans

We laugh and celebrate at the kinship, the strength, a simple touch can bring

We share our secrets, our fears, our ideas, our dreams, our love

 

I worship with the trees

The angels of the Earth

If a tree is near, never can we say we are alone

And so we deepen our roots, raise our branches

Touching the ground below and the sky above

All worlds, all beings, as one

 

I worship with the trees.

 

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Marijuana Use & Sales: Dear Community Members…

(Recently, a community coalition that I am a member of decided to write a letter to “opt out” of legislation that discusses the future sales & regulation marijuana.  The week after, the community voted down a bill that would allow for marijuana hospitality operations.  The coalition still plans to send out a letter, making the topic of marijuana “closed” in our small-ish (6500 people) mountain community.)

 

Dear Respected Community Colleagues,

I’ve been considering this letter for a long time, until now deciding that I wouldn’t write anything, especially as I realize we already voted on the matter to request Estes Park “opting out” on future legislation.  But truly, my wish is that as a community, we remain open to various possibilities of marijuana sales and consumption in Estes Park, despite the fail of the bill to allow for the sale of marijuana in town.

For those who wish to learn more, I’d like to dispel a few myths and share my side as a mental health therapist who has researched this topic and interned at Harmony Foundation.

As a therapist, I am not against the use of marijuana. There are people I know who have used it a few times and have not become addicted.  Some choose to continue to use it recreationally, and others who have decided they do not like and have never used it again. On the other hand, I know of people who have developed some degree of an addiction, and/or used marijuana to self-medicate.  A particular friend of mine did not have access to mental health services and carried deep, traumatic wounds. I never discouraged marijuana use with this friend, as I knew the other option for this friend would have been self-harm and possibly suicide.  In conversations, we talked about some other mental health tools and possibly making more changes when they were ready… if I would have pushed, it would have cut our lines of communication, not unlike if I tried to push a client to quit who came in for therapy and wasn’t ready to quit.

But to get to my points more quickly:  Addiction comes from pain, trauma, attachment wounds… I am not saying drugs/marijuana do not have addictive components, but they are never the sole reason, nor are genetics.  Sure, I can say someone who comes from a family with an addictive parent has a high susceptibility to develop an addiction themselves, but no one can say if it is from attachment issues passed down from the parent, or genetic reasons…especially as research has not been able to find an “addiction gene.”  There are reasons why some people become addicted and others do not. Furthermore, we also know that some people become addicted to fast food and/or sugary foods…but as far as I know, we’ve never written a letter to the town to ban McDonalds or the several taffy shops. Why? Well, these are “socially acceptable” addictions (that also bring the town income)…despite having negative health consequences that include those brought on from society from being overweight (depression, anxiety) and well as physical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and yes, death.  Which brings me to my next point…

Drug prohibition is directly related to the prosecution of minorities.  Even at Harmony Foundation, I knew very well that the white people were receiving treatment while people of color were going to jail.  For more on this topic, I highly suggest reading Johann Hari’s book “Chasing the Scream”. One of my favorite quotes from the book is “The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety.  It’s connection.” In fact, I can not remember speaking to one client at Harmony Foundation felt that in the depths of their addiction that they had meaningful, honest, and heartfelt relationships with others.  Connection may be the most important factor of group therapy.

In addition to the continual oppression of minorities, we also know from research and history that people in pain and have addictions will find other ways to obtain marijuane/their drug of choice, even if it is illegal.  In the case of the sale of marijuna, it is almost a given that anyone who consumes it will go down to the valley to make their purchase, before driving up the canyon. We can hope they wait to consume it until they return to Estes Park, but again, we can only hope.  While our town only has one Lyft driver, I believe that knowing what we know about drug use, it would be highly worth our exploring if it is in fact not safer to buy and consume the product at a designated location in town. For now, I’m going to dismiss the slippery slope argument of marijuane being consumed outdoors and in public areas, as current cigarette smoking laws lead me to believe that argument has no realistic basis. 

Dr. Gabor Mate is one of the most well-known physicians and speakers on the topic of addiction.  He is the author of the book “In the Realm of the Hungry Ghost: Close Encounters with Addiction”.  If I can encourage community members to do anything, I ask that you please watch this video with Dr. Mate speaking on the topic of cannabis and addiction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2R3_728Xxc 

Finally, to remain closed to further discussion on any topic, and in this case marijuana use and sales, is an unhealthy sign in any community.  Research on recreational and medical use of marijuana is still be conducted, as well as on how the sales of marijuana affect a community.  It is important that we trust future community members and leaders to have educated discussions on how to implement regulations.

Ask “not why the addiction, but why the pain.” -Dr. Gabor Mate

Kindly,

Ray A. Nypaver

 

Self-Partnered though the Holidays

Recently one of my favorite actresses*, Emma Watson, made headlines as she used the term “self-partnered” rather than single to describe her relationship status.

*Partially for her role as Hermione in Harry Potter, partially because of her activism, and partially because my family says I look like her (!).

Additionally, rapper/singer Lizzo has talked, or rather sung, about being her own soulmate.  There’s been a few haters, but more people have followed up with positive comments on this new terminology.

Truly, I love it so much that I wish I could check off “self-partnered” rather than “single” on my voter registration.  (Or rather for me and in congruence with my website name, the proper term may be dog-partnered.)

But, as Watson alluded to, it takes some work to get from single to self-partnered.

And I’m not quite there yet.

Now before all the haters say “see, I told you it wasn’t possible” let me say that I have identified with the term before.

A few years ago, after my heart was torn from a break-up with a man I was still in love with, I was living with my dog, sister, and her boyfriend in a condo we decided to all rent together to save money.  While I still mostly kept to my own, I had people I loved to briefly chat with throughout the day, often lamenting about the joys and pains of graduate school.  Speaking of grad school, I also had a small cohort/friends of other wilderness therapy students that I interacted with constantly.  For an introvert that thoroughly enjoys alone (aka, a dog and her girl) time, my life was full of social interactions and little time to do nothing, or rather, scroll through social media.  I felt content and fun-filled in my life without being in a romantic relationship.

Which brings me to the “work in progress” part now.

For one, my private counseling practice has been taking some time to get going, and my run coaching career is work-from-home, so I’m not spending a lot of time in social environments (though I am currently typing away at the library).  I live in a smallish mountain town, so finding friends is a bit of a challenge.  However, I have made a few friends recently, and that’s added a lot of joy to my life.  I also have a few core friends, though they’re spread out.  Still, our get togethers and chats are a valuable pieces of my well-being.  Additionally, my last break-up came with some small-t trauma, and I’m still processing the pain/confusion of the relationship. I have had some extra alone time lately.

The funny thing is, I rarely feeling lonely.  At this time of the season, I’m pretty happy snuggling with my dog and watching holiday movies (favorite: Elf).  And I’ve made sure to partake in my favorite holiday traditions and activities: my yearly November trip to Salida with my sister, her boyfriend, and Pacer to see “S” Mountain lit up like a Christmas tree, the tree lighting ceremony in my town, and the weird but wonderful holiday parade in the town down the canyon.  There’s been a few times I wished for a Hallmark* style romance in these situations (I’m not going to get into Hallmark movies right now…I find them predictably comforting…and I am sticking to my story for now!).  Additionally, unlike the previous year I’m grateful that I could enjoy the latter two events without an argument with the ex-boy.

If I could point to any other culprit that I would say is preventing me from fully claiming the “self-partnered” status, I’d blame the time I spend on social media.  A lot of my friends would laugh at this as I don’t even have a smart phone, but again, I work from home on my computer.  And then I’ll check social media at night, scroll through the feed, rather than diving into the book next to me.  There’s quite a bit of research out there on social media and loneliness, and as person who also happens to be a therapist, I can attest.  Temporarily de-activating my Facebook account may be something I try in 2020, while I consider getting a smart phone.  The benefits are getting lost less on camping trips as well as getting work done while on camping trips (with an re-active dog, its hard to find a coffee shop I can sit in and leave her the car, especially when it’s warm out), but I’m fearful of a further social media addiction.

As a therapist, I know that humans are wired for connections.  I know the goal is not dependence, independence, but interdependence.  And I know that being surrounded by people you love, but not romantically in-love with, is the key to being happily self-partnered…and happy when you do have a romantic partner!

With that, here are my tips for being happily self-partnered through the holidays:

-Spend time with friends/family weekly, especially one some evenings.

-Partake in all the holiday traditions and activities you enjoy, whether it is by yourself or with a friend.

-When you do settle down for that holiday movie, place your computer somewhere far away from you.  Commit to watching the whole movie without checking your social media.  (If you can ditch social media more than that, awesome, but I’m going to take baby steps.)

-When you are not listening to holiday music, put on some Lizzo!

“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.” – Hamilton Wright Mabie

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*Due to Hallmark’s ad pull, I’ve made the switch to Ion, Lifetime, Netflix Christmas movies, Elf, and traditional Christmas movies.

**I’m undecided if I’ll go back to watching Hallmark this Christmas…Hallmark reverses decision.

Reflections

Take, take, take

While I give, give, give

I can’t keep up

Nor can I please

So I cry down mountains

I plead through canyons

Places that were once Heaven

Darkened because of you

Or because of me?

I can never tell

I look back at journal entries

My words do not lie

So why do I question?

I cry more than I laugh

I take what is and is not served

I know what Im doing I say

Your expenses paid by a graduate students credit card

A forgotten Happy Birthday

But it’s okay I say

Until its not

The glass I shattered

Symbolic of more

Your words are the shards cutting my soul

I thought I was strong

My body turns to a shield

You will not hurt Her

I know your  hands will not touch me

But you don’t need them to scare

So we run into the night

Into the moon

A reflection of the light.

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Fall Evenings at the Cafe

It’s mid October.

Fall is quickly changing to winter here in the mountains.

Dusk comes early.

The trees stand nearly bare.

I can track my dog in the backyard just listening to her paws crunch the leaves.

I’ve taken shelter and a quaint cafe this afternoon.  I am the last customer inhabiting the upstairs loft.

On my left I have a view of the town park and I watch people in sweaters and boots holding hands as they walk past.

In front of me is contrast.  One tree bare, already strung with Christmas lights.  Then a yellow-orange Aspen beside a dark green pine.  The, far in the background, the foreboding and enticing Long’s Peak.

The cafe is closing soon.

Almost time for me to put on my hat.  I’ll stroll back to my car, welcoming the dark and finding comfort in the crisp air.

At home, I’ll give my four-legged fluffball a hug and belly-rub before we settle down for the night, buried under blankets and watching Netflix.

The wind will most likely howl and beat against the windows, but we will feel safe.  The wind only means change is coming, most likely snow.

I’ll say goodnight to the sky, kiss my dog’s wet nose one more time, and bury myself under the covers.  My hibernation won’t be very long, but I relax knowing I’ll awake to another day of Harvest.

It was a pleasant café, warm and clean and friendly, and I hung up my old waterproof on the coat rack to dry and put my worn and weathered felt hat on the rack above the bench and ordered a café au lait. The waiter brought it and I took out a notebook from the pocket of the coat and a pencil and started to write…” -Ernest Hemingway (quote on the wall at Inkwell & Brew)

Lessons from the Aspen Grove

When I worked at an addiction treatment center next to the forest, our spiritual advisor would take the clients to an Aspen grove next to the center.  When the spiritual advisor left, I followed in his footsteps.  We told the clients that the Aspen grove, the hundreds of trees in front of us, were one organism. Underground, they were connected, firmly rooted because of how they intertwined with one another.  That way, when 2013 flood swept past, or when harsh mountain wind blew through, the trees remained upright.

I told them this with fervor, as I knew that at the heart of addiction was disconnection.  Many of the clients had already begun to learn this, as in group they let their guards down, shared their stories, and made deep friendships.  Within days, I could often see a shift in the clients, a glow, like those of Aspens in the fall.

I told this story again to my mother, just a few weeks ago, at her first chemo appointment.

Just the week before, she called me on a Wednesday evening to give me the news “I have cancer.”

She told me not to worry.  That she was tough and going to be fine.  She had the same doctors as my older sister (still going through her own cancer treatment), and they were going to take an even more aggressive route.  She told me not to come home, to continue my work in Colorado.

Two days later I learned from my older sister that my mom was in surgery to have her port put in, a small device put under the skin to make to make blood draws and infusions easier during chemo.  My older sister and my step dad went to her first chemo treatment, which my mom was upset about.  She wanted to go alone.  Not to be an inconvenience to others and their “busy” schedules.  It wasn’t until almost a month later that I found out it was stage 3.

But when your family, both in blood and deep friendship, schedules and to-do list don’t matter.

My mom’s stoicism didn’t stop my from collapsing to the floor in pain and tears minutes after we hung up, with my dog rushing over to me to lick the salt off my cheeks.

It didn’t stop me from feeling anger, sadness, and confusion.

As I gave myself the space to feel all of my emotions, I came to a few realizations.

The first being that this storyline, the storyline of “I have this problem, but it’s not for you to worry about” has shaped my own beliefs growing up.  When I felt sad, so sad that I wanted to claw my way out of my body and escape to somewhere, anywhere else, that I wasn’t enough to share how I felt.  It was my burden to bear.  Alone.  Even after the depression passed, a fierce independence took over.  It’s taken me years to learn to lean on others, like a fallen tree resting on its neighbors.  Still, I have to fight the urge to just collapse.

Second, I remembered the message of the trees.

Even more amazing than hundred plus trees in one Aspen grove being one organism, they are connected even more intimately through a fungal network.  This network not only allows the trees to send vital nutrients to each other, but also communicate.  If there is concern about disease or insect infestations spreading, the trees will send out distress signals to each other, allowing the others to alter their behavior.  And if a mother tree is felled, the surrounding trees may continue to send her nutrients, keeping her roots alive.

Humans have created this world wide web in our own way through technology.  But I suspect there is a deeper form of connection between loved ones, one that may not be visible to the untrained eye (trees also send out chemical, hormonal, and electrical signals).

I can’t say with certainty that without my phone I could have picked up on the distress of my family hundreds of miles away from me.  What I do know is that I feel better when I am in the loop, and even better when I can offer some form of help, be it a card or flying back to Ohio to provide company.

When I told my mom about the trees, I went on to say that because all the trees are connected, one’s challenge is not just theirs alone, but shared among the group.  My analogy, trying to tell my mom that we were all in this together.  She wasn’t a burden but an opportunity for our family and friends to come together and find strength.

She said she understood, but I’m not sure she felt my words.  Maybe I said too much.  I don’t know.

When I got the original call from my mom telling me she had cancer, I texted my sisters (after I picked myself up off the floor).  I told them that I never wanted us to keep things from each other, good or bad, that we never had to “go at it alone.”  When they both texted back “agreed”, I felt we solidified a pact.  We were in this life together, for reasons both known and unbeknownst to us, tied together by cell phone signals and invisible visceral strings of love.  My heart felt a bit lighter, like an Aspen leaf held up by the wind.

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Love Letters: Crested Butte

Dear Crested Butte,

My friends said I’d like you.

Probably because you’re a little less of a show-off then the other ski resort towns.

Still, it took me awhile to get to you.

But the moment we met was perfect.

You shined, as if a halo was surrounding the town.

The next day, as I rand down Teocalli Ridge, you showered me with golden leaves.

Joy.

And everywhere we went, cows!

Yes, it is true, happy cows roam free, high up into the valleys.

Yes, that means more piercing dog barks in my ear, but I’ll take it knowing more beings can roam wild and free.

This letter is just the first, for we have only just met.

But I’ll be back.  To wander around more of you wondrous trails and passes.

Until next time.

Love,

Ray

October Snow

“You’re too early.”  “I’m not ready for you yet.”

My forsaken words.

And instead of slowing down, we go too fast.  Crash.

But what if we, what if I, appreciated you for what you are, despite or inspire of context.

If I were present.  If I slowed down…

Maybe I’d see your beauty.

Watch as the big, wet snowflakes fall to the Earth.

Noticed how your brilliant blanket of white highlights and contrasts with the yellow Aspen leaves.

Maybe I would be like my dog and find joy as my steps were created with soft pillows.

To be still with stored energy, like the deer that ran past as we stepped outside for a walk.

If I allowed you to just be, like the elk feeding on the side of the road.  Letting the snow fall and the cars pass.  Maybe, October Snow, I’d see you as a gift, with the surprise and wonder of a child receiving an early Christmas present.

A present.  Be present.  Be.

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