The Understory
Dodging Traffic

The Perfect Opportunity


Do you ever feel like a trapped animal in a cage, I asked. Response: Every single day. In retrospect, that wasn't the best way to communicate what my body was telling me. My body was telling me I was two miles over the limit. That's a visceral sort of thing. You can muscle through it, but the price I pay still shocks the hell out of me.

We look for a mutual point of understanding; it's a blind reach for the safety of our tribe, and it's instinctive. We feel and reach for the known even though that isn't necessarily what we need. In the moment.

What I wanted was permission to take care of myself and if I've learned anything in the last fifty-eight years, it's this: putting that sort of thing on another person is futile. It's also grossly unfair. And...we do the very best we can within the confines of our circumstances which begin with self-awareness.


Sunrise with my cousin. Two cups of coffee with a generous splash of Bailey's, overlapping histories, and the shared comfort of the ocean. I wouldn't have traded that for anything. I wouldn't give up that pizza on the balcony either. The night before and the morning of, was the sole purpose of the trip. I added on what I thought I should do, or needed to do, or believed was expected of me and I pushed too far. 

The damage was done the first night. I arrived at a mostly unfamiliar beach in a community that's still rooted in five generations of families coming to the same place. It's welcoming, friendly, respectful of boundaries and space, but as it turns out, I'm not ready for a double dose of the unknown. Who knew?

I knew, but I couldn't put a finger on what was wrong and I woke up at 4am in an environment that rubs me raw. Too close, too many people, and no natural barrier between me and the onslaught of constant stimulation.

Wells Beach is perfect, what could possibly have gone wrong? 


I've spent more nights in hotels than I can reasonably be expected to count but that's a known entity. I've been a road warrior on and off since 1993 and I know how to take care of myself. That's nearly thirty years of building a foundation of useful triggers that allow me to come in and out of the unknown unscathed. I know how to visit and spend extended time with a client. Honestly, that has not changed in all this time. I put on the uniform, grab my gear, and walk right into it, every single time.

It looks daunting if you haven't lived it. You arrive in a strange city in the middle of the night, crash into a bed like every other bed, and the four walls are the same four walls in every part of your personal known world. My personal known world is most of the continental forty-eight and a handful of cities where I don't know the spoken language which isn't any different than showing up in the mid-west with my New England sensibilities. Open your eyes and read the room and most of the time everything will be fine. Your reason for being there is the anchor. 

Without the anchor, I don't actually know how to survive an unknown environment. I remember the first time I left the country to teach. Four or five days in Knutsford, England and it was the inability to call home that hammered my ass to the ground. Swear to dog, it sounds ridiculous at this point in my life but the phone in my room was useless. Thirty-two years old and I'd never heard of this thing called a country code. So I couldn't call home and I failed to adjust to my surroundings, which, by the way, were absolutely lovely. I didn't know how to ask for help and it wasn't out of embarrassment. I read the room just fine. I couldn't read me other than to acknowledge a vulnerability for which I had no name. I muscled through it, learned a couple of things, and it was easier the next time, and almost effortless the time after that. 


I was at Wells Beach for two nights because they have two night minimum on weekends. Makes perfect sense, so I ordered up my two night minimum and by the time my cousin and my about to be cousin-in-law arrived midway through the second day, I was already shot. In retrospect, it would have made a lot more sense to have just paid the two night minimum and skipped the first night. Who does that? Probably people with enough self-awareness to make better choices.

To be clear, I have no regrets, and that sunrise was worth every minute of the weekend. This is a learning opportunity. What do you need, Heather? And what's it going to take to make that happen? So simple, but we're wired to comply with our own set of inherent beliefs. Of COURSE you can do this! Even if you know there's going to be a price, you know you can do this. The learning opportunity provided this: would it have hurt anyone to show up late Saturday afternoon and exit mid-morning on Sunday? Probably not, but even so, less damage than abruptly fleeing the scene, bypassing another expected visit and driving north well in excess of the speed limit. 

Listen. When you have to pull over, having just crossed your own state line and spew up the entire contents of your stomach, you have simply gone too far. My physical body communicates very clearly and with plenty of warning. It starts with a headache and progresses. I tell it to fuck off and it ends the same way every single time. (that's insanity, right?)

That's the little lesson. The big lesson is that I'm in charge and it is my permission required to open and close the gates. Putting that on anyone else is not only useless, it's counter-productive. 

Good news: I have the perfect opportunity to practice. There's a wedding coming up. It's a two day affair, and guaranteed to be a wild and joyful party which is also guaranteed to be way more social interaction than I'm ready to handle. I will be escorting my father who has the right to expect the care and consideration he'll need. This is key: it's not all on me and it surely is not on the bride and groom. It's also not on my father. Refer back to 'the right to expect the care and consideration he'll need.' 

All I have to do is ask with clarity. Here is the situation, here is how it can be handled, and here is what you might do for Daddy/Grandpa. Your choice, not mine, but I'll do the asking anyway. What's the worst thing that could possibly happen? Nothing worse than could happen if I don't ask. 

We'll go for two days, not because it's expected, but because we want to be there. I'm not trapped, there's always a way through, and mostly, I'm not alone. Even if I've spent most of my life utterly believing that fallacy, even if I still believe that fallacy in the place that drives from fear and survival, in the place I make uniformed choices, I'm not alone and I surely am not trapped.

I am not obligated to take on more than I can handle. I am obligated to read my internal body temperature and take care of myself. I also have the right to expect and ask for the care and consideration I'll need. 

Which, by the way, doesn't mean I'll necessarily get it but I can take care of myself.