When The Pain is All That Is

When I was younger I used to write late at night often.  I was a single mother, trying to raise a child and finish college and figure out life all at once.  The late nights and the early mornings were the times I could write without taking time away from my little girl.  Early mornings were usually reserved for assignment completion, since my brain was fresh and unencumbered by the thoughts of the day to distract me.  But at night, the emotions were what flowed onto the page.

I used to write with ink pen and notebook … I suppose most of us did.  But for me it was an emotional expression that needed the feeling, the movement, the flow.  And you could tell whether I was feeling nostalgic or angry or confused by the way the letters formed and the speed with which they formed and the strength with which I pressed the pen to paper.  I wouldn’t have made it through those years without pouring thoughts on paper.

Now I rarely stay up past ten at night and can’t use a pen or pencil for more than a few minutes at a time, so that pouring out has largely disappeared.

But tonight is a different story.

Tonight I am letting it flow, in lots of ways.

The past few days have been an ongoing assault for me.  Early December reminds me of death, and death reminds me of my mother’s death, and my mother’s death reminds me of all the other deaths, and so it goes with grief.  The more loss you have experienced the more deeply each loss is felt, because they tie themselves to one another in some strange cosmic or cognitive way that none of us fully understands.  But I don’t need to understand it to feel it—deeply.

So, I am in the middle of this grief spurt, of sorts, where feeling anything seems difficult and feeling something means feeling loss and pain.  And of course, that is when I jump on the bandwagon of organizers everywhere and comment about the social problem that plagues my country now: gun control.  (I actually could have chosen from any number of social problems.  I wish that would have been a self-evident choice, but there are too many issues here to not name it specifically.)

And then the judges rule.

And by judges I mean people that are not at all qualified as judges or to make any particular judgments about the issue.  Some of them put out a string of falsehoods.  Some of them accuse me of “name-calling” because I use “stupid/classist/racist” as reasons one might think more guns would be better while simultaneously commenting on the number of shootings in Chicago.  None of them do, or have ever to my knowledge, lived in Chicago, mind you.  I do. In an area where gun violence is a constant. So, I am well aware and educated regarding what may or may not be helpful in ending this violence.  And when I tried to fight back and stand up for my views, I was called a bully and treated like I am being a terrible person, or morally corrupt, or some other form of bad.  Except those things arose after multiple people basically said a whole bunch of stuff about how wrong I am and how dumb my ideas are, and I responded with reasoned arguments and strings of facts.  The idea that I am being mean, or bullying others by stating facts and reasoned arguments is ridiculous. The idea that a bunch of people ganging up on me to say how wrong and dumb and morally bankrupt I am, for expressing factual information about gun violence, seems a lot more like bullying than anything I have EVER done, in my entire existence.

I am, by the way, the opposite of a bully.  I learned how to behave politely in the midst of great struggle and to pretend that my world wasn’t spinning out of control from a young age.  I was the one who was bullied, repeatedly and viciously, by others.  I was crying myself to sleep by age 9 and suicidal by the time I was 18.  I’m not the oppressor, but the oppressed.  I always have been.

I remember a time when my daughter was struggling with asserting herself, and in therapy this was something she was working on.  One day, on the playground, she called a boy a name and told him to leave her alone. That boy had been bullying her for months on end, and she finally stood up to him, and she was sent to the principal and I was called to come get her because she refused to follow a teacher’s instruction to apologize.  When I picked her up, I got angry with the principal, and said she most certainly would not be apologizing, and that we had been working all year to get her to voice her frustration and stand up to this bully.  This was a moment of triumph, not a moment of failure, for a timid girl who always ended up under the sole of someone else’s boot.

She learned that by watching me.

There are things you don’t mean to teach your children.  They are a part of you, so they become a part of them.  I always bent to the will of others.  I always hid the secrets.  I always played the part.  I tried and tried and tried to be the perfect daughter, and I failed.  Because perfection isn’t actually a thing. Nobody is perfect, we say, but then we try to force people to be exactly that, and we strive for exactly that. It makes no sense.  I taught my daughter to play the part too, and to not ruffle too many feathers and to not rock the boat, and I didn’t intend to, but she was subject to the same consequences I had been—being abused and manipulated and taken advantage of by others.

So, here is how I know I am not the bully.  I can’t be that.  I never learned how, and I am still trying to learn how.  Every week in therapy we talk about how I deserve to be happy and I don’t need to care what others think and I don’t have to live up to any expectations and I get to choose whom I wish to be.  Every week.  I don’t know how to be a bully.  But I am learning to voice my opinion and not back down and say things without sugar-coating every single word.  And that is met with all sorts of opposition.

It occurs to me tonight, after enduring days of negative comments about me and my thoughts and my action and my words and my ideas and probably the size of my ass, when you get right down to all the comments I have heard in the past week or so, that maybe those other people—the ones making me out to be the bully–are actually the bullies themselves.  Maybe they are so accustomed to people telling them what they want to hear, and to me being polite and diplomatic, that they lash out the moment that is taken from them.  Or, perhaps the converse is true, and those people are the ones being abused by others, and my insistence on maintaining my views without any pandering or trying to be perfect opens up a view to their own insecurities.  I’ll probably never know (especially because I unfriended most of them on Facebook, and I don’t think they have any other way to contact me).

It doesn’t really matter why they reacted in the way they did.  It doesn’t even matter if how I was speaking made them think I might be a bully.  Because the thing I can see, even in the midst of much pain and loss, is that I am not the kind of person they described, even at my worst.  Anyone who knows me well knows this to be true.  My good friends have watched me in the darkest and worst moments, and they know that I am love to the core, and that frustration only comes with pain, hunger, exhaustion, or injustice.  It doesn’t live in my core, but it assaults me from without.  I have the best of intentions, and the kindness of a saint, and love enough to pass it on to even the most desperate and marginalized among us.  Hugging homeless prostitutes isn’t something that you do when you are a bully, or morally corrupt, or without character.  That depth of love and understanding and that level of acceptance is a rare gift, and I am one of those blessed with that rare gift.  And I don’t need someone else to tell me this.  I know who I am.

Even though pain is all I feel and struggle is all I can seem to find these days, I know who I am.  I am not what those people who haven’t seen me for the last 7 to 20 years believe me to be.

Even when the pain is all I feel, I am still looking inside for my value and my worth, not to the outside.  I am finding the voice within and letting it out.  I am the girl on the playground who is fighting back with her words against an onslaught of injustice and being called to the principal’s office for doing so.  And that is fabulous and amazing and good.  That is a triumph!

I know that few to none of my friends throughout the years struggle from C-PTSD, so I understand that they don’t get how important it is to find value in yourself and to let go of the expectations of another and to stand on your own, even if the other doesn’t appreciate you doing so.  But it is extremely important.  Earth-shatteringly important.

The PTSD mind is a mind divided, and often accompanied by a confusion or a lack of knowing the self.  You can’t always—or maybe ever, in the beginning—trust what you feel to be yours and to be true.  Those core beliefs that you have held for your whole life are false, and it takes so much work to root them out, recognize them, and respond in ways that help to break those down.  To find your worth and to let go of shame and to release anger and to love yourself are nearly impossible.

I’m doing those things.  In the face of all sorts of criticism, I am holding on to me, and letting myself feel what I feel and believe what I believe and stand up for both.

When the pain is all you feel, it is really hard to have breakthrough moments like this, or to find your footing at all.  Today I am stomping with confidence, not just finding my footing.  And if other people felt on the bottom of my boot sole, I suppose that saddens me a bit, but not enough to let up right now.  Because I didn’t actually do any intentional harm to anyone, but others did do intentional harm to me.

Earlier this evening I posted that you cannot offer violence and expect peace in return.  This is how I feel about my whole life, not just the past couple of days of comments.  I was offered year upon year upon year of violence, and it is a wonder and a joy to know that I was not so damaged by that to deliberately harm others, or to deliberately harm myself, or to end my life, or to lose my mind completely.  I was repeatedly offered violence, and ninety-nine of a hundred times, I respond with peace.  That is a lot of peace, under the circumstances.

I am not a bully.  Even when the pain is all that is.

So, I end the night and begin the morning having peace within once more.  The assault of depression might linger for some time, or it might lift in a matter of days or weeks.  Eventually I will find ways to feel joy again.  I know, because I do it time and again.  I always will.  But, I rest in the knowledge that my strength is being found and held and kept against that which would seek to define me against my will.  I am still me, even when me is a pile of grief and loss.  And I will keep on being such, no matter who opposes me.

And it is a triumph.

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