Pills

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This morning I asked the dog, “Wouldn’t my mother be proud of me, swallowing up to 11 pills at once?”

Shockingly, he responded by turning his head to one side and looking at me with cuteness and confusion, wondering if I were asking him something he wanted to hear … he hasn’t mastered English language just yet.

Why, you may wonder, would that impress my mother or be a source of pride?  Swallowing isn’t usually a thing to be praised.  (My mind hit the gutter there … and now yours did, since I mentioned it, right? Apologies.)

Swallowing pills isn’t usually a thing to be praised.  (Better?)

But for me, it was a huge challenge for years to swallow pills.  I remember vividly my mom trying every possible trick she could for me to get a tiny little tablet into my system the day before procedures.  Putting it on my tongue and then having me drink didn’t work.  Cutting it smaller than its already tiny form didn’t help.  I think that the most effective, and the most disgusting, was the buying me donuts, having me chew up a bit of the donut, and then shoving the pill into the center of the chewed food before I swallowed it.  Donut holes became a semi-regular event in my life from the point when we discovered that trick.

But the thing that struck me this morning was not that my mom spent herself to the point of exhaustion and utter frustration in order to make certain I swallowed the pill and was appropriately prepped for procedures, and not that I have accomplished the task and perfected it in ways that would offer my mother pride, and lets me take only a moment to swallow my medications, but that I remembered vividly the processes of prepping and procedures for medical purposes.

It is strange what the brain holds and what it does not hold.

My mother’s last words to me were, “I really like your hair that way.”  And that was the only full sentence I had heard from her lips in many months.  Why that sentence got through, and nothing else, I cannot explain. Nobody can explain it.  But it is a sentence I appreciate.  It was fitting, since my mother’s approval was something I always strived for and rarely received, and her disapproval was often focused on my hair and its current color or style, that the last thing she said to me was that she approved of my hairstyle.

I don’t know that it was a sign or a message, but it definitely made me smile … after the initial shock of hearing my mom form a sentence and look me in the eye wore off.

What her brain lost and what it held was always a source for surprise and question and analysis and much laughter, but there weren’t really any answers as to the “why”.

What my brain lost and what it held is similar.

I vividly remember the process of getting a pill into my stomach, and I vividly remember almost every single invasive or upsetting or stressful medical procedure I endured as a child, and I always have.  But while I was cataloging every moment of the medical trauma, I was erasing every single moment of sexual trauma.  Why did my mind hold one and erase the other?  Why was one captured and one cast into some recess of the brain and locked there for years?

And my first instinct was to say that one was cause for shame and not the other, but that isn’t accurate.  I wet myself with regularity due to my body’s defect, and I was mocked mercilessly for that.  And after surgery, when I didn’t have those ‘accidents’ anymore, I was mocked in the locker room because of my scars.  There was a lot of shame tied to my medical issues. And maybe there was more shame associated with the sexual trauma, but I don’t think that one was without shame and the other filled with it.  There were aspects of shame tied to both, yet I held one in my conscious mind with great detail, and the other I forced away.

As someone diagnosed with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I am learning that the ways the brain forgets can be really great and amazing.  My brain shut out traumas to protect me.  And since the moment those memories returned I went into several years of meltdown, I know that my little, young self could not have coped with those things.  My 19-year-old self couldn’t cope with those things.  Some days my 41-year-old self cannot cope with those things, though I’m learning more and better skills to cope now than I ever have before.

I am also learning that my brain suffered a division when the trauma happened.  Parts of my brain stopped talking to one another, and they still can’t seem to get those synapses firing all the time.  I dissociate from time to time, blocking out things that are uncomfortable or that remind me of other things, or just breaking myself in two and living in conflict with my own thoughts and ideas.  I’m a big pile of contradiction and incoherence and cognitive dissonance.  And all of that is because my young self held some thoughts and blocked others.  And I had no control of what stayed and what went.

Eventually, both combined into one larger trauma.  Not having control of your body is bad in any sense.  But the cognition of not having control over what happened to my body in the medical sense and the dissociation of not having control over what happened to my body in the sexual abuse sense became tied in ways that I didn’t understand until recently.  And the way that tie became apparent is by wetting myself like I did when I was a child when in the company of my abuser … at age 39.   My brain made my body lose control, and potentially continues to do so.  My pelvic floor dysfunction is possibly psychological and possibly physical, but more than likely a combination of the two.

So, I am back to the start, in a sense.  But this time I am remembering all, and the medical and the sexual are one trauma, melded together in some strange ball of a loss of autonomy.  And now I lose even more, with PTSD and fibromyalgia having effects on my brain and body that I cannot control.  I can only cope.

But at least I can cope, some of the time.

At least I am at a place where I can address all the things, and know when I am dissociating, and see how the disconnects are affecting me, and learn how to start putting myself together once again.  At least I am in a place where the memories of both can be acknowledged, and the path that I took to today can be better understood, and the ways I act today and the things I now believe can be explained.

It is amazing what the brain holds and what it releases.  But even more amazing is that I am learning how I can choose what my brain holds and what it releases.  Meditation and mindfulness are showing me the way to control my reactions to thoughts, and mandalas are helping me integrate my mind, and therapy is letting me voice the feelings tied to events that I was before expected to keep secret, or to accept silently.  I get to hold things.  I get to release things.  I am regaining that lost autonomy.  And I am expressing it … loudly enough to piss a bunch of people off when I won’t comply with social norms and religious expectations.

I am screaming autonomy.

I am choosing, even though I can’t choose what happened or what will happen in my life and experience.  I am choosing how I act and react in the midst of what happened and will happen. I am no longer letting my brain do the filing without my input, and I am making certain to assess what I release and what I hold.

I likely have a 50% chance of ending up like my mom, with my mind slowly deteriorating and losing thoughts and memories and faces and, eventually, life.  And if I do have the gene for Alzheimer’s and I do lose bits of my brain to disease, it will be difficult.  But I don’t worry about that the way I once did, because I currently have better knowledge and control of my thinking than I ever have, and I no longer need to worry and catastrophize and create struggle inside my head.  I can accept and release.  Even this idea that I might lose my autonomy in some ways or someday is not a source of struggle, because I know that such disease won’t define me.

I define me.

And accepting the ways I can’t control my life and my future, instead of struggling against them is what I am trying to choose.  I want that to define me—the idea that I accept myself and my life in the moment, and that I can act and react in positive ways, even in the darkest of experiences.  That is my choice.

The thoughts I hold and the thoughts I release are mine. The perspective with which I view things is mine. The ways that I act and react are mine.  The traumas that happen to me, are not mine to hold.  Those belong to the ones that harm, not to the ones harmed by them.  And no amount of victim blaming is tolerated in my space any longer.  That I am letting go.

And I don’t know that being me, in the way that I choose to be, would make my mother proud.  There is probably a lot that she would challenge and dislike, if she were here to do so.  But that doesn’t matter.  Because I am not letting other people define me any longer.  I am not letting the events that happen around me or to me define me.  And having the pride of others, or the acceptance of others, is a bonus, if it happens, but it isn’t my goal anymore.  I no longer strive for anyone’s approval but my own.

And I am very proud of who I am.

 

 

 

 

Don’t Struggle, Just Stab

There are several ways of being in the world, I suppose.  We all choose in every moment how we will interact with the world around us.

This morning, I emptied a container of one of the two chemical-laden delicacies I allow myself–flavored non-dairy creamer (the other is processed cheese…because it melts so beautifully and reminds me of my grandmother, which is probably another story for another day).  Do not fear!  I was at Costco the other day and have a pack of three more bottles in the back of the fridge.  But the crux of our story is not the creamer itself, but that little foil seal that covers the bottleneck to ensure freshness and no leakage.  That little foil seal can open up worlds of understanding.

You see, in general, I stand for several minutes pulling on the tiny flap of foil that pretends to be the secret to removing the seal.  You are just supposed to pull that flap, and voila, it opens, right?  Wrong. I end up pulling with my right hand, then pulling with my left, then pulling with my right again.  Then I begin what we will call the “pep talk stage”, where I begin to offer myself encouragements:  You can do it!  Just hold tightly and pull steadily.  You’ve got this.

The next stage is called “pep talk two” and shifts my encouragements to self over and begins encouragements of the bottle seal:  C’mon!  You are almost there.  Just peel back a little more.  You can do it!

And then, finally, we reach “frustration”:  Why in the fuck can’t I open this thing?  Is it so hard to make a seal that opens?  We can send people out to live in space, but we can’t invent a seal for the coffee creamer that you can open!  AAAaaahhhhhh!

And there we have it folks.  This is the way I interact with my world, on the regular.  This is how I live.

There are myriad reasons why I turned out to be a person who fights at a thing.  I was sort of born a fighter.  My mother realized this early on, and it plagued her for many years to come.  I needed a “why” to stop my fight—a really good explanation or reason for the end to my search or struggle.  Another person’s word that it was easier to tie with “bunny ears” than in the convoluted way I was approaching tying my shoes was never good enough.  I needed to struggle with those shoes for years to get to the way I discovered was easiest (which turns out to be bunny ears).

I think the two most affecting reasons for my struggling attitude, however, are stubbornness and intellect.  One is usually seen as a positive, and the other as a negative.  But, often in life, I see them conversely to the way many might.  Stubbornness, which is usually considered bad or wrong or unhelpful has gotten me through many a difficult situation.  When you are oppressed or captive or addicted or overwhelmed in any way, stubbornness can be your savior.  Being stronger in will than my opponent got me through not only debate team, but through years of abuses and marginal living.  I kept up the fight some days only because I was too damn stubborn to lose—too damn stubborn to die there in that bad space.  And the other reason, my intellect, is definitely often a positive thing.  I am so glad that I am capable of abstract thought and love to dive deep into research and just tend to be smart (sorry for the horn tooting there, but it is true that I am smart).  But, the desire to know is often the desire that gets me into trouble as well.  I want to know how that feels or see how that works or decide for myself which is the best way to approach an idea … so I have to do all the things and explore all the ways of approaching that idea on my own, which has gotten me in spaces where I would rather not be.  If people could have said to me, “drugs are bad”, and I could have accepted that as true without further investigation, I wouldn’t have found my great joy and deep struggle with cocaine.  But because of my intellect and that desire to explore ideas to their conclusion, I did find that joy and that struggle.  Lucky for me, the stubbornness to not be controlled by a substance has won the day for about 5,500 days in a row now. (One day at a time!)

So, today when I needed to open the coffee creamer, my stubborn and smart started getting together to fight the fight and open the foil, once more—because this is obviously a regular occurrence.

But, something about the way that I have interacted with the creamer for the last 25 years suddenly seemed ridiculous.  Suddenly, I was tired of fighting the foil.  And I said to my self aloud, “Don’t struggle, just stab.”

Don’t struggle, just stab.

Where did that come from?

I’ve spent every foil opening experience in the same way.  I’ve always tried until I succeeded.  I’ve always kept up the fight.  But not today.  Today I chose a different way of interacting with my world.  I chose a different way of being.  I chose a knife to the foil.

Now, this choice might seem insignificant to most.  But it isn’t.  It is significant because this is a core way of being for me.  It is deeply ingrained in my psyche to fight.  A core belief is that fighting is the only way out.  And it is coupled with other core beliefs, like you have to make it on your own because others won’t help, or not engaging shows a weakness, or life is a series of conflicts, or only the strong survive.  All false beliefs, by the way, but core beliefs are not quick to change. And mine were shaped in some terrible circumstances, so rooting them out and finding them so that you can change them takes years of facing those terrible circumstances again.  It pretty much sucks to do that.

I am doing exactly that.  I am facing years of terrible circumstances and trying to find ways to interact with those things differently, and to see myself and my world in a better way.

Stabbing the foil embodies the change that is happening in me.  Don’t struggle, just stab.  Take the easier route to your desire.  Give up the fight.  Yield.  Do the smarter not the harder thing.  Win by letting the foil win.

Learning to engage life and thought and people and things in new ways is really difficult work.  But, the foil is evidence that I am learning to do just that.  I am doing that difficult work, and after years of doing it am seeing results.  I like those results.

I took a knife and stabbed that foil—killed that shit.  And it took mere seconds to accomplish. And I don’t feel like I lost the fight.  I feel like a winner!  I am patting myself on the back (figuratively, not literally, because the neighbors may be watching)!  I am looking at all the ways that offering myself the easy option might change the world for me.  Finding Mr. or Ms. Right Now, rather than keeping up the struggle to find Mr. or Ms. Right, letting Luke lift the groceries when he knows I am exhausted rather than trying to be stronger and less tired, realizing that swimming and bathing and eating and writing a bit can be my weekly activity rather than trying to return to the concept of “better” that causes me to strive for more strength and more strength of will than I am able to obtain in this disabled body.  I choose how to interact with the world, and I am starting to choose letting it all go.  Don’t struggle, just stab.

Unfortunately, this mantra won’t literally work in all situations.  When I am frustrated with my brother, I can’t just stab … at least not in the literal sense.  (No killing relatives, people!  I am in no way promoting actual stabbing in all situations!)  But maybe in the figurative sense, I can just go the direction he wants to, even though I am aware that he is going the wrong way. I don’t have to convince him he is going the wrong way, but can let him figure that out on his own.  I’ll just turn up the radio and enjoy the scenic route. And that way I haven’t lost anything. But I’ve won on the inside, just like I did with the foil, and can figuratively pat myself on the back for not engaging in futility.

Don’t struggle, just stab.

And I know that my stubbornness is still a gift that will get me through the tough times.  And I know that my intellect is still a gift that will bring me joy and difficulty.  But I know that I get to choose when to fight and when to not fight.  And I get to leave behind any of those core beliefs that are false, as soon as I am able.  And I am changing on the inside, and learning to be a better form of me.  I’m letting go of some of the instinct to approach the world with anxious striving, and learning how to approach it with a quiet knowing—seeing the chaos but not being drawn into it.

I don’t need to react in the ways that society expects me to react.  I don’t need to react in the ways I did before, even when before was just yesterday or earlier this morning.  I don’t need to react at all, if I don’t want to.

We choose the way we interact with the world around us.  And I am choosing more wisely and in ways that help instead of harm me.  I am choosing not to struggle and fight and churn and flail through life.  I am choosing to just stab at the foils of life—deleting that Facebook friend, or ignoring that comment, or choosing joy in the moment, or letting my inner child be my outer adult, or sliding down banisters instead of tiring on the stairs, or smiling instead of scowling as I walk through the subway tunnel, or offering peace instead of lecturing when my daughter is having a bad day, or offering myself kindness instead of chastising my lack of productivity.

Don’t struggle, just stab.

 

In the Name of Love

I was doing a bit of reading last night, in an attempt to fill insomnia time with something that makes it seem less like insomnia and more like productivity or entertainment.  The book is one I am almost ashamed to be reading, because its pages are covered with philosophies of giving = getting, and those philosophies almost always include a measure of victim-blaming and exclude concepts of systemic or institutional factors and their influence upon one’s current situation.  So, I usually get annoyed with such philosophies quite quickly, and sometimes I even get really angry with these types of books—yelling at no person in particular about the ways that my bed was not made alone, so no, I don’t have to “lie in it” unless those who victimized me have to lie in a bed far worse. (The number of times I have been told that I made my own bed, and should now lie in it makes me shudder.)

What I gave to the universe was NOT equal to what I received.  Innocence and autonomy lost at a young age cannot be blamed on the innocent who do not choose their victimization.  Did I make some unsavory choices in my lifetime?  Absolutely.  But did I make them without any influence of childhood trauma?  No, I did not.

I gave the universe love and empathy and kindness and creativity and beauty.  It gave me a lot of terrible crap in return.

But, I kept reading the book with the really messed up philosophy of giving = getting, because the thing it kept saying I needed to give and receive was love.  And as I read, it occurred to me that at certain points and in particular situations, I have stopped giving love.  The reason I stopped giving it, was likely because I wasn’t seeing a return on my investment, and because I have complex PTSD and suffer from chronic pain and am an addict and have all these reasons that the world became a place that hurts you, and not one that loves in return.  So, my choice to be mistrusting and build walls and shove my earbuds in my ears and blast Kesha instead of listening to my seatmate on the bus is a valid one, considering all the aforementioned reasons.  But, it isn’t getting me what I want.  And, let’s face it, what I want is what every being on the planet wants:  LOVE.

The challenge for someone who has been so deeply wounded that the scars will never heal is to continue to offer love and trust and vulnerability, even after doing so created the conditions for your wounding to happen.  When you offer someone your trust, and they betray it, or when you offer your vulnerable self, and someone takes advantage of that and uses your openness to harm you, it makes it really difficult to keep offering up your heart and mind and body to another—hoping that by some miracle this time is different and that this offering of your heart doesn’t add brokenness upon brokenness.

In some ways, we should never expect victims to trust again.  In many situations, the one who has been wronged should never give pardon and should never offer another the chance to wrong them in a similar manner.  Why should they?

The answer, again, is love.

Love is the reason I give pardon for past offenses.  But, that hasn’t put me, in some automatic fashion, back into a space where I can receive love with ease.  Because I try very hard to protect myself from further injury.  And that protection requires shutting people out and keeping people at a distance and creating walls and not opening up too quickly.

A friend once told me that I was not vulnerable.   And I was shocked by that statement, because I have been candid about my struggles for many years.  I feel like I share readily with people.  And I do share my story, but I do not share myself.  I don’t put my heart where it can be harmed.  My story doesn’t need to tell about the ways I feel vulnerable today.  I can offer a history without opening myself to others.  And that was the distinction that my friend was seeking to make.  He wanted me to understand that I couldn’t be known and loved if I had an alligator-filled moat around my heart.

I’ve improved a bit at letting people into that space.  The drawbridge goes down for my dad, and for my friend Luke, and for my daughter.  But, as time passes and I read books with terrible philosophies that tell me I get what I give, I realize that there is a tiny crumb of truth to the chapter that tells me I am not receiving what I am not giving.  Because I cannot expect love and trust and vulnerability from another if I won’t offer it to them as well.  And maybe one of the challenges to opening up is that I want the other to do it first, but their wounded parts want me to open up first—we do a dance of waiting and hoping and not receiving because neither of us wants to open up a space where a sword strike might land.  We all wait to remove our armor until the other has removed theirs.  And that gets none of us any closer to the love and trust and vulnerability that is required to further the relationship (be that a friendship or a familial tie or a marriage or whatever).

Yesterday, I was talking with my dad and said that my website seemed aptly named when I started posting online.  I really thought that I was learning to be whole.  But now I am realizing that I instead need to accept that I am broken, and that I might continue to break, so I ought to have chosen a website named “accepting that I am broken”.  He and I both, as though it had been practiced, said at once “Maybe, accepting the broken is how you learn to be whole.”  And I believe that may be the crux of the matter.  I need to accept breaking as a part of offering love.  And I need to acknowledge that offering love first is the best and fastest way to connect to others and to receive love in return.

I will get a few jabs from the protections (or even weapons) of others in the process.  I may increase my scars.  But, I will also be in a position to encourage others to let down their defenses if I have already dropped mine.

So, “Vulnerability” goes on the list of things I am working to improve.  And the shameful book of giving love to get more of it will probably be read to completion in a first attempt at finding the vulnerable self hidden deep beneath my strength and intellect and independence and lack of eye contact and background noise-removing earbuds.  I won’t paint a target on my chest.  But I will try to lower my sword, at the very least.  And hopefully, that won’t injure too much, and I can move on to removing one more bit of protection and psychological isolation.

I anticipate that this process will take years.  I’m heavily guarded.  But, it is a step in the right direction, I am sure, so I am committed to heading down that path.

I know that honesty begets honesty.  I know that trust begets trust.  I know that openness begets openness.  I even wrote a paper on such connections in an undergraduate communications course.  But, for some reason (or for many valid and obvious reasons) I stopped believing that love begets love.  It does.  It doesn’t always and instantaneously, but it will eventually bring you love in return.

So, here is a start at being open:   I don’t have enough love in my life.  I’m deeply wounded, in ways I am afraid to express, because many people in my past have shut me out rather than deal with the depth and breadth of my pain.  All the times I have allowed that pain to surface and become evident, people rejected me, avoided me, or insinuated I was some form of “crazy”.  But, I am trying very hard not to let the response of those people be shaped in my mind as the normative response to pain.  I am trying very hard not to let others shame me for expressing my suffering.  I am cutting out of my life the people that are gangrenous and make my wounds deeper and more affecting.  But, to the rest of you, I am going to try to open myself up and let down defenses.

This blog might get uglier before it becomes more beautiful as a result.

No amount of good grammar can make what ails me seem like entertaining prose.  Some of it—much of it—is a horror story.  But, I’m going to start letting it be such, and not sugar-coating struggle in ways that I believed protected me from harm.  I can’t be protected from what was.  But I can look with hope at what is yet to come.  And I refuse to believe that my story is a tragedy.  There will be a happy ending, but before that happy end, I need to find my way to vulnerability, and unceasing love … an epic goal, so maybe my life is an epic tale.  I like that idea.  I think I shall embrace my life as an epic story, with a glorious end yet to be written.  In the end, as with most epic tales, the main character finds love and peace and good, so I will embrace those, and perhaps emulating them will actually bring them nearer.

I hope I haven’t just agreed to the terrible philosophies of giving = getting.  But, I will at least admit to believing that proximity to good brings about more good.  In the moments when all seems lost, there is a good guide, or a good friend to carry you forward, or some good to fight for after a rallying, inspiring speech.  I need to start finding ways to trust in the good.  I need to find ways to start believing in love, once more.  And one way to believe in it, is to give it.

So, here I stand, ready to give more love.  I’ll let you know what I get in return.

 

In the Mood

I can’t seem to stop listening to Rachmaninoff.  I’m just in that mood.  Or so I thought when I first turned my Spotify account in his direction a day or two ago.  But the more I listen, the more I wonder:  What mood is that exactly?  Because one thing I am noticing about his music is that it has a thousand moods, not just across the entirety of his compositions, but in one work there can be angry and playful and lilting and intensity and struggle and peace and fun and frustration…the list goes on.  There isn’t usually one space where your mind and heart remain while listening to this diverse and divine music.

I think, at present, I am drawn to the urgency and the drive of many of the pieces to which I have been listening.  Life feels like that lately—like there is more urgency.  Urgency for or toward what has yet to be determined, but I suspect that it may be tied to the death of my mother.

Life just seems like it needs to be lived, and I feel as though I might not be making enough of my moments.

The other possibility is that the angry parts of me are connecting with the angst-filled phrases of the movements Rachmaninoff has written.  It lets me feel anger, without acting upon anger.  It is easy to be angry, and easy to displace anger, but it isn’t very easy to cope with angry thoughts and feelings.  Of course, I know that anger is always a secondary emotion.  It isn’t actually anger that you experience, but hurt or fear or rejection or some other thing, which then comes out as anger.  And usually my anger is from hurt or abandonment or betrayal or fear.  Lately, I have been wanting to tell myself that frustration is what makes me angry. But frustration is not an emotion, per se.  You get frustrated, but you don’t really feel frustrated.  My frustration is a result of anger, which is the result of hurts and betrayals and fears that I don’t wish to acknowledge. This is not surprising.

Few of us want to acknowledge our hurts and fears.  Few of us want to be vulnerable in that manner.  Few of us want to accept what really goes on inside our heart and mind and spirit.

But in order to stop feeling that angst-filled frustrated feeling, I need to acknowledge that it comes from pain.  Lots and lots and lots of pain.

No one could know the depth of that pain, because not one single person has ever heard the entire story, or all the little stories pieced together into a lifetime, I suppose.  Not even my therapist of the past one and a half years has managed to root out all the moments and combine them into a reliable accounting of all of the pain that my body and mind and heart and spirit have suffered.  There are ways, however, to notice what ties those experiences together, and what struggles trigger the strongest reactions.  And this week, many of those triggers were set off, and I (like any good PTSD sufferer) went on high alert, and began to tie all of that pain together and swing it around like a sword, desperate for a  sensation of, or even the illusion of, safety.  And then, once the sword of hyper vigilance fails you, you shut down.

I am an expert at shutting down. My body and mind have found ways to disconnect that I stand in awe of, and my whole person is very capable of shutting out the world through isolation or through what I, for lack of a better term, might call “pretending”—the sense of being physically present without connecting in any real or meaningful way with your surroundings.  I can act like I care, or act like I don’t care, or both, depending on the situation.  I can adhere to social expectations without being the least bit engaged.

But Rachmaninoff makes you feel. He is turning me back on—giving me the ability to engage with something that resembles human connectivity and emotion, before I can connect with my actual emotion and engage meaningfully with actual humans.  He gives me a mood, when I cannot find one on my own.

Eventually, I connected with what I feel, and the reasons I turned off.  I was triggered by an idiot employee at a sandwich shop yelling angrily and calling out “HAM AND TURKEY” when I was distracted by an older man with a walker who dropped his change and didn’t notice that the employee now wanted to know whether lettuce was required to meet my sandwich’s completion.  He reduced me to my sandwich toppings when he treated them as though they were my name, which reminded me of the times I was called “woman” or “my old lady” or “bitch” or “dumb cunt” or “crack whore” or any number of marginalizing terms that refused to acknowledge my complex identity, but reduced me to an action or a gender or a role. That hurts.  Being marginalized always hurts.

I was triggered by the knowledge of the divide between rich and poor, and the continued struggle with accepting that my career has been ended by my illness, and that I may always be poor.  This trigger happened in the waiting area of the dentist’s office, when I was waiting to have my teeth cleaned for the first time in five years, since my state-managed insurance plan just began to pay for such services.  And, while I was thrilled to be able to have a dental exam and cleaning, I knew that the exam might result in the determination that I must lose my last molar on the lower right side, because this dental care came far too late, and it can be taken away again with a pen stroke–resulting in a face of gaps and gum recession that will make it impossible for me to pass as a person of means, or get a decent job, or be taken seriously by many.  I am poor.  I don’t want to look poor.  I want to continue to pass for someone who isn’t poor.  And it hurts that poverty is my situation.  And it hurts that I feel continually shamed and sometimes attacked and often trivialized or marginalized because of that poverty.  It hurts that poverty is considered downright criminal in the minds of many, including lots of my Facebook “friends” and those whom I once believed I could trust with my story.  And it hurts that I recognize all of this and that I know I am complicit in the shaming by desperately wanting to pass more than working harder to end the stigma and embrace myself, even if my self has no money and no teeth.  But that work is difficult, and the stigma I carry is already a heavy burden.

I was triggered by the feigned “concern” of others.  It is gaslighting that was truly happening, and not any sort of true concerned care for my wellbeing (unless you count the worry over my eternal soul not being allowed into heaven because I am evil and misguided as care … and I don’t).  In this particular case, a person misinterpreted and misrepresented the information in my previous post, and expressed that they didn’t sleep well and spent time in prayer and god apparently gave them a “devotion” in reply, which basically said that uneducated people know more than me about god…so I am evil and misguided (but apparently considered very educated, which is true and complementary). It would seem I am meant to be shamed by the person who mangled my ideas and misquoted my post and to recognize that my views are wrong, thereby causing concern for my soul.  This feigned concern and this gaslighting have been ever-present for me, starting with childhood sexual molestation, and making stops at domestic violence, victim blaming after sexual assault and rape, shame for pursuing education rather than work as a single parent, blame for the infidelity of a partner, and expressions that discount my sexual identity, before ending once again at the church and its deep concern over my soul (which has appeared many times along this journey).  I am not insane or misguided.  I need to tell myself this repeatedly in an attempt at self-compassion, because the idea that I don’t know what is right, but another does and will tell me how to be or act or think, was deeply engrained in my psyche after years and years of abuse.  When people I once counted as friends begin to use this very abusive tactic, I am deeply hurt.  We rarely consider moral, church-going ladies as abusers, but perhaps we should—they are often the worst offenders when it comes to gaslighting.  Gaslighting hurts.

So, yes, I am connecting with Rachmaninoff because I am working at getting back to feeling, and because the secondary anger comes out in his music, but so does the calm and peaceful, and the joyful and playful, and the anguish of the pain that is truly behind the way that I am feeling deep down, in a place with which I am still unable to fully connect.

It is difficult to connect with our brokenness.

It is difficult to acknowledge pain.  Our society tends to mask or cover or hide or control pain.  And it certainly doesn’t want to take ownership of the pain that is caused, personally or societally.  We have been taught that pain is owned by the one who suffers, and not the one who causes the suffering.  We refuse to admit or confess that we hurt others, either by our active oppression or by our passive inaction to correct situations that produce suffering.

However, if the first step to solution is recognition of the problem, we need to face that hurt head on, and look at the ways we are causing pain.  I often think this begins by accepting that we, ourselves, are wounded.  The most broken among my friends have become the strongest advocates for others.  My own passion for justice was borne from the injustice I felt as I journeyed through forty years of struggle and pain and abuse.  This isn’t uncommon.  This is the way to bettering ourselves and becoming a better society—this recognition of our own wounds fuels our desire to spare all others from similar wounding.

I think that this connection between my wounds and my areas of passion is key to how I have been struggling the past couple of days.  When someone begins to attack those areas about which I am passionate, they are, in a sense, also attacking my wounds.

I fight for the rights of women because my rights to choose what happened to my body and in my life were stripped from me.  I fight for reproductive rights because I suffered a lack of care and compassion when dealing with the loss of a pregnancy and a lack of care and compassion as a single parent, and also experienced the failures of birth control and unintended pregnancy.  I fight for LGBT+ rights because I know and love many who don’t conform to the standards and structures that the gender binary and the heteronormative patriarchy deem correct and good, and because it took many years for me to even consider my own sexuality, and even more to admit to people that I don’t fit that heteronormative mold.  I fight for the end of mass incarceration and for racial reconciliation because I love and live among black men and women who are being violently abused by not only our stereotypes and individual assessment of race, but by the laws of our country and the limits of our compassion to those who look and act and speak and live in ways identical to our own.  I fight for a limitation or prohibition of firearms because I see the bodies of boys and girls and men and women who needn’t have died and wouldn’t have died if it weren’t for ridiculous access to what nobody, outside of law enforcement or the military in most cases, should need. I fight for the homeless, because I spent years of my life as a homeless woman, and some as a homeless mother, and I ate from dumpsters and had sex with people just to sleep in a bed for a few safe hours and stole food and toiletries in order to survive, and nobody should ever have to live under those conditions, no matter what else they may have done or not done in life.

I fight for those who are experiencing what I have suffered (and in some cases still suffer).

Saying my fight for these causes is evil and misguided is saying that I am evil and misguided, because these are not just some nameless and faceless people whom you can criminalize and marginalize and oppress.  These people are me. And saying that these causes don’t matter, in essence, says that I also do not matter. (But apparently my soul does…just not the rest of me.)  That hurts.

So, today my goal is to allow emotion.  I intend to acknowledge these feelings, and to connect with these feelings or to let these feelings go, as I choose.

Because we cannot control what we feel, we can only choose how to react or interact with what we feel.

Mindfulness practice has taught me much about how to let the oppressive and hurtful things that others say and do affect me less, or sometimes not at all.  I’m learning, slowly and surely, how to leave behind what harms me, and to embrace what loves and holds and builds me.  I am the only constant, and even though everything around me changes, I can choose to remain as I am.  I am the mountain, as Jon Kabat-Zinn and my therapist are teaching me to remember.  So I choose whom I wish to be and to become.  Gaslighting church ladies, and poor public policy, and abusers and offenders of all sorts, and the money in my bank account (or the lack of, more truly) do not define me.  I define myself, so I am free to acknowledge the comments of others about who I am, or I can let them float away.  They need not hurt me anymore.

So, Rachmaninoff, thank you for all the feeling that you have offered me, and for the connections that you allow me to make.  Your thousand moods have reminded me that I only need to be in one mood, and that is one that I choose—no one else may choose it for me.  And I choose self-compassion and love and grace and peace and truth, as always.  I choose to embrace my poor, disabled, non-hetero, non-religious, highly educated, thick and sexy, fighting for equal/human rights continually and with passion self.  And I choose to embrace the person I am becoming as well, and know that I will continue to grow in grace and in truth and in love, because that is what I will accept and allow into my life.

I am now in a great mood. 🙂

In Jesus’ Shame

 

I grew up going to church.  Not just going, but religiously so…attending every single Sunday morning and Sunday night, unless terribly ill.  And I hated church, largely because I was forced to attend without my personal consent.  Any part of life you can’t consent to can be a struggle, especially for the naturally independent leader that lived deep inside of me, but when other really important decisions are also made without your consent (like the bodily choice of surgery or testing or sexual contact or any number of things that I struggled with over the course of my formative years) then being forced to go to church just becomes another area outside of your control that makes you feel diminished and marginalized.  So I hated it.

And at some point I got over that hatred of church because later in life I was given the choice to go, and I chose to attend and participate, not only in church but in the pursuit of multiple degrees in theology.  Church became my life, in many ways.  But the longer I stayed, the more I knew that I wasn’t really wanted there.  Inside my head the “if people knew” clause started to pop up over and over.  If people knew that I was an addict…   If people knew that I have sex on the regular…   If people knew about my molestation…  If people knew I was pro-choice…    If people knew I get food stamps…   If people knew my personal view of eschatology…  If people knew I don’t believe [insert some sort of popular religious belief here]….    If and if and if and if and on and on it went.

I started to feel like I had to hide myself from the church.  I started to feel the weight of shame, even while I wasn’t personally being shamed (because I was hiding my true belief and experience).  I began to know that I wasn’t welcomed “just as I am” in any church that I had ever attended.  I began to search for churches that would let me in, even if I were just me—as is and with no hiding and no apologies.  I have yet to find a church sans shame.  So I have yet to join a church again.

It has been a little over three years, I suppose, since I last attended church, and I have never been more free.

I was always taught—from Sunday school classes as a small child to my seminary training—that Jesus brought freedom. Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty I am free at last.  But the only time I was actually free to study and believe without shame was when I left the confines of religious communities and went out into the world.

Ah, the world.  That damnable expression of all that is evil and to be feared. Or so one would think, given the reactions of Christians in the United States. But the world, you see, is open in ways that the church had never been for me.  The church confined and constricted.  The world let me investigate and study and try and experience and discover in ways the church never would.

The world didn’t try to shame me as much or as often as the Christians tried to shame me.

Eventually, I came to the realization that the church isn’t usually practicing in Jesus’ name.  It is often practicing shame.

Sex is bad and you are bad for having it.  Poverty is bad and you must be doing bad things to land in that state.  Being gay is bad and you are messed up if you love people outside of the parameters that we express.  Rape is bad, so if you have been raped you must have done something wrong to deserve it.  Women’s butts are bad, so you mustn’t let them be out in the “open” with revealing yoga pants.  Being single is bad, because you are supposed to make babies.  Abortion is bad because you are supposed to make babies.  Birth control is bad because you are supposed to make babies.  You are bad if you don’t make all the babies all the time. Except if you have a baby and not a husband then you are bad.  Drugs are bad and if you are addicted you are bad.  Depression is bad, and if you are depressed you are not good at trusting in god.  Disability is bad, so you need to suck it up and get back to work or you are bad.  You are bad.  You are bad.  Christy, you are extremely fucking bad.

And then one day, I decided I am not bad.  Because every religious text I have ever encountered promises hope and renewal and the “becoming” of the person. The promise is that shame disappears, not becomes the defining characteristic of the church.  The promise is acceptance and love without conditions and grace and a forgiving spirit and a love of peace.  All of these things require that we kill all this rule-making and fear-inducing and humanity-stripping, damnable shame!

“I love you, but…” cannot be a part of our language or our thinking if we are going to be the love and grace and peace that every single religion I have ever encountered says we must or shall be.  “I will love you if…” cannot be a part of that language or thinking.  “I love you because…” is not a religiously accepting statement unless it is followed by “you exist”.

There is a passage in the Christian biblical text that I once had to translate in a seminary course.  I was shocked to read and to learn and to begin to hold the belief that “anyone who loves is of god”.  This transformed all for me, in the sense that love becomes the definitive aspect of what is right and good, and of who belongs to and with and in god.  So the impoverished woman who helps me up when I fall is of god, and the prostitute who always asks about my day and shows concern for me is of god, and the person to whom I am not married, but who shows me love and care both in and out of my bedroom, is of god, and my Atheist and Muslim and Jewish and Hindu and Buddhist and Pagan friends are all of god, because they all love fiercely and choose peace and show grace all of the time.

I am of god because I just reminded myself, during the interruption of my short time in which to write by a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses at the door, that I need to show even those who interrupt my theological expressions or blog posts the grace and the love and the promise that is god.

And because of this discovery, I have moved away from the term “god”, for the most part.  I choose to use the term “the divine” or sometimes “the universe”, depending on the situation. (Because the word “god” carries so much weight for so many…and usually not in a positive way.)

Anyone who loves is of the divine.  Anyone who loves….without qualification, without exception, without condition, and without being shamed into compliance with the normative religious ideal of the day…is of the divine.

Shame is not discipleship.  Shame is not beneficial.  Shame is not helpful in any proven study regarding any desired behavior.  Shame is not love.  And love is god, and god is love, and those who love are of god.  So, if you insist on shaming others, you are not of god.

Love = divine.  Shame = not divine. (For those who would like this boiled down to its most basic expression.)

So, let’s all stop trying to shame others and call it something we do in Jesus’ name.

And let’s all recognize that trying to shame people like me, who have come to understand the will of the divine in this open and free and beautiful way, is a waste of precious time.  Maybe hug your grandkids or knit a scarf instead, or do something that expresses love and grace and equity and peace to those less fortunate than you (as Jesus also suggested), but without superiority and judgments and shame (which Jesus never suggested, and instead taught against).  Let’s spend less time assessing my yoga pants and sex and spend more time assessing ways to reduce violence against women and inequity in our justice system and the increasing gap between the rich and the poor and the ways that our current support system isn’t supporting the people who need the most support.

I sometimes wonder what troubles we could eliminate if we put into Alzheimer’s research, or new mental health care facilities and programs, or access to fresh vegetables all the same energy I see being spent on demanding less yoga pants and decrying the (very legal) right to choose what happens inside a person’s own uterus. What if we cared about the 2,114 people who have been shot in Chicago (as of yesterday…today it will likely be higher) this year as much as we did about the shape of a buttock or the type of birth control a couple chooses or the number of meat packers who happen to have come from Mexico? What if we spent our energy on loving meat-packing Mexicans and loving couples and loving my buttocks?  How would that change the world?  (I do have a rather amazing ass, by the way.  It deserves much love.)

I would much rather express love than refrain from sex.  I would much rather choose peace than promote conflict.  I would much rather be the divine than shame the poor or the addict or the disabled or the person who has less understanding on a subject I may have studied extensively or any that may be deemed “less fortunate” (though when you begin to be love and grace and peace, your idea of “less” can be transformed in myriad ways).

So, I leave you with this question:  Do you speak in Jesus’ shame, or are you of the divine?

 

Blank Space

 

I spend a lot of my life looking at blank space these days.  The empty bed where my dad slept the last few days when he visited.  The gap left in my rear molar when the rest of it decided to suddenly crunch its way out of my face.  The empty lot where a neighborhood house was recently demolished.  A whole lot of other space that just seems to need filling.

But the space that frustrates me most is the blank whiteness of my screen/page when I write two or three paragraphs and then cannot write more.

I’m not sure why this space is so oppressing and so frustrating, but it is so. Perhaps it is because the page mimics my life.  I’m not sure what comes next, and I look out into this blankness, unable to discern a clear path to the next line, or paragraph, or page, or chapter in my book (both literally and proverbially).  I’m faced with the blank space where once there was a whole list of opportunities not to be missed.

When my dad was visiting last week he talked about how it didn’t make sense for people to wait for “someday” to do the things they dream of, and he keeps encouraging people to have their adventures and follow those dreams now.  This idea wraps around him now, adding regret to his grief.  I know that my parents kept putting away money for someday, and someday didn’t come. Sickness and death came instead.  Returning to the Netherlands, vacationing in warm places, going to the grandkids’ music programs and graduations and possibly even weddings—all these are lost to my mother, and many of them don’t carry the same joy they once did for my father, since they dreamed such dreams together and now if he does adventure, he does so without her at his side.  I trust he will adventure, but it will always be bittersweet.

As Dad was saying all of this about not waiting and seizing the moment, I realized that many of my saved-for-someday moments were already unreachable.  They have already escaped my grasp.

Chronic illness and chronic pain steal so many moments.

I already know I may never be able to afford a house, a trip outside the U.S. (much less leaving the continent), or the travel and adventure I imagined in my youth.  And I also look at the possibility of finding a partner and the possibility of fulfilling work with doubt and concern, where once I wore the rose-colored glass of a healthy woman—sure that all the good things would come in time and I would one day have my dreams come true.

Now I just look forward and see that blank white space.  I don’t dare dream for things that will always be out of reach.  I don’t know what I might be able to accomplish in this day, much less in the rest of my lifetime.  And I don’t see the possibility as much as I see the pain.  The pain is hard to deny.  The loss is difficult to deny also, but the pain…it fills every moment.  Blank space and pain.

In recent weeks I have tried very hard to find the positives in my life, and to seek out ways to add positives.  I joined a gym with a pool.  I worked on my writing course a bit.  I deleted negative voices filled with doubt, judgment, and general toxicity from my sphere (aka, my Facebook page).  I colored mandalas.  I started a new art project.  I rearranged some things in my home to create a small “sanctuary” space where I can meditate and do yoga or stretching with ease.  I did all the good things.

And yesterday, after writing and swimming and leaving my house and getting some sun and having a massage and creating and doing all the good, I couldn’t move.  Don’t misunderstand and think that I did all the good in one great motion, and that I overexerted myself into pain.  That is not the case.  Instead, I did all the things that are good for me, in moderation and over some length of time.  I did all the things that should, according to the experts, be helpful and good.  And I ended up in tears and debating a trip to the emergency department in the night.

And then, in a painkiller plus muscle relaxer plus anti-inflammatory plus alcohol state of acceptance (which allowed me to stop considering the emergency room), I realized that I was being foolish in the sense that I was seeking to win a fight with my illness.  It isn’t uncommon for people to call themselves “warriors” or “fighters” in the sense that they fight their symptoms and their illness.  I think it makes us feel better to believe that we can win.  But my chronic illness can’t be beaten to death without beating me to death, I suppose.  And that doesn’t seem like a good end to my story.

I think that my story should end with good and gratitude and love and joy and peace.  That is what I want to fill that blank space.  I don’t want to fill it with tales of fighting and losing and fighting and losing and fighting and losing and then dying.  I want to fill it with laughter and hugs and a full heart and mind and spirit.  And deep down, I know that means accepting pain and living with it, not fighting against it.  The warrior mentality isn’t one that I can easily rid myself of….Wonder Woman covers my desk and my walls and my coffee mugs.  And some of that warrior is still needed to accomplish life—to get out of bed and to stretch and to swim and to eat greens and to figure out a way to lower the cable bill while still accessing the next season of Game of Thrones on HBO, even when those things feel impossible. But, some of that warring needs to cease.  Fighting to write more or write faster, fighting to open that roasted red pepper jar that my hand isn’t strong enough to twist loose, fighting to hold onto any “American Dream” that still assaults me every time I see a realty advertisement, fighting to find love instead of letting it alight upon my life with beauty and grace—these wars need to end.

The thing about that blank space that we all need to recognize and embrace, is that it is blank.  It isn’t filled with our fears and doubts or our dreams and successes until we put them there.  Too often I let other people write my narrative, or I accept the narrative I think “should” be mine according to the socialization and assimilation that surrounds me.  What would happen if I embraced that white space on today’s page, and I accepted that whatever is written is mine to write?  At the end of the day, I write my own narrative.  My story is mine.  And I don’t need to be the warrior who overcomes her pain to run that marathon she wanted to run 20 years ago.  I can be the lover and the peacemaker and the best-selling author and the philosopher just as easily, and with just as much success and greatness.  Fighting has sort of been glorified for us, in American society (and others), as though the story need be one of overcoming the obstacles and working against all odds in order to be good and inspiring, but I am beginning to see my story more as one of accepting that the mountain in front of us needn’t always be there to be climbed.  It can be there to look at and enjoy, and then we can hop in the car and drive around that mountain.  We don’t need to kill ourselves trying to do what society calls success.  We can rename success.  We can begin to accept or deny challenges, based on what we want to accomplish and love and seek to add to our story.

I won’t be running any marathon.  I will hopefully continue to swim until 10 laps doesn’t hurt me anymore, but I won’t fight to get in all 10 every time I swim.  I can accept 4 laps for today.  And I can accept 4 laps forever and call that success if I recognize at some point that my body will never make 10.  Goals can change.  I don’t need to fight for something that hurts me.  I can just change my expectations and accept my limitations.  I may still buy a house someday.  I may still marry a lovely person and share life with him or her.  I might not.  But that won’t mean that my story is one of failure, because I am beginning to recognize that I write the ending, and if I believe that love and joy are the end goal, then there are a million roads I can take and still be the heroine of my story.  The blank space doesn’t need to frighten and frustrate and oppress, because it doesn’t need to be filled with fighting a losing battle.

I’m going to fill my space with wins.  I’m going to fill my space with choosing acceptance.  I’m going to fill my space with the knowledge that my disease affects me, but doesn’t own me.  I’m going to fill my space with loving others.  I’m going to fill my space with loving myself.  I’m going to fill myself with reorganizing the way I think of success and failure.  I’m going to fill my space with things I enjoy, whenever possible.  I’m going to fill it with beauty and grace and love and peace as often as I can.  I’m going to write my story as an adventure story with a happy ending, no matter that much of society would consider a woman who spends her days in pain and doesn’t overcome that pain a crappy story.  It isn’t theirs to write.  It is mine.

Don’t fear the blank space.  Embrace it.  Fill it and mold it and shape it and create it any way you choose.  It is yours.  And whatever your story may become, I know that I would love to hear it, and to share mine with you.  (I guess this post already begins to share mine with you.)  Let’s write our own narratives and share them with one another and with the world.  Let’s create a space where, no matter the circumstances of your life, your story is validated and appreciated.  Wouldn’t that be the most beautiful of endings?  Wouldn’t that be the best possible use of blank space?