Toxic 2.0

I don’t know how to do relationships.

Don’t get me wrong.  I know how to advise about relationships.  I’d make a great family therapist or marriage counselor.  I marry people—to one another, of course—in ceremonies, as the ordained minister with credentials recognized by the state.  Ask me about your relationship and I will give you fabulous advice about how to do your relationship well.

But the second I get involved with another human in an intimate relationship, I turn into a raging lunatic.

I literally chased a man the other night.

Ran after him.

Ran.

People, I don’t run. If a bear chases you, you lie down in a ball and protect vital organs.  If a person with a gun demands something of you, you give it to them.  If bullets start flying nearby, you get your body as flat to the ground and as behind cover as it can get, and you stay there.  Fuck running.  I have not run in years and I don’t intend to start now.  But I ran to catch up with a man who was running away from me.  Literally.

It’s like I give out some sort of inaudible and unintended signal that can only be heard by people who will help me create crazy in my life. A dog whistle of sorts emanates from my person.  (Granted, we usually also create crazy in the bedroom, which is amazing and which I love with an intensity only matched by that of my orgasms.  So, there are definitely perks.)

But I cannot figure out how not to be the most insecure woman on the planet when it comes to being in a relationship of a romantic nature.  And even if the person I start the relationship with is totally secure, normal, and stable at the beginning, I make them nuts by the time we are a couple of months in, because my crazy is so intense that it spreads like a virus.  And I’m not sure how to stop that.

I can keep you from getting my herpes, but not my insane, obsessive notions that I am unlovable and not good enough and being “punked” every time you attempt to love me well.

I constantly think I am being tricked into something.  Into what, I do not know.  But I am convinced there must be some form of deception happening.  How could there not be, given my history?

It’s strange, because I see great models of what a “good man” is all around me.  And I don’t mean that bullshit “real men _____” that accompanies toxic masculinity and the vomitorium that is men’s rights groups.  The last thing I need in my life is some controlling, machismo, hyper-masculine ass.  I’ve been with that.  It didn’t go well.

When I say “good man”, I mean a balanced, thoughtful, feminist, who cares about the world and the people in it, and treats all people with respect, but offers an extra layer of that care and love to the partner in his life.  My dad is one of these people, though he might not love that I call him “feminist” (I mean that you believe in equal rights for all people, Dad—which I know you totally do.)  My “brother”, Adam, is one of these people.  My friend, Luke, is one of these people.  Andrew, Allan, Josh, Brian, Bryan, Matt, Joshua, Dan, Phillip, James, Ted, David, and the list goes on.  Not to mention the long list of good women out there who model great personhood and great partnership for me to follow.

So, I see these good men and women, and then I think I pick one of these good men or women out of the lot of single people out there around me, and then things go really well for the first month, and then…

Then my mind starts to play the game where it thinks that I am not enough, so I need more and more evidence that I am enough.  So, I cling and I push and I beg and I get all sorts of unreasonable.  I know I am doing it on some level, I think.  I used to try to deny it and to believe that I was constantly being gaslighted. (Not that I was never being gaslighted, because there was lots of gaslighting going on in my history, just not at the times that I was creating the problem.)  Now I am more aware of it, and I have come to accept that I have a nervous attachment style—I need lots of assurance that the person I am with wants to be with me and considers me enough.

It has taken a long time for me to consider that valid—that need for assurance.  But it makes all of the sense that I would need extra assurance, given the fact that I was locked into abusive cycles for much of my relationship history, and those cycles told me repeatedly that I was not worthy or enough.  Now, I just sort of wait for the person I am with to start that cycle of abuse.  And when they don’t, I start to become confused and anxious and weird.

That sounds stupid.  To put the words on the page feels really strange.

To admit that I become confused, anxious, and weird when nobody starts a cycle of abuse is terrible.

It is sad.

It is devastating.

But it is so true.

So, I think that I have started it myself.  I have convinced myself that now is about the time that my partner should start to treat me poorly, so I make comments or do things that cause conflict.  I get angry that he leaves to go to his on-call job—even though I know he is on call.  I ask if he is embarrassed to be seen with me, when he and I have just been walking down the street hand in hand.  I push when he asks me to pull.  I go when he asks me to stop.  I accuse him of not wanting to be with me when he is with me.  I do the weirdest things, because I think that conflict should happen now, and he isn’t starting it.

I’m breaking my own heart and blaming him for doing so.

Let’s be fair—bad men broke me.  The toxicity of relationships prior to now was all their fault, and not my fault at all.  I was captive, beaten, raped, assaulted, and abused in all sorts of ways.  They are responsible for that.  And part of that toxicity is seeping into my present, so they are also partly responsible for what is going on with my relational challenges today.  There is no doubt that the breaking that was done before is still affecting me now, and some parts might always stay broken.

But what worries me now is that I fear that I have become toxic.  What worries me today is that my only way of being in relationship has been the way of toxicity, and I might not know how to be other.  I might not know how to be the partner I expect my partner to be, because of the brokenness that lingers and the places that are still wounded and scarred.

What if I have become the face of my enemy?  An enemy that I was in love with, and whom I thought was in love with me, by the way, so I somehow tie love to the war that we were fighting inside our home—inside our life together.  What if I can’t figure out how to love without warring?

How do I love without warring?

I suppose that is the question for which I need an answer.

And that question isn’t easily answered.  Because you can give me the facts and the formulas, and you can tell me how to move forward without warring, and you can tell me how to love well, but that doesn’t mean that my psyche knows how to follow that instruction.

We all have certain areas in life where we act somewhat automatically.  Muscle memory is an example of this.  You don’t keep thinking through the way that you are swinging a bat or whisking some eggs or signing your name or rocking the baby.  Your body remembers those sensations and it starts to do them automatically, without you having to use up conscious thoughts about how or when you perform particular movements.  Your body does the things.

And I have some sort of “muscle memory” about the way I do relationships.  Doing them differently takes rewriting the code that is already imbedded in my brain.  It’s like trying to become left-handed after 44 years of having a dominant right hand.  It’s nearly impossible, and it is excruciatingly difficult and hella frustrating.

It sucks.  And I’m not certain that I am capable of making such a huge change.   I am certain that making that change soon enough to salvage my current relationship will be some sort of miracle, because I have already pushed it beyond a point where anyone should decide to continue trying to love me, know me, or understand me.  Once you literally chase a man down the street, things are likely beyond repair.  If this man returns and states that he wants to keep trying to be in relationship with me, I will likely wonder what is wrong with him, and only become more suspicious.  What kind of man would date someone so crazy??!  Not a balanced, normal, secure man with healthy boundaries, right?

See, I am already planning the next wave of mistrust before I have cleared up the chaos of the last one.  I’m a fucking mess when it comes to doing relationships.

Was I single for twenty years because I was focused on other things, or was I single for twenty years because I knew that this was how messed up inside I was feeling, and how poorly dating would go once I began to pursue it?  It was definitely simpler to have short-term affairs with people in close proximity whom I didn’t find attractive as long-term partners.  It was also morally ambiguous at best, and using people to fulfill my needs in a selfish and terrible way when you didn’t put a positive spin on things.  But it got me through and kept me from having to address all of the things that I am putting on paper now.

It kept me from having to face my insecurity, my dependence on cycles of the past, my inability to move forward in healthy ways, my desire not matching my state of mental health, and the deep and difficult work that I still need to do to find balance and some semblance of “normal” in my life and relationships.  Letting go of that buffer and finding myself leaning into loving someone has opened up all of those things and put my face right up in that shit.  I don’t want to look at it.  I don’t want to deal with it.

It isn’t that I don’t want a healthy, long-term relationship.  I do.  It is just that I have been doing the hard work of dealing with the effects of my past for so many years now, and I am very, very, very tired of doing that hard work.  Opening up my heart to someone means opening up a new set of vulnerabilities and challenges and problems and ugly truths that I need to work hard to overcome.

I am so tired of having to overcome shit.

I am so tired of having to overcome shit.

That wasn’t a typo.  I literally needed to write that twice, because it is doubly true.

It isn’t fair that I am forced to overcome all sorts of evils and errors and offenses and other things that other people placed upon me—things that I did not and would not choose.  I keep fighting to clear away terrible things that I never gave consent for in the first place.  I have to work to fix what other people broke.  I have to deal with things that were forced into my life, and the perpetrators who forced this upon me, for the most part, work at nothing.  Most of them have jobs, partners, good health, financial security, and what look like lives of happiness and fulfillment.  Granted, things aren’t always as they seem, so I won’t claim with certainty that none of them are haunted by their past or struggling in some way.  But I can say that they have much that I do not, and that I do not have those things because of the consequences of their actions.  I need to overcome the consequences of their actions.  And it looks as though they need to overcome very little.

I know that life isn’t fair.  I can hear my mom’s voice saying it each time I think to myself or say to someone, “It isn’t fair.”

My mom would always be quick to remind me that life isn’t fair.

But maybe it should be fair.

Maybe those men who did the bad things should have to make reparations of some kind.  Maybe those men should have been punished for their crimes against me, instead of rewarded by a system that honors the white man above all things and casts victims to the curb as though they were not human.  Maybe I should have been protected from the abusers, or given an opposing perspective, at the very least, so that I didn’t grow up to believe that I am worthless and unlovable and cursed and terrible and shouldn’t be alive.

But life wasn’t fair, and none of those maybes became realities. So, I muddled through the unfairness with my toxic thoughts until I became the maker of my own chaos.  When nobody else was here to tell me how worthless I was, I told myself.

And now that a person is getting close enough to love me, I am showing him that I am too messed up to be lovable.  He didn’t say it, so I said it for him, by chasing him down the street.

He came by to check on me the next day and asked me to forgive him for arguing with me.  He asked me to forgive him! He took the blame for my actions.

I offered him forgiveness.  Things have been strained and he has been a bit distant since then.

I text him periodically, asking if he still wants to be with me.  He replies by saying that he is very busy at work and very tired, but he will call me as soon as he can.

I’m trying to choose to believe that he is very busy with work, and that this is all there is to the story—the truth being the text taken at face value.  But there is a part of me that wants to create all sorts of scenarios where that text isn’t true, and he is using work as an excuse to keep his distance until he can fade out of my life without fear of some sort of crazed retribution.

And, honestly, this post doesn’t end with a nice little resolution and a happy, encouraging anecdote, because the story here is just what I stated:  I’m trying to believe what he told me is true when the “muscle memory” inside of me is screaming objections at that belief.  My mind is shrieking mistrust, and that is how it will continue, unless or until I can find a way of changing that part of my mind and the perspective on my history that leads it.

The truth of the past and the truth of the present are warring.  So, no, I haven’t figured out how to love without warring, because a war is happening inside of me every moment.  Even if I don’t fight with the one I love, I need to fight with myself to keep on trusting and to not let the ones who broke me in the past break my present, and my future.

At the end of this post I am still where I was at the beginning:

I don’t know how to do relationships.

…but I am trying to find a way.  And that is progress of some kind, I hope.

 

 

 

 

UPDATE:

Last night the chased man (definitely not the chaste man–to be clear) called and asked me what I wanted for dinner.  I chose burgers, and he took me out to the best local spot for burgers.

While we ate, I was telling him about the article I wrote about our wild night and big fight and how I feel about being incapable of positive, healthy relationship where I don’t push him into madness and create chaos.  And he said, “I’m going to stop you right there.  No.  No.  There was rum involved.  And nothing you did created that situation.  You didn’t do that. You didn’t do anything.  I know that I shouldn’t be drinking, and I have not had any liquor since the moment I left you that night, and you didn’t … no.  Just no.  Don’t put that on yourself.  Don’t even think that for a second.  I heard you say to me you forgive me, is that still true?”

I nodded in agreement, a tear rolling down my cheek.

“And you did nothing wrong, but if you feel you did I forgive that too.  I think that we can work through this.  I think that we are going to be fine.  I still want to make this work, and I believe that it will.  Unless you don’t want me around anymore?”

“I don’t want that,” was my quick and impassioned retort.  “I want you with me.”

“Then I am with you.  I would never deliberately abandon you.  I would never try to harm you. I am with you.”

And all of the anxious attachment needs were met, and all of the wrongs felt righted, and dinner was lovely, even with tears in my eyes.

Maybe I overestimate my power to destroy things, and maybe I underestimated the power of this man to care for me well.

Later he took me up on a rooftop, high above all the neighboring buildings, and we watched the fireworks.  It was the most amazing display I have ever witnessed!  Perched above the city, as we were, we could see the shows put on at each beach, downtown, in the suburbs, and in the nearby neighborhoods.  It was a 360-degree canvas bursting with light and sound, the winds starting to come up off the lake cooling our bodies, stripping down to our skivvies and dancing to his music and lying on my blanket and laughing.  It was one of the most beautiful nights of my life.

The truth of the past and the truth of the present may still be warring.  They may always be warring.  But nights like these—when someone meets my fear and my failure and my feelings head on and not only answers with the best response but shows me something so positive to replace the negative in my mind—can do something that I hadn’t considered before now.

Nights like these can rewire the brain.  Nights like these can form new memories.

And enough of these nights, added together, can make new muscle memory.

They can reform my system of beliefs about relationships and brokenness and trust and truth and love and commitment.  They can rid my body and my mind of the toxins and replace them with healthier things.

I couldn’t imagine that before last night.

Now I can.

I guess there is a happy, encouraging anecdote after all!

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I Should Be Packing Right Now

The journey to this moment has been long and hard and chaotic and sometimes frightening.  So, now that I am here, I am paralyzed.

This is certainly not the first time that I have fought my way through all sorts of trauma to find myself safe on the other side and stuck.  Just stuck.  It is like my self doesn’t know how to handle “normal” living. Which should not be surprising to anyone who knows me or my story well, because the great majority of my living has been disordered and chaotic and traumatic and totally fucking wrong.  It isn’t a shock to suddenly feel all weird and confused by normalcy and calm.

But it is a problem.

Sometimes you meet people in life whom you believe create drama.  I’m not one of those people, but I do believe that they exist. I understand why people could believe that I am one of those people, however.  Because I share a lot of characteristics with those people, I am sure.

I don’t create drama.  I’m not running around seeking problems and hoping to add them to my list of affairs.  But I do have a life that attracts many dramatic or uncommon or challenging events.

For instance, this past weekend I discovered that my daughter’s father may or may not be the biological child of the man that he and we have believed him to be the son of for many years.  And I found this out from the adult child of that man, whose stories while she was growing up, completely estranged from the “other family” the man had previous to the family he shared with her mother, are the proofs that we have for this new information.  Is he my daughter’s grandfather?  Not according to him.  But that doesn’t change much other than the storytelling gene might be really strong among the men of this particular family.  Or it could change everything, and my daughter, and the father she has never met and does not want to, might have a totally other family they are completely unaware of out there in the world.  And the grandmother she never met—who then is more unfaithful and dishonest a woman than we imagined, which is saying something—is the only one who would know the truth, assuming she is still living (as I mentioned, we don’t exactly keep in touch with her dad’s family).

See.  This creates all sorts of fucking drama.  I don’t want it.  I don’t need it.  It is confusing and chaotic and leads to all sorts of questions that I don’t know whether to answer or leave alone.  And it doesn’t just involve me, but a woman who may or may not be an aunt to my daughter, and a man who may or may not be her grandfather, and a daughter who may or may not want to know the answer to whether or not they are or whether there is an entirely other family out there somewhere.  But then, how do I help her find that identity if we have no way of accessing that information without contact with a family we don’t want to have contact with?

There is an aspect of the life I am now living that creates this complication.  It isn’t necessarily a simple choice to be or not be in the midst of drama.  Sometimes drama comes for you, and you need to figure out if there are any ways to avoid it, or ways to tackle it without becoming completely absorbed by it.

My therapist likes to say, and I am getting good at saying it before she reminds me, that there is “no such thing as normal”.  All of us have some things in life that others cannot relate to exactly.  All of us have some things in life that are relatable to almost everyone.  But there isn’t one way of living life, and there isn’t one way of living it correctly, certainly.

I know, however, that much about my life is uncommon or not very relatable for a majority of the people that I encounter on a day to day basis.

Not many of us can say that we were abused by a relative from a very young age and for an extended period of time, causing us to develop a complex form of PTSD that acts much like the trauma of captivity in terms of brain malformation, and because that disability and that abuse were not discovered or appropriately handled until well into adulthood, repeated traumas of all sorts were added on top of that early trauma, leaving layers and layers of trauma and pain and suffering and alienation and mistrust.  So many layers.  And then, because that trauma was not dealt with appropriately and all those layers were trying so hard to be forced into alignment with “normal” or at least “average” living during the everyday, our bodies took on that trauma and turned it into physical disease.  Or at least that is one theory, and one that I can easily wrap my malformed captivity brain around.  So, in the prime of our lives, as our little birds leave the nest, and we can go out and do anything we want, we are actually left with the option to A) live according to the very strict and challenging rules of the state regarding disability income and expense, letting decisions be made by another in most cases and feeling like we still have no agency all these years after abuses can supposedly no longer reach our bodies, or B) suffer and die.

And all the “normal” people will think that statement is overly dramatic.  But they don’t have the life where the drama attacks you in the calm of a sunny Saturday afternoon when you see a message about a man named Marvin.  They have lives without disordered thinking and layers and layers of trauma.  They have working dominant hands.  They have sisters who answer the fucking phone when they call—for the third time, to wish her happy birthday.  They don’t freeze when things seem good or average or positive.

They call that fucking Wednesday!

Wednesday.

To me it is like hell freezing over.  And, granted, the temperature in Chicago this week could probably freeze hell.  So, maybe that happened.

I don’t generally have the luxury of a normal day with positive normal things happening.  There aren’t many days when some aspect of depression, anxiety, trauma, abuse, addiction, violence, poverty, pain, or some other messy, bad, or unfortunate thing is having an effect on me or the things around me.  And it isn’t that other people don’t also have these struggles.  I know that they do.  I know many people who have similar struggles.  But I know very few people who have ALL of these struggles.  And the compounding effects are significant.

I carry the weight of a hundred traumas—not just three or four.  So, a trauma-free day?  That just doesn’t exist for me.  I cannot imagine it.  And it frightens the hell out of me.

I know that the more I work in therapy, and the more I work to repair or bypass the disordered thought processes that have become normative for me, and the more remedies and treatments I discover, and the more I work to deconstruct what others have crafted and build for myself a self and a life that I love, the more I will have days that are free of these traumas.  At some point, I may even become accustomed to “normal” or “average” days.  (God, I hope not! Lol) But I am not there yet.

So, while I should be rejoicing in the fact that I probably have an apartment, and that all the pieces of the puzzle are fitting together for my move to the northside, where it is safer and I am closer to amenities and friends, I am, instead, writing this.  Because, I have been packing for months through chaos and threats from my landlord, but now that I have the promise of new owners and another lease, I don’t know what to put in a box.  I’m completely stymied by the normalcy of it.

Can I really be getting a decent apartment in a good neighborhood?  Can that be true?  Can I be inside the margin?  Am I allowed that?

Or is the bottom going to fall out and the earth is going to swallow me up, proving that hell hasn’t actually frozen over, but it was just waiting for me to be lulled into a false sense of security before it devoured me?

That question would sound like insanity … except for the fact that the bottom has been dropping out and hell devouring me for the last 35 years.

Yes.  I should be packing right now.  And by later today, or at least tomorrow morning, I likely will be, but for the moment I am processing this news slowly and cautiously—not wanting to get too happy too hastily, just in case.  Not to believe in the good before the good proves itself to be existent.

Yes, people of the Jesus-loving variety, I know what faith is and I need no proof-texting from the book of Hebrews.  I graduated from two seminaries.  But that definition means nothing to the malformed captive brain.  Only proof of the existence of the good works, and the only good guaranteed is that which comes from within, frankly.  I can only control me.

And you can’t control me either, so that is probably a good point to state, just in case that isn’t self-evident.

I don’t make life complicated.  It made itself complicated over time.  And it now doesn’t become easy because I want it to become such.  I don’t create drama.  My life has had lots of events that were traumatic and the traumatic brings along the dramatic.  The trauma doesn’t disappear because I want it to, and the drama doesn’t either.  I need to deal with them, cope with them, work through them.  And that takes time and hard work.

I don’t actually believe that my apartment with fall into hell.  I don’t believe in a literal hell, so that can’t be a thing I believe.  (I wrote a paper on it once for one of the classes in one of the seminaries.  I received high marks.)  But I do believe that the world should be kinder to those of us who have struggled much in our histories as we seek to find stasis in our present.  It isn’t as easy as it looks.

It is easy to believe that walking on flat, solid ground takes no effort if you have never been out at sea.

Stasis isn’t a given in a life that has been largely characterized by turbulence.  And choosing stasis isn’t easy when turbulence feels more natural.  Choosing the unnatural thing continuously until it no longer feels abnormal, or hard, or foreign is a great burden.

Change of any kind is difficult.  But changing patterns in this manner—taking what feels wrong and trying to tell your brain over and over that it is right, despite all sorts of triggering objections, is excruciating.

Packing right now is a devastating choice.  It means hope beyond all telling, and if things go wrong and this apartment doesn’t happen, it means pain that I cannot ever express—not ever … I don’t have the physical capacity to express it and even now, imagining having to express it at some point makes me feel like I must vomit.  That is what this means to me.  That is what choosing stasis means to me.  That is what “doing the normal thing” has invested in it.  I feel like my head might explode and I want to vomit—that is what normalcy is doing to me right now!

I’ll do it.  I’ll get there.  But after almost 5 years of therapy, with 20-some medications, and in the best physical and mental state I have been for some time, this is still an excruciating moment.  So, the next time you cannot understand why your child hasn’t finished their spelling homework, or your neighbor is dating another loser, or your grandpa gets all weird when you mention that son he rarely talks about remember this post.  Remember that sometimes choosing normal is extremely difficult and painful.  No matter how much being and having something—anything— “normal” is what we want.

Be kind to one another.  And for heaven’s sake somebody come over and help me pack these fucking boxes!!   lol

When Comes the Night

“There are low points. There are going to be low points. And if you can take me at the high points, then you also need to take me at the low points. That’s what I have to say.”

My daughter uttered these words with passion and much arm movement a few moments ago. She was preparing to go seek out a job. An acquaintance told me to have her come in and talk with him about a possible position at the business he manages, so she was on her way there to see what that talk would bring about. We both have high hopes that it brings about a job!

She has been looking for a while now. And the longer you look, the harder looking becomes. Many of us have been in that position. The more rejection you suffer, the more difficult any risk of future rejection is to attempt. You start to feel tainted or insufficient in some manner. It’s not a good feeling. And she has been feeling it.

Today she was expressing what I have been feeling as well.

I’ve been struggling with my mental health. I’ve had suicidal ideation—not active plans for death by suicide, but the hopelessness and the feeling that there isn’t a reason to keep living—for a few weeks now. I’m working hard to use my psychological “tool box” of coping strategies to keep myself from slipping farther into deep depression and to find some hope. But it is a huge challenge.

And life keeps moving on, even though I am feeling this way.

Bills keep coming in. Appointments keep popping up on my calendar. Responsibility still beckons me to take care of things and be an “adult”.

I’m at a really low point.

I think that the last time I was this low was more than three years ago. And the time before that, maybe another four. And then two years before that. And eight before that.

I can keep walking it back to age 19. And I know that there were extreme low points before that, but 19 is the age where I start remembering those low points with some detail.

Age 19. Phillip. Night work at the bakery. Drinking—so much drinking. Jealousy. Sadness. Remembering, and nightmares, and not knowing how to understand or cope with any of that. Dropping out. Being called a liar. Weird interactions with men. Being called a slut. More drinking. Breaking up. Wanting to be dead. Learning to use wanting to be dead as a manipulative tool. (Something I would later need to work hard to unlearn—and that tempts me even today, because people finally seem to give a shit when you say the word “suicide”.) Crying. Lots and lots of crying. William. Feeling sick. Not the flu kind of sick, but that empty hole in the center of your being feeling of sick. More drinking. More crying. Running away to find some sort of escape, but framing it in a “new beginning” or “starting over” or “opportunity”, only to run to the next place and the next thing a year later.

It isn’t always as bad now as it was that first time that I remember in detail. Mostly because I now have that psychological “tool box” to draw upon for coping strategies, and I have medication, and a concrete diagnosis, and a weekly therapy session. But it is still bad.

If you take me at my high points, you have to take me at my low points.

But people don’t, do they?

Time after time I am left alone when the low point hits. Time after time the bottom falls out of the relationship when I hit a deep depression. Time after time I am alone when the bank balance hits the red “danger days” of overdraft. Time after time I am raising that child alone—okay just one child, one time, but it feels like a thousand times because you keep doing it every day, and keep doing it long beyond childhood, because the words uttered today were uttered by a 20-year-old daughter, who is an adult, fiercely independent and desperate to prove she can make life better than life was when it came to her.

When my daughter was young, we had a rule for birthday invites. She was only allowed to invite to her celebrations those people whom she believed would also show up to her moments of greatest sorrow. That rule always led to a house filled with random people from all the corners of our lives. Family, my friends, her friends, people from church, people from school, people I worked with, people in our neighborhood. A diverse group who were not connected to one another except through their bond with us came together each year, and met and talked and learned about one another’s lives. It was always a great joy. Later, when she was a pre-teen, we abandoned that rule. Every birthday since has been a source of disappointment or challenge—people didn’t show up, or fought amongst themselves, or broke things in her room, or any number of weird things. The moment we stopped allowing only those who would mourn with us to celebrate with us was the moment that the parties started being stressors and not joys.

As I think about my life now, and I think about the joys and the sorrows, I look back to those parties. I remember that rule, and I wonder why I didn’t work harder to apply it to my own life and relationships.

I am a person who loves deeply, and without many prejudices. (We all have some prejudices, and being honest and forthcoming about those biases is the best way to combat and cope with them.) I offer love to all sorts of people whom others might fear or look upon with shame or judgments. And I think at times that openness has been a place where my armor is weak. Love flows out, and blades of dishonesty, violence, manipulation, or some other bad thing can be forced into that space with greater ease. Being open-hearted means being vulnerable, in some ways. And when I stopped considering who would be there in the low points, but let people join me in the high points, regardless of where they were when I was struggling, I left myself vulnerable in unhealthy ways.

Where were those people in the low points? I don’t really know. They had an excuse for not being with me, of course. But those excuses started to pile up to the point where I felt used instead of loved. And maybe I was. I probably was.

Because for some reason I give people the benefit of the doubt. I assume that they love in the ways that I love. I assume that they stay through joys and sorrows. I assume that they offer love without conditions and avoid judgment and shame. But they don’t.

I love that way. They don’t. (Or at least most of them don’t, or none of them have thus far in regard to my romantic relationships.)

I have people in my life who do love that way. When my mom died two years ago, there were people who came to the wake and the funeral who were there just to see me and support me. I hadn’t lived in that town for several years, but there were a few people who loved me deeply and truly—in joys and in sorrows—who knew that I needed them to be there in that low point. They wanted to be there with me in that low point. I cannot express how much that meant.

Lately, I feel just as my daughter has been feeling—like she was emphatically stating today. If you take me at the high point you need to take me at the low point. And the reason that statement came from her lips is because there are people in her life who are not there at the low points. There are too many people who want the joys but not the sorrows. I feel overwhelmed with the number of people who are not there in my sorrows.

And I should probably look on the bright side. I should probably see the people who are present and loving me through this very low point. But that isn’t what my mind and my heart focus on easily or naturally. What they focus on is the lack of support. What they see is the lone wolf, fighting her battle without a pack to cover over the weakness or the fatigue or the blind spots in her vision—leaving her vulnerable to attack and making it nearly impossible for her to win the fight and survive the day.

Or, rather, survive the night. Because day isn’t what I am struggling with. I am struggling with the darkness. The depths. The most difficult. And that is the space that so few will enter alongside me. That is the place that people don’t wish to go—the arena in which they cannot support me.

I always find it intriguing (and sometimes find it infuriating) that when I post on social media about my financial need or updates about my disability hearing, people do not respond in any way, but when I post a picture of my freshly cut or colored hair a hundred people will “like” the post. Pretty, clean, happy-looking Christy garners support. Poor, struggling, sick-looking Christy gets far less attention. But the poor and struggling and disabled me is the me that needs the most support, not the me on happy days with well-styled hair. People love my joys, and disappear during my sorrows.

When the night comes, people run and hide behind their doors in “safety”. When the night comes, people distance themselves. When the night comes, people offer platitudes in public and judgmental gossip in private. When the night comes, the needy are left alone on the dark street, fending for themselves. And “joy comes in the morning” for those who wake to step out the door (and didn’t have to face the night) with far more ease than it comes for those who were battling through the darkness while you slept in peace. Yes, we have joy that we survived the night. But it is always tempered with the knowledge that we will likely have to endure the fight again when night falls.

My daughter texted that she got a job! Our joy is inexpressible! But it took months of sorrows to get to this day. And those don’t leave us just because of this joy. They linger. We remember the night. We know that we are inches from it at all times. And we know that many who will celebrate this joy were not there to offer love and support during the sorrow that preceded today’s good news.

It begs the question: Where are you when night falls?

Are you inviting the stranger into your home to find safety behind your walls? Are you in the streets protecting the others, who have no supports in this fight? Are you cowering in corners? Are you behind your own door, somehow believing that you deserve the security you have from the darkness because you are better or stronger or worked harder or behaved with greater morality than whomever might be fighting through the dark night of the soul?

No matter what I, myself, am fighting, I always fight for others.

That seems a bit ridiculous at times. I should put myself first, right? I have problems that need solutions. I need money, so I shouldn’t give my change to someone selling Streetwise on the corner. I am sick so I shouldn’t be hugging and holding the hand of the “dirty” homeless and addicts. I can’t take care of myself, so I shouldn’t take in others that need care. Right?

Wrong. I don’t know why I know with such certainty that it is wrong, but I know it. No matter how difficult my own situation, I cannot and will not lose my empathy and compassion for others. I will always help. I will always seek to ease pain for those around me. I will always try to save lives, bring comfort, offer security, and radiate love. Always. Even in the middle of my own dark nights. Even in my own very low points.

If you take me at the high points, you take me at the low points.

Don’t pretend you care and then not offer care. Don’t tell me you support me and then not give me support. Don’t say you love me and then not show love.

If you wouldn’t stand with me during my deepest, darkest, and most devastating sorrows, then do not stand beside me in my joys. You haven’t earned the right to my joys. You don’t deserve my best if you cannot accept my worst. And my worst is bad. It is really, really bad.

I still have suicidal ideation and hopelessness at the forefront of my mind. I still have significant need that isn’t being met. I still have all sorts of stressors and difficult decisions and challenges along my path, and I do not know how to address them or overcome them or cope with them. I’m still in the midst of the low point.

But I also have the opportunity to rejoice with my daughter over her news of employment at a place she is so excited to work. I still have the joy of celebrating the birthday of a dear friend this weekend. I still have the joy of discovering the offending medication that was making it impossible for me to do effective strength training, and to eliminate that medicine, so I could finally get a decent workout in this week. I have so many joys! They simply live in tandem with deep sorrows.

What is the point of this post?

I’m not entirely sure.

Maybe it is meant to whine about the ways that humanity is failing me. Maybe it is to set a boundary for myself, in writing. Maybe it is to offer a lesson to one of those reading, and to help them see that they are being “fair weather friends” and not true friends at all. Maybe it is just something that I needed to get off of my mind and onto some “paper”, so that I could stop playing it over in my mind, and get on with other tasks.

But I suspect that much of it is to give voice to what I have felt for a very long time—that nobody dares to know, to tolerate, or to manage the depths of my pain. They don’t know how. Or maybe they have never felt that low before and it feels terrible, so they stop. They leave me there in that pain, because it is so intolerable. And it is intolerable pain. Which is why there have been so many low points.

But if nobody ever finds the strength and the will and the compassion to join me there, I might never overcome. I might be stuck with that pain forever, or it might overwhelm me.

It is low. It is so low. And I know it is hard, because I feel it every single moment. It radiates through my body, and it poisons my life, and it hurts everything and everyone around me. That’s how low it is. But if I am ever to have joys to share with you, you need to find a way to join me in that sorrow.

If you are going to take me at my high point, you need to take me at my low point.

That’s what I have to say.

 

Five Common Arguments Against Watching 13 Reasons Why, and Why, as a Survivor, I Reject Them

 

Recently, the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why has created what I wish were helpful conversations on my Facebook feed.  But, more often than not, the people who are posting are educators of middle and high school students in small towns.  The reasons why I have those sorts of educators on my feed are simple—I used to live in those small towns.  But when I am looking at these posts, and reading the arguments against the series, I can’t help but become angry and frustrated with the content and the comments.

I am a survivor of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence.  I have complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and suffer from anxiety and depression.  I have a daughter who suffers from depression and anxiety, shows signs of post-traumatic stress (we don’t yet know for certain if she adopted those symptoms from being raised by me, or if she suffered some violence as a child that we have not uncovered).  Both of us have been suicidal.

Given my experience with these events and situations, I have a perspective that, I believe, needs to be expressed and heard by those small-town educators.  Because their reasons for not allowing students access to this series or the book that inspired the series are not, necessarily, informed reasons.

So, here are five common arguments against the show, and why I reject those arguments:

  1. Students are too young to see depictions of violence, assault, and suicide.

 

I can’t be certain when I started to be sexually abused, because I was a child, and I dissociated from those events.  What I can say with certainty is that I started exhibiting signs of acute trauma by age nine or ten, and I was suicidal by about the age of eleven.  My daughter first needed psychiatric care at age 9.  She was hospitalized by age 16, having struggled with major depression for over a year, and finally admitting her intention regarding suicide.

 

Students are not too young to see depictions of such violence, assault, and suicide.  Students as young as eight or nine years old are experiencing such violence, assault, and thoughts of suicide!

 

There is some sort of desire to ignore that our children are exposed to and experiencing things that we wish they were not exposed to or experiencing.  Even I, being fully aware of all the warning signs of mental illness, didn’t know that my daughter was experiencing certain symptoms until it was almost too late.

 

We don’t want our children to be suffering in this way, so we ignore the signs of that suffering—pretending that the bad things can’t be happening.

 

This does no good for our students.  This does no good for the whole of humanity.  Pretending problems don’t exist has never solved a single problem.  Wishing that our kids are too young to be harmed in this way—battered physically and psychologically, being taken advantage of, being pushed to a place where life is too hard to continue living, being abused, bullied, assaulted, raped—will not make it a reality.  It is ignorant to keep insisting that middle and high school students don’t see this violence every day.  They do.  They aren’t too young to watch a show that addresses issues that they are experiencing.  They certainly are not too young to watch a show that brings the possibility of identifying with characters that are suffering, when nobody else in their life or experience seems to understand or care about what they are going through.

 

As a child, I didn’t know where to turn with my pain.  As a teenager, I didn’t feel connected enough to anyone to admit how dark and dangerous my internal dialogue was becoming.  I pretended to be innocent and outgoing and “normal”, because nobody was talking about things like mental illness or suicide.  I felt completely divided and set apart from everyone around me.  I had nowhere to turn.

 

13 Reasons Why addresses these issues in what seems like a violent and shocking way.  But our children, our students, and the youth in our society are not protected from such violent and shocking events.  They are already experiencing this.  And the series gives them someone to identify with, and offers resources where they can receive help, should they identify with those who are being bullied, assaulted, or raped, and those who are considering death by suicide.

 

The honest address of common experience is not too dark and damaging for the young people around you.  It is an opportunity to feel heard and understood.  It is an opportunity to feel normal, in a society that wants to insist that this violence isn’t normal.

 

 

  1. “Counselors” are against youth watching the show.

 

This is an annoying argument, because there might be some truth to it, but that doesn’t necessarily make it good advice.  There have been several people who are school counselors or mental illness “experts” or social workers who have come out with statements or articles that offer their opinion of 13 Reasons Why.  Some of them say that watching these events can trigger or encourage negative behaviors.

 

This is partially true.  Watching events that you have experienced can trigger symptoms.  This doesn’t always happen, however, and it isn’t always a terrible thing.  Being in a controlled environment, knowing your own triggers, and being aware of the content ahead of time can all limit the triggering effects of viewing such events.

 

13 Reasons Why has very clear trigger warnings before each episode that will portray events that have the potential to harm those who identify closely with such events.  When we were watching the show, one such warning prompted my daughter to ask me if I wanted to watch.  She knew that it might be a difficult thing for me to see.  But I watched.  And I was very glad that I watched, even though it was a very challenging scene.

 

I later commented on a Facebook post that was basically a “counselor response” to the show.  I said that it was the most real and honest depiction of the event that I had ever witnessed.  I found watching the characters go through such events healing and validating, not triggering.

 

Some people will find these episodes and these images difficult.  Some people shouldn’t watch, if they are concerned about triggers.  But, for many who are survivors of such events, this is a show that offers an extremely honest view and allows you to connect to your own pain, your own struggle, and your own healing.  Will all teens be ready to address these issues with such realistic and graphic images?  No.  But will many of us, as survivors, finally feel heard and understood and supported by seeing such clear and unrestrained images?  Yes.

 

“Counselors”, as a blanket statement, could include school officials who haven’t had psychological training, really bad advisors (like the first “counselor” I had as an adult, who told me it wasn’t the fault of my abuser that he abused me, but that “curiosity” is normal), or excellent mental health care providers.  And these people are not knowledgeable regarding every case that might crop up.  There are numerous ways to connect with the material, and while one person might have a bad reaction to things, another might find it healing—as I did.  The point here is that there is no one appropriate or “correct” approach to content like that in 13 Reasons Why.  The best way to consider viewing is on a case by case basis, with the survivor being the one whose voice is heard and the survivor being the one who chooses to watch or not watch.

 

The most triggering movie that I ever watched was Captain Phillips.  It didn’t have any trigger warnings.  And it wasn’t about abuse or rape.  I saw (spoiler alert) Tom Hanks step onto a vessel that was rescuing him.  As he did, he—in an amazing performance—exhibited signs of trauma, because he had just suffered a significant trauma.  I began to weep and shake and shudder.  Seeing him show the shock and dissociation that PTSD sufferers go through, I was feeling all that the character was feeling.  It was awful.  And I may never watch it again, but even with the triggering and the awful feelings, that scene was an opportunity for me to acknowledge and make some sort of peace with my own suffering.

 

There is no way to know for certain what will and what will not trigger or affect a person.  But since bullying, sexual and physical assaults, and rape all have a common thread of taking away the autonomy of the victim, allowing each person to decide and be in control of what they choose to view and not view is important.

 

I’m not a “counselor”.  I’m a survivor.  So, I haven’t gotten a degree in psychology.  But what I do know is that autonomy and identification and validation are essential to healing and coping and overcoming events like those depicted in 13 Reasons Why.  A stranger who claims to have superior knowledge because of a few classes is not necessarily a help, because telling survivors what they can and cannot do, or see, or hear, or cope with can be a retraumatizing event.  We need autonomy.  We need to decide on our own.  And we need to cope with the support of others, not the demands of others.

 

  1. The show glorifies suicide.

I honestly can’t understand this argument against 13 Reasons Why.  I can’t understand how someone could watch such terrible events unfolding and think to themselves, “Wow, I think I should do that.  That is awesome!”

 

If you are suicidal, please seek help.  If you are not currently experiencing suicidal ideation, but have in the past, consider the trigger warnings and make an informed decision regarding whether or not you wish to view the show.  (Again, you deserve autonomy and get to choose the media to which you are exposed.)

 

That being said, the depiction of suicide in this show is horrible, violent, sickening, and shocking.  It is intentionally so.  The producers worked very closely with several medical professionals in their decision-making about how to best portray this event.  And it was intentionally depicted, and intentionally made very difficult to view, because it is a horrible thing.

 

I’ve heard some people say that the show could make kids think that suicide is a good way to get revenge on the people who hurt you.  I cannot comprehend how they come to that conclusion.

 

It is obvious that the main character is suffering from major depression, dissociation, flat affect, and more.  And the “suicide note” she leaves behind is deliberately affecting for those who harmed her.  However, every suicide note offers reasons why the one who died by suicide did so.   Often, those who are left behind to read that note feel guilt, remorse, and a sense that they failed the one who died.  It makes sense to feel that they failed the one who died, because after the life has been taken, you see the signs that you passed over when the person was alive.  You find the truth later.  You can’t always see the pain until the pain has become too much for the bearer of that pain to carry.

 

Hannah, the one who dies in the show, is hiding her pain as often as possible.  And there are good reasons for her to do so.  Earlier, I said that I pretended to be all sorts of things, because the admission that I was suffering from dark and dangerous suicidal thoughts was not something that I felt anyone would understand or accept.  I hid my pain.  I still do.

 

This combination of glossing over slights and hiding pain and suffering creates a perfect storm of struggle.  And the one who is struggling often feels alone in that struggle.

 

The depiction of suicide in this show is precipitated by all sorts of expressions and depictions of the pain that is being hidden and the opportunities missed for others to see that pain.  And it is the “note” recorded on 13 tapes that shows us all of that.  Suicide is an escape from pain.  Suicide is not an act of revenge.  Sometimes there may be an element of “I’ll show them” thought in the planning stages of suicidal ideation.  But that occurs largely because the one who dies by suicide has sought to express their pain on multiple occasions and has not been heard, not because there is a deliberate desire to harm those left behind.  Those left behind are completely cut off in the mind of the one who is considering suicide.  They don’t seem to be able to feel at all, because they can’t see your pain.

Suicide isn’t logical.  Suicide isn’t vengeful.  Suicide is the thing that you turn to when there is no other place to turn.  Hannah had at least 13 reasons to feel cut off from and ignored by her community.  She had at least 13 burdens to carry.  And that weight became too much to bear.

Watching her bear that pain, and watching her end her life because she could no longer carry the weight doesn’t glorify the act.  It makes the act sad and avoidable and gut-wrenchingly difficult to watch.  There is no glory in this show.  None.  There is no glory in that escape.  None.  There is no glory in her pain, or in the way she slowly but certainly breaks down completely, and loses the will to live.  None.

 

If you imagine that young people will watch this show and want to follow in the footsteps of Hannah, you should probably do a bit more research on suicide and suicide prevention.  Because it isn’t the act of death by suicide that you should be most concerned with.  You should be most concerned with the 13 reasons that brought Hannah to that point of desperation.  You should be most concerned with changing the behaviors and eliminating the threats that caused her to reach that point.  Suicide is terrible, but it isn’t really the point of the show.  The point is the reasons.  The point is that there were numerous events that should never have happened.  The point is the ways that her pain was caused and compounded and collected.  The point is not the suicide. The point is the many opportunities to care about others, instead of inflicting pain and violence, that were missed.  And focusing on those things can actually create change and reduce the incidence of suicide—not inspire more people to die by suicide.

 

  1. 13 Reasons Why is not for the vulnerable.

 

Another argument that I am confused by, as a survivor of abuses, is the idea that those who are “vulnerable” shouldn’t be exposed to the series.

 

I’m not certain what the definition of vulnerable, in the minds of others, might be.  It is defined as “susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm”.  And in my opinion, those who are most susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm are the ones who will most identify with, and find validation and acceptance in, 13 Reasons Why.

 

Hannah is susceptible.  But so is almost every other character in the book/show!  There are so many instances of bullying, abuse, rape, denial of harmful actions, misrepresentation, image ruining, slut-shaming, and more that it is amazing that they are all able to fit into one story.  There are numerous people who are suffering harm at the hands of others within the storyline.  There are numerous vulnerable people.

 

I identify with Hannah.  But I also identify with Clay, with Tony, Jessica, Alex, and Olivia.  They all have particular vulnerabilities, and they all experience suffering of some sort throughout the series.

 

I’ve already expressed how the choices about viewing triggering events should be left in the hands of the victims of abuse.  This includes those who are vulnerable.  Because if you are vulnerable, you have likely already experienced the things that are expressed in the episodes of this show.  If you are at risk, you are likely already suffering in some way.  And identifying with the characters in this show can offer much-needed validation of those sufferings and those vulnerabilities.  Connecting with a character can bring comfort and can offer perspective that isn’t always available to us as individuals within these situations.

 

One of the immense strengths of the show is that we see it unfold from the perspective of Clay, as well as from the perspective of Hannah.  And because we see it unfold from multiple perspectives, we can also gain multiple insights, alongside the characters in the tale.  When you are living in a state of vulnerability, or suffering, or abuse, it can be very difficult to see things from varying perspectives.  One perspective begins to shove out all other ways of thinking about the events.  We get tunnel vision.  This show lets those who are vulnerable, who are suffering, who are suicidal, who are being bullied, who have been assaulted or raped, look at the events unfolding from the outside, and allows us to gain perspective.  This is a good thing!

 

For those who have never experienced these events, I can see why you would want to seek to protect the vulnerable from difficult images and serious events.  But because we are vulnerable, we are likely already experiencing these things, and already feeling unprotected.  Allowing us to connect with these characters, and watch them navigate these horrors can be healing, and can offer us support.  Fictions of this type, which are so close to our own experience, can be healing and helpful, and not just damaging or dangerous.  You may not know how much the vulnerable need this connection.  You may be unaware that they need these characters to connect with and find validation.

 

  1. The show is so hopeless.

 

I’ve heard many say that this show isn’t good because it is hopeless.  It doesn’t have a happy ending.  The pain doesn’t go away, and there isn’t any resolution.

 

Exactly!!

 

If you are a person who thinks this show can’t be helpful because it doesn’t resolve the pain of the characters, then I encourage you to consider the life of a survivor of these events.

 

There is no resolution.

 

I was sexually assaulted in childhood.  I’m almost 43 years old.  Nothing has changed.  I’m still suffering from anxiety, depression, and PTSD.  I’m still in therapy.  I’m still on medication.  My abuser still sits across from me at the dinner table, on occasion.  I haven’t spoken to my ex-husband or ex-boyfriend who were violently abusive in many years, but their words still harm me at times.  I’m still aware of the ways that the neighbors and classmates and people in my community harmed me, and then blamed me for that harm.  I’m still an addict.  I’m still incapable of positive romantic relationships.  I’m still a loner, in many ways.  And I’m chronically ill in ways that will affect me for the rest of my life.

 

There is no resolution.

 

Life isn’t a story.  And if it were, it wouldn’t be a fairytale.  Fictions can resolve into nice little packages with happy endings, but life, and especially a life of vulnerability and suffering and abuse, doesn’t resolve in those ways.

 

The story is hopeless, except for Clay’s assertion near the end of the series that “this needs to change”.   The only hope is the fact that we need to begin to treat one another better, and to stop patterns of behavior that harm and break people.  The only hope is that those watching from the outside of this story, the viewers at home with their eyes glued to this drama, would understand the purpose of telling this tale—that we, the audience, need to take up that gauntlet and fight to change the way we treat one another.  We, the audience, are responsible for creating hope and affecting change and stopping these horrors from being acted out in real life.

 

My life is not filled with hope.  My life has not resolved into a neat little box of rainbow’s-end happiness.  My life is still filled with burdens that are difficult to bear.

 

A happy ending wouldn’t make 13 Reasons Why a better story.  A happy ending, filled with hope, wouldn’t inspire us toward change.  It would reinforce the idea that the pain goes away, and the effects aren’t all that bad, and we can ignore these injustices and let them resolve.

 

These injustices won’t resolve.  And the victims of this violence won’t have fairytale transformations.  The only way we get a happy ending is if we stop avoiding this pain, and stop insisting that we aren’t responsible to and for one another in our communities and in our world, and stop ignoring the ways that others are being harmed in every moment, and make the way we act and think and live better.  The only way we get a happy ending is by our own actions.

 

Because 13 Reasons Why is a critique of what we currently do and what we currently allow.  It is meant to give power to the young and vulnerable, and to affirm their circumstances are an injustice, and to demand that we do better at protecting one another.  This show is designed to teach us to stop physical and emotional attack or harm.  This show is pointing out our failures, and begging us to fix what is wrong in the way we treat one another.  This show is the truth we don’t want to see and acknowledge.

 

But refusing to see and acknowledge the truth helps none of us, so I encourage you to watch 13 Reasons Why, to cope with the horrific, graphic truth, and to acknowledge that up to this point, many of us have been a part of the problem.  Then, and only then, can we move forward and find and support effective solutions.

 

As long as some can abuse others without repercussions, we are not yet finding those solutions.  As long as some can abuse others, we are not allowed a happy ending.

 

Face the truth.  Watch Hannah Baker die.  Watch her community reel and spin out of control as they deal with the truths that her 13 reasons expose.  And then make certain that you aren’t letting this happen in your own community.

 

Stop injustice.  Validate suffering.  Heal wounds.  Listen to the victims.  Punish the perpetrators of violence.  And work toward a better world for all of us.

 

 

Like You Mean It

My daughter and I were having a conversation the other day about my marketable skills.

I will spare you the details and the discouraging situation that I find myself in regarding balancing health and finances.  If you have not already become familiar with that situation, hit up some earlier posts to get up to speed.

But the outcome of that conversation led me to a new understanding of an old problem:  I don’t think I am good enough.

I’ve literally tattooed the word “Enough” on my left arm.  I deliberately put it in a place that I would see in the mirror every day, because I need the constant reminder that I am enough and good enough and allowed to set boundaries that say to others, “Enough. I won’t tolerate that anymore”.  Despite that reminder, I still slip into a space where my mind convinces me that I cannot accomplish or become or produce in positive ways.  I get sucked into perfectionism.  I get stuck in a mindset that sees criticism as punishment for what I lack.  I get trapped by self-defeating language.  I doubt that I am capable enough, or good enough, or talented enough.

So, while talking with my daughter, and positing a question about whether or not I might be successful in a particular venture, I came to understand that I don’t quit things, and I don’t fail.  I start something new.

I tell myself, “I am an author.  I’m going to work at being an author, and commit to that field.”  And then, a few months later, I am telling myself, “I am going to become a nutrition counselor.”  I take classes and start that venture.  Then, a few months later, I am telling myself, “I could sell my work on Etsy.  I would make money from what I find therapeutic—my art and crafts.”

And, suddenly, I am working toward everything and nothing.  I have too many starts and not enough follow-through.  I have no follow-through not because I can’t do the things, but because my energy is split and traveling in too many directions.

Life has always been this way for me.  I am a visionary—I start things all the time, and I have big dreams, and I am a great problem-solver.  I am not confident that I can be fabulous at any of those things that I start, and dream of, and find solutions for.  I start to doubt my ability, and I put the thing I was working toward on hold, while I think of something new.

I am writing three books.  By writing, I mean not working on at all, but having the idea that the books will someday be finished.  I am an amazing author, but I doubt that talent often enough to not complete any published works.  I am studying nutrition and holistic care.  And by studying, I mean that I am half way through an online study program that I have not even looked at in months.  I doubt that I can be successful in the field, or that people will take a sick, overweight person’s advice regarding wellness and weight loss.  I am opening an Etsy shop.  And by opening, I mean that I have a store name picked out and ideas for what art I will put in that store eventually.  I doubt that people will want or pay a fair price for the things that I have created, and that I will lose money, rather than make money.

My doubt rarely paralyzes me in the physical sense.  I don’t panic and freeze and lose my shit out in the world.  I look and act like a really “normal” person most of the time.  But, on the inside, I put myself into a space where I cannot accomplish anything, because I don’t believe that I can accomplish anything well enough.

Some of this perfectionism comes from my upbringing.  My mother and my grandmother before her were both very concerned with appearances, and with having everything “just so”—at least on the outside.  That desire to look perfect affected my generation as well.  And, at times, I think I am accidentally passing that perfectionism down to my daughter.  But, my family tree is not the only factor.  I also suffer from C-PTSD, a complex form that adds layers of struggle beyond those of the type of PTSD you usually see depicted in media—the combat-related type.  Perfectionism is a symptom of my disease.  When you are in a prolonged state of abuse, such as childhood molestation or domestic violence, your brain behaves in ways that make no sense, but are totally understandable.  You start to work really hard at pleasing people.  You start to do all that you can to make life, home, and self perfect, because you believe that the abuses are your fault—which is part of the terrible genius of abuse tactics.  If you can just do everything “right”, maybe you won’t be hurt, harmed, assaulted, yelled at, molested, or raped.  If you can be perfect, then there won’t be a reason for them to harm you.

But there is always a reason for them to harm you, because the harm has nothing to do with your performance, accomplishments, character, or way of being.  The harm has to do with them and their issues.

I can say that now.  I can say that the people who harmed me did so because of them, and not because of me.  But, even though I can say it, I am not integrated in my logic and my emotion.  Those things are split apart in the long-term abuse—the horror of captivity.  And, while I can say that I didn’t cause the abuses directed toward me, I cannot often feel that I didn’t cause those abuses.

Not being able to feel what I know is complicated.  It is also annoying and frustrating.  Reason and emotion are not tied together in the ways I want them to be tied.  So, I feel not good enough, even though I know that I am capable and strong and beautiful and good and honest and brave and brilliant.  What I know and what I feel cannot connect in the way that I would like them to connect.  So, I still strive for and do not reach perfection.

Perfection doesn’t exist.  You can never reach it, because it isn’t a thing.  Perspective, cultural difference, brain chemistry, opinions, different philosophies, and more make one idea of “perfection” impossible.  There is no such thing.  So, by striving for this goal, we sabotage ourselves.  We are fighting for a thing that is not achievable.  And that constantly disappoints us, and makes us doubt our ability or character or worth.

All of the above considerations came out of that one conversation with my daughter.  And I decided during that conversation that I need to “write like I mean it”.

I decided that I need to take that thing that I love and that I am good at, and I need to keep doing that thing until I can feel what I know.  I need to stop turning in different directions and dividing my energy.  I need to put my efforts into the things that I know I am and should be:  an author and an artist.  I need to act upon my belief that I am a good author and artist, and keep acting upon it until I feel deeply that I am talented.

Under different circumstances, that might sound like a very selfish and narcissistic way of thinking.  But, because I am so conditioned to judge myself “not good enough”, proclaiming my talent and putting all my energies into praise for that talent is a corrective measure that brings balance.

I’m going to put all of my eggs in this basket.  I’m going to write and create like I mean it.  I’m going to make this my life—not because I need to strive for a goal of perfection, but because I love writing and creating, and because I am exceptional in these areas.

Perfection isn’t real, but it still ruins so many of us.  While my C-PTSD makes the struggle against perfection more difficult, and a symptom to be managed, you don’t need to have a history of trauma and a mental illness to strive for things that you need not strive for, and cannot achieve.

I’m not saying to give up.  I’m trying to say the opposite.  I’m attempting to express that what you love is what you ought to pursue, regardless of what “perfection” might be getting in the way of that pursuit.  And I am attempting to express it for me as much as I am for anyone who might read this post.  Because sometimes the word “Enough” tattooed on my arm is not the only reminder needed.  Sometimes we need to keep telling ourselves a thing until we feel its truth, not just know or understand it.

I need to keep telling myself that finished is better than perfect.  I need to keep telling myself that writing and painting and sewing and covering surfaces in comics are worthy pursuits.  I need to keep telling myself that my belief that I am good enough is the truth, and that the feeling that I am not is the lie that I have been conditioned to accept.

I need to keep telling myself to write like I mean it.  This is my goal.  This is my life.   This is my contribution to the world.  This is what I love.  And I am not going to let “perfection” get in the way of doing what I love.

Whatever you do, do it like you mean it.  Because it is, and you are, enough.

Too Much

Yesterday was too much.

In fact, the too much started the day before, and I didn’t do a good job of mitigating it at the outset.  But who is great at mitigating, really?

On Thursday, when I took the bus to the doctor, there was so much chaos.  There was a woman who insisted her daughter, who looked to be about 10, was 6, so she didn’t need to pay fare for the girl.  And she kept arguing with the driver long after she go to her seat (not having paid, and seemingly having gotten what she wanted).  She would yell some angry assertion about his dumbness and him minding his business, which I am relatively certain he wanted to do, but she kept yelling out offending shit, and it is really hard to mind your business when someone is shouting theirs at you through the bus.

Not long after, a man got on the bus without paying.  We waited several minutes while the driver tried to get the man to leave or pay, to no avail.  So, finally, and with much frustration, the driver went on with the route.  I was running late by this point, and getting internally frustrated by that lateness.  And then the lady with the very-old-looking-probably-not-6-year-old started up again.  She was now angry that the driver let the other man get by without paying.  Even though she had gotten by with not paying fare for the child.  It became a mess of people yelling out random shit about the offenses against them, when the only person who could rightfully be upset, in my opinion, was the driver of the bus.

It got to be too much.  I quickly snagged a seat that let me curl up toward the window and cranked the volume on my headset.  But too late.  Tears started forming, for one reason or another in the corners of my eyes.  Was it fear? Frustration?  Stress?  Anxiety?

Whatever it was, it threatened to pour down my cheeks, which would not have been a great thing and would have added to my emotional upheaval.  So I pushed it back.

There is and has been a place to push things since my childhood.  I know it well.  So many things were too much for my small psyche, and I could not deal—not just would not, but literally was incapable—with that excess.  So, it got pushed into the place.

Obviously, the place isn’t a physical space, as far as we know.  There are multiple synapses that stop firing or misfire or disconnect in the dissociative brain.  It would be much easier if there was one spot that held all the excess. Maybe then we could zap that space into connection, or cut it out altogether, or some other frighteningly macabre way of coping.

As It happens, there isn’t an easy solution, macabre or no.

Once I got off that bus, onto another, and eventually to my appointment, the overwhelmed feeling should have dissipated.  But it didn’t.

That question.  The question.  “When did you first become aware that your speaking was different?”

I was meeting with a vocal specialist.  The troubles with my voice have kept me from living life in the way I would otherwise choose.  I long for my singing voice.   It is definitely time to address the situation.  But, maybe somewhere in the back of my mind, or shoved into the place, there was the fear of this question.

I didn’t notice.  Tony noticed.  Tony mocked me, mimicked me, publicly shamed me.  He told me, in the most hateful and terrible ways, that my voice was different—a strange way of clearing my throat, or making a guttural sound where there ought not be one for an English speaker, or the way that my words have a bit of a sing-song ending at times.  He used that vocal abnormality to hurt me.

And when she asked the question, and I tried to respond, I cried.

The thing is that the place sometimes overflows.  No amount of strength or determination can keep all the too much things from spilling over at times—usually at very inopportune times.  And the place overflowed onto my face and neck in the voice doctor’s exam room.

She was kind.  She was understanding.  And she let me get through that little moment when the place door creeped open a sliver and stuff spilled out, and then she got on with our work.  She showed me the inside of my throat while I was speaking and singing.  She referred me for voice therapy, changed up my meds, and referred me to neurology.  Seeing my throat and my tongue and my voice box in action made the moment when I cried seem miles away.  There are reasons.  They can be addressed.  And that brought all sorts of relief, and shoved Tony’s asinine behaviors back into the place.  Those behaviors might come out in next week’s therapy session, but for now they are not overwhelming anymore.

You might think that is the end of the story.  I faced the overwhelming events and got on with my life, yes?

No.

The feeling didn’t lift.  I watched Netflix.  I worked on crafts.  I took a shower.  I took a nap.  I went for a swim.  I got a haircut.  I took a walk.  I wrote.  I entertained the dog.  I texted with friends.  And through all of the really good coping strategies, the feeling still stuck.  It wouldn’t leave.

And it became more and more pronounced.  It became more anxious, more desperate, more affecting.  Until last night when the place sort of exploded into the forefront of my brain.

Here’s the thing.  The place scares some people, but some people take it in stride.  I’m forced to take it in stride, whether I want to or no.  And I know that the preference for others is to not take it in stride.  There are only a few people in my life who can and will and do stick around when the place shows its face.

Last night, it unleashed itself in full force upon the “bae of the day”.  (I call him that not because he is expendable or will be replaced tomorrow, but because I’m not going to use his actual name here—too early for that.  Plus, it rhymes, and who doesn’t love that?)

I think that I was a bit shocked when all the overwhelming feelings channeled into me having crazy anxiety over what and how and why we were connecting with one another.  I am experienced enough to know that it is best to let things play out in new relationship of any kind, and not to force it.  But the place doesn’t know that as well as I do.  The place might be in my head, but it doesn’t usually communicate with the other areas in the brain, so it doesn’t act with reason.  And this irrational fear that I was misreading all the signs and that I wasn’t important and that I was secretly being played came flying out of the place.  And bae of the day has NOTHING to do with all that shit that escaped the place.  He has in no way acted in a manner that would make the place’s emotional outburst reasonable.  But, again, the place doesn’t act with reason.

But here is the beautiful part of the story.  He met the place with unflinching care, kindness, and understanding.  He engaged the place with honesty and respect.  He accepted the place, and he honored it, and in doing so he accepted and honored me in ways that I don’t even fully understand.  Nobody has ever met the place with as much grace as bae of the day met it.  And because he did, he immediately shut it down.

He shut it down not in a way that made me force my feelings and overwhelmed state back into the place.  He shut it down in a way that let me leave it out.  He shut it down in a way that allowed me to let it be, let it show, and potentially let it go.

And this morning I was thinking about it, as I woke in peace and felt lighter than I have in many days, and I wondered what life might be like if all the people met my place in like manner.  I’ve spent about 35 years managing and monitoring the place.  I’ve been trying to stuff more and more into that place as more and more things turned out bad and wrong and painful.  And I can count on one hand the number of people I trust to meet the place with the grace, kindness, and understanding that is required to process, and to make the place a bit smaller.  But what if there were more than a handful of people who allowed the place and its secrets and its struggles to come out into the light?

That would be earth-shattering.  That would change everything.  That would be a total life-altering experience.  And that would heal so much that is broken.  The place is filled with brokenness.  That is its hallmark.  That is its purpose.  That is its truth.  It is filled with every shard that ever broke away from my heart and my spirit.  It is filled with every hurt I cannot bear.

But when someone else bore the hurt with me, everything changed.  That hurt couldn’t hurt me quite as much anymore.

I’ve learned over a lifetime of keeping the place stocked with secret pain that people don’t like to bear the hurt with me.  I’ve seen the little cracks that open up end relationships, create dangerous situations, and bring shame and judgment upon me.  And I cannot imagine EVER opening the door to let everything out at once.  That might be downright lethal.

But I have more hope today than I did yesterday.  I have more hope that there are people out there like bae of the day.  I have more hope that the place could potentially be emptied bit by bit, shard by shard.  I have more hope that there is healing, and that my whole life doesn’t need to be defined by this PTSD label (though some of it will always be there—my brain scans will attest to that).

And if you are a person who has quit me or threatened me or judged me over the place, I forgive you and I understand that.  I have days like yesterday, when I cannot even cope with what lives inside of that place, so I certainly have no hard feelings toward others who cannot cope with it.

If you are a person who understands this post, and feels the weight of the place in your own spirit, know that there is help out there, and you need not be ashamed or afraid—but you are also totally allowed to feel ashamed or afraid, you are entitled to those feelings.

And if you are a person who has faced the place and stayed in my life, you are fucking amazing.  And I will cling to your responses, continually holding on to the hope that the place might empty, and my heart might heal.  I love you like crazy.

There are these challenges to living with a dissociative disorder.  There are these struggles with managing the rage and the depression and the isolation that such disorders cause.  There are these outcomes of loss and further pain that accompany the misunderstandings about and the actions precipitated by such disorders.  But there are also these people who understand, and who love, and who respect, and who assist, and who offer chances and graces and changes.

I am so grateful for the people who support me in any and all ways.  But I am most grateful for those who let the place be a part of me, and don’t shy away, and let me work my way through it and toward an integrated brain and a more balanced life.  Too much suddenly becomes a tolerable amount when you find those who would bear the weight alongside you.

I’ve found another who will help me bear the weight of the place. I’m grateful I have the opportunity to know him.  I’m grateful for what he carries.

Today is a tolerable amount.

Letting Go

When you have been hurt by people in the past, it can be really hard to trust people in the now.  And it isn’t the fault of whomever you are with now if someone before hurt you, but it is also not easy to keep the two experiences separate in your mind and heart.  As a result, we often try to control things in new relationship and new situations—to keep things safe and metered and carefully mapped.

But things like love and care don’t flourish in an environment where things are safe and metered and carefully mapped.  Passion can’t exist there.  Trust can’t exist there.  So, by trying to prevent hurt from happening we create a place where the happiest and most healing relating is also prevented.

I’m certainly not proposing that we let any and all experience happen to us, without setting boundaries or ensuring our health and safety.  We definitely need to be safe and have boundaries.  But there is only so far we can take those boundaries and that safety before they transform into something else—something more sinister and potentially damaging.  If we are not cognizant of what we are doing with those boundaries and that safety, they can become control.  They can become an inability to let go.

The other night I had a date.  It was an amazing date.  We had an early dinner and drinks, and there was not a moment of dead air between us.  We talked about all sorts of things, and then we dropped my leftover food off at his apartment on our way to a karaoke bar.  We had tons of fun.  We drank, he sang, we made “friends” with a group of Guns and Roses fans on one side of the bar, and a beautiful mother and her daughters celebrating a milestone birthday on the other.  He held the room captive as he sang, and every single person clapped and sang along with him.  He loved being on that stage, and his excitement was contagious.

Eventually we ate again, because we had been out for so many hours and had so many beers.  We took a cab to another bar, and once more he brought everyone into his state of excitement and his love of song.  And I watched him with pride.  Because between songs he was talking to me.

He was more than talking to me.  He was holding every word, and passionately engaged in conversation, and geeking out on my fandoms as hard as I do—maybe harder.  He was wrapping his arm around me.  He was holding me close.  He was kissing my lips.  And I felt honored to have him there doing so.  I felt blessed by his presence, and I felt privileged to be his chosen companion.  I was certain that he could choose lots of other women, but he was choosing me.

And I still refused to let go.

I didn’t sing on stage.  Which makes no sense, because from childhood I have been desiring the stage, and loving every moment I was allowed and able to sing upon it.  And while I am a bit self-conscious about my voice today, with hoarseness and the breaks of a pubescent boy often plaguing my vocal chords without warning.  But that wasn’t why I didn’t sing.  There were plenty of singers worse than I who took the stage.  And I sang loudly from our little table in the corner, with him at my side.  I didn’t go up because I was pretending I didn’t want to.

I wasn’t pretending for him.  I was pretending for me.

I was pretending I had too much humility or shyness or reservation to perform on stage.  I was making excuses for myself and to myself.  Because being up there meant being vulnerable.  Being up there meant I had no control over the outcome.  Being up there meant opening up and letting loose and letting go.  And I wouldn’t do it.

Later that night, back at his apartment, when I took off my shoes and my sweater and my scarf to be more comfortable and cool, the tattoo on my left arm was in full view.  After having hugged and kissed me a bit, he ran a finger over that tattoo, which boldly declares, “Enough”, and he said, “I assume this is about taking your life back.”  Taking my life back is how I described myself on the media platform where we first came into contact with one another.

He had the right of it.  That tattoo is part of fighting back, and saying I have had enough—that I won’t take any of the bullshit I do not want and that I create my experience from now on.

But that tattoo is also about reminding myself that I am “Enough”, just as I am and without any comment or consideration or care of another.  I am not almost good enough.  I am not lacking.  I am not without value or merit or reasons for pride.  I am, wholly and completely, enough.

And in that moment I started to cry.

I wasn’t entirely sure why at the time.  Further thought on the subject, however, brought me to the place I stand this morning.  I know now that I cried because I wasn’t acting like enough.  I wasn’t letting go and letting my true self shine.  I was controlling and metered and safe the whole night.  I was in the presence of another for only a few short hours.  But in those hours, I wanted to be what he admired, instead of being all that I am and waiting to see if he might admire me.  I wanted to create an ending where I don’t get hurt more than I wanted to create something real and deep and true.  And the moment I felt that was what I was doing, I wept.

Crying on the first date is usually a terrible idea, as a general rule.

But even then he was fabulous, and walked through that moment and moved forward with me to the next.  And a bit later I reluctantly left, wanting to remain curled up in his arms, but knowing that my poor dog needed my attention more than I needed the attention of this man.

The next day, thinking it all through once more, I felt ashamed.  I felt foolish.  I felt the familiar weight of having pretended instead of having let go to be myself.  And last night my text went unanswered, and all I could think was that I hoped that my pretending did not take the opportunity to be with this man again from me.  I hoped so much that my refusal to be vulnerable and true didn’t take away the joy of that night and leave me always wishing for another.

I still wait in hope.  And I hope that this realization will offer me a chance to step up next time, and to boldly belt out songs from that stage.

While I do want to see this man again, there is more to it now than a connection with a potential partner.  There are all these layers of decision that we must navigate in every single moment.  And in the moment, I denied the truth and didn’t let go.  In the moment I played safe and controlled and let the hurts of the past define me, and not the heart and the soul and the spirit of the present.  I sought approval, instead of seeking joy.

Sometimes, when people ask me about my history and what I might regret, I shock them with my answers.  They think that my bad marriage or the night of binge drinking where I was sexually assaulted before morning or my drug use or any number of “bad” or “sad” or “regrettable” decisions should be what leaves my lips.  But it is not those things that haunt me.  Because during that time, when all that chaos was happening around me, I still held fast to me.  I didn’t feel like that woman needed to hide in the shadows.  That woman took the stage.  That woman built her own fucking stage if there wasn’t one to take.  That woman was brave and powerful and wild in ways that her later incarnation has not been.  I regret leaving her behind.  I regret not being her on Friday night.  I regret that I forgot that I am enough.

I believe that this man will offer me another chance.  I believe that he is kind and caring and understanding, alongside being fun and courageous and cuddly and cute.

And when that chance comes, I need to swallow any hint of reservation, of safety, of control.  I need to jump up and sing out and let vulnerability rule the day.

I need to trust that I am still, and always, Enough.

I need to let my heart love.  I need to let my spirit fly free.  I need to find and hold joy.

I need to let go.