Can’t Find a Better Man

The half growl/half crow of Eddie Vedder has long been a part of my own, personal war cry.  It both fed and poured out my teenage angst—my frustration with the things that were senseless, wrong, and unjust in the world, and my desire to be free from all of the pain and confusion and devastation that those things caused me.  I felt deeply.  Eddie did too.  You could sense it.  And you could echo it as you sang along.

Better Man was one of the songs that I connected with on a spiritual sort of level.  There were others.  And some even more deeply felt than this one.  But this one came to mind today, because I still feel the same angst at times.  I still know the challenges of being that one in the song—that one who can’t find a better man.

If you don’t know it … well, if you don’t know it you are either too young or too old or just plain Amish, I suppose, because Pearl Jam has been around for longer than my child has been alive (21+ years), and they keep putting out new music and touring the world with old favorites in their sets as well.  But, in case you have decided to go the way of Patrick Star and you live under a rock, I will let you know a bit about the lyrics, and the basics of the song.

She lies and says she’s in love with him; can’t find a better man.

It’s a woman, waiting alone in bed for some man who clearly sucks at being a partner.  She practices what she will say—what boundaries she will set, and what angry rant she will set forth when he finally dares to come home in the wee hours of the morning—but when he actually arrives, she pretends she is sleeping.  She keeps his failure and her misery to herself.  It feels like her fault that she chose him, and she does love him.  And somehow, they have this symbiotic, albeit unhealthy and unfulfilling, relationship that they both continue to choose.  And she echoes over and over:  Can’t find a better man.  Can’t find a better man.  Can’t find a better man.

If you’re like me, you can’t help but sing those words instead of simply read them.  They come to life in your head, in Eddie’s voice. And if you are even more like me, you remember singing those words and meaning them with so much truth that it pained you, and you weren’t entirely certain how to feel when the song came on, because the pain of the truth and the release of the singing it were also tied together in this strange way that worked so well.  Turmoil and beauty connected in a way that only the most broken of us can see, acknowledge, appreciate, and even love.

I felt Better Man so deeply not because I was in a relationship with someone at the time who mimicked the song’s poor partner, but because I was somehow already identifiable, before the terrible partners started lining up in my life and experience, with that woman.  Can’t find a better man.  Can’t find a better man.

Like a fish knows swimming is his mode of transportation, I knew that I deserved to struggle through bad partners—I would live this out, and this would be my pain.

How did I know that?

Pearl Jam, Ten, was released on August 27, 1991.  Twenty-eight years ago, I was still in high school, and I hadn’t had a “real” partner at all. I would start a relationship with my first “boyfriend” not long after this album’s release and have sex for the first time about six months later—if you could call it that … it was more like awkward penetration with mutual dissatisfaction.  And throughout that year, even though I was coming of age and starting to figure out that sexuality was even a thing, sheltered in extreme ways from all its forms and expressions, I had no concept of bad partners the way I would just a handful of years later.  Yet, before it happened I knew.  Eddie sang it the way I felt it, and I still understand it as deeply and with as much truth today.  Can’t find a better man.

Part of the challenge in my own situation, I think, is that Calvinism and the last bits of Dutch puritanism were so pervasive in my little sub-culture.  I knew, even when my conscious mind had repressed every single synapse of sexual abuse, that I was “damaged goods”, impure, unclean, sinful, tainted … you could say it a hundred different ways and it all hurt the same way.  Something in me knew that there was this stain on my reputation, according to the religious and cultural views that were held by those around me.  Of course I would not be worthy of a better man.  I was sullied by debaucherous sins.  “Good” men want “pure” women.  Obviously!

The other part of the challenge was the terrible partners that did start to line up in my life.  They only reinforced the idea that I deserved crap partners who treated me with disrespect, put hands on me in violence, didn’t give me the option of consent—either by force or by coercion and manipulation—and generally just acted like assholes.

How did I end up with this line of losers?  It’s a chicken/egg conundrum that we may never solve.  Either my low esteem attracted the sharks, or the sharks lowered my esteem until I was weak enough to pull under and drown.  But the how and why don’t matter a whole lot, unless you are an anthropologist of some sort.  What matters more is the effect, which was proving to me the stain on my reputation must be evident to all, and I am being punished for it, and given what I deserve.

I can’t find a better man.  I don’t deserve a better man.

And eventually, having remembered the abuse and having been flooded with images, feelings, flashbacks, nightmares, and all of the confusion, rage, and fear of childhood trauma returning to my memory from the deep recesses of my mind, I didn’t want better men.  I wanted dirty, dangerous men who would offer me the opportunity to use sex as a tool for inappropriate coping—reliving traumas through promiscuity and increasingly risky sex.  Better men didn’t pull your hair and pound their pelvis against your ass and call you names and do all of it while another couple had sex in the same room—the other man getting off on watching your face as you were being ridden like a bronco and his own partner looking on, infuriated that everyone in the room was focused on your pleasure and pain.  Better men didn’t pass you on to their friends after they had finished so that another could take advantage of a woman still in the throes of passion when the first man was already spent.  And I happily climbed atop another penis, grinding my pain into men as if my hips were a confessional and thrusting organs were penance I needed to endure until I felt clean again.

But no amount of sex brought me to a place where I felt clean.  I still felt undeserving of the love of a better partner. So, I settled for partners who claimed love but offered insecurities, control, abuse, lust, addiction, avoidant behaviors, and a plethora of negative and damaging behaviors that reinforced the idea that I didn’t deserve love, and a soulmate was somehow outside of my reach, while everyone else around me was allowed to find that “perfect” lover.

Can’t find a better man.  Don’t deserve a better man.  Unworthy of a better man.  Incapable of a better man.  The list of disordered thoughts goes on and on.  And the disordered thinking continues to this day.

I’m still settling for a man that needs “fixing” and babysitting and diagnosing and repeated forgiving for the same error.  I’m still not taking my own good advice, and I’m dating “potential” instead of finding a fully actualized man who exhibits the fullness of his potential in his current circumstance—he doesn’t have the potential to get his shit together; his shit IS together.  I still date men who aren’t the men I want to have and hold as lifelong partners.  And in some way, this must be tied to the idea that I don’t deserve that partner.  I cannot achieve that relationship.  I don’t get to have the better man.

Can’t find a better man.

Some part of me longs for the better man.  Some part of me has all sorts of desire for being in relationship with a loving partner who treats me with respect and equity—a person who offers me compassion and kindness and honesty and love.  And then there is this other part that cannot shake the Dutch Reformed purity bullshit that says I am not white like snow with an untouched vagina and therefore cannot find happiness with a partner who offers me those things.  The dirty of Calvinism doesn’t wash off, and the damage of childhood sexual trauma isn’t something that I can recover from with my PTSD diagnosis, so I sit in the muck of disordered thinking nonstop.  I sit in that muck and I get sucked into unhealthy relationship after unhealthy relationship, because my conscience is a liar and my good advice extends outside of myself and not inward.

The fact is, I won’t find a better man until I find the better in me.

It is here—the better in me.

In fact, good and better and best should define me.  They probably do to most others—the non-Dutch Reformed ones—who encounter me.  I’m not covered in stains, as Calvinism would have me believe, but am a woman who does now, and has always, fought for equality, love, goodness, kindness, rights for all, life, grace, freedom, justice, and all sorts of positive qualities.  I’m overflowing with love and compassion and care for others—all sorts of others, and not just those who look like, act like, and believe like I do.  There is so much better in me.  And such better deserves to be met with better.  This amazing woman definitely deserves a better man … or a better woman, as the case may be, because letting go of my early religion also let me grab hold of the truth that my sexuality is extremely fluid and not fixed.  Regardless, a better man or woman belongs in this picture.  The previous pain that Pearl Jam helped me express is not a pain that I should have ever felt, and I should always have believed that a better man or woman was waiting just around the corner for me, and we would share a beautiful life.

But I didn’t believe that.  I wasn’t taught that.  Eddie Vedder saw or knew or related with women like me, who didn’t believe that and were not taught that, and he sang our pain.  If only he could have offered a correction instead of a correlation and showed me that this wasn’t my anthem but a lie to which I was listening.  Maybe he did mean to show me that, but I didn’t see.  Instead I held the belief that this was my plight and my burden to bear.  I didn’t have people who were correcting my error or replacing that lie with the truth.  I had more and more affirmation that I was a stain and stains deserved to be tossed to the trash bin and left there with the rest of the unclean things.

Can’t find better.  Can’t be better.  Am not better—ever.  No amount of goodness can transcend the one bad thing, even when the bad thing was your victimization and far beyond your control.  Give up now, Christy, because there is no redemption here.  There is only purity and not purity here, and you are not pure.

I recently had the amazing opportunity to visit with a young woman who is living in a situation near to the one that I grew up within.  She mentioned to me an abuse that she suffered, and then said something along the lines of not letting it ruin her.  “Some people let it mess up their life.”  She said she wasn’t one of those people.  But later in our conversation tears welled up in her eyes and she told me of challenges with feeling unheard, and like her parents were not dealing with issues affecting the family, and a number of other things that I felt after suffering abuses as a child.  It is messing up her life, whether she intends to let it or not.  And part of why it is messing up her life is the same reason it messed up mine—the inability of others to find empathy, compassion, and understanding, and their insistence upon seeing the world in black and white, instead of recognizing and honoring the fact that we all live in complex circumstances and hard and fast “rules” or dichotomies of good/evil, or virgin/whore, or right/wrong don’t make sense.  Beyond not working, those strict dichotomies harm innocent people, and reinjure those who are already victimized.  They mess up lives.  They destroy lives.  They convince young girls (or boys) that they will never find a better man (or woman), because they are not deserving … because being a victim has left them stained for life—dirty, bad, and impure.

Not only do I deserve a better man than the ones that have been in my life in my history, but I deserve an amazing man or woman as a life partner.  I deserve that because I am not stained and dirty and impure.  I am an amazing woman, with talent, grace, empathy, passion, perseverance, love, and beauty that are unmatched by most.  I don’t say that to brag or because I am egotistical and narcissistic.  I say that because it is a truth that was hard to learn and needs to be remembered.  I also say it because it is something that many others need to hear and accept.

I am not impure, dirty, damaged, and stained.  I am a victim of horrific and terrifying crimes against my person.  My brain was literally malformed as a result of childhood sexual trauma that was ongoing and created captivity-like conditions, making my brain nearly identical to that of a holocaust survivor.  My hormones, my stress responses, my gut health, my brain chemistry, my bladder and bowel control, and more were harmed by this trauma, and more trauma happened as I was retraumatized when people didn’t believe my claims of harm, doctors broke confidentiality, I was forced to interact with my abuser, my family refused to allow me to speak about or address the abuse, gaslighting and victim-blaming became commonplace, violent abusive relationships resulted from my deep need for connection tied with my inability to form healthy connection due to my complex post-traumatic stress symptoms, and more.

All of this was me being victimized.  None of this was me being impure.  If there were lines that were crossed and bad things that were done they were done by my abusers, the people who didn’t listen when I cried out for help, the doctors who didn’t know how to help and didn’t refer me to someone who could, the family who refused (and still refuse) to address the issues afflicting me and us, the church that pounded the drum of purity so loudly that a young girl was shamed into silence about sexual assault and rape, the “friends” who chose to support the denial of the perpetrator and not support my claim of abuse, the people that told me to “give it to Jesus” and it would be gone who made matters worse by not getting me the help that I needed from medical professionals, and the many people who refused to give up their dichotomous thinking in the face of my pain and struggle and confusion and help ease my suffering.

But if you are one of those people, I don’t judge you, and I don’t blame you.  You were likely (and perhaps still are) stuck in a space where that black and white thinking was affecting your judgment.  You didn’t mean to wrong me, I am sure.  You didn’t know better.  And when you know better you will do better.

I hope that what I write here today will help you know better.  I hope that it will help you move toward doing better.

I don’t want a young woman to come to me and tell me her secrets because she can’t be heard in the space where she lives, just as I couldn’t be heard in the space where I grew up, and where the worst possible things happened to me.  I don’t want that beautiful woman to be holding on to those secrets until she is 40 years old, because she feels impure and shamed by a community that sees things in such black and white terms that it cannot give love to the wounded and the wronged.

I share my story, in part, to heal my own wounds.  It helps me to get it out on “paper” and to release it from the places where it has been hidden for all of these years.  But I also tell it for all of you.  I tell it so that if you are the young men and women who have also been harmed in this way, you can know that you deserve a better man, or a better woman.  You are not impure.  You have no stain.  You are perfect and pure and good.  Someone did something terrible to you.  You deserve justice for that wrong, not shame.  And if you are one who hears of a person or from a person who has been harmed in this way, listen and support that person.  Fight for justice on their behalf and be certain that they receive the aid that they need.  Never support the perpetrator because it is easier than supporting the victim.  Never place blame on the victim.  Never treat a victim as though they should carry some shame.  They do not.  They have been wronged, and they deserve better from you than what I received.

I’m dating someone now.  I’m not always certain that he is my better man.  He has a lot of challenges.  I have a lot of challenges.  It makes things volatile at moments.  But I don’t see things in black and white, and I know that he was a victim of lots of wrongs, just as I was.  So, we work at loving one another, the best way we know how.  He cares for me and he tries very hard to be the best he can for me.  And he is open, honest, and working very hard to be the man that I deserve in my life, because he knows that I am an amazing woman.  That is much more than any man has done for me in the past, so I am happy in this relationship now.  If that changes, I no longer feel tied to shame and insecurity and the idea that I am not enough, so I can walk away without reservation and seek out a better man or woman.  And that is miraculous, given all that I have been through.

I still love to listen to Vedder croon out the words to Better Man.  I still sing along with my teenage angst somewhat intact, but it is more a memory of what was than a feeling of the moment.  I know that I have a better man.  I know that I can find and that I deserve better.  I am not the unclean and impure that should be shamed.  I am the overcomer—the strong, the determined, the loving, the understanding, the one who learns and shifts and grows and fights and finds life, no matter the circumstances she is offered.  And no matter the circumstances you have been given, you can fight to overcome in numerous, amazing ways as well.

We don’t win every fight, of course.  I’m still disabled and suffer from PTSD.  I still have several family members who refuse to discuss the events of the past.  There are many who would still shame me for my actions—like having sex outside of marriage, or smoking weed to manage my fibromyalgia pain.  But what other people want to consider shameful doesn’t matter much to me anymore, because I know my heart and my intentions.  I know that I am a good person who does all that I can to promote equality and justice.  I love deeply, I seek to respect all, I honor the beliefs of others as long as they do no harm, and I work toward creating a better world in any way I am able.  That is what matters.  Lines in the sand, black and white thinking, and rules that shame and harm the innocent do not matter.  Your heart matters.  Your intent matters.

So, let go of shame, call out victim blaming, call out gaslighting, and speak your truth.  Bring evils to light and bring justice to every situation you are able.  Don’t hide.  Tell your story.  And, of course, find a better man—with or without the Pearl Jam album in the background.  (Just kidding—definitely with the Pearl Jam album in the background!!)

Thanks, Pearl Jam.  Thanks, Eddie.  And thanks to everyone who helped and still helps me to step outside of Calvinist shame and to step into the love and light of who I am over and above the victimization that I have experienced.  I am a better woman every time I take that step.

 

 

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I See Stupid People

There’s this M. Night Shyamalan movie that has an monologue that a friend and I once transformed a bit.  We took the word “dead” and inserted “stupid”.

I see stupid people.  They’re all around me.  They don’t know they’re stupid.

Today I have been dealing with the frustration of not being able to express my frustration at what I consider stupidity.

I should be ecstatic right now.

After months and months of waiting, my housing situation is finally resolving, and I am signing a lease on an apartment!!!!!!

And I am ecstatic, but I am also feeling assaulted by constant texts and calls and questions and threats by the owner of the apartment that I have secured.  It isn’t that they are intentionally being hurtful or aggressive.  They just don’t understand anything about this process and they are continually looking to me for answers.  And I am frustrated to the point of tears, because it isn’t my job to hold the hand of my landlord while they figure out how to deal with a leasing agency or the Chicago Housing Authority for the first time.  They should be looking to the leasing agency or the housing authority for that assistance.  But they are not.  They are basically harassing me because they don’t understand shit.

I see stupid people.

This morning, after assuring the landlord last night that everything was on track with the housing authority, and that the leasing agent would be connecting with the processing department regarding funds I put aside in December and how we would disperse those funds, and saying that I would be in touch as soon as I had news, I got a 9 am text: Any news … on when we are meeting

Shortly after, I got a phone call, and when I explained that we were trying to iron out the details, but all would be fine, and we could sign the lease later in the day, once that was done, I was told, “as long as this happens today”, “we have waited way too long”, “I’m very unhappy with their [the leasing agency’s] service”.

And while I held my tongue and gave all sorts of kind and cautiously worded assurances on the phone with the landlord, a few minutes later, my best friend got a text that said, “I’m just getting upset because suddenly the landlord is like ‘this happens today’ ‘we have waited too long’. And I am like, and I have been waiting since October! I’ve been discriminated against and turned down and stressed out and screamed at and living in fear.  You’ve what? Waited through February for me to pay you for your fucking empty apartment with cash I begged friends and family for? What right do they have to be so indignant and demanding?”

Then I apologized for letting the feelings that were coming up from the interaction with the landlord come out toward my friend.

But at least they came out … because I went for acupuncture for the first time yesterday, and my acupuncturist was telling me about how acupuncture helps release the emotion and stress and trauma and unvoiced stuff that gets trapped in our body when we hold on to all of that shit.  However, if we keep holding it, the problem will remain chronic, because the problem is holding down the shit, and acupuncture can’t stop us from doing that.  We need to learn to stop the cause, not keep treating the effect ad nauseum.

Anyway, the financing was worked out, and the housing authority once again expressed to me, in detail, the situation with the case, and assured me that all is well with moving forward and signing the lease today.  The leasing agency, whose services have been AMAZING, by the way, said they would call and explain the payment details to the landlord, so I don’t need to stress over that anymore and can focus on finishing up packing and getting the lease signed so that my move can happen in two days.

All is well, and I am moving back toward the ecstatic end of the spectrum.

And as the calm sets in, I start to think on my own moments of being a “stupid person” this week.

I got a different phone this week.  In an effort to save money, I switched wireless carriers.  Switching carriers was easy (and saved me a load of cash!).  Transferring my data from one phone to the other, however, proved far more difficult.  I know that the lovely young man in the store told me to take the phones home, update the old one on my computer, reset the new one, and restore.  Somehow that doesn’t work.  I don’t know what I am doing wrong, but I cannot make that work.  I know what should happen when I work through that process, but that isn’t what actually happens.  And in the meantime, I can’t keep carrying around two phones, a watch, and a tablet that are all alerting me to different things and have bits of critical information that need to combine to create a functional Christy.

So, I simply downloaded and signed into and reorganized and started over with apps and calendars and accounts.  But that means when I go to check in with my lovely young man on Saturday to see how I am getting along with my new phone, he can’t even do the restore thing for me, because then I will lose all of the new things that I have done on the new phone if we restore from a tabula rasa.  I no longer have a blank slate to start with.  I’ve worked to create a slate full of organization and function.

Am I a stupid person when it comes to updating phones?  Absolutely!  Am I a stupid person when it comes to advanced mathematics?  Absolutely!  Am I a stupid person when it comes to any number of things that I am not skilled in and do not understand as well as another person?  Absolutely!

Here’s the thing:  I’m really fucking intelligent.  I am.  I’m not ashamed of that, and I should never have to hide that so other people don’t feel less intelligent than I am.  It is totally fine that I am smart.  It is great, honestly.  But I am not skilled in and informed about every subject.  There are lots of things that I am not good at and plenty more that I am not educated regarding.  Sometimes I am the stupid person.

At one point or another, we are all the person who is stupid.  And at one point or another, we are all the person who has perspective, information, and guidance that another needs.  What is most important is not whether we are the one needing guidance or offering it, but how we are treating one another in both of those situations.

When I am in the phone store, and the lovely young man is assisting me to figure out the new technology, I am kind, apologetic, and grateful.  I listen.  I ask for him to write things down on paper if I can’t follow along in my head.  I thank him repeatedly and tell him how valuable his skills are, and how appreciative I am for his assistance.  This is how I be the stupid person.

When I am the person offering the guidance, I hold my frustration for another space and time.  I ask for another to call and explain, since it shouldn’t fall to me to handle the situation.  I say things using different language, and I repeat things when needed.  I offer encouragement and assurances.  I try to remain calm and keep my voice soft, metered, and sweet-sounding.  I send documentation, source materials, and copies of proofs. I do whatever I can to make things clear and calm.  This is how I am when I am the one who is dealing with the “stupid person”.

Somehow, the way you act and react in the situation makes all the difference.  And that is how we get through life without harming one another in all sorts of ways—by not being stupid or smart in ways that are indignant, threatening, stubborn, superior, rude, harassing, demanding, ungrateful, or hurtful in any way.  We manage to learn from one another, and to help one another through the challenges, by being grateful and kind and patient, and by caring for one another through these interactions.

I think that much of what is wrong with America in particular, and the world in general, these days is that we have forgotten that basic common decency.  We have forgotten how to care for one another through these interactions.  I’m not sure how that is possible.

Because we all seem to be crying out to be cared for while we refuse to care for anyone else.

This is a two-way street, people.  It goes both ways.  If you want to be cared for, you absolutely need to start caring for others.  You don’t get one without the other.

It required an amount of gratitude, patience, support from others, meditation, self-care, and self-soothing that I almost could not summon to cope with persons who wanted me to guide them without offering me the care and gratitude and patience that I required from them.  When they didn’t offer me that, I needed to find it elsewhere.  Most people don’t have a wealth of gratitude and support and patience and Zen to draw from.  I’m lucky to have found the value of amassing stores of such things as a tool for maintaining mental health and managing chronic illness, so I have it to call upon in situations where others forget to care in our interactions.  But most are not amassing stores upon which they can draw.  Most are pushed beyond breaking points and that frustration and anger and pain of not being offered respect and care and gratitude fly out into the open, creating volatile and even deadly situations.

What would the world look like if we offered the care and avoided the open expression of that pain?

I think it would look very different.  I think it would look much better, much more kind, and much more beautiful.  I think it would offer us freedom and would decrease our anxiety and fear.  I think that it would bring many of us the peace and the positive feedback we needed to keep on going through the challenging moments.  And it would let all of us breathe a big sigh of relief.

This is the first time that I have the insight that I am the stupid person all around someone else, and that understanding how I am stupid, and how I am smart makes a huge difference in my interactions with others.  I hope that my insight might offer you the opportunity to consider your own interactions.

How do you act and react when you are “smart” or “stupid”?  What ways can you add care to those interactions, and what difference might that make?

I’ll put it out there so none of the comments need to … I used to be an asshole about being smart!  I loved knowing stuff and being smarter than others.  But I think that was largely because there was so much pain in other areas of my life.  I was terrible at relationships.  I was keeping devastating secrets.  I was living in constant fear.  Pain fueled the way I interacted then.  I’m not the same person now.  I’m not the same person in this moment that I was at 9 am, frankly.  The insight I’ve gained while writing this post has literally changed who I am.  But, the last 4 years of therapy, and study, and mindfulness, have changed the place from which my interactions originate.  They don’t always come from fear and pain any longer.  I have new spaces—better spaces—from which to draw.

We don’t need to keep interacting in the same ways we always have.  It can take a lot of difficult work to change how we interact and from where we draw that gratitude and fortitude and support.  But it is worth it.  I believe it can change the world.  That is so worth it.

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.