Payday

I’m busy printing out proofs to attain a payday loan.  It is a long shot, last resort sort of move on my part.  There aren’t any options left beyond a ridiculous interest rate over 50% and steep penalties should I not meet the strict requirements of repayment of that criminal amount of interest.  It should be a crime for such life crushing loans to exist.  And yet I am working to get one, and desperate to hear them approve me for this loan that I believe to be criminal.

It is nonsense, really.  But it makes all the sense when you live in the margins, where there is never enough, and you are treated with contempt and barely considered human, much less treated with the grace and kindness and compassion that humanity should garner.

These days, I don’t know what “humane” means.  I don’t know that “humanity” exists in the way it once did.  Or, more correctly, I don’t know that it exists in the way that I had imagined.

I was running very late for a doctor appointment the other day and needed to take a Lyft instead of a bus.  My driver, a Somali native, said something along the lines of “selfishness is human nature”.  I wanted to argue that was not true.  I wanted to express the compassion and love that humans were capable of offering one another.  And then I thought better of it, knowing that I was suffering needlessly an economic situation that could be eliminated with just a few dollars from the people who call me “friend”, and knowing that this man, having emigrated from Somalia, knew selfishness and pain and racism and judgment and xenophobia and messed up fucking shit that I, an already despairing woman, cannot even imagine.  Who was I to tell him that humanity has something better to offer??

Instead, I made a statement about perspective and how much we are shaped by what we experience in our lives—hoping to avoid agreement that hurting those whom we can place beneath us so that we might rise is human nature, but also not arguing that we are better than that, because I don’t feel like we are better than that very often of late.

I sit at a desk covered in images of Wonder Woman.  I built it.  I covered it in these images deliberately, because I found it inspiring.  Not only do I sit and work atop a work of art when I am well enough to do work, but I also have a deep sense of justice and love and giving of myself to improve the state of the world, and she embodies that for me, and reminds me that my end goal is a world filled with love and justice.  What I do at this desk should be focused on that goal.  And to a great extent my work is focused on that goal.

But more and more my focus is fear.  There is worry over finances.  There is stress over what I read in the news.  There is the sadness and the horror that comes from seeing the world become more broken, fractured, confused, and afraid as a particular world leader creates xenophobia, insecurity, unrest, racism, and general hatred and chaos.  There is pain and struggle and the fear that the future will become even more difficult than the present.  And that isn’t just my personal fear, but the fear of millions, which is even more heartbreaking, because of my deep empathy.  Wonder Woman and her ideals seem worlds away while I work atop images of her from generations of comics.

I wonder if Donald Trump ever watches super hero films or reads comics.  Do you suppose he sees himself as the hero or the villain?  He certainly doesn’t have the ideals of the hero, so he must be delusional if he identifies as one.

I know that I am not the hero in any story.  I sometimes get painted as one.  Ask my brother-in-law about Christmas Day in Seattle and he will tell you a tale that makes me the hero of the story.  But I am not the hero, because I only did what any human should do—I helped a woman in need.  I felt her pain, I met her in it, and I made certain that she was safe in the hands of professional medical personnel before I left to attend to my own needs.  That is the least that we should be doing for one another.  The absolute least.

There is so much more.

So. Much. More.

Recently, I had dinner with my “brother”, Adam.  We were talking about need and giving and enough and excess.  He talked about aid that he had offered our nephew, and the way that he had added a component of “paying forward” part of the funding that had been offered to him.  Give to another, the way Adam gave unto you.

It sounds a bit biblical, right?

It is a bit biblical.  Because there is a verse in the bible that is pretty much the same.  It is found in the Gospel of John, Chapter 13, verses 34 and 35.  It says, “I give you a new commandment: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.  This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

I suppose that means if my nephew pays forward a third of his college aid, he is a disciple of my “brother”.  Haha.  There are definitely worse men to be disciples of, so this is probably a good thing.

The point I am working toward here is that the goal that we as humans are meant to be working toward—according to Jesus, and according to Adam, and according to Wonder Woman, and according to the feeling in my gut—is offering love and compassion and physical needs and grace and equality and honesty and kindness and more than enough.  And I don’t know when or where we lost sight of that, or whether we ever truly had that in our sights as a society at large.  But our heroes—the embodiments of the best of us—have always had that in view.  We need to cling to that view.

I should be focused on what I can do to continue living out the ideals of Wonder Woman, not on what I need to desperately print out to prove that I am worthy of a criminal payday loan! No human being should be forced to sell their soul so Speedy Cash out of fear that they won’t live from the 28th to the 1st, and will lose their home, contact with their family and friends, and the ability to obtain sufficient calories to sustain their body. And when some of the people are in this state while others are jumping off of fancy boats in the waves on a weekday morning, we are not loving one another as we have been loved.  We are not giving to one another as Uncle Adam gave to us.  We are being selfish.  And we are letting Somali men believe that this is just the way we are as humans—that this is just who we are and will always be: selfish bastards who trample one another to elevate ourselves.

Are you a selfish bastard who tramples others to elevate yourself?  Is that who you want to be?  Is that what you want to be known for and what you want others to believe defines the human condition?

I cannot abide that.  I cannot tolerate that.  I cannot accept that.

I won’t let humanity be a giant game of “king of the mountain” where the ruthless climber is the winner.  Not if I can do anything to help it.

And I can do something to help it.  You can also do something to help!

We can all stop accepting the idea that selfishness is a part of our DNA and refuse to let humanity be defined by anything but the heroic ideals of love and generosity and compassion and care and grace and good.  We get to define who we are, as individuals, as a society, and as representatives of the human condition.  We decide.

So, decide now.  Are you the kind of person who lets payday loans take the souls of disabled, poor women struggling to make ends meet, or are you the kind of person who changes the narrative and refuses to let this be the way that we treat the people in the margins?  Are you the kind of person who is ready to stand up and work hard to eliminate the margins?

It will be difficult work.  Change always is difficult.  You need to learn, you need to change the voices in your head, you need to assess the things that you believe and challenge the beliefs that you have held for many years.  So much of our bias is unconscious, and it takes a lot of self-reflection to work out what we think, and then to consider the ways that thinking might be incomplete, inconsiderate, or just plain wrong.  But if the choice is between doing hard work or letting down humanity, I choose hard work every single time.

Today, I still need the payday loan.  And it breaks my heart to know that I need to sacrifice in this way.  It is a terrible choice.  But there aren’t good choices in the margins very often, unfortunately.  Maybe at some point I will have better options, or there won’t be margins, and humanity will not be seen as selfish, but as loving and generous and compassionate.  Maybe on that day payday loans won’t exist—they actually will be criminal, as in illegal—and disabled women will not be afraid of starving or living under bridges because of financial challenges.  If enough of us choose care over selfishness, this will be reality.

So, choose heroic ideals instead of payday loans.  Don’t let Somalian Lyft drivers believe that this is who we are as humans.  Don’t be this as humans.

We can do better.

I know that we can do better.

Follow Jesus, or Wonder Woman, or Adam.  Choose heroism over selfishness and do better.

As I have loved you, so you should love one another.

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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

Full House

When I was younger, I found myself in situations that were uncommon for most of the people I knew.  One such situation was that of being accused of harboring a runaway, and spending time “on the streets” and “on the run”.

A lot of people find this shocking when they hear about it for the first time.  It isn’t much of a secret, really—just one chapter in a storied past.  But I am a clear-headed, responsible, problem-solver when I am not suffering the effects of illness, and being on the run with fugitives seems really far from where I am in life now, or from my early years, so anyone who didn’t experience that unconventional middle, exhibits surprise when I candidly offer this as a part of my life no more or less affecting than any other part of the story.  In fact, while there were many terrible things happening around me during that period of time, some of my fondest memories also come from that time.

One of those memories is of a household that took me in.  I can’t even recall any of their names right now.  Maybe it will come to me at some point as I write.  But a couple, with a handful of kids of their own, took to “adopting” strays.  I was one of those strays.

Life in that household was strange and hard and fantastic.  You had to work to earn your keep.  As one of only three females in the home, I was tasked with cooking, cleaning, and generally working to keep the men-folk on their way to and from jobs that paid actual cash.  I took to calling the lot of young men my brothers and the one younger girl my sister.  And when the work was done and the bellies were filled, the fun came.  We used to sit around the gigantic dining table that couldn’t fit all of us around it.  We would crowd in.  Sometimes with me on the lap of the boy whom I had followed to this remote place, to reduce the number of chairs and the amount of elbow smacking that happens when too many bodies are in too small a space.  We would spend the evenings or the weekend afternoons playing penny poker.

I had never played poker until then.  And I wasn’t very good at it.  I’m still not.  But that didn’t matter much.  I started to pick up the lingo and would eventually be ready to call out the game as I dealt the hands.  I remember I had a fascination with one-eyed Jacks, so they would often enter into the picture whenever it was my deal.  And while I could tell them what we were going to play, the winning was not a thing I did often.

After I left that home, I don’t think I played poker again.  Not because the memories were not fond.  They were.  But because I really suck at poker.  It may have something to do with what my friend Scott once commented on—he said he liked preaching with me in his audience, because you could always tell by my face exactly what I thought of what he was saying.  I don’t have a poker face.  I have a lot of expressions, and I’m not all that good at hiding one with another.

When I left that home, it was because I left that beautiful bronze-bodied boy whose lap I used to inhabit.  And I didn’t feel bad about leaving him behind.  I had followed him there because, to my mind, he was a shelter during a time when being alone was dark and dangerous.  When I left, it was because I had been reminded of what true shelter should be.

A home filled with love and grace and acceptance was what I entered when I followed that boy to God-knows-where, Hickville, population 15.  And it was far from perfect.  Sharing bath water and cleaning up after a host of teenagers and sweating in the summer heat were not the moments that I longed for.  But being part of this rag-tag “family” helped me know what living without judgements looked like.

And that wasn’t something that my own family or my own community had been, growing up.  We were all about keeping up the appearances and judging the flaws and the failures.  My dad never really got caught up in that judgment, which is part of why we remained relatively close even in the times when I wanted to be far from and unconcerned with my biological family.  But he was the exception to a well-known rule.

When I was later married (to an entirely different body), I moved back to my hometown.  That marriage was followed by a prompt divorce.  And I felt the weight of that “failure” and the “failure” of being a single parent that followed.  But I didn’t let that burden break me.

Instead, I became that home I had left—the one with the table covered in pennies and the laughs and the love.  The knowledge that half of us in that household were avoiding the police for one reason or another never seemed to be a weight at all.  Failures were not a thing.  Choices happened, and the consequences of those choices happened, but that didn’t affect who we were and how we were viewed by the others.  Those were just choices and consequences.  Not character flaws.

My biological family still hasn’t fully grasped the concept of this love and grace and acceptance, and neither has the small town that we came from.  But there are many more attempts at showing that love and offering that acceptance than there have been in the past, and I am proud of and glad for that progress.

But for some time, my home needed to be that home, and my heart needed to be that heart—the one that wouldn’t hold court and make judgments, the one who accepted even the most “broken” of souls.  So, it was.  And I had more than one runaway girl living in my space, and I sold my wedding dress for pennies on the dollar to a girl whose parents wouldn’t support her marriage, and I fed a host of working men every evening, and I shut the door on a room filled with kids some nights, and I made my home the place where everyone belonged.

Lest you think I am painting myself as a saint, I also bought beer for minors, did a host of drugs, slept with some of those men, and traded off babysitting duty so that I could go out and drink a whole lot on the nights my own child was away.

But that is fine, because this is the home where we accept and love and extend grace.  And that is extended to me, as well as to any and all others.

Last week, my daughter started the slow process of moving back home by the end of the month.  Today, I extended an invitation for her friend to move in with me as well, crashing with my daughter or on the sofa, or the inflatable mattress if she prefers.  So, this household of one dog and one human is expanding once more.  We are becoming a full house.  Three women, one dog, and one to two cats, depending on the way that the situation unfolds.  And we probably won’t play poker. I still suck at poker, and we can’t hoard pennies, because we need to add them together and make them into quarters for the laundry.  We will probably have difficult conversations about the end of relationships and the challenges of the world.  We will probably drink ourselves silly at one point … hopefully, only one.  We will be in tight spaces and won’t get enough sleep and will fight over the bathroom.  But my home remains the place where we accept and love and extend grace.  So, it doesn’t’ matter why life is messy or how messy it is.  And it doesn’t matter how long these girls need to stay or how many times the pets fight or how many mouths there are to feed.  What matters is that there is space here.  There is a place here.

I don’t take in strays so much as just allow community to happen where it will.  I don’t consider the people who come to my door astray.  Many of them are less lost than some of the people in my history and life will ever be.  As my therapist likes to remind me, the family member who wants the status quo to stop being followed is often the healthiest and most honest member.  So, even I am a lot less lost than what you might imagine—especially if you have made a habit of judging me from your small, rural, Iowa town.

While I was conscious of opening my heart and my home, I was also conscious of those around me who would open theirs.  These people, along with What’s-his-name and Debbie (I’m now almost certain that her name was Debbie, and his was a one syllable name, possibly starting with an M?), became my shelter and modelled community in the best of ways.

Jessica, Brenda, Andrew, a bunch of willing babysitters, and Julie as I finished college, and Dave, Nic and Adam, Matt, Jen, and John and Misty in the Arizona years.  Allan and Carol, at various stages, Steph, Rhonda, Sarah, Elessa, a bunch of Postmas, and a handful of others in the small-town years.  My Dad, always, and my Mom, learning over the years and loving me with expressions I could believe and hold onto as she slipped away.  Today, it is my beloved Rayven, Luke and Ted, Erin (the bestie with a hundred besties) and Bryan, Rosie, Matt, Josh and Jessica (still and always), Julie (ever-faithful and loving), Adam (and even more Adam, because he never ceases to understand my heart) and Jackie, and a host of others who pay my bills and hear my cries and hold my hands. And who laugh with me around the table at every available opportunity.  And I keep building and keep adding and keep experiencing community with more and other.

Once you see it, this space where judgment ends and acceptance is whole and hearty, you can’t stop finding it.  You crave that community, in its purest form.  And you offer it as often as you are able.  The best thing in the world, the best part of humanity, the deepest love and the strongest bonds and the greatest truths happen here—in these full houses.

I’ll miss my privacy a little.

But I am so glad that I can still say, “I have a full house.”

Even while I suck at poker.

 

This Is About That

The other night, I was watching the latest episode of How to Get Away with Murder.  And I won’t let loose any spoilers, because only asshats let loose spoilers from the best and most intense cliff-hanging shows.  (I’m looking at you, people on the train loudly discussing plots and outcomes that we financially challenged people cannot have experienced yet, because the movie hasn’t come out in the more accessible VUDU app format.)

But, spoilers and asshats aside, a character on the show the other night pointed out that childhood trauma was responsible for her pain and her questionable behavior.  And I cheered aloud and then began to cry.  Because Shonda Rhimes had brought me the validation that is so often missing from the recovery process when one is harmed as a child.  She brought me the truth that today is still about yesterday for those of us stuck in trauma.  She brought that truth to a huge viewing audience.

This is about that.

There are lots of people who misunderstand that way that trauma affects us.  And much of the misunderstanding is due to the fact that we want to avoid trauma like the plague.  We don’t like to feel it, or see it, or cope with it.  We just don’t like the messy and unsolvable and uncontrolled parts of life, and trauma, especially childhood trauma, is the epitome of unsolvable, uncontrolled mess.

I don’t have the luxury of avoiding that mess.  That mess is a part of my brain, and not just in the way that a habit is ingrained, but in the sense that my brain was physiologically and chemically affected by childhood trauma, resulting in post-traumatic stress disorder.  And PTSD throws that trauma in your face constantly.  It isn’t a matter of “letting go”, or “getting over it”.  It is a matter of brain formation and function that is far outside my control.

So, when Ms. Keating offered the idea that her present was infiltrated by her past trauma, I related with that.  I related with that HARD.

And then I was disappointed with the next character’s reply.  Even though I know that his reaction is a common one, it seemed to invalidate the pain of the present being tied to the past.  But it is.  It absolutely is.

This is about that.

I would guess that the number of people who have told me that my choices are responsible for the situation I am in (regardless of what that situation was or what choices I had made) is in the hundreds.  And the number of people who likely think but do not say that my choices are responsible for the situation I am in is probably in the thousands.

Those people are wrong.

This is the point where I would like to add that you should READ TO THE END BEFORE POSTING RAGE-INDUCED COMMENTS.

Those people are wrong because my present challenges are not simply a product of my choices, and because trauma has informed my situation for almost forty years.  And it still does.

Here’s the thing:  Your past informs your present.  It simply does.  There are numerous things outside of your control that may have shaped your life to date.  You were born in a particular place, and in a particular time.  Your parents, or lack thereof, shaped the way you viewed the world in your early years.  Your access to education determined much.  Your family finances determined much.  Your skin color, and the resulting prejudice or privilege, determined much.  And trying to pretend or argue away that influence is a futile thing—because we might not be tabula rasa, but we are definitely affected by the things that make up our early years, and we carry some of that with us always.

Now, having pointed to the ways that we all carry our past, I would like to return our attention to my own situation.  My situation is not the result of my choices alone.  My situation is the sum of many parts, but the most influential parts were the traumatic parts.  And my choices—the way that I interacted with the world—were influenced by that trauma.  This is about that. My present is informed by my past.  And every decision has been one made under duress, because of that lingering trauma.

Trauma, untreated, compounds and builds and becomes more and more traumatic.  Imagine you fall, and in doing so break a rib.  It hurts, but you don’t go in to the doctor for treatment, because you don’t see an external injury.  You walk about for a few days, with that pain still lingering, and then one day, while lifting something heavy, that broken bone shifts and punctures your lung.  Untreated trauma, even in a strictly physical sense, can lead to greater trauma.

My childhood trauma informed how I saw the world, how I saw myself, how I viewed trust and love and care and communication.  And that information was skewed in such devastating ways, that every interaction, for the rest of my life was affected by that trauma.  My drug use, my chronic illness, my romantic partners, my earning potential, my friends, my jail time, my parenting style, my sleep cycles—all directly related to the trauma that I suffered in childhood.  And each resulting “mistake” or misstep based on that history created another skewed belief about myself and the world around me.

It still happens today.  Even with proper diagnosis, medication, and weekly therapy sessions, I still make choices based on that trauma all the time.  Because you can’t just wiggle your nose and create a new narrative.  It takes long, hard, painful work to even face the narrative that is mine, much less to create a new one in its place.

Today is about yesterday.  This is about that.  Trauma compounded makes my life a series of traumas, and that is absolutely not my fault.

Yep.  I’m saying it.  NOT MY FAULT.

My choices didn’t put me here, because they were based on a bullshit narrative.  The narrative started with the trauma.  It is the foundation of my entire life.  Annalise Keating, the character who expressed the truth on the show, and I share this foundation.  This is about that.  When your life is built upon a foundation of pain and confusion and denial and abandonment and fear, you cannot make all the “right” choices.  When your life is built upon love and trust and needs that are met, you can make decisions in a different manner than Annalise and I can.  But we don’t have that to build upon.  And building a life of love and trust and “enough” upon the foundation of pain and confusion and denial and abandonment and fear is an almost impossible task.

I’ve found that digging deep into my history and rooting out the beliefs that a small girl formed based on trauma is a strategy that works to help me move forward in healthier and better ways.  But that process takes many years, and much effort.  There are days when I jump in the ring and fight for my own narrative and my agency and my autonomy—building a more positive framework for my future by addressing that negative framework of my past.  There are days when I cannot find enough energy to fight, and days when parts of my brain take over and make decisions for me and follow rote patterns while I dissociate from pain or fear or some other thing that I don’t want to feel.  There are days when I make informed decisions based in new systems of belief.  There are days when I still believe all the core statements that a broken little girl formed in the midst of a shit experience.

Regardless of the way I connect and interact and act on each of these days, there is always the lingering trauma.  Either I am working at coping with it, or I am being overtaken and ruled by it, but the trauma is always informing my day, my choice, my life.

This is about that.

It has always been about that.  It may always be about that.  I don’t know if the work that I am doing to cope will ever stop being such hard work.  I know that I am developing coping strategies, and learning to frame life in more positive ways at times, and seeking to understand and address the disconnect inside my own mind—reintegrating my brain and finding greater wholeness. But I do not know that my altered brain will ever be free of the influence of previous, and especially childhood, trauma.

There is no cure for PTSD.  There is only coping.  And while I keep working toward coping, there are lots of ways that my finances and my health issues and the area I live in and the things I own and the way I approach relationships are already saturated with trauma, and wringing out all of that history and pouring in something better is not going to be possible if there isn’t more hope and more support and more money and more security and more safety at some point.  If there isn’t more good to replace the bad, then I just keep spinning around in a horrible life cycle of trauma repeating and compounding and reinjuring.

So, what is the point of this post?  I’m not entirely certain.  I suppose it is to voice what was voiced and challenged in the television show:  this is about that, and pain, unchecked and without validation and the pursuit of justice, brings more pain and more pain and more pain.

What can solve this problem?  Validation and the pursuit of justice.  Those are the only things that start to wring out the trauma and fill up the broken with hope and love and trust.  Believing, addressing, listening, validating, and seeking to end the pain for another, instead of running from trauma like you are being chased by a wildcat can solve the problem.  Offering peace to replace pain, offering loyalty to replace betrayal, offering encouragement to replace harsh words, offering truth to replace lies, offering things and funds to replace need and poverty, and offering support to replace abandonment can solve the problem.  They can’t solve it immediately, or easily, or even without any new or recurring trauma, but they can add to the work that the victim of trauma is doing, and help to create a better narrative, new core beliefs, and a perspective of blessing and kindness and good.  And that is a significant contribution.

This is about that.

I didn’t make my bed and need to lie in it.  The place where I lie, or stand, or sit, or walk, was made by a series of traumatic experiences that were not my fault, and I don’t need to remain there.  With the help of others, instead of the flippant judgments and imagined superiority that are often the normative response to those who experience trauma, I might be able to find a better place to lie, and make a bed that is comfortable, warm, and filled with love and kindness, instead of the one that I was thrown into by the actions of others.

Because this is about that.  My present struggles have been caused by the trauma of my past.  And admitting that, appreciating that, and addressing that with actions that change the narrative and offer a positive perspective are necessary for my situation to change.

I’m not alone in this.  Millions of people are suffering in the same way—living lives that are informed by and built on the failing foundations of trauma.  And it is time that those of us not fighting against that trauma stopped adding to the weight of that trauma, and started to support those who are working so hard to overcome the past and find better futures. Become part of the solution, and stop compounding the problem.  Believe a survivor.  Support a person in need.  Fight for justice, even when that justice doesn’t serve you personally.  End the stigma.  Ease the pain.

Because this is about that.

Bravery

I was thinking a lot the past few days about what it is to be brave.  I had a friend tell me that I am brave, and the next morning I was engaged in a guided meditation to help me be less afraid.  I am always afraid, in a sense.  PTSD keeps your system in a state commonly referred to as “hypervigilance”.  Basically, you are always assessing for threats, even in environments where there is little or no danger.  And your body and your mind and your spirit are always feeling threatened by everything.

And all of that is totally justified by some form of trauma, but it makes being brave a difficult thing, while also making simply stepping out your door a step toward bravery.

There are lots of conflicting, dichotomous, and counterintuitive things about this illness, so the whole scared/brave thing is just one, but it often gets me thinking.

I remember a day when a friend labelled links to other friends’ blogs with one word descriptors, and mine was Brave.  I think I cried when I read that.  I never feel brave.  I always feel chaos and fear and indecision and doubt and whatever other anxiety-ridden thing you can think of.  Every moment.  Every day.

And it isn’t a fixable thing, really.  You cope, but your brain chemistry was altered at a critical time in your development, so there isn’t really any fixing the problem.  You live alongside it, and you delve into it, and you learn skills to combat it, and you find ways to rationalize it.  You never end it.

Yesterday, I went to the geneticist and then to the lab.  For the next month I will wait to find out if I carry the gene that likely caused my mother’s dementia, and find out if I might also have indicators of other dementia.  That was the act that was considered brave, but somehow it was the easiest thing I did.  And maybe that is because the other things I did had elements or consequences that I might have some control over.

I have no control over my genetic makeup.  That ship sailed over forty years ago.  And if I have the gene, I have Alzheimer’s to plan for and work against, so there are things I can control after the fact, but I can’t control the result of this test.  There isn’t a way to mess it up.  It either is there, or it isn’t there.  And knowing has consequences, I suppose, but not knowing has them too.

The other things I did yesterday, like going on a first date and going to a new pool and finding my way when I got lost in familiar surroundings, seemed harder.  I felt less brave when I walked in the door to that gym, or stopped to open up my map application to find my way, or met a new man who may or may not be a good man, or got on the bus, or let that man drive me home, or stepped out my door, or started a conversation with the other naked girl next to my gym locker, or did anything that day.  And maybe that is simply because my genetic makeup is like my PTSD.

It isn’t a fixable thing.

And I can learn to cope with it, but I can’t stop my genes from being my genes any more than I can stop my brain chemistry from being my brain chemistry.

In my mind, I’m not brave.

I’m honest, and I’m practical, and I’m self-aware. And maybe those things masquerade as bravery, but they aren’t.  I face what I must because I must, not because I am stronger or better or braver than the people around me.  If I had a choice, I wouldn’t face half of what I have faced in my lifetime.  But I didn’t have a choice.

So, I guess if the definition of bravery is facing what you must, I could be considered brave, but it isn’t a state that I see myself in.  It isn’t how I would characterize myself.

I am a survivor.

I fight my way through life, and I don’t back down from the challenges that come my way.  But what I feel—what is deepest and most prevalent during those moments—is not bravery, but fear.

There was a moment in my history where I stood over a man, with a sword at his throat, and demanded freedom and justice and an end to his tyranny.  That sounds like an epic tale of a brave knight, but I was terrified in that moment, and after, when I was safely away from the situation, I cried and shook violently as the adrenaline of the moment left and the terrified aspect came to the surface.  My demands had been met, yes.  But the way I felt in and after that moment was indescribably bad.  I didn’t talk about it until years later, and even then I had to have another clarify that the moment was real—that I didn’t dream it.  Afterward, I dissociated from the event, because I was that frightened.

Fear motivates many of the things I do or have done.  I’ve been divorced for 19 years not because I was brave enough to leave my abusive husband, but because I was afraid enough to run for my life.  I’ve raised a daughter on my own, not because I am a brave woman, but because I was afraid of what might happen to that daughter in the care of another.  I’ve survived homelessness, and sexual violence, and physical violence, and living in impoverished areas, and going back to school as a non-traditional student, and working in stressful environments, and physical and mental illnesses because I have two choices.  Survive or don’t survive.  Live or die.  Make it through or don’t make it through.  And I wish that I believed it was more nuanced than that—that I contained within my being some strength that others cannot draw upon, or that I had many options but chose the best ones to get me to today.  But I don’t think it was.

Most of my life has been lived in a state of laser-focused survival instinct.  Most of my life there were the two choices.  Leave or stay.  Fight or flee.  Live or die.

Over and over and over and over, I just choose to live.

So, yes, I went and faced the fears of the genetic testing and the unfamiliar gym and the first date, but I wasn’t necessarily brave during any of those parts of my day.  I just had to choose to live, like always.

And we are all meant to survive.  The instinct is so ingrained in us that even those who choose to die, struggle in the act of doing so.  Their bodies and their minds seek to stop that death from happening.  We are designed to keep fighting, keep reproducing, keep eating, keep drinking, keep breathing, keep going.  So, either we are all brave, or none of us is brave, from an evolutionary perspective.

I just do what I was designed to do, and I keep going.

There was a day several weeks ago where I didn’t want to keep going, but I did.  I kept saying aloud, “I can’t do this anymore.”  But, it turns out that I could do it, that I could persevere, that I could keep working and keep trying and keep fighting.  My instinct to survive took over, and I did what needed to be done to keep living, even when I didn’t want to and didn’t believe that I could.

I’m not brave.  I just follow my instinct to survive.

Sometimes I hear people comment that bravery is not the lack of fear, it is moving forward in spite of your fear.  And, to some extent, I can allow that by this definition I might be brave.  I keep moving forward in spite of my fears, but I don’t think I do it consciously, and with purpose, and in ways that I find noble or exceptional.  I just don’t know how to live in a state other than fear, so I have to push through it or I have to stop living.

That might sound strange to anyone who isn’t hypervigilant and trying to reintegrate disparate parts of the brain inside their head, but to me it makes all the sense.  To me, living is being afraid.  The absence of fear is death, and overcoming fear is an impossibility.  It will always be there.  And I might be able to use mindfulness and mandalas and yoga and CBT and all sorts of other things to cope with that fear, but it will never go away entirely.  And I have two choices: live in fear, or stop living.

I go on.  I always go on.

A month or two will pass, and I might have huge relief that I may not become like my grandfather and my mother, slowly slipping away until I am a shell staring into nothing, or I might have the knowledge that I will absolutely become like them, and work to put in place safeguards that give me and my daughter the best chances at choosing the way we deal with becoming like them, and choosing whether or not to risk creating another generation of those long, slow ends.  And I might have no conclusive evidence of risk or not risk, and simply have to wait and see if I lose my mind when I am old, like everyone else.  But none of those options include a caveat that says I might not go on.  Because I haven’t survived all of these things and gone on and on and on to give up on my survival instinct now.  I will go on.

And I don’t believe that makes me brave.  I think it makes me human. I think that when it comes down to it, and we are faced with survival or death, we all do what it takes to survive.  The actual doing may be harder for some than it is for others, but we all choose living over dying by default.  And I would rather live in hypervigilant fear, going out into the world and chancing whatever it offers me, than not live at all.

So, tomorrow, I will face another day, with new fears and new challenges or old fears and old challenges, but I will face it.  And though I don’t believe I am braver than the rest, I know that my commitment to facing what comes is strong and resolute.  I will go on as long as I am able, and in the best way possible.  Even if that time and that way are both filled with all sorts of reservations and anxieties and fears.

And to all the people who are thinking today that you can’t go on, it isn’t true.  You can go on.  You were designed to go on.  Whether you are brave or afraid, you will still go on.

 

The Dangers of Being

Once in a while I sit and reflect.  Just be.  In the silence, alone, waiting, and living inside my own head. It is a different feeling, this reflection, because usually I am always thinking, in the most deliberate of ways, but without conscious effort.  My mind just doesn’t stop.  I’m constantly assessing—for threats, I assume, because of my PTSD, but also just weighing all the things and investigating all the things and trying to anticipate all the things.

There are times when I question whether this is the sign of a diseased mind, like the doctors who prescribed ADHD in my twenties believed, or like the literature on trauma indicates, or whether it is just a side-effect of being really, incredibly intelligent.  I think my mind is always working for reasons, and I don’t always want to push away all of that thinking to just sit and be.

But I need to just be.

Disease or intelligence aside, I do feel better and gain energy and increase clarity by spending time in reflection and in meditation.  It helps.  It calms and centers me.  I can literally feel myself be more connected to the ground with a strong foundation.  I can literally feel my heart opening to love and my chest lightening with the release of anything I might be struggling with.  It can be a beautiful experience.

The trouble is, that when I start to spend time in this grounded, open, lighter space, I start being more grounded and open and light.

And that might not sound like a problem initially, but let me explain the difficulties of this change.

I do what I love.  I don’t care about the approval of others as much.  I let things happen without interfering or controlling them.  I act on my desires.  I live life to the full.  I enjoy my life.

If you don’t see the problem above, then you must not have grown up under the circumstances I was raised within.  Because where I come from you do what you “should” and you care a LOT about the approval of others, and you interfere and control things all the time, and you don’t act on your desires, and you don’t live life to the full, and most don’t enjoy their lives. Who could enjoy life under such restraints?  (I think a lot of people in that area just feign enjoyment and then go home and drink themselves stupid or cry into their pillows.  I know that is usually my strategy when I even visit for a long time—drinking and crying usually happen.)

Now, I do wish to clarify that there are amazing and beautiful people in this area where I grew up.  Some are even aware and thoughtful.  Others still are loving and compassionate and non-judgmental.  But on the whole, the area is plagued by expectations that are never met, leaving people to judge and be judged continually.  And that isn’t for me.

But being—just being and not trying to meet those constant expectations—causes consequences for me.

It sometimes feels like I am worlds away from those people and that place.  Other times I feel swallowed up by my own expectations, which were adopted and enforced in the stead of the ones who did so in my youth.  But, for the most part, I am shedding the rules and regulations and all of the “shoulds” that were once commonplace.  The struggle that I face, then, is the disconnect between the freedom of my current life and the captivity of my earlier life.

Tonight I ate a cookie baked with cannabutter …the whole cookie, not just my usual few bites per hour to manage pain, but enough to get me feeling a little stoned… and then I considered a booty call, but decided against it.  I figure I will wait things out and see if the guy from the other night decides to come back for more.  Because the other night I had sex for the sake of sex.  And it was fun.  And I really liked it.  And I am absolutely up for more, but I don’t feel like making the ask.  Being pursued seems like it might be fun.  And there is nothing wrong with any of the things I said in this paragraph, but that is not how the people in the place where the expectations and judgments live will see it.  Their perspective allows my situation to be bad or sad or cause for “concern”.  It does not allow them to accept that I like having sex but don’t plan on getting married anytime soon.  It does not allow them to accept that I break the law to feel better and eat my weed cookies anyway.  It does not allow them to enjoy my life.

And their enjoyment of my life is not a thing for which I will argue.  My life isn’t meant for them to enjoy.  It is meant for me to live and enjoy.  But what I am arguing for is to have the freedom to live life from my own perspective, in my own experience, filled with my own truth and understanding, without it being tantamount to murderous crime sprees.

I’m a good person.  And I don’t say that because I do good things, but because I am a person.  I’ve not met a single person who didn’t have some good in them. (And I have met some pretty awful people.  I even married a pretty awful person. It is saying a lot that I can find good in even him.)  And that good doesn’t disappear because I break a conservative evangelical’s rules.  I know that is how many of the people in my history have seen people, however.  There is good and there is bad, in their view.  There isn’t anything in between and one cancels out the other, it would seem.  So, my pot consumption and sex while unmarried would make me bad (or sad, or misguided, or confused).  Really, it just makes me a good person who does what she wants and lives according to her own convictions and not the convictions of others.  I can listen to and understand your convictions, but I don’t need to make them mine.

Sometimes, just being, and doing what I want and what feels right to me, gets me into trouble with these others.  And that is the danger here—finding freedom in your own life only to be chastised by those not even in your life. (Being related to me doesn’t count as “in” my life, per se. You would need to talk to me more than once every five years for that to be the case.)  It is difficult to live between worlds.  Do I pretend?  Do I lie about what I believe and what I do?  Do I tell people only what I believe they want to hear?  Doing so would mean denying myself the freedom I spend the time to achieve, and being locked in a cage of expectations once more.  And pretending for too long leaves you lost—you forget who you are after a while.  But not doing so means having to field angry messages and argue for my freedom a ridiculous amount of time, or restricting people’s access to my writing and my opinions (aka, unfriending half of my Facebook “friends”).

Being is hard work.

And apparently it is also lonely work, as the list of people who accept me as I am grows ever shorter.

Ironic that “Just As I Am” is a hymn that I heard often growing up, now that most who sang along with it don’t follow it at all.  Maybe the divine accepts me as I am, but I haven’t met many evangelical Christians that would do the same.  And with every move I make away from traditional views of scripture and toward a divine concept that offers more hope than criticism and more love than judgment, I lose more friends.

I was recently accused of “just trying to cause fights” by expressing my views.  I don’t need fights caused.  My life has quite enough struggle on its own, and I am not looking to add more.  But I also don’t need to feel shamed and judged and hated for the beliefs I do hold, and the ways that I do live.  I often wonder why those who comment repeatedly on my Facebook posts think I am starting a fight, when they are perpetually commenting.  If they don’t want to argue about a point I have made, then they don’t need to object.  And when I refuse to engage their comments, some people get extremely agitated and accost me.  But I suppose I am considered the one at fault because I have the divergent viewpoint.

That word, “divergent”, just reminded me of the book series of the same title.  It turns out that divergence isn’t really all that terrible, and that the girl who seemed all wrong was actually “right”.  And it is a bit fun to believe that I am the lead character in this story.  It is fun to think about how it will feel to know that I am justified.  And I am justified not by the ones who now judge me, but in a much greater scheme and a much broader sense.  Because right or wrong, we all have the freedom to be.  And that being can look however we might choose for it to look.  I am not afraid of the choices I am making.  I am not ashamed of the choices I am making.  And I am not hiding from the choices I am making.

Trust me, I get the whole fucking consequences concept.  I’ve understood that concept since about age four, but it was beaten into my head (sometimes literally) later in life as well.  If my choices really aren’t the “best” or “smartest” or most “good”?  I don’t really care.  Because they are the ones I have made, and I made them for reasons—often well researched and scientifically proven reasons.

And you have the freedom to make your decisions too.  And you are subject to your own set of consequences.

I would never say that the only people who are right are the people who got pressed up against an appliance the other night with a hand around their throat and liked it and begged for more.  I would never say that the only people who are right are the ones who believe sexual purity is the mark of a good woman. (Actually, I would never believe those people were right in that particular instance, but let’s just imagine for a second that they could be.)  The point is, I get to make my choices, and you get to make yours.  And I rarely attack people for their choices … unless I am super hangry or in a lot of pain.  I might disagree with your ideas, but I don’t use ideas to harm people intentionally.  But I also don’t think my ideas are the measure of my worth.  Because, as I said earlier, I am a person.  And people have value because they are people, not because they hold the right set of beliefs or have the correct courses of action.  People have value because they are people.

I wanted to type that I often question how the world might look if we all let one another be, instead of focusing so much on what one should or should not do, but I don’t actually question that much anymore.  I don’t believe that many of the people I know will ever change the way they now live, and I have stopped expecting the same level of acceptance from others that I offer myself.  It has, after all, taken years and years for me to let go of expectations and accept myself as I am. Some days it is still a struggle for me.  I’m guessing it will be as difficult, or more difficult, for others to do the same.  But I also don’t question my desire to break ties with those who would wish I hate myself more again—and I understand they would be well-meaning and not trying to make me hate myself, but by judging my actions and beliefs constantly, that is exactly what they do.  They make me slip back into the self-hatred of my earlier years.  And I am refusing to go back to that place, if I can help it.

So, being, in my case, might mean being tied to only a handful of loving people who understand and accept who I am.  And it might mean refusing to engage with those who offer me shame and self-loathing in place of the freedom.  Being might be difficult in all these ways.

It is so worth it.

I have never been more satisfied with life, even though much of my life currently sucks.  But I have never let go and let life be mine in this way before.  I wish I would have.  Because being, and being me, are both fabulous.

To close, I suppose I would like to encourage you to be.  Just be.  Free from expectation and letting go of control and allowing your happiness to be of great importance and offering your life what it desires to be, instead of always trying to fit your life into someone else’s desire for what you ought be.  Find yourself, in the quiet meditation space, and leave the space where judgments and disappointments and all those other negative self-images are formed.  Let go and be.

And, if you don’t want to, fine.  It is your choice.  But I think you might enjoy who you are, once you start just being.  I know that I have.

Pills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What my brain lost and what it held is similar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am screaming autonomy.

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

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

I define me.

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

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

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

And I am very proud of who I am.