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 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

Like You Mean It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is no title befitting pleas of the broken

There are days that hope cannot come from within.  The spirit of the wounded gives up sometimes, whether it is desired or no.  I’m trying to find a way to inspire that spirit and enter the fray once more. But I haven’t found it today.  I think it might need to come from elsewhere.  I think I have given up.  I am too broken—too overwhelmed, too tired, too pained, and too frustrated.  So, put up whatever prayers or vibes or other juju required to get the universe in gear.  Send all the things that might spark the survivor’s drive in me, and keep me moving forward.  I don’t want to slip into hopelessness.  But I’m not sure that I am offered a choice today.  I’m not certain that I can overcome alone.  I need some intervention—some intercession.  I need the matchstick of divine inspiration to light the flame once more, and to ignite hope.

And now I go to do all the things:  the meditation, the Buddha board, the mandalas, the gardening, the art, and the yoga.  I go to seek out some solace and to find some end to the feeling that weighs my heart down today, and silences the good things and amplifies the bad.

Pray they are the flint that sparks joy and hope and strength.

Ask and it shall be given.  Seek and you will find.

Documented

Documents and documenting are serious themes in the past few weeks to months.  It is interesting to me the ways that we are forced or encouraged or inspired to document, and all the different reasons that are used to justify or explain that documentation.

I recently had to make a trip to my local office of the Chicago Housing Authority.  I had used their new online participant portal to upload requests for a rent renegotiation due to household income changes in both August and February.  In August, they denied my claim, saying I had not attached documents proving my claim—but I literally uploaded them per the instruction of the site, and had copies and receipts of all the attached information.  Last week, they claimed that I had never made a request in February, and that my mailed documents of proof (which I had mailed to avoid the same result I was met with in August) went to the wrong address (the address listed on their form and web page, by the way).  So, they claimed there was no proof that I ever applied for a renegotiation.

Not true.  I had documents and receipts a plenty this time.  There was no way I was letting the lack of documents be my downfall this time around.

So, I went into that office with an entire folder full of documents.  I brought documents proving I applied with proper documentation in August and was denied.  I brought documents proving I applied again in February, and supporting documentation that I deserved the rent adjustment at that time as well.  And, for good measure, I brought in documents removing my daughter from my household over a week before she moves into her own apartment.  All of those documents were copied and admitted and dealt with by the office manager at the office, and then she said, “Now, the only thing we are missing is two documents signed by your daughter and we can get all of this processed.”

Gaaaahhhhh!!!!

I called my daughter and asked if she would head down to the office after work to sign these added documents.  They closed at 5, and she made it there at 4:45, signed the documents, and in the next 30 days, my mailbox will receive documents that tell me whether or not I am allowed the revision in rent, whether or not they will back-date to the dates of application, whether or not I will receive a refund of the monies I overpaid due to these errors on the part of the housing authority, and a document that tells me to come into the office again and sign about 45 other documents so that they can give me documents to take to my landlord, so that he can accept my voucher sans dependent child document and let me keep living in the same home I am currently living in.

If you thought being poor was tied to laziness, you are an idiot.  I fill out as much paperwork as any doctor or lawyer I know.  I just don’t get paid for filling it out—unless you count rental assistance and food stamps as getting paid, which I don’t, because safe housing and food security are basic human rights. (A fact that most developed countries have embraced and created systems of care to ensure. But not the United States, because we are selfish, entitled brats who believe we somehow earned our privileges—in other words, ignorant assholes.)

And if you thought you heard the word “documentation” enough for a lifetime in my earlier paragraphs, then prepare to be disappointed!

There are all sorts of other forms of documentation that are tied to my disability case.  The disability system is such that you are denied the first time.  Almost everyone not in a wheelchair, nursing facility, or mental ward is denied.  That is just the way it works (inefficiently and expensively).  You acquire documents from all of your doctors, you fill out numerous assessments, you add in assessments filled out by those who know you or live with you, and then you wait for documents that say you are denied.  After the denial documents, you go find a lawyer, and they make you sign about 87 documents because you must sign disclosure statements for every lawyer who might work on your case, not just the law firm, according to the state, effectively requiring the disabled person to sign the same document 4, 5, or 6 times, depending on the number of lawyers in their particular firm.  Then you wait for the exact same assessments to arrive and be filled out another time, and collect the same medical records, but your lawyer asks you to keep them informed of any changes in treatment or diagnosis and to document your wellness or lack thereof, so you give all the paperwork you did last time, plus you begin logging your daily mood, daily function, daily tasks, and any and all changes that happen, to support your case when your redetermination is denied, and then you have to file paperwork requesting a hearing, and get back a document that says you will be given a court date in about 10 to 12 months.  Then you document changes and function and symptoms and such for a year, while you wait to bring all the information amassed in the past three years before a judge.  Who, if we have done all the things correctly, will create a legal document stating that I am, in fact, disabled.

It isn’t difficult to understand, at this point in the post, why I hate documents.  I am so overwhelmed with paper that I sometimes feel it is drowning me, and paper cuts are just par for the course in my situation.  If I don’t have any, I worry that I must have missed some paperwork that needs filling out or filing.

But yesterday I was introduced to a new form of documentation.

Yesterday, two friends came over to help me create a video for my fundraising page.  And we started by documenting things.  One suggested things that we could document, and the other started slowly, but surely, taking video and still footage of all the things.  We started with adaptive tools—the things I need on the daily to live life: special knives and peelers and openers for the kitchen, a tool to tie buttons and pull zippers, various adaptive pens and pencils and cutters (because I can’t use scissors without severe pain and injury), and more.  Then we moved on to the overflowing basket of medications and the daily pill organizers that are filled with multiple doses of many of those medications.  We also printed a copy of my next two weeks of appointments, which required three pages of paper.  And we looked up the list of current illnesses, which wasn’t complete since not all of the things are recorded in the same place, but still took almost an entire page.  Next was physical therapy and occupational therapy papers that show what exercises I am to be doing daily.  We spread them out over the floor, and as I was preparing them I dropped papers that scattered all across the living room.  My friends filmed as I sat and worked to collect and organize this pile of documents once more, and caught on camera the fact that I cannot see some of my therapists due to insurance refusals, documenting that my medical needs are sometimes not met because of money.  And by that time we were all exhausted and decided that we would need another meeting to document all of the ways that my illnesses affect my life—maybe two.

But this documentation, this mini-documentary of my daily life, being made by the son of two documentarians and his fiancé, was eye-opening and expressive of things that I hadn’t imagined.  My life is really difficult.  And there are all sorts of proofs of it.

However, the thing that was most shocking to me was that I am doing all these things.  I am doing my exercises and using my splints and walking in water to get some cardio and eating 1100 calories and none of them sugar and filing all the papers and bringing in all the documents and taking all the medicines and attending four and five medical appointments each week and stretching and meditating and coloring mandalas and doing art therapy and studying nutrition and gardening and using my paraffin bath and doing yoga and writing and more. I am doing far more than anyone might imagine, because I am doing far more than I could have imagined.

When I look at all the things that make up my life, and I am drowning in the sea of papers, and exhausted or craving chocolate or in pain, and feel insignificant and incapable, I rarely look at the proofs of all that I am doing.  I look at all the documents that show I am not “good enough”–poor and sick and lacking.  I don’t look at the documentation that shows me doing every possible thing I can do to be the most well I can be.  I get dragged down by the negative proofs and don’t even consider that there are positive proofs.

While some might not understand the life of the chronically ill person, and will refuse to believe the proofs laid out in my mini-documentary, I know that I am doing so much hard work to live my best possible life.  Whether that means I walked the dog, or I ate vegetables, or I colored for a bit, or I remembered to connect with my breath, relax my face and neck, and engage my core when feeling fearful or overwhelmed on a stressful transit ride, or I washed the dishes, or I asked for help, or I practiced new body mechanics, or I managed to finish an article or blog post, I am doing everything that I can do to live well.

My previous ideas of living well were not good ideas of living well, in many ways.  And when my focus shifted from living out my pain in ways that brought more pain to creating a life that included education and progress and sufficiency and stability, I thought that meant I was on the path to living well.  And I believed that documents like my resume and my degrees and my personal and professional references were the ones that would bring me other good documents, like the deed to a house and paystubs that showed more than three digits before that decimal point and an insurance card that I could bring to the orthodontist to receive services.

But I had it wrong.  None of those documents are proof of living well.  I know plenty of people with bigger incomes and better insurance coverage who are not living well, but are full of contempt and hatred and negativity.  I know plenty of people with lots of letters behind their name from years of education who are completely ignorant on important points.  I know plenty of people who are physically and financially well, but complain every time I see them about one thing or another in their life, refusing to see anything that has good or peace or acceptance or joy at its core and only seeing the negative.  None of those people are living well.

Documenting my life started as a project to garner support from others, by offering proofs of my need.  And, I suppose, that is still one of the goals of the project.  But, it has become much more than that for me.  It has become a proof of the fullness of my life, and the extent of my dedication and strength, as I work day after day after day to live a life of wellness—improving my body and healing my mind in any way possible.  This video will be something that shows others what dealing with constant physical and mental suffering is about, and give them a glimpse of why my financial need is great at this time, and demonstrating why I am incapable of working enough to support myself and depend upon the generosity of others.  But, for me, this video is the catalyst I needed to find self-compassion and to stop denying my tenacious work toward a life well-lived, but accept and proclaim and honor the fact that I am a warrior.

I am not weak, but stronger than almost anyone I know.  I am not lazy, but offer my body the rest it needs to heal and cope and survive.  I am not stupid, but suffer cognitive impairments due to my illness.  I am not reclusive, but work to foster and put energy toward only the best of relationships with the best and most supportive people in my life.  I am not crazy, but deal with multiple mental illnesses that affect my thinking and choices.  I am not playing the victim, but am coping with the ways that I was truly and deeply victimized by all manner of perpetrators.  I am not scared, but am learning to manage hypervigilance and overstimulation and anxiety caused by my diseases.  I am not giving up, but am fighting for every moment of every day to create the best possible life I can live with my challenges.  I am not begging, but I am placing my need before my community in the hope and the trust that provision will be offered in return.  I am not desperate, but I am allowing myself to be vulnerable and open and honest in expressing my struggles.  I am not whining, but I am telling the truth about the realities of chronic illness—and if you think that telling my truth is whining, note every time you complain about a thing, and see which of us expresses more complaint per actual struggle (I’ll bet on you, unless you are dying or also have chronic illness).  I am not lying, exaggerating, or making things up, but I am telling the harshest of realities without any sugar-coating to make it more palatable or acceptable to others.

And I know that it isn’t very palatable or acceptable to discuss any sort of true suffering in our society.  I know that we generally avoid pain, and we lie about who we are and how we are doing on a very regular basis, and we chastise or castigate or cast out any who express in their words or actions or being any hint of the lies we are telling or the avoidance we are seeking.  It is the reason we don’t make eye contact with the pan-handling person on the corner, or look down on the addict or the sex worker, or pretend that we “earned” our privileges and not that we are taking part in a system of injustice that is harming others and refusing helps for those in need.

I wonder, though, if it is possible to truly live well when we can’t look in the eyes of the homeless, or see the addict and the sex worker as our equal, and admit that we have privileges and seek to create a more just system that offers basic human rights to all people.  And I move toward an answer of “no”.  The more I identify with the least and the lowest of the society, and the more I hear people’s judgment and lies and excuses to reject my illness or my need or my deserving assistance, the more I believe that I am living well, and those others are living sad and sorry lives.

I know that I am living well.  I am putting every ounce of energy into being stronger, more able, less dependent, more mobile, calmer, more balanced, thinner, more educated, more aware, and just better than I was yesterday, and I am doing it in a way that doesn’t deny my experience, but embraces the reality with which I am faced and by which I am surrounded.  I am doing it without shame and with honesty and vulnerability.  And I am doing it in ways that recognize my privilege and stand against systemic injustices.  I am living well, and am proud to be doing so.

So, I am no longer afraid of or weighed down by documentation.  I’m learning to embrace the documents in my experience as proofs of transformation and hard work and betterment.  I’m learning to see every piece of paper as a document that shares life and fights disease and seeks equity and justice, even when those papers are also annoyingly redundant and seem ridiculous.  And I am also recognizing that every word I write here, and every thank you note sent, and every photo with friends and family and my dog, and every selfie of a new haircut, and every update or post or page that is put out by me or on my behalf or with me tagged is also documentation, and it is documenting a most beautiful life.

Bring on the paperwork, world.

Paper cuts or no, I am ready to keep on documenting and to keep on being the best and the most I am able to be.  And no matter how many diagnoses come my way, and no matter how many treatments and therapies are added to my daily routine, I am going to keep on adding documents that show a life of wellness—maybe not in my body, and maybe not in my psychology, but definitely in my spirit.

I will live life well and share a record that screams of legacy and not of lack.

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.

 

 

 

 

Costume

I remember loving dressing up.  I remember loving Halloween.

My parents were strictly religious, for most of my childhood, but they still, for one reason or another, fully accepted Halloween and the annual costuming and treading through the cold for candy when I was quite young.  There is a photograph somewhere of me and my siblings dressed as characters from the Wizard of Oz.  And those cold nights of costumed begging were so lovely.

I made a huge event of Halloween for my daughter when she was young.  I think I remembered how enthralled I was with the act of turning into something or someone new, and I wanted her to have that joy and fun.  …and maybe I also wanted to eat her candy after I tucked her into bed at night. What parent doesn’t?

My daughter still loves Halloween, and we celebrate it like Christmas, with presents and decorations and parties and moments of tradition.  It is a beautiful part of life in our family, and will likely continue to be such for generations to come.

But today, as I started dressing in ways that will accommodate my black cat costume, and wondered if the weather would turn my face-painting into trails of black running down my face, instead of the cute kitten face I have planned, I began thinking about costumes in a new way.

I’ve always been one who loves to pretend.  Theater and dress-up and imagination and creativity were always a part of who I am.  And I love that part of me.

But I have used that part to my advantage for a reason.  I had to pretend.  I had to lie.  I had to shut out the bad I saw in me and my situation and become a different person in a different place inside my head to survive.

I got so good at pretending, that eventually most of me forgot the other girl—the one suffering and struggling in silence.

I apologize to that girl.  I’m sorry I left you there in that little box and kept up the pretending for so long.  I apologize to my sister, because I worked so hard to forget that girl that I couldn’t care if another was suffering the same way, and I left her to suffer and went on pretending.

I didn’t do it knowingly, of course.

The mind is beautiful and terrible in its abilities to shut out what we can’t survive at the moment.  It is equally beautiful and terrible in the way it brings back those moments later, for us to confront in a time and place when and where we might be able to survive facing them.  But it leaves us pretending in the meantime.  And, frankly, there are days I still pretend.

I still fold up the pain and tuck it in a corner and go out with my head held high, pretending I’m not crushed and abandoned and suffering.  I pretend I’m not a mess of contradictions and confusions.  I pretend I’m not afraid of everything all the time.  I pretend I’m not depressed and crazy and poor and struggling and in pain.  I dress up in my costume every time I leave the safety of my home.

Therapists often use the terms “button up” or “zip up” to describe this phenomenon.  It isn’t so much a lie as another coping skill.  You walk into the office kept and held inside your costume, and the therapist works to get your real self to come out.  But only for 50 minutes.  And then it is the job of the client to zip up, and put the pain back in its place to walk back out of the office put together and not pouring out the pain and the secrets.  And eventually, the work we do for those 50 minutes a week is meant to bring me to a place where I am integrated.  Where the pretend woman and the pained woman are one and coping together with life, having found those incongruent places and found a way through them to a more whole self.  But, until I get to that point, I still pretend.

My costume feels more genuine than my true self some days.  And I know that it is working at fooling many in the world.

People call me strong, or brave, or fearless, or brilliant, or beautiful, and I hear it and can’t figure out how they could see that in me.  And then I remember that the costume is exactly that, and that many of them don’t get opportunities to see the scared little girl crying in the dark.  I don’t let her out very often.  I’m an excellent pretender.

But I am starting not to feel as guilty about keeping that strong self out in front of others, whenever possible.  I’m starting to understand the ways that zipping up saved me from more suffering, and the ways that it helps me function in the world today, and to feel less like that self is a complete fabrication.  I’m starting to see that those parts of the costumed self are me.  They may not be the whole of me, but they are me.

When my daughter put on a princess dress and tiara when she was six years old and went out into the night to trick or treat, you could see the princess inside her come out.  The way she walked and waved her scepter and spoke were all royal.  She was that inside, and putting on the costume just let it out for a night, without judgments or questions or disbelief.  And my costume is similar.  It lets me be things I am somewhere inside, even if I don’t always recognize or acknowledge those things.  I am my costume and I am also the little girl fighting to find her way through suffering and confusion.

And all of us wear a costume.  My zipped up self might be more distant from my whole self than that of some people, but we all zip parts inside of the costume, and we all present what we want others to see.  And that can be helpful and that can keep our hearts safe at times, but it can also keep us distanced from one another and ourselves.

So, I am challenging myself to look at both parts of myself today, as I paint on my kitten face—to look at the costume and look at what lies beneath, and to see where I might connect those two, and what might have felt unsafe to uncover before that I might want to expose now.  I’m looking at who I want to portray and asking why that is the face I show, and why I might not want to show other aspects of myself.  I’m digging down and trying to see beyond the costume.  Claiming both the external and the internal parts of myself, and owning and honoring them, will bring me closer to wholeness and the ability to present all of me.

And I think that I need to be able to present that whole woman to myself, as much as I need to present her to the world.  I’m learning to see all of myself.  And it is a beautiful awakening to see the whole, and to accept the strong parts and the weak parts, the brave and the fearful parts, the brilliant and the baffled parts, and the beautiful and the ugly parts.

I know that it will be an amazing moment when I can love all of that woman and I can stop the constant cycle of setting myself free and buttoning myself up.

It will be fabulous to just be me, unbound and undivided.

Wholly me.

 

Happy Halloween!!!