Avoidance

I’m supposed to be paying bills.

But there isn’t enough money.

So, I am doing this thing that I do.  Some like to call it procrastination, but I’ve started to use terms that are more honest wherever possible, so this thing is called “avoidance”.

When the thing cannot be done comfortably, efficiently, without stress, or with relative ease, I avoid doing the thing.  “Avoidance”.

Right now it is about the bills, because there is stress, discomfort, inefficiency, and a bit of struggle involved in trying to figure out how to make money multiply without a magic wand or the art of alchemy to assist in the task.  I don’t know what to pay and what to leave unpaid.  I don’t know who might be gracious and who might attack the credit score I have been working so hard to improve.  I know that all of the things need to be paid, eventually.  And I know that one way or another, through begging or borrowing or more high interest loans that bury me in even deeper debt, things will be paid, but that doesn’t make the job of maneuvering and managing a too small budget less uncomfortable or less stressful, so I still want to avoid it.

A long overdue blog post is better than an attempt at bill payment … even one that details the stress I feel over the bill payment attempt.

I think that part of this avoidance is built into our DNA.  We didn’t survive as a species by running headlong into danger with great stupidity and zero planning.  We avoid situations that seem like losing scenarios as a matter of survival.  Avoidance helps us stay alive, in many ways, so it can be an excellent mechanism for the continuance of the human race—which is likely a good thing.

But there may also be a negative side to this tendency toward avoidance.  That negative side is the part that I think frequently trips me up and leaves me face down on the proverbial pavement of life.  It is the tendency of our culture to avoid any sort of suffering, pain, or pretense of unease—or dis-ease—whatsoever.  It is the glossing over of the lament in favor of pretending that all is well and good and easy, all of the time.  It is the lie that we don’t just avoid the things that are uncomfortable, but that the things that are uncomfortable don’t exist—and if they do exist, that something is wrong and needs to be “fixed” and fixed immediately.

If you’ve read anything else that I have ever written, you already know that I suffer from chronic illness, both mental and physical in nature.  Something will always be “wrong” with me.  And the desire to either “fix” or deny the existence of the problem is, therefore, always with me.  I’ve found, through many therapy sessions and lots of searching of my own spirit, that this desire is based largely on cultural perceptions.  It is shameful not to “work”, “have a job”, “do something with your life”, “have a purpose”, and it is shameful to “beg”, “live off other’s hard-earned money”, “take what I didn’t earn”, “play the victim”, “act sick”, “sit on my ass all day”, “be lazy”, or not “suck it up”, “get over it”, “take some Tylenol and get off my butt”, “push through the pain”, or to be like “my friend”, “my husband’s cousin”, or any number of other people and “run 5k’s”, “go to work every day”, “take care of five kids”, even though they have [insert one of my illnesses here] “just like you”.

Not only do I cope with my illness every day, but I deal with the public perceptions and the cultural shame that goes along with being chronically ill.

A court has determined that I cannot work—that there are no jobs that I can do given my particular limitations, diagnoses, skills, educational background, work history, symptoms, and the way that those things intersect with the job market in my geographical location.  “There are no jobs.”  That is literally in the court transcript for you to read, if you were to read through the lengthy hours of Q and A that were required for us to get to the point where a judge determined that I am disabled.

But that transcript doesn’t matter to probably about 85% of the people who I come into contact with in my day to day interactions.  It doesn’t matter because of this negative sense of avoidance.  I’m supposed to avoid suffering and illness and flaws and bad shit.  I’m not supposed to acknowledge that, but fix it, and fix it fast.  I’m not supposed to admit that I can barely sit at this desk right now because of the pain in my back.  I’m not supposed to admit that I’m at this desk and not a “work” desk because I am disabled.  I’m not supposed to BE disabled.  I’m supposed to take some Tylenol and get off my ass and run a 5k like aunt Janet from West Virginia!

Because we avoid suffering.  We get over that shit, or we lie about it, or we become the kind of people who complain all the time but only a small, acceptable, mundane amount of complaining that is socially acceptable around the water cooler at our jobs.  Because we are allowed to be moderately miserable all the time if we are still productive.  But real, serious, deeply affecting problems are not socially accepted.  Those we avoid.

I sometimes wonder who decides which challenges are acceptable and which are not.

When all the women have ovaries that stop producing more eggs, we call it menopause and call it normal.  When all the men start having limp, less adept penises and lower sperm counts, we call it “erectile dysfunction” and make a billion-dollar industry out of making them hard again, instead of accepting that aging men can’t always perform sexually on command.  It’s normal for a woman’s sexual function to change, but it is a problem to avoid and be “fixed” for a man?  Who decided that?  The pharmaceutical companies?  The medical professionals?  The sex work industry?  Who made this a thing?

And who made being chronically ill unacceptable but being terminally ill perfectly fine?  That question makes me sound like an asshole all the time, I know.  But it only makes me sound like an asshole because of the perceptions already infused into those terms.  Chronically ill.  Terminally ill.  One is a drain on society.  One is a sainted state worthy of all the compassion.  We all know which one is which.  I’m not the sainted one worthy of all the compassion.  I’m the other.  And I am an asshole for pointing out that there is a bias.  I am an asshole for pointing out that dying faster somehow makes you worthier of care.  (At least in the eyes of many in our society, that is—it doesn’t actually make you worthier of care.)

Who decided that I need a “real job” to be treated like a “real person”?  Who decided that I am allowed to be treated poorly because I am in a state of poverty—or that I deserve to live in an impoverished state if I cannot work due to illness?  Who decided that $750 per month is the amount that a disabled person who has less than 40 work credits should be forced to live on, making this entire post even a thing that exists?  And why do I not get any credits for the early years of my work history when I was delivering papers and babysitting, or for the years when I was working two part time jobs and going to school and raising a daughter as a single parent.  That was more damn work than I have seen most anyone do—ever.  And that doesn’t “count” for anything.  Who decided that doesn’t count as work? Who decided I get $750 instead of $3000 because of those years?  Who decided that my life isn’t valuable enough to be offered what I need to not be sitting at this desk, in pain, avoiding my bills like the plague.

If I had the plague, I would get more benefits.  Because it would kill me.  If you are dying they let you have a better quality of life than if you will live.  Oh wait … not socially acceptable.  We already went over that.

So, this avoidance, this thing that was written into our DNA as a positive survival instinct has somehow become a thing that we use to cover up and shame and deny and harm whatever is connected to our socially unaccepted suffering.  And I don’t know that I will ever get a complete, straight answer about how that came to be, or who determined and decided what was or was not acceptable, but I do hope that I will someday begin to shape the conversation around why we do this, and why we need to stop doing this.

We need to stop avoiding suffering and pain and bad shit that happens, because it happens to all of us.  It is part of the human experience.  And it is an important part of that experience. While much of my suffering was regrettable, and I obviously would choose to go down another path if I could, the person I am today was forged in the flames of that suffering.  Those challenges shaped me.  And they made me a better person.

They didn’t make me a better person right away.  In fact, they led me down a dangerous road to some very dark places.  But that happened when I was trying to hide and avoid and stuff away all of the bad things.  If I had been able to and allowed to cope with what I had experienced as a child, or a teen, in positive ways—expressing the pain and the betrayal and the confusion and the suffering openly and in a safe space—I would have avoided that road and those places altogether.  I might have avoided mental illness and chronic pain altogether.  (Nobody knows what causes fibromyalgia, in distinct terms, so I cannot know that for certain, but it is linked with stress and often presents in tandem with post-traumatic stress, so it is possible that without the PTSD there would be no fibromyalgia.)  Our society’s insistence that pain be hidden likely caused me more pain.

But now that I am in a space where I am able to process and cope with and express all that I should have been allowed to express all those years ago, I am becoming strong and wise and good in ways I might not have were it not for the experience that I went through.

Lament shapes the spirit in beautiful ways.

Pain makes us compassionate, kind, understanding, gracious, loving, connected, and strong.  That is not something that we should hide.  And that is certainly not something we should avoid.

We still shouldn’t run, stupidly, toward danger without a plan.  But there isn’t a need for us to hide and avoid something that makes us compassionate, kind, understanding, gracious, loving, connected, and strong.  Frankly, hiding that seems like a stupid run toward danger … it probably is.  And that is probably why so many things about our society today seem so messed up, in the sense where one person refuses to lay down their “right” for the lives of, potentially, thousands of others.

We are in danger, and we are being stupid.  Because we have hidden so well and avoided so effectively the thing that makes us compassionate and kind and understanding and gracious and loving and connected and strong, that we have become the sort of society that breaks apart and leaves individuals to be slaughtered as “they”, somehow apart from us and without our compassion, rather than feel the pain of the truth—that we have become so unfeeling that we cannot mourn our own brokenness, so we deny it again and again.

We have put some imagined dessert to rights of the individual above the conscious collective of the society.  I now becomes more important than we.  And that is a grave error.

We, the people—that is how it begins.  Not, I the individual who wants a gun and an erection despite the compassion and the biological facts that are required for me to understand the world around me.

“I don’t suffer.  I don’t have pain.  I take a Tylenol and go to work.  I have rights.”

But that isn’t true.  We all suffer.  We all have pain.  We all have days when no painkiller will dull the ache we feel—be it physical or emotional.  And, most importantly, WE have rights—all of us together, in concert, and being accountable to one another.  The only way to accurately see that, is to start to uncover the pain and suffering and to acknowledge it, to express it, to cope with it, and to begin shaping yourself and your life into one that has compassion, kindness, understanding, grace, love, connection, and collaborative strength.

Stop the avoidance.  Embrace the lament.  Feel.  Suffer.  And come out the other side a better version of yourself.

Now, if you will excuse me, I need to suffer through paying my bills.

 

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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.

 

Too Much

Yesterday was too much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today is a tolerable amount.

In the Mood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is difficult to connect with our brokenness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am now in a great mood. 🙂

In Jesus’ Shame

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Palmer Method

I’m learning to write.  I’m pretty sure that I spent years of grade school learning to write.  Apparently, those years didn’t accomplish the goal, or my teachers didn’t teach me well.  After an injury to my wrist on a Chicago city bus (as an aside, avoid public transit on holidays when copious amounts of alcohol will be consumed by the general public … it never ends well), I’ve spent nearly three months in a splint, and have only recently been freed from that strange sort of prison.  But now I find that this injury will be chronic and recurring if I don’t learn to do things “properly” and avoid re-injuring my wrist.  So, writing.  I’m doing it wrong.  And I’ve been doing it wrong for what may be the span of 35 years or so.  That whole old dogs/new tricks cliché has new significance for me today.

So, Beverly, my fabulous occupational therapist tried to teach me how to write yesterday, and I am to practice daily with the Palmer Method of writing.  Basically, you don’t activate the wrist or the hand.  The movement comes from the shoulder, and the hand is basically just coming along for the ride.  It is more akin to conducting an orchestra in movement.  Oddly, I’m capable of conducting an orchestra, and a complete failure at writing using this method.

The most interesting thing about this experience, for me, is the realization that I cannot relinquish control.  My hand grips with such desperation that I am concerned for its mental health.  And then I realize that my mental health is probably a factor, and not really just the actions of my hand.  It is strange to me that I need this level of control–that I hold this much tension within my wrist and hand–but that I didn’t notice it until trying to make a line of useless loops across a legal pad at an outpatient appointment. I can’t let it go.  I can’t risk it.  Even an uncontrolled and crazy-looking letter “B” that slips above the paper’s lines is too much of a risk for my body to allow.  That is a frightening and frustrating truth to be faced with, because if I can risk nothing, I will likely gain nothing.  And I’m not sure that learning to write in a fashion that lets my hand be free will be enough to break through this mental and emotional barrier.

I understand where this self-protective and hyper-controlling instinct comes from, of course.  It isn’t so much of a shock, in that regard.  I’ve been diagnosed with anxiety and depression and attention deficit disorder and addictive tendencies and borderline personality disorder over the years along the road to my true and best diagnosis of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Control is not just a habit, it is a leftover instinct from all the times that my experiences were so far outside of my control that I had to dissociate and quarantine my thoughts and feelings to some yet unearthed portion of my brain. I still haven’t found years worth of memories…and in some ways I am afraid to excavate those memories anyway.  I fear that even worse things might pop out of the dark and frighten the ever-loving fuck out of me. How would I handle that?  I can’t even handle my pen properly.

What is most interesting about this experience, for me, is that the hypervigilance that I deal with everyday is more deeply ingrained within my self than I may have realized.  And, while it is a frustration to think about fighting against my instincts and learning how to write with less control, it is a good thing to have learned that I have this deep sense of protection and control.  Knowing that it is held so deeply within my body–that my nerves and muscles hold this control so tightly that my own will cannot release them–lets me “off the hook” in some manner.  It lets me stop beating myself up a little. It allows me to forgive myself for the times when I startle at something that wouldn’t startle most, or the times when I need to remind myself to breathe more like a human and less like a horse in the middle of a stressful situation, or the times that I fight back tears that have come out of nowhere for no reason and lose that fight in the middle of an interview or on a city bus, where weeping openly is regarded as insane. Knowing how deeply affecting this disorder is gives me more grace to extend toward myself. (Or it should, at least.)

I received terrible grades in Penmanship during my early years of elementary school.  I couldn’t keep inside the lines.  It is sort of funny that I now can’t let myself go outside of them.  It makes me wonder, when did the tightness and control and self-protection become a paramount concern? Was it grade 2 or grade 3, perhaps?  Or did it begin with the disappointment of those low grades in Penmanship?  Maybe all the risk and freedom and creativity started being educated out of me in Kindergarten, when they told me to keep it between the lines and control it.  Maybe I learned very early that what people wanted from me was control.  My experience or my feelings or my desire or my freedom were not as important as keeping those letters’ tops below those lines.  Control was the greatest virtue, so I did everything in my power to pretend at having control.  And now I can’t seem to let go, in even the smallest of ways.  I need to learn freedom and risk and creativity once more.  I’m not sure how that learning might happen, but maybe the Palmer Method of writing will be one of those tiniest starts that leads to great change.  I certainly hope that is the case.