Feeling

I have embarked upon the KonMari method of tidying my home and my life.  And it is a lot of damned work!  To collect all of your things is, in itself, a huge task.  To go through all of them is even more of a struggle.

But it is also a gift.

This morning, I went through all the stacks of paper that have accumulated on my desk as I sought to cleanse the past from my file boxes.  When I initially began this project, I had five stacks of paper:  theology stuff, philosophy stuff, sexuality stuff, resources, and the pile where things I couldn’t decide upon waited for further consideration.  And I fully intended to neatly file the remaining papers, and felt proud that I had accomplished creating a big bag of items to remove from my space.  After I began the art of tidying, and touched every item, and considered whether or not it sparked joy in me, I took those five stacks and narrowed them to about eleven pages, leaving two huge bags that I cannot carry for the trash heap.

Eleven pages.  That is all that sparked joy out of the mounds of items that I had previously thought I must or I wanted or I needed to keep.

The KonMari method is a way of choosing what you love.  And you do this by physically handling every item.  When I first began the process, and began touching each sheet of paper, I thought this would take me years to get through just the items on my desk.  But I was wrong.  I began to know immediately the things that I touched which touched my heart.  I sprinted through the process of cleaning my desk.  It took less than an hour to find the beautiful Wonder Woman covered work surface, and to feel free of all of that paper.

Just touching it let me know whether I loved it or not.  Just the feeling.

I’ve spent most of my life repressing one feeling or another, and in the process became an unfeeling being—untouched by what surrounded me and dissociating from the world and from myself.  Distance from feelings is sort of the norm for a lot of people in my history.  Somehow stoicism and “strength” have been placed in honor and to not show emotion or break down or cry have been ways that people around me approached life.

But that way of approaching life sucks.

Once those walled off places in my being where all the emotions were being stuffed began to crack, a flood of emotion happened.  And with that flood of emotion came care and compassion and love and passion and desire and purpose.  All of those things are good.  But in pushing back the anger or frustration or fear or confusion in my life, I was also making it impossible to wade in the waters of all those beautiful things.  They are all mixed together.  You can’t hide one and hold another.  You either feel or you don’t.

Feeling things can be really difficult at times … especially those times that bring up the anger or frustration or fear or confusion.  But feeling things can also be amazing and awe-inspiring and utterly fabulous!  And understanding that both are natural and normal, and that judgments of “good” or “bad” or “right” or “wrong” are not helpful or correct, but embracing all of them as a part of the human experience, brings great freedom and joy.

I am finding joy in eleven pages today.  I am finding joy in letting go of what doesn’t help me and embracing that which does.  I am finding joy in accepting that things serve us well for a time, and then we must send them on their way.  I am finding joy in touching and feeling and embracing and releasing.

There is another method that I am reminded of during this process.  Morita therapy is something that my daughter introduced me to, and it has become a great help, which parallels my experience with the KonMari method in some ways.  Morita therapy is based in accepting emotions—recognizing them and honoring them, but not necessarily needing to act upon them.  You feel all of the things, and judge none of them as good or bad, right or wrong, but just let them be.  Then you hold what you wish and release what you don’t wish to hold.  You just let the feelings come and go.  You needn’t act upon them.  So, when you feel anger, it is valid, but you needn’t punch people as a result.  You simply feel the anger, let it be present, and then send it on its way.  When you feel anxiety, or happiness, or fear, or peace, or whatever emotion may be present, you let it be felt and validate its presence, and then choose to act or not to act upon that feeling.  This is a rather simplistic explanation of the method, but explaining more fully would take up too many words and too much of my time.  You can easily find more information on Morita, just Google that shit. (Technology is fabulous sometimes!)

So, I sit at my very clean desk, and I think about feeling.  I think about touching my belongings and how easily I can feel whether a thing brings me joy or not.  And I think about touching my soul, and how it should probably be just as easy to know which emotions and thoughts and actions will bring me joy.  But for some reason it isn’t.

I blame conditioning by a patriarchal heteronormative society.

I blame lots and lots of things on conditioning by a patriarchal heteronormative society.  It deserves to carry that blame. It really screws up a multitude of things.

Somehow “strength” became synonymous with not showing emotion—that stoicism that I mentioned earlier.  And that meant building walls.  And even after they broke and the flood happened I kept trying to rebuild the walls.  Society wanted me to, after all.  Seeing and experiencing someone else’s flood makes your own walls crack a little.  So, avoiding anyone’s emotions seems a safe route to keeping your own walled in.  And when you fight for such a long time to patch walls, it becomes a struggle to do anything but … even when you know the patching is futile and robs you of the ability to fully experience joys and passions and loves.  It becomes a struggle to know yourself and accept your feelings.  It becomes a challenge to keep the walls down.  You keep feeling like you ought to put them back up.  And you feel vulnerable when you are walking around town without walls while all the others around you are locked behind rows and rows of brick and mortar.

But vulnerability is strength.  It brings happiness.  It offers you a more fulfilling life. And it frees you to feel all emotions, and to experience the fullness of humanity.

So, today I am vowing to touch all the things, and to feel everything—every part of my life, both internal and external—and to release what isn’t helping me and to hold what sparks joy.

And it is going to be a lot of damned work!

But it is also going to be a gift.

The Dangers of Being

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

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

But I need to just be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being is hard work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is so worth it.

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

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

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

When The Pain is All That Is

When I was younger I used to write late at night often.  I was a single mother, trying to raise a child and finish college and figure out life all at once.  The late nights and the early mornings were the times I could write without taking time away from my little girl.  Early mornings were usually reserved for assignment completion, since my brain was fresh and unencumbered by the thoughts of the day to distract me.  But at night, the emotions were what flowed onto the page.

I used to write with ink pen and notebook … I suppose most of us did.  But for me it was an emotional expression that needed the feeling, the movement, the flow.  And you could tell whether I was feeling nostalgic or angry or confused by the way the letters formed and the speed with which they formed and the strength with which I pressed the pen to paper.  I wouldn’t have made it through those years without pouring thoughts on paper.

Now I rarely stay up past ten at night and can’t use a pen or pencil for more than a few minutes at a time, so that pouring out has largely disappeared.

But tonight is a different story.

Tonight I am letting it flow, in lots of ways.

The past few days have been an ongoing assault for me.  Early December reminds me of death, and death reminds me of my mother’s death, and my mother’s death reminds me of all the other deaths, and so it goes with grief.  The more loss you have experienced the more deeply each loss is felt, because they tie themselves to one another in some strange cosmic or cognitive way that none of us fully understands.  But I don’t need to understand it to feel it—deeply.

So, I am in the middle of this grief spurt, of sorts, where feeling anything seems difficult and feeling something means feeling loss and pain.  And of course, that is when I jump on the bandwagon of organizers everywhere and comment about the social problem that plagues my country now: gun control.  (I actually could have chosen from any number of social problems.  I wish that would have been a self-evident choice, but there are too many issues here to not name it specifically.)

And then the judges rule.

And by judges I mean people that are not at all qualified as judges or to make any particular judgments about the issue.  Some of them put out a string of falsehoods.  Some of them accuse me of “name-calling” because I use “stupid/classist/racist” as reasons one might think more guns would be better while simultaneously commenting on the number of shootings in Chicago.  None of them do, or have ever to my knowledge, lived in Chicago, mind you.  I do. In an area where gun violence is a constant. So, I am well aware and educated regarding what may or may not be helpful in ending this violence.  And when I tried to fight back and stand up for my views, I was called a bully and treated like I am being a terrible person, or morally corrupt, or some other form of bad.  Except those things arose after multiple people basically said a whole bunch of stuff about how wrong I am and how dumb my ideas are, and I responded with reasoned arguments and strings of facts.  The idea that I am being mean, or bullying others by stating facts and reasoned arguments is ridiculous. The idea that a bunch of people ganging up on me to say how wrong and dumb and morally bankrupt I am, for expressing factual information about gun violence, seems a lot more like bullying than anything I have EVER done, in my entire existence.

I am, by the way, the opposite of a bully.  I learned how to behave politely in the midst of great struggle and to pretend that my world wasn’t spinning out of control from a young age.  I was the one who was bullied, repeatedly and viciously, by others.  I was crying myself to sleep by age 9 and suicidal by the time I was 18.  I’m not the oppressor, but the oppressed.  I always have been.

I remember a time when my daughter was struggling with asserting herself, and in therapy this was something she was working on.  One day, on the playground, she called a boy a name and told him to leave her alone. That boy had been bullying her for months on end, and she finally stood up to him, and she was sent to the principal and I was called to come get her because she refused to follow a teacher’s instruction to apologize.  When I picked her up, I got angry with the principal, and said she most certainly would not be apologizing, and that we had been working all year to get her to voice her frustration and stand up to this bully.  This was a moment of triumph, not a moment of failure, for a timid girl who always ended up under the sole of someone else’s boot.

She learned that by watching me.

There are things you don’t mean to teach your children.  They are a part of you, so they become a part of them.  I always bent to the will of others.  I always hid the secrets.  I always played the part.  I tried and tried and tried to be the perfect daughter, and I failed.  Because perfection isn’t actually a thing. Nobody is perfect, we say, but then we try to force people to be exactly that, and we strive for exactly that. It makes no sense.  I taught my daughter to play the part too, and to not ruffle too many feathers and to not rock the boat, and I didn’t intend to, but she was subject to the same consequences I had been—being abused and manipulated and taken advantage of by others.

So, here is how I know I am not the bully.  I can’t be that.  I never learned how, and I am still trying to learn how.  Every week in therapy we talk about how I deserve to be happy and I don’t need to care what others think and I don’t have to live up to any expectations and I get to choose whom I wish to be.  Every week.  I don’t know how to be a bully.  But I am learning to voice my opinion and not back down and say things without sugar-coating every single word.  And that is met with all sorts of opposition.

It occurs to me tonight, after enduring days of negative comments about me and my thoughts and my action and my words and my ideas and probably the size of my ass, when you get right down to all the comments I have heard in the past week or so, that maybe those other people—the ones making me out to be the bully–are actually the bullies themselves.  Maybe they are so accustomed to people telling them what they want to hear, and to me being polite and diplomatic, that they lash out the moment that is taken from them.  Or, perhaps the converse is true, and those people are the ones being abused by others, and my insistence on maintaining my views without any pandering or trying to be perfect opens up a view to their own insecurities.  I’ll probably never know (especially because I unfriended most of them on Facebook, and I don’t think they have any other way to contact me).

It doesn’t really matter why they reacted in the way they did.  It doesn’t even matter if how I was speaking made them think I might be a bully.  Because the thing I can see, even in the midst of much pain and loss, is that I am not the kind of person they described, even at my worst.  Anyone who knows me well knows this to be true.  My good friends have watched me in the darkest and worst moments, and they know that I am love to the core, and that frustration only comes with pain, hunger, exhaustion, or injustice.  It doesn’t live in my core, but it assaults me from without.  I have the best of intentions, and the kindness of a saint, and love enough to pass it on to even the most desperate and marginalized among us.  Hugging homeless prostitutes isn’t something that you do when you are a bully, or morally corrupt, or without character.  That depth of love and understanding and that level of acceptance is a rare gift, and I am one of those blessed with that rare gift.  And I don’t need someone else to tell me this.  I know who I am.

Even though pain is all I feel and struggle is all I can seem to find these days, I know who I am.  I am not what those people who haven’t seen me for the last 7 to 20 years believe me to be.

Even when the pain is all I feel, I am still looking inside for my value and my worth, not to the outside.  I am finding the voice within and letting it out.  I am the girl on the playground who is fighting back with her words against an onslaught of injustice and being called to the principal’s office for doing so.  And that is fabulous and amazing and good.  That is a triumph!

I know that few to none of my friends throughout the years struggle from C-PTSD, so I understand that they don’t get how important it is to find value in yourself and to let go of the expectations of another and to stand on your own, even if the other doesn’t appreciate you doing so.  But it is extremely important.  Earth-shatteringly important.

The PTSD mind is a mind divided, and often accompanied by a confusion or a lack of knowing the self.  You can’t always—or maybe ever, in the beginning—trust what you feel to be yours and to be true.  Those core beliefs that you have held for your whole life are false, and it takes so much work to root them out, recognize them, and respond in ways that help to break those down.  To find your worth and to let go of shame and to release anger and to love yourself are nearly impossible.

I’m doing those things.  In the face of all sorts of criticism, I am holding on to me, and letting myself feel what I feel and believe what I believe and stand up for both.

When the pain is all you feel, it is really hard to have breakthrough moments like this, or to find your footing at all.  Today I am stomping with confidence, not just finding my footing.  And if other people felt on the bottom of my boot sole, I suppose that saddens me a bit, but not enough to let up right now.  Because I didn’t actually do any intentional harm to anyone, but others did do intentional harm to me.

Earlier this evening I posted that you cannot offer violence and expect peace in return.  This is how I feel about my whole life, not just the past couple of days of comments.  I was offered year upon year upon year of violence, and it is a wonder and a joy to know that I was not so damaged by that to deliberately harm others, or to deliberately harm myself, or to end my life, or to lose my mind completely.  I was repeatedly offered violence, and ninety-nine of a hundred times, I respond with peace.  That is a lot of peace, under the circumstances.

I am not a bully.  Even when the pain is all that is.

So, I end the night and begin the morning having peace within once more.  The assault of depression might linger for some time, or it might lift in a matter of days or weeks.  Eventually I will find ways to feel joy again.  I know, because I do it time and again.  I always will.  But, I rest in the knowledge that my strength is being found and held and kept against that which would seek to define me against my will.  I am still me, even when me is a pile of grief and loss.  And I will keep on being such, no matter who opposes me.

And it is a triumph.

In the Name of Love

I was doing a bit of reading last night, in an attempt to fill insomnia time with something that makes it seem less like insomnia and more like productivity or entertainment.  The book is one I am almost ashamed to be reading, because its pages are covered with philosophies of giving = getting, and those philosophies almost always include a measure of victim-blaming and exclude concepts of systemic or institutional factors and their influence upon one’s current situation.  So, I usually get annoyed with such philosophies quite quickly, and sometimes I even get really angry with these types of books—yelling at no person in particular about the ways that my bed was not made alone, so no, I don’t have to “lie in it” unless those who victimized me have to lie in a bed far worse. (The number of times I have been told that I made my own bed, and should now lie in it makes me shudder.)

What I gave to the universe was NOT equal to what I received.  Innocence and autonomy lost at a young age cannot be blamed on the innocent who do not choose their victimization.  Did I make some unsavory choices in my lifetime?  Absolutely.  But did I make them without any influence of childhood trauma?  No, I did not.

I gave the universe love and empathy and kindness and creativity and beauty.  It gave me a lot of terrible crap in return.

But, I kept reading the book with the really messed up philosophy of giving = getting, because the thing it kept saying I needed to give and receive was love.  And as I read, it occurred to me that at certain points and in particular situations, I have stopped giving love.  The reason I stopped giving it, was likely because I wasn’t seeing a return on my investment, and because I have complex PTSD and suffer from chronic pain and am an addict and have all these reasons that the world became a place that hurts you, and not one that loves in return.  So, my choice to be mistrusting and build walls and shove my earbuds in my ears and blast Kesha instead of listening to my seatmate on the bus is a valid one, considering all the aforementioned reasons.  But, it isn’t getting me what I want.  And, let’s face it, what I want is what every being on the planet wants:  LOVE.

The challenge for someone who has been so deeply wounded that the scars will never heal is to continue to offer love and trust and vulnerability, even after doing so created the conditions for your wounding to happen.  When you offer someone your trust, and they betray it, or when you offer your vulnerable self, and someone takes advantage of that and uses your openness to harm you, it makes it really difficult to keep offering up your heart and mind and body to another—hoping that by some miracle this time is different and that this offering of your heart doesn’t add brokenness upon brokenness.

In some ways, we should never expect victims to trust again.  In many situations, the one who has been wronged should never give pardon and should never offer another the chance to wrong them in a similar manner.  Why should they?

The answer, again, is love.

Love is the reason I give pardon for past offenses.  But, that hasn’t put me, in some automatic fashion, back into a space where I can receive love with ease.  Because I try very hard to protect myself from further injury.  And that protection requires shutting people out and keeping people at a distance and creating walls and not opening up too quickly.

A friend once told me that I was not vulnerable.   And I was shocked by that statement, because I have been candid about my struggles for many years.  I feel like I share readily with people.  And I do share my story, but I do not share myself.  I don’t put my heart where it can be harmed.  My story doesn’t need to tell about the ways I feel vulnerable today.  I can offer a history without opening myself to others.  And that was the distinction that my friend was seeking to make.  He wanted me to understand that I couldn’t be known and loved if I had an alligator-filled moat around my heart.

I’ve improved a bit at letting people into that space.  The drawbridge goes down for my dad, and for my friend Luke, and for my daughter.  But, as time passes and I read books with terrible philosophies that tell me I get what I give, I realize that there is a tiny crumb of truth to the chapter that tells me I am not receiving what I am not giving.  Because I cannot expect love and trust and vulnerability from another if I won’t offer it to them as well.  And maybe one of the challenges to opening up is that I want the other to do it first, but their wounded parts want me to open up first—we do a dance of waiting and hoping and not receiving because neither of us wants to open up a space where a sword strike might land.  We all wait to remove our armor until the other has removed theirs.  And that gets none of us any closer to the love and trust and vulnerability that is required to further the relationship (be that a friendship or a familial tie or a marriage or whatever).

Yesterday, I was talking with my dad and said that my website seemed aptly named when I started posting online.  I really thought that I was learning to be whole.  But now I am realizing that I instead need to accept that I am broken, and that I might continue to break, so I ought to have chosen a website named “accepting that I am broken”.  He and I both, as though it had been practiced, said at once “Maybe, accepting the broken is how you learn to be whole.”  And I believe that may be the crux of the matter.  I need to accept breaking as a part of offering love.  And I need to acknowledge that offering love first is the best and fastest way to connect to others and to receive love in return.

I will get a few jabs from the protections (or even weapons) of others in the process.  I may increase my scars.  But, I will also be in a position to encourage others to let down their defenses if I have already dropped mine.

So, “Vulnerability” goes on the list of things I am working to improve.  And the shameful book of giving love to get more of it will probably be read to completion in a first attempt at finding the vulnerable self hidden deep beneath my strength and intellect and independence and lack of eye contact and background noise-removing earbuds.  I won’t paint a target on my chest.  But I will try to lower my sword, at the very least.  And hopefully, that won’t injure too much, and I can move on to removing one more bit of protection and psychological isolation.

I anticipate that this process will take years.  I’m heavily guarded.  But, it is a step in the right direction, I am sure, so I am committed to heading down that path.

I know that honesty begets honesty.  I know that trust begets trust.  I know that openness begets openness.  I even wrote a paper on such connections in an undergraduate communications course.  But, for some reason (or for many valid and obvious reasons) I stopped believing that love begets love.  It does.  It doesn’t always and instantaneously, but it will eventually bring you love in return.

So, here is a start at being open:   I don’t have enough love in my life.  I’m deeply wounded, in ways I am afraid to express, because many people in my past have shut me out rather than deal with the depth and breadth of my pain.  All the times I have allowed that pain to surface and become evident, people rejected me, avoided me, or insinuated I was some form of “crazy”.  But, I am trying very hard not to let the response of those people be shaped in my mind as the normative response to pain.  I am trying very hard not to let others shame me for expressing my suffering.  I am cutting out of my life the people that are gangrenous and make my wounds deeper and more affecting.  But, to the rest of you, I am going to try to open myself up and let down defenses.

This blog might get uglier before it becomes more beautiful as a result.

No amount of good grammar can make what ails me seem like entertaining prose.  Some of it—much of it—is a horror story.  But, I’m going to start letting it be such, and not sugar-coating struggle in ways that I believed protected me from harm.  I can’t be protected from what was.  But I can look with hope at what is yet to come.  And I refuse to believe that my story is a tragedy.  There will be a happy ending, but before that happy end, I need to find my way to vulnerability, and unceasing love … an epic goal, so maybe my life is an epic tale.  I like that idea.  I think I shall embrace my life as an epic story, with a glorious end yet to be written.  In the end, as with most epic tales, the main character finds love and peace and good, so I will embrace those, and perhaps emulating them will actually bring them nearer.

I hope I haven’t just agreed to the terrible philosophies of giving = getting.  But, I will at least admit to believing that proximity to good brings about more good.  In the moments when all seems lost, there is a good guide, or a good friend to carry you forward, or some good to fight for after a rallying, inspiring speech.  I need to start finding ways to trust in the good.  I need to find ways to start believing in love, once more.  And one way to believe in it, is to give it.

So, here I stand, ready to give more love.  I’ll let you know what I get in return.

 

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?

 

Naked As We Came

 

I’m listening to Iron and Wine. It is a little depressing.

It isn’t depressing because of the death aspect. The spreading of ashes around the yard doesn’t frighten me a bit. In fact, I am uncommonly comfortable with the concept of death. Maybe that is in part due to the losses that I have endured already, and the many people that I have “laid to rest”. Maybe that is also due, in part, to the times that I have had to face my own mortality.

It isn’t something everyone faces. Many people don’t sign the pre-operative forms that express that you may not come out of this procedure but are consenting, nonetheless. Many people don’t hear the diagnoses that make you wonder if you will still be around next week or next year or next decade. Many people don’t get the calm, and totally bullshit, speech about how “you needn’t worry because it might be nothing, but we need to make certain”. (If they really believed it was nothing, they wouldn’t need to make certain of anything, obviously. They do think it is something. They don’t refer you to specialists for normalcy.)

So, I’ve stood by as they lowered friends and family into the ground, and I’ve known the threat of death enough times to know that I don’t want to be put in the ground, but scattered to the wind. But the thing that makes me a bit depressed about the Naked As We Came song, is that I haven’t really imagined scattering someone around the yard, or them scattering me. My visions of death are rather sterile, and not at all attached to the presence of persons loved or who love me. I always seem to imagine my end in ways that connect with bright lights and cold metal tables, and not with the loving gestures of saying goodbyes and sending on those whom we have known with grace and beauty—casting them into the universe in their new ashen form, and in doing so, letting them go.

I remember after my friend Charles died, I spent a lot of time around his place and his family. There was something comforting about being near them, and they were just a bunch of good guys, in general. One day Pops, Charles’ dad, blurted out, “Catch!” He tossed me a little box wrapped in brown paper and I caught it.
“That’s him,” he said, almost too matter-of-factly.

But it was very matter of fact. It was a fact that this little box of ash held all the matter that was Charles. Charles + fire = this little six pound box. Holding him in my hands was not really all that significant. It had been significant to hold him before, but now all passion and connection and feeling was lost.

I’m not cold and crass in the ways that that statement might seem to express. I said my goodbyes as he lay dying in the street…crying out to the sky with a voice so pained that it hardly seemed my own. Sometimes you feel pain in ways that make your own pain foreign to you. I have that experience a lot, actually. Probably because my childhood made me an expert at dissociation. I can stuff my pain into hidden places and not find it for ten or fifteen years.

But I digress…

So death is not the struggle—not the thing to fear or fight against. But the not having someone who scatters those ashes is a fear. Or maybe not a fear, per se, but more of an unfulfilled longing.

My dad recently chose to impose a DNR and remove medication from my mother. She is in the later stages of Alzheimer’s and has spent most of this year in a nursing facility. My dad cared for her for the past several years, but she is unable to communicate, and doesn’t always cooperate, so it became impossible for him to keep caring for her at home.

I watch him now (or listen to him, I suppose, since I haven’t seen him in a year) and I see the ways he mourns this loss, slowly and deliberately moving through a grief and a death that doesn’t seem to have an end. Alzheimer’s is brutal that way—it takes so long to bring about the end.

I see him care for her in ways that I couldn’t have imagined ten years ago. It wasn’t that they didn’t love one another. I think they always have on some level. There were worse times and better times in their relationship, for certain, but that is what you sign on for when you vow “for better or for worse”, right? But these last few years, watching him become her caretaker and watching her slip from adult to teenager to toddler in her mindset and capabilities, I have seen something beautiful. I have seen a kind of love that my parents never allowed one another in their younger, more prideful, more strategic periods of living. Because when it all falls apart the need for one another becomes so great that all the other things sort of disintegrate. The need to be right, or to dominate, or have things be fair, or to maintain your autonomy, or any number of things that we insist upon in our relationship, all faded away for them and they became wholly devoted to one another. And some of that devotion was borne out of the reversal of their roles and an ability to show a side of themselves that was previously held in check or deterred in some way. My mom was always a control freak, until she lost control of her own mind. And my dad was always dependent by default because of that. And this period in their lives has flipped that relatedness on its head. My dad is the one in control and my mom is dependent upon him for all things. It allowed parts of them to be brought to life and strengthened their relationship, even while it slowly brings an end to their relating to one another.

And, while I don’t wish a slow, debilitating death upon anyone, least of all myself, I find myself envious of their experience in some ways. The romanticism of giving up everything for the one you love. The commitment to keep fighting and keep loving someone else through the thick and thin of life and relationship. The beauty of a history that can be passed on and can create legacy where once there were just a couple of lives. These things are the things that my life still hasn’t held.

And it isn’t that I am desperate for those things now. I’m not. I’m rather resistant to the idea of being tied to someone or not having autonomy or dealing with the complicatedness of joining lives. But there is something about having those things in my old age, in the spreading of my ashes around the yard, that seems very desirable, and the knowledge that I do not have that is what seems depressing, at present.

Of course, my beautiful daughter would scatter me to the wind with love and blessings and grace. I won’t just get dumped in the trash, thankfully. I’m sure that all the goodbyes spoken and felt will be beautiful and loving and good. But, that care and love and building of a home together are still such lovely ideals.

And here we have it again. The life of contradiction. The dichotomous being that I am.

I want to be alone, but I want to build a life with another. And you can’t really do both, I don’t think. I love the “both/and” option, but I don’t know that it is always a possibility. I can’t really avoid relationship and also have an ash scatterer in my life. And that is also depressing. Because it means I need to choose. And choosing means summoning a bravery that I’m not sure I currently have at my disposal. Because both options require what I haven’t yet got. One requires the opening of the self to the risk of being hurt and damaged in new ways. One requires giving up the ideals and the futures that Naked As We Came offers, and letting go of the ash scattering love. Both seem too difficult to accomplish today.

They are too difficult to accomplish today.

And they were actually too difficult for any partners in history to accomplish in a day. I suppose that is a comfort. It took 45 years for my parents to find the place where this transformation happened and I could see their love in this new light, so it might take some time for anyone to develop this idyllic relationship.

Your ash scatterer doesn’t just magically appear, I suppose. They are forged over time.

That seems a bit less depressing. That offers a bit more hope.

Maybe I can still build a home…after I am ready to risk. Certainly not today. But maybe someday. Maybe soon.

Hopefully, before I become ash.