Instinct

My office is once again in (mostly) office form–instead of guest room form–so I decided I should use it this morning to do what I claim as my profession, and to write down some words.

 

The thing that has been most striking, and on my mind, in the past several hours remains the reactions that I have seen from people in particular contexts.  Some of the reactions I anticipated, and some of them I was taken aback by, but the thing that kept popping into my mind this morning was a vaguely remembered expression of C.S. Lewis that said something about the true nature of a person being shown when they were surprised or scared.  That idea stuck with me. If you sneak up on me and surprise me, I yell, potentially cry, and sometimes punch you. I have a lot of fear and unresolved pain on the inside, so that comes out. Cursing also comes out. I’m a woman who uses “vulgarity” with regularity, so it isn’t a hidden part of me suddenly exposing itself, but just my daily self being repeated before you.  

 

But last night I watched the Chicago Bears miss out on their big game hopes by one point with a field goal kick that should have sailed through between the posts, but for a timeout called at the most inopportune moment.  And when that loss, which was felt deeply by many, happened, there was one woman in particular whose inner self became an outer self. I’d love to know C.S. Lewis’s thoughts on what football exposes, because WOW.

 

Now, I’ve not had a good vibe from this woman from the start–for the record.  I think she is dishonest, manipulative, self-aggrandizing… But other people seem to like her just fine, so I generally keep my vibes to myself.  Last night, however, she started yelling at the television, and not just at the general disappointment toward a team but directly at a young man who did his absolute best under tremendous pressure, and didn’t meet the expectations of the whole world that was watching.  She called him a “fucking bastard” repeatedly, and demanded that he be traded by morning or … I don’t really think she is in a position to make threats against the franchise given that she is an unemployed, 50-something woman who lives in shared housing and drinks every night, so I’m not sure what she would do if they didn’t trade Parkey today.  She doesn’t seem to have much influence over the team.

 

Nevertheless, I made deescalating comments, like, “he’s just a boy”, and “you know he can make the kick, he just did it 10 seconds ago”, and “you’ve not kicked a field goal in your life, so it really isn’t fair to judge so harshly”.  She persisted, despite my objections, so I took a different approach and praised the Bears for the best season since 1985, and commented on how excited I was for next season, when they would come back even stronger. That positive outlook didn’t dissuade her either.  She just kept cussing out a boy on the screen for being a complete failure.

 

I kept thinking to myself, “This is the truth of who she is.  This is a variation on Lewis, and I am seeing the heart of this woman exposed.  No wonder she gives me the negative vibes! Her heart is hate-filled, fearful, bitter, and angry.”

 

Now, don’t get me wrong, please.  I’ve been in that space. I’m not judging her for being in that space.  I’m just ruminating on what is inside vs. outside, and what brings the inside out.  She probably has a reason that holds some validity for being as she is, currently. And I wish her all the best in working through that and coming out the other side with a better outlook and more love in her heart.  I suspect that her current situation, with the shared housing and the inability to hold down a job, are key factors in her unhappiness, and I hope that she finds a way to gain more stability. But the thing that I am so challenged by is the lying that is required to pretend that you feel one way when you so clearly feel another.

 

At some point in my history I was so good at feigning “okay” that my mind literally walled off years of abuse.  Complete repression of years of my life and experiences is the ultimate in lying, I suppose–even if it is subconscious and you have no idea that you are doing it.  But once that stuff started to come out and be remembered, the need to let it out was too great to ignore. Anger, pain, abandonment, neglect, betrayal, and more were all swirling around inside, and the ability to contain that was not an ability I possessed.  Of course, it came out at the wrong times and toward the wrong people, more often than not. I had trouble maintaining relationships or keeping jobs. I couldn’t keep my emotions in check and would have outbursts of rage or tears in the middle of situations where such things made no sense.  It was a crazy time, and it was made especially challenging because I didn’t have good mental health care during that stage and didn’t have anyone who could effectively help walk me through that chaos.

 

There were times when I worked to hold in all of that stuff and just “pretend’ life wasn’t plagued by these issues.  I could do it for a short time, but then the chaos would come out and things would spiral and I would find myself alone and broken once more.  It wasn’t until I started to let the chaos live on the outside that things started to balance out. It wasn’t until I started to accept that this was a part of who I am, and a way that I will always be, in some sense, that I could live without having a different person emerge when I was scared or surprised.  

 

Now I am the same person all of the time.  

 

Granted, we all have moments when we don’t speak honestly.  I might have a bad headache, but still go to your party–pretending it isn’t a big deal because I want to participate in your event. But that isn’t what I mean.  I mean that the fundamentals of who I am are on display all of the time.

 

I am boisterous, stubborn, intelligent, brutally honest, compassionate, a great listener, an over-sharer, and I will cry, yell, curse, or whatever else I feel moved to do in the course of everyday conversation without reservation.  I’m not afraid to speak my mind. I’m not one to back down from a fight. And I will talk to anyone and everyone present to try to make connections, because I am in love with community as and ideal. Oh yes–and I am extremely idealistic.

 

But if you have met me, you probably know all of that, because I wear it on my sleeve.  I don’t hide any of that. You don’t need to root it out or search for it. It is standing right in front of you.

 

I had a conversation last night with a woman I just met.  It became very in depth very quickly, and we were arguing a bit about hunger.  She didn’t believe my statistics about hunger related deaths in the U.S., and she felt that homeless/hungry people here are being too picky.  “If you are hungry you would eat anything”, she said. And I disagreed.

 

Obviously, my disagreement didn’t make sense to her, and this caused a mini argument.  I hold to the idea that no person should be put in a position where they are hungry enough that they would eat anything, and that it dehumanizes people to say that they should take whatever they can get, when the rest of us clearly choose only our favorites from a fancy menu of curated items.  Why shouldn’t the homeless and the working poor have options like the rest of us? Are they less human because they have less resources? Why not make certain they have resources, instead of demanding they suck it up and take what they clearly do not want?

 

At one point in the conversation, she said to me, “I’ve never been that hungry and you have never been that hungry, so we can’t understand.”

 

“I have been that hungry.  I’ve eaten my meals out of dumpsters.”

 

And there it was … I put my inside firmly on my outside.  

 

She looked at me wide-eyed for a moment and then said that she was sorry that I had been put in that position.  The conversation turned and we discussed something else. There was little else that she could say because the experience of taking whatever I could get trumped her thought experiments about what might be.  

 

But again I was thinking about the instincts.  I was thinking about the way that she made assumptions about who I am and what I have experienced because here we both were watching the Bears lose in a bar in Edgewater.  Very different lives have brought us to this moment. Very different experiences have shaped us. But she instinctively believed, by my dress and my speech and my position in the world, that we shared so much more than we actually do.

 

I didn’t disclose that I eat because of Meals on Wheels and foodstamps programs.  I didn’t disclose that I don’t care that the IRS is closed because I don’t need to file a return due to a lack of income.  But I did disclose that I am writing about racism, childhood trauma and abuse, and a history filled with challenges. I did disclose that I had surgery in November and that I manage a number of illnesses, including fibromyalgia.  I did disclose where I live, and what I do, and the birth order that puts me into middle child territory. I didn’t hide who I am or how I am. So I don’t need to be scared or surprised for the real Christy to pop out. She is always here.

 

I wonder, at times, why we all feel so much need to hide our true selves.  Are we so terrible, at our core, that we won’t find love and life and friendship and care if we are honest?  Are our issues so complex that they cannot be dealt with or resolved?

 

I don’t believe that is true.

 

In fact, I think that being genuine and true affords us more room and more time and more energy for developing strong bonds and working out what challenges us.  I believe that my life became less complicated and more positive once I started seeking to live without hiding and holding up a facade for others to view.

 

Granted, the woman at the bar who was tearing the proverbial flesh from a young boy whose best wasn’t good enough to win a game doesn’t seem like the kind of person whom you want to have “out and proud”.  But at least if her true nature was out there, something could be done to guide her into a healthier and happier space. Right now, everyone around her just feeds into the lie that she is doing fine–when she clearly isn’t feeling balanced and happy and good at all.

 

Those gut reactions are telling you something about yourself and where you are and what you need.  But if you keep your instincts hidden and locked behind doors, only letting them out when you are shocked, scared, or mad at football, you cannot hear what they are saying.  You cannot listen to what they are saying about you and your position and your needs if you keep them bottled or boxed.

 

In order to hear and see and cope, you need to start wearing those inner things on the outside.  You need to start letting the instincts flow out.

 

It isn’t an easy process, assessing the inner workings and letting them become a part of your persona, out there for everyone to see.  It is actually a very challenging process, that leaves you feeling vulnerable, exposed, and, often, wounded. But I believe that the work is worth it.  

 

I believe that having the deep things become visible in the shallows makes you better, stronger, and more beautiful.  Because working on those inner things is what offers your the opportunity for transformation. Doing that is what can make what was instinctual become obsolete, and change the way that you interact with the world.  

 

I still have moments of rage on occasion, but for the most part, that is gone.  That instinct isn’t strong anymore, because I have spent years working through why I felt that way–what brought it on, what left me out of control, and how I could change that.  I don’t need to rage at football players, because I don’t need to rage at all. Or if I do feel enraged, I know that something needs to be changed in my life, immediately, because I am being triggered in extremely negative ways–which is why after a particularly angry night a couple months ago, I broke off a relationship that was not healthy.  

 

Had I not embraced this instinct, however, and gotten down to the root of it, I wouldn’t have the insight to know that I was being triggered and that relationship needed to end.  Had I not let my rage become a part of me, and accept it and understand it and cope with it, I would not have been able to make such an informed, wise decision.

 

So, let your inner stuff come out.  Work your way through it. (Preferably with a qualified professional.) And live as a whole person, without hiding parts of you somewhere inside.  Let your instincts out, and be who you truly are–even if that is a vulgar, stubborn woman with a huge heart and too many tears.

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Same

There is this way of speaking that has taken over much of the communication between me and my daughter, and some of my friends as well, I suppose.  We shorten things.   It just seems like a whole lot of flourish and extra syllables isn’t necessary or important.  And while, as a writer, I am a huge fan of the flourish and the big words, in life they aren’t always helpful.

So, when we are thinking, “I completely agree and have a very similar perspective on this issue”, we instead say, “Same”.

I’m in the mood for pizza.

Same.

I can’t believe the state of the world and am grieving deeply over the pain and wounding that is overwhelming millions.

Same.

I wish that I could be in La Jolla right now.

Same.

I’m overcome with grief and don’t know how to express anything clearly, but everything hurts.

Same.

Yesterday I received news of the death of a good friend of my parents.  And all day I was feeling the weight of grief.  I was feeling it not just over the loss of her life, which is definitely significant and important, but also I was mourning the loss of my own mom.  And I was drawing all sorts of parallels between the lives of these two couples and feeling for those going through what I and my family went through a year ago.

All day I wanted to reach out to the daughter of the deceased wife and mother.  But there were not words.  There weren’t words when my own mother died either.  And the platitudes and “she is with Jesus now” assurances helped not one bit.  In some cases, they did more harm than good.

So, in the evening, I finally realized that what to say was that there was nothing to say—that nothing makes that pain lessened and nothing changes the complex feelings and nothing brings back the mother that you long for now more than you ever did when she was alive.  And I reached out with exactly that: an assertion that nothing would help and that I wouldn’t pretend it might.  I offered my love.  I offered my listening ear.  And I offered my sympathies.

And she shared a huge piece of her heart in reply.

As she expressed her feelings and her struggles and her joys and her surprise and her pain, I realized that all of these long years, we have been living a parallel life.  As she spoke of her many-faceted emotional state and the journey that she had been on as her mother became sick, her father became a care-taker of sorts, and her mother passed, I could have replied with that often used, “Same”.

We were sharing a history, but doing so apart from one another.

When we were kids we played together when our parents got together.  And it wasn’t as though we didn’t enjoy hanging out, but over time, as we became old enough to not be dragged along to our parents’ social events, we stopped spending time together.  And there were times when we connected over the years—running into one another at Christmas or a special event when we were all present once more.  But those little interactions became cordial and socially acceptable, instead of times when we played with abandon or shared secrets or did all those things that come easy when you are young, but cease to be so as you grow up.

Peter Pan had the right of things, in many ways.  Growing up steals much of the honesty and joy and many of the dreams which childhood allows, and even encourages.

What was stolen from this woman and myself was the opportunity to share our similar journeys.  Until last night, we had not had the opportunity to bond over shared experience, or to support one another.  It took the death of both of our mothers to recognize one another on a path we had been walking together for years.

I’ve been thinking much today about this sameness, and this similarity, and this shared experience.  I’ve been thinking that we all felt the weight of struggles alone, and all of this time we could have been bearing them together.  I have had other childhood friends express feelings that I have struggled with: I’m not enough, I’m not good enough, I cannot compare with person X, I don’t fit in, I can’t do anything “right”, I didn’t want to treat person Y like that but wasn’t brave enough to put an end to it and went along with the crowd.   All of this time, we were all young women (and a few men) who felt alone in our struggle.  We were not alone.

We are not alone.  We are united in this struggle.

The organizer in me wants to shout from the rooftops that we need to come together and fight against our common enemy.  But the pastor in me knows that such a strategy isn’t necessarily the right approach here.  What might be helpful is for me to express continually my struggle, and to allow others the safe space to express their struggle.  Because SO MANY TIMES I find that we are coping with the same feelings, and have so much in common, and could be bearing burdens together.

I’ve said before, and will say again, that I label myself as “spiritual but not religious” because organized religion has left bad tastes in my mouth time and again.  I believe in the Divine.  I don’t name it in terms of a triune god, but I believe.  But one of the things that many religions teach, and that I think is a divine directive, is that we share in one another’s burdens—we carry the heavy shit together to make it lighter.  And for some reason the place where I grew up chants the religion like a name at a boxing match, but also chastises individuals and tosses burdens onto their backs while they whisper behind their hands at the failures of those individuals to carry the load.

It is a sick practice, really.  It is wholly other than the divine imperatives to care for and love and welcome and heal and help everyone—like literally everyone.  All of those imperatives tell us to help carry the load, not toss it on the back of another.

I broke under the weight.

So many people I know broke under the weight.

And still the weight is piled.  My daughter experienced that weight when we moved back to that area.  And I left, rather than have her live in that place and in that way where you never feel like enough and people are constantly trying to hide their brokenness by breaking the person next to them.

Today I see that we can fix this.  Today I see that we were fighting the same war, but we were all at different battle sites.  If we could have been honest then, in our adolescence, and shared how we were struggling, we could have become a powerful force for change.  We could have swept that town of gossip and lies and shaming that keep the focus off of the problems of one, only to shatter the life of another.  We could have united to bear one another’s burdens.  We could have lifted the weight and held one another up and shared a journey.

We didn’t.

But I am committed to doing so now.

The past doesn’t change when we change in the future, but it can transform in some ways.  It has the benefit of perspective, and new perspective can shed light on events, even though the events themselves do not change.  And I am ready to look at this childhood in this place with these people in a new light, and with new honesty and connection and trust.  I believe that looking at it in this way will transform not just the past, but will transform us as women and men who thought for all these years that we were alone in our struggles.  Knowing we were in it together and talking about it together in this later stage of life empowers us.  It lets us acknowledge and release the bad and lets us acknowledge and embrace the good.

And that doesn’t happen overnight.  And some events you don’t get over completely—or at least there are some I don’t think I will recover from completely.  But knowing that the burden is shared, and that I am not the only one carrying the weight of those events puts me well on the way to recovery.

So, here I am, people of my youth (and any other time period, really).  I’m standing open to receive and to offer with honesty, with trust, with grace, and with understanding the journeys—mine and yours and ours—and the events and the feelings and the burdens.  I’m here, committed to change, committed to new life, committed to carrying the weight together.

Let’s all try to open up.  Let’s try to do it before any more of our parents die.  Let’s know that the circumstances of our childhood don’t define us.  Let’s know that molds were made to be shattered in order to exhume the beauty within.  Let’s know that we don’t need “thicker skin” or to keep our business private or to hide or to hurt.  We are allowed to be—in all of our ways of being we should feel comfortable and free and alive.  Let’s stoop under the weights of our friends and neighbors and partners and brace ourselves underneath, helping to lighten the load a bit.  And when enough of us are willing to stoop down and take some of that weight, we all find relief.

Community.  I’ve studied it for a long time.  And I keep coming back to this idea, that burdens are borne together, or we are crushed.  So, in order to survive, we need to start looking at the plights of those around us and responding with the short and effective communication that my daughter and I have come to use so frequently.  Same.

There is a quote I use often, and love from Lilla Watson.  “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time; but if you are here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

It is time for us to work together.  In my childhood community, in my current community, in my social circles, in my city, in my country, in my world, and in my universe it is time for us to work together.

It is time for us to understand that the liberation of one is bound to the liberation of all.

We can only be free when we are free together.  We can only bear burdens with all of us carrying the weight.  We overcome only because we do so together.  And we do so together because in many ways we are all on the same journey—not just in the specifics of events or feelings, but in the sense that we are all evolving and developing into a better version of humanity (or we should be, at least).

We are meant to look to the person next to us, to see their experience and their perspective and the events that shape them and to declare, “Same”.  And if we cannot do that, we will be crushed under weights we didn’t imagine would ever be placed upon our shoulders.

I think we see that in the news every day of late.

We join in sorrow over things that were caused by a refusal to bear burdens of another.  Discrimination doesn’t hurt us personally—that is the burden of the gay or the black or the Muslim—so we don’t enter the fray.  And we are seeing the results of that failure to stoop and lift with our fellow human beings.  When we don’t bear the weight together, people break.  But there are consequences felt throughout the entire community when those individuals break.  You can’t escape the aftershock of the seismic events.  So, why refuse to help hold the weight that might prevent those events?  Ignoring the problems of others doesn’t work.

We lift together, or we are crushed.  All of us.  The whole of humanity.  The entire planet.

And saying it that way makes it seem an enormous task.  But it really just starts with us listening and bearing the weight of the feelings and experience of another.  A world full of people caring about the person next to them is a world that resembles what most would see as a heaven or a paradise.

That heaven, that paradise, is achievable in the here and now.

It can happen if you open up and share your journey, and listen well to join in the journey of another.  It will happen if we simply love one another, care for one another, and bear one another’s burdens.  It will happen when we hear the struggle or joy of another and can respond with a genuine agreement.

“Same.”

 

 

 

 

Impression

 

I was talking with a friend a while back—one who became a friend after a couple of dates and still occasionally gets a “benefit” or two when I’m in the mood, but who doesn’t want to date me any longer. (Which is fine, because I don’t want to date him now either.)   But I asked him what it is that made him certain he didn’t want to date me, and his response was that we didn’t “click”, or that he wasn’t “feeling it”.

Yesterday I had a lovely lunch with a cousin.  He is the cousin I hold most close and have more than a familial pseudo-connection with in the great web of cousins that spreads out across the country (even though we only see one another once every 8 to 10 years).  We talked about how his punch to my shoulder in our childhood, and my calling him out on doing so and not letting him bully me, was somehow the starting point and the bonding moment that glued us together and kept us loving one another throughout the many years since.

It got me thinking about the ways we judge people.  It got me thinking about first impressions.

I have a friend, whom I love, that I had negative impressions of when we first met.  She was often late to class, and she was always behind on assignments.  She often sat alone in a corner and seemed distant and in her own world.  And later I discovered the reasons she was alone and fighting to keep up with things.  She was suffering one of the deepest and most challenging losses one can suffer, and suffering it without the love and care and attention she deserved at that time. Had I let my first impression be the thing that defined her, and not replaced that with something more or deeper, I would have missed out on a wonderful friendship with a beautiful woman.

I had a co-worker that was convinced I was having an affair of some sort with another co-worker.  She was certain that the treatment I received from him was different from that which others received.  She was right that I had connected with that co-worker in ways that others had not, but her first impression—the one that said him liking me better than some others was akin to romantic interest—was completely unfounded.  We just got along well, because we were both honest and supportive, and we had mutual concern for those whom we served at work.  We were a lot alike, and we developed a lasting friendship.  Now I often claim that I wouldn’t be making it through life without him, but we still have no romantic interest in one another.

One day a friend of an ex-lover was over visiting me.  She mentioned something about being jealous of him and his interactions with me.  I said she ought not have been jealous, because I would have enjoyed a similar relationship with her. This led to a lovely evening of eating and drinking and laughing and kissing and spending wonderful moments together.  Had her first impression not been corrected, we might have missed out on that fun night.  That one night was the extent of our flirtation, but it broke down the false impression of me that she had held for years. She finally discovered the queer side of me.

So, today, I remain fascinated by the ways we frame things, and we create identities and scenarios based solely on first impressions.  Our cognitive biases cause us to connect or disconnect based on one moment or characteristic or idea.  And I can’t help but think that this often causes more harm than good.

I don’t want to be known as who I am in only one moment.

We are more complex than can be demonstrated in one moment, or one interaction, or one day. The whole of our identity and the depth of our own scenarios cannot even be grasped by the self without careful consideration, so we shouldn’t conceive identities for others based on a glance or a short and impersonal first interaction.

I dare bet all that I have that each of us has moments that we are not proud of.  I would also dare bet that the moments we would like to have everyone see as the “real” us are not complete representations of who we are.  I think that none of us wants to be considered only from the point of a first impression.  None of us is wholly what we are in one moment.

I had a good friend who saw me at one of my worst moments.  I rarely break in such a deep fissure sort of way in front of people.  I try to hold those moments in until I am alone with a pillow over my face to muffle the sobs and screams.  But once in a while they slip out while in the company of others.  And this particular time that I broke in front of someone, that relationship was immediately and irreparably harmed.  That moment began to color all the other moments—the “better”, clearer, more comfortable moments.  We still wish one another hellos and happy birthdays and the occasional missing yous, but we aren’t close like we once were.  That brokenness became who I was, and that became too much to deal with.  It is a common occurrence, and I never lay any blame on the other person, because I know my pain is too deep and strong and heavy a burden to bear.  I know that I don’t want it on my own shoulders, so I won’t think less of anyone who doesn’t want it placed upon their shoulders. But I sometimes miss those people.  I sometimes wish I hadn’t broken into pieces then and there.  I wish I hadn’t let that impression be.

But I am all of me.

The false impressions are crap.  Stop making people one thing from one moment.  It isn’t helping any of us.  Let people be complex and diverse and dichotomous and incongruent and broken and good and loving and deep and broad and beautiful.  Let them be all that they are.

Let me be all that I am.

I am the same woman when I connect well with someone as I am when I don’t click with another.  I am the same woman when I break as I am when I look like it is all together.  I am the same woman kissing my male ex-lover as I am making out with his female friend.  I am the same woman when I display strength and wisdom as I am when I fall to my knees and break down in desperate sobs and self-loathing.  I’m not one of those moments, but a compilation of all of those moments.  And there are even more parts of me that I have yet to discover and to share.  There will be many more new impressions to make. And I will continue to become.  I will be more.  Let me be so.

The greatest mistake that we make, when we frame our lives and our interactions, is to believe that a moment makes a lifetime, or that a year makes a decade, or that a decade makes a millennium. We are not a moment.  And the way we frame things needs to include the opportunity for continual reframing.  We must not take a single impression and make it the definitive truth about a person or a situation.  We need to leave room for complexity and deeper understanding and change and discovery.  We need to let people have this space to be all and become more.

So, my musings of this morning leave me in a space where I am working to be open to more and more moments, and to reserve judgment, and to not give my initial impression and interpretation more power or weight than it deserves.  My goal is to be and let be.  My goal is to become and let become.

I want to be known for all of my parts and moments and impressions and connections, and I want to know others in that same way.  And that is difficult, because we are so accustomed to framing things in one way, and we are not accustomed to being open and honest, and we are very accustomed to presenting an image that is pleasing to the rest of society rather than letting the whole of who we are show.  So, being known for all my parts and moments means being exceptionally vulnerable.

Being vulnerable is very difficult, but it is a requirement if I want to be known for all that I am.

I said to my cousin yesterday that I have never “come out” as something because I don’t really have a definitive way of expressing what it is I am coming out as.  But today I realize that I need to come out as proudly broken and queer and brilliant and challenged and disabled and strong and beautiful and angry and calm and loud and insufficient and overflowing and amazing and growing and awakened and stubborn and addicted and stressed and fighting and accepting and loving and good.  I need to proudly wear the banner of all of the things I am.  And doing so is a vulnerable act, but one that I am willing to perform.  Because it is worth claiming and calling out these things if the result is being known in all my complexity.

Be all you can be. (Not necessarily in the army, but just in general.) And let others be all that they are.  That is a beautiful thing.  That is a way of connecting to one another that allows us all to grow and have more interactions and more beautiful interactions and more truth and more love in our lives. And who doesn’t want all of that?

I want all of that … and more.