Can’t Find a Better Man

The half growl/half crow of Eddie Vedder has long been a part of my own, personal war cry.  It both fed and poured out my teenage angst—my frustration with the things that were senseless, wrong, and unjust in the world, and my desire to be free from all of the pain and confusion and devastation that those things caused me.  I felt deeply.  Eddie did too.  You could sense it.  And you could echo it as you sang along.

Better Man was one of the songs that I connected with on a spiritual sort of level.  There were others.  And some even more deeply felt than this one.  But this one came to mind today, because I still feel the same angst at times.  I still know the challenges of being that one in the song—that one who can’t find a better man.

If you don’t know it … well, if you don’t know it you are either too young or too old or just plain Amish, I suppose, because Pearl Jam has been around for longer than my child has been alive (21+ years), and they keep putting out new music and touring the world with old favorites in their sets as well.  But, in case you have decided to go the way of Patrick Star and you live under a rock, I will let you know a bit about the lyrics, and the basics of the song.

She lies and says she’s in love with him; can’t find a better man.

It’s a woman, waiting alone in bed for some man who clearly sucks at being a partner.  She practices what she will say—what boundaries she will set, and what angry rant she will set forth when he finally dares to come home in the wee hours of the morning—but when he actually arrives, she pretends she is sleeping.  She keeps his failure and her misery to herself.  It feels like her fault that she chose him, and she does love him.  And somehow, they have this symbiotic, albeit unhealthy and unfulfilling, relationship that they both continue to choose.  And she echoes over and over:  Can’t find a better man.  Can’t find a better man.  Can’t find a better man.

If you’re like me, you can’t help but sing those words instead of simply read them.  They come to life in your head, in Eddie’s voice. And if you are even more like me, you remember singing those words and meaning them with so much truth that it pained you, and you weren’t entirely certain how to feel when the song came on, because the pain of the truth and the release of the singing it were also tied together in this strange way that worked so well.  Turmoil and beauty connected in a way that only the most broken of us can see, acknowledge, appreciate, and even love.

I felt Better Man so deeply not because I was in a relationship with someone at the time who mimicked the song’s poor partner, but because I was somehow already identifiable, before the terrible partners started lining up in my life and experience, with that woman.  Can’t find a better man.  Can’t find a better man.

Like a fish knows swimming is his mode of transportation, I knew that I deserved to struggle through bad partners—I would live this out, and this would be my pain.

How did I know that?

Pearl Jam, Ten, was released on August 27, 1991.  Twenty-eight years ago, I was still in high school, and I hadn’t had a “real” partner at all. I would start a relationship with my first “boyfriend” not long after this album’s release and have sex for the first time about six months later—if you could call it that … it was more like awkward penetration with mutual dissatisfaction.  And throughout that year, even though I was coming of age and starting to figure out that sexuality was even a thing, sheltered in extreme ways from all its forms and expressions, I had no concept of bad partners the way I would just a handful of years later.  Yet, before it happened I knew.  Eddie sang it the way I felt it, and I still understand it as deeply and with as much truth today.  Can’t find a better man.

Part of the challenge in my own situation, I think, is that Calvinism and the last bits of Dutch puritanism were so pervasive in my little sub-culture.  I knew, even when my conscious mind had repressed every single synapse of sexual abuse, that I was “damaged goods”, impure, unclean, sinful, tainted … you could say it a hundred different ways and it all hurt the same way.  Something in me knew that there was this stain on my reputation, according to the religious and cultural views that were held by those around me.  Of course I would not be worthy of a better man.  I was sullied by debaucherous sins.  “Good” men want “pure” women.  Obviously!

The other part of the challenge was the terrible partners that did start to line up in my life.  They only reinforced the idea that I deserved crap partners who treated me with disrespect, put hands on me in violence, didn’t give me the option of consent—either by force or by coercion and manipulation—and generally just acted like assholes.

How did I end up with this line of losers?  It’s a chicken/egg conundrum that we may never solve.  Either my low esteem attracted the sharks, or the sharks lowered my esteem until I was weak enough to pull under and drown.  But the how and why don’t matter a whole lot, unless you are an anthropologist of some sort.  What matters more is the effect, which was proving to me the stain on my reputation must be evident to all, and I am being punished for it, and given what I deserve.

I can’t find a better man.  I don’t deserve a better man.

And eventually, having remembered the abuse and having been flooded with images, feelings, flashbacks, nightmares, and all of the confusion, rage, and fear of childhood trauma returning to my memory from the deep recesses of my mind, I didn’t want better men.  I wanted dirty, dangerous men who would offer me the opportunity to use sex as a tool for inappropriate coping—reliving traumas through promiscuity and increasingly risky sex.  Better men didn’t pull your hair and pound their pelvis against your ass and call you names and do all of it while another couple had sex in the same room—the other man getting off on watching your face as you were being ridden like a bronco and his own partner looking on, infuriated that everyone in the room was focused on your pleasure and pain.  Better men didn’t pass you on to their friends after they had finished so that another could take advantage of a woman still in the throes of passion when the first man was already spent.  And I happily climbed atop another penis, grinding my pain into men as if my hips were a confessional and thrusting organs were penance I needed to endure until I felt clean again.

But no amount of sex brought me to a place where I felt clean.  I still felt undeserving of the love of a better partner. So, I settled for partners who claimed love but offered insecurities, control, abuse, lust, addiction, avoidant behaviors, and a plethora of negative and damaging behaviors that reinforced the idea that I didn’t deserve love, and a soulmate was somehow outside of my reach, while everyone else around me was allowed to find that “perfect” lover.

Can’t find a better man.  Don’t deserve a better man.  Unworthy of a better man.  Incapable of a better man.  The list of disordered thoughts goes on and on.  And the disordered thinking continues to this day.

I’m still settling for a man that needs “fixing” and babysitting and diagnosing and repeated forgiving for the same error.  I’m still not taking my own good advice, and I’m dating “potential” instead of finding a fully actualized man who exhibits the fullness of his potential in his current circumstance—he doesn’t have the potential to get his shit together; his shit IS together.  I still date men who aren’t the men I want to have and hold as lifelong partners.  And in some way, this must be tied to the idea that I don’t deserve that partner.  I cannot achieve that relationship.  I don’t get to have the better man.

Can’t find a better man.

Some part of me longs for the better man.  Some part of me has all sorts of desire for being in relationship with a loving partner who treats me with respect and equity—a person who offers me compassion and kindness and honesty and love.  And then there is this other part that cannot shake the Dutch Reformed purity bullshit that says I am not white like snow with an untouched vagina and therefore cannot find happiness with a partner who offers me those things.  The dirty of Calvinism doesn’t wash off, and the damage of childhood sexual trauma isn’t something that I can recover from with my PTSD diagnosis, so I sit in the muck of disordered thinking nonstop.  I sit in that muck and I get sucked into unhealthy relationship after unhealthy relationship, because my conscience is a liar and my good advice extends outside of myself and not inward.

The fact is, I won’t find a better man until I find the better in me.

It is here—the better in me.

In fact, good and better and best should define me.  They probably do to most others—the non-Dutch Reformed ones—who encounter me.  I’m not covered in stains, as Calvinism would have me believe, but am a woman who does now, and has always, fought for equality, love, goodness, kindness, rights for all, life, grace, freedom, justice, and all sorts of positive qualities.  I’m overflowing with love and compassion and care for others—all sorts of others, and not just those who look like, act like, and believe like I do.  There is so much better in me.  And such better deserves to be met with better.  This amazing woman definitely deserves a better man … or a better woman, as the case may be, because letting go of my early religion also let me grab hold of the truth that my sexuality is extremely fluid and not fixed.  Regardless, a better man or woman belongs in this picture.  The previous pain that Pearl Jam helped me express is not a pain that I should have ever felt, and I should always have believed that a better man or woman was waiting just around the corner for me, and we would share a beautiful life.

But I didn’t believe that.  I wasn’t taught that.  Eddie Vedder saw or knew or related with women like me, who didn’t believe that and were not taught that, and he sang our pain.  If only he could have offered a correction instead of a correlation and showed me that this wasn’t my anthem but a lie to which I was listening.  Maybe he did mean to show me that, but I didn’t see.  Instead I held the belief that this was my plight and my burden to bear.  I didn’t have people who were correcting my error or replacing that lie with the truth.  I had more and more affirmation that I was a stain and stains deserved to be tossed to the trash bin and left there with the rest of the unclean things.

Can’t find better.  Can’t be better.  Am not better—ever.  No amount of goodness can transcend the one bad thing, even when the bad thing was your victimization and far beyond your control.  Give up now, Christy, because there is no redemption here.  There is only purity and not purity here, and you are not pure.

I recently had the amazing opportunity to visit with a young woman who is living in a situation near to the one that I grew up within.  She mentioned to me an abuse that she suffered, and then said something along the lines of not letting it ruin her.  “Some people let it mess up their life.”  She said she wasn’t one of those people.  But later in our conversation tears welled up in her eyes and she told me of challenges with feeling unheard, and like her parents were not dealing with issues affecting the family, and a number of other things that I felt after suffering abuses as a child.  It is messing up her life, whether she intends to let it or not.  And part of why it is messing up her life is the same reason it messed up mine—the inability of others to find empathy, compassion, and understanding, and their insistence upon seeing the world in black and white, instead of recognizing and honoring the fact that we all live in complex circumstances and hard and fast “rules” or dichotomies of good/evil, or virgin/whore, or right/wrong don’t make sense.  Beyond not working, those strict dichotomies harm innocent people, and reinjure those who are already victimized.  They mess up lives.  They destroy lives.  They convince young girls (or boys) that they will never find a better man (or woman), because they are not deserving … because being a victim has left them stained for life—dirty, bad, and impure.

Not only do I deserve a better man than the ones that have been in my life in my history, but I deserve an amazing man or woman as a life partner.  I deserve that because I am not stained and dirty and impure.  I am an amazing woman, with talent, grace, empathy, passion, perseverance, love, and beauty that are unmatched by most.  I don’t say that to brag or because I am egotistical and narcissistic.  I say that because it is a truth that was hard to learn and needs to be remembered.  I also say it because it is something that many others need to hear and accept.

I am not impure, dirty, damaged, and stained.  I am a victim of horrific and terrifying crimes against my person.  My brain was literally malformed as a result of childhood sexual trauma that was ongoing and created captivity-like conditions, making my brain nearly identical to that of a holocaust survivor.  My hormones, my stress responses, my gut health, my brain chemistry, my bladder and bowel control, and more were harmed by this trauma, and more trauma happened as I was retraumatized when people didn’t believe my claims of harm, doctors broke confidentiality, I was forced to interact with my abuser, my family refused to allow me to speak about or address the abuse, gaslighting and victim-blaming became commonplace, violent abusive relationships resulted from my deep need for connection tied with my inability to form healthy connection due to my complex post-traumatic stress symptoms, and more.

All of this was me being victimized.  None of this was me being impure.  If there were lines that were crossed and bad things that were done they were done by my abusers, the people who didn’t listen when I cried out for help, the doctors who didn’t know how to help and didn’t refer me to someone who could, the family who refused (and still refuse) to address the issues afflicting me and us, the church that pounded the drum of purity so loudly that a young girl was shamed into silence about sexual assault and rape, the “friends” who chose to support the denial of the perpetrator and not support my claim of abuse, the people that told me to “give it to Jesus” and it would be gone who made matters worse by not getting me the help that I needed from medical professionals, and the many people who refused to give up their dichotomous thinking in the face of my pain and struggle and confusion and help ease my suffering.

But if you are one of those people, I don’t judge you, and I don’t blame you.  You were likely (and perhaps still are) stuck in a space where that black and white thinking was affecting your judgment.  You didn’t mean to wrong me, I am sure.  You didn’t know better.  And when you know better you will do better.

I hope that what I write here today will help you know better.  I hope that it will help you move toward doing better.

I don’t want a young woman to come to me and tell me her secrets because she can’t be heard in the space where she lives, just as I couldn’t be heard in the space where I grew up, and where the worst possible things happened to me.  I don’t want that beautiful woman to be holding on to those secrets until she is 40 years old, because she feels impure and shamed by a community that sees things in such black and white terms that it cannot give love to the wounded and the wronged.

I share my story, in part, to heal my own wounds.  It helps me to get it out on “paper” and to release it from the places where it has been hidden for all of these years.  But I also tell it for all of you.  I tell it so that if you are the young men and women who have also been harmed in this way, you can know that you deserve a better man, or a better woman.  You are not impure.  You have no stain.  You are perfect and pure and good.  Someone did something terrible to you.  You deserve justice for that wrong, not shame.  And if you are one who hears of a person or from a person who has been harmed in this way, listen and support that person.  Fight for justice on their behalf and be certain that they receive the aid that they need.  Never support the perpetrator because it is easier than supporting the victim.  Never place blame on the victim.  Never treat a victim as though they should carry some shame.  They do not.  They have been wronged, and they deserve better from you than what I received.

I’m dating someone now.  I’m not always certain that he is my better man.  He has a lot of challenges.  I have a lot of challenges.  It makes things volatile at moments.  But I don’t see things in black and white, and I know that he was a victim of lots of wrongs, just as I was.  So, we work at loving one another, the best way we know how.  He cares for me and he tries very hard to be the best he can for me.  And he is open, honest, and working very hard to be the man that I deserve in my life, because he knows that I am an amazing woman.  That is much more than any man has done for me in the past, so I am happy in this relationship now.  If that changes, I no longer feel tied to shame and insecurity and the idea that I am not enough, so I can walk away without reservation and seek out a better man or woman.  And that is miraculous, given all that I have been through.

I still love to listen to Vedder croon out the words to Better Man.  I still sing along with my teenage angst somewhat intact, but it is more a memory of what was than a feeling of the moment.  I know that I have a better man.  I know that I can find and that I deserve better.  I am not the unclean and impure that should be shamed.  I am the overcomer—the strong, the determined, the loving, the understanding, the one who learns and shifts and grows and fights and finds life, no matter the circumstances she is offered.  And no matter the circumstances you have been given, you can fight to overcome in numerous, amazing ways as well.

We don’t win every fight, of course.  I’m still disabled and suffer from PTSD.  I still have several family members who refuse to discuss the events of the past.  There are many who would still shame me for my actions—like having sex outside of marriage, or smoking weed to manage my fibromyalgia pain.  But what other people want to consider shameful doesn’t matter much to me anymore, because I know my heart and my intentions.  I know that I am a good person who does all that I can to promote equality and justice.  I love deeply, I seek to respect all, I honor the beliefs of others as long as they do no harm, and I work toward creating a better world in any way I am able.  That is what matters.  Lines in the sand, black and white thinking, and rules that shame and harm the innocent do not matter.  Your heart matters.  Your intent matters.

So, let go of shame, call out victim blaming, call out gaslighting, and speak your truth.  Bring evils to light and bring justice to every situation you are able.  Don’t hide.  Tell your story.  And, of course, find a better man—with or without the Pearl Jam album in the background.  (Just kidding—definitely with the Pearl Jam album in the background!!)

Thanks, Pearl Jam.  Thanks, Eddie.  And thanks to everyone who helped and still helps me to step outside of Calvinist shame and to step into the love and light of who I am over and above the victimization that I have experienced.  I am a better woman every time I take that step.

 

 

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Toxic 2.0

I don’t know how to do relationships.

Don’t get me wrong.  I know how to advise about relationships.  I’d make a great family therapist or marriage counselor.  I marry people—to one another, of course—in ceremonies, as the ordained minister with credentials recognized by the state.  Ask me about your relationship and I will give you fabulous advice about how to do your relationship well.

But the second I get involved with another human in an intimate relationship, I turn into a raging lunatic.

I literally chased a man the other night.

Ran after him.

Ran.

People, I don’t run. If a bear chases you, you lie down in a ball and protect vital organs.  If a person with a gun demands something of you, you give it to them.  If bullets start flying nearby, you get your body as flat to the ground and as behind cover as it can get, and you stay there.  Fuck running.  I have not run in years and I don’t intend to start now.  But I ran to catch up with a man who was running away from me.  Literally.

It’s like I give out some sort of inaudible and unintended signal that can only be heard by people who will help me create crazy in my life. A dog whistle of sorts emanates from my person.  (Granted, we usually also create crazy in the bedroom, which is amazing and which I love with an intensity only matched by that of my orgasms.  So, there are definitely perks.)

But I cannot figure out how not to be the most insecure woman on the planet when it comes to being in a relationship of a romantic nature.  And even if the person I start the relationship with is totally secure, normal, and stable at the beginning, I make them nuts by the time we are a couple of months in, because my crazy is so intense that it spreads like a virus.  And I’m not sure how to stop that.

I can keep you from getting my herpes, but not my insane, obsessive notions that I am unlovable and not good enough and being “punked” every time you attempt to love me well.

I constantly think I am being tricked into something.  Into what, I do not know.  But I am convinced there must be some form of deception happening.  How could there not be, given my history?

It’s strange, because I see great models of what a “good man” is all around me.  And I don’t mean that bullshit “real men _____” that accompanies toxic masculinity and the vomitorium that is men’s rights groups.  The last thing I need in my life is some controlling, machismo, hyper-masculine ass.  I’ve been with that.  It didn’t go well.

When I say “good man”, I mean a balanced, thoughtful, feminist, who cares about the world and the people in it, and treats all people with respect, but offers an extra layer of that care and love to the partner in his life.  My dad is one of these people, though he might not love that I call him “feminist” (I mean that you believe in equal rights for all people, Dad—which I know you totally do.)  My “brother”, Adam, is one of these people.  My friend, Luke, is one of these people.  Andrew, Allan, Josh, Brian, Bryan, Matt, Joshua, Dan, Phillip, James, Ted, David, and the list goes on.  Not to mention the long list of good women out there who model great personhood and great partnership for me to follow.

So, I see these good men and women, and then I think I pick one of these good men or women out of the lot of single people out there around me, and then things go really well for the first month, and then…

Then my mind starts to play the game where it thinks that I am not enough, so I need more and more evidence that I am enough.  So, I cling and I push and I beg and I get all sorts of unreasonable.  I know I am doing it on some level, I think.  I used to try to deny it and to believe that I was constantly being gaslighted. (Not that I was never being gaslighted, because there was lots of gaslighting going on in my history, just not at the times that I was creating the problem.)  Now I am more aware of it, and I have come to accept that I have a nervous attachment style—I need lots of assurance that the person I am with wants to be with me and considers me enough.

It has taken a long time for me to consider that valid—that need for assurance.  But it makes all of the sense that I would need extra assurance, given the fact that I was locked into abusive cycles for much of my relationship history, and those cycles told me repeatedly that I was not worthy or enough.  Now, I just sort of wait for the person I am with to start that cycle of abuse.  And when they don’t, I start to become confused and anxious and weird.

That sounds stupid.  To put the words on the page feels really strange.

To admit that I become confused, anxious, and weird when nobody starts a cycle of abuse is terrible.

It is sad.

It is devastating.

But it is so true.

So, I think that I have started it myself.  I have convinced myself that now is about the time that my partner should start to treat me poorly, so I make comments or do things that cause conflict.  I get angry that he leaves to go to his on-call job—even though I know he is on call.  I ask if he is embarrassed to be seen with me, when he and I have just been walking down the street hand in hand.  I push when he asks me to pull.  I go when he asks me to stop.  I accuse him of not wanting to be with me when he is with me.  I do the weirdest things, because I think that conflict should happen now, and he isn’t starting it.

I’m breaking my own heart and blaming him for doing so.

Let’s be fair—bad men broke me.  The toxicity of relationships prior to now was all their fault, and not my fault at all.  I was captive, beaten, raped, assaulted, and abused in all sorts of ways.  They are responsible for that.  And part of that toxicity is seeping into my present, so they are also partly responsible for what is going on with my relational challenges today.  There is no doubt that the breaking that was done before is still affecting me now, and some parts might always stay broken.

But what worries me now is that I fear that I have become toxic.  What worries me today is that my only way of being in relationship has been the way of toxicity, and I might not know how to be other.  I might not know how to be the partner I expect my partner to be, because of the brokenness that lingers and the places that are still wounded and scarred.

What if I have become the face of my enemy?  An enemy that I was in love with, and whom I thought was in love with me, by the way, so I somehow tie love to the war that we were fighting inside our home—inside our life together.  What if I can’t figure out how to love without warring?

How do I love without warring?

I suppose that is the question for which I need an answer.

And that question isn’t easily answered.  Because you can give me the facts and the formulas, and you can tell me how to move forward without warring, and you can tell me how to love well, but that doesn’t mean that my psyche knows how to follow that instruction.

We all have certain areas in life where we act somewhat automatically.  Muscle memory is an example of this.  You don’t keep thinking through the way that you are swinging a bat or whisking some eggs or signing your name or rocking the baby.  Your body remembers those sensations and it starts to do them automatically, without you having to use up conscious thoughts about how or when you perform particular movements.  Your body does the things.

And I have some sort of “muscle memory” about the way I do relationships.  Doing them differently takes rewriting the code that is already imbedded in my brain.  It’s like trying to become left-handed after 44 years of having a dominant right hand.  It’s nearly impossible, and it is excruciatingly difficult and hella frustrating.

It sucks.  And I’m not certain that I am capable of making such a huge change.   I am certain that making that change soon enough to salvage my current relationship will be some sort of miracle, because I have already pushed it beyond a point where anyone should decide to continue trying to love me, know me, or understand me.  Once you literally chase a man down the street, things are likely beyond repair.  If this man returns and states that he wants to keep trying to be in relationship with me, I will likely wonder what is wrong with him, and only become more suspicious.  What kind of man would date someone so crazy??!  Not a balanced, normal, secure man with healthy boundaries, right?

See, I am already planning the next wave of mistrust before I have cleared up the chaos of the last one.  I’m a fucking mess when it comes to doing relationships.

Was I single for twenty years because I was focused on other things, or was I single for twenty years because I knew that this was how messed up inside I was feeling, and how poorly dating would go once I began to pursue it?  It was definitely simpler to have short-term affairs with people in close proximity whom I didn’t find attractive as long-term partners.  It was also morally ambiguous at best, and using people to fulfill my needs in a selfish and terrible way when you didn’t put a positive spin on things.  But it got me through and kept me from having to address all of the things that I am putting on paper now.

It kept me from having to face my insecurity, my dependence on cycles of the past, my inability to move forward in healthy ways, my desire not matching my state of mental health, and the deep and difficult work that I still need to do to find balance and some semblance of “normal” in my life and relationships.  Letting go of that buffer and finding myself leaning into loving someone has opened up all of those things and put my face right up in that shit.  I don’t want to look at it.  I don’t want to deal with it.

It isn’t that I don’t want a healthy, long-term relationship.  I do.  It is just that I have been doing the hard work of dealing with the effects of my past for so many years now, and I am very, very, very tired of doing that hard work.  Opening up my heart to someone means opening up a new set of vulnerabilities and challenges and problems and ugly truths that I need to work hard to overcome.

I am so tired of having to overcome shit.

I am so tired of having to overcome shit.

That wasn’t a typo.  I literally needed to write that twice, because it is doubly true.

It isn’t fair that I am forced to overcome all sorts of evils and errors and offenses and other things that other people placed upon me—things that I did not and would not choose.  I keep fighting to clear away terrible things that I never gave consent for in the first place.  I have to work to fix what other people broke.  I have to deal with things that were forced into my life, and the perpetrators who forced this upon me, for the most part, work at nothing.  Most of them have jobs, partners, good health, financial security, and what look like lives of happiness and fulfillment.  Granted, things aren’t always as they seem, so I won’t claim with certainty that none of them are haunted by their past or struggling in some way.  But I can say that they have much that I do not, and that I do not have those things because of the consequences of their actions.  I need to overcome the consequences of their actions.  And it looks as though they need to overcome very little.

I know that life isn’t fair.  I can hear my mom’s voice saying it each time I think to myself or say to someone, “It isn’t fair.”

My mom would always be quick to remind me that life isn’t fair.

But maybe it should be fair.

Maybe those men who did the bad things should have to make reparations of some kind.  Maybe those men should have been punished for their crimes against me, instead of rewarded by a system that honors the white man above all things and casts victims to the curb as though they were not human.  Maybe I should have been protected from the abusers, or given an opposing perspective, at the very least, so that I didn’t grow up to believe that I am worthless and unlovable and cursed and terrible and shouldn’t be alive.

But life wasn’t fair, and none of those maybes became realities. So, I muddled through the unfairness with my toxic thoughts until I became the maker of my own chaos.  When nobody else was here to tell me how worthless I was, I told myself.

And now that a person is getting close enough to love me, I am showing him that I am too messed up to be lovable.  He didn’t say it, so I said it for him, by chasing him down the street.

He came by to check on me the next day and asked me to forgive him for arguing with me.  He asked me to forgive him! He took the blame for my actions.

I offered him forgiveness.  Things have been strained and he has been a bit distant since then.

I text him periodically, asking if he still wants to be with me.  He replies by saying that he is very busy at work and very tired, but he will call me as soon as he can.

I’m trying to choose to believe that he is very busy with work, and that this is all there is to the story—the truth being the text taken at face value.  But there is a part of me that wants to create all sorts of scenarios where that text isn’t true, and he is using work as an excuse to keep his distance until he can fade out of my life without fear of some sort of crazed retribution.

And, honestly, this post doesn’t end with a nice little resolution and a happy, encouraging anecdote, because the story here is just what I stated:  I’m trying to believe what he told me is true when the “muscle memory” inside of me is screaming objections at that belief.  My mind is shrieking mistrust, and that is how it will continue, unless or until I can find a way of changing that part of my mind and the perspective on my history that leads it.

The truth of the past and the truth of the present are warring.  So, no, I haven’t figured out how to love without warring, because a war is happening inside of me every moment.  Even if I don’t fight with the one I love, I need to fight with myself to keep on trusting and to not let the ones who broke me in the past break my present, and my future.

At the end of this post I am still where I was at the beginning:

I don’t know how to do relationships.

…but I am trying to find a way.  And that is progress of some kind, I hope.

 

 

 

 

UPDATE:

Last night the chased man (definitely not the chaste man–to be clear) called and asked me what I wanted for dinner.  I chose burgers, and he took me out to the best local spot for burgers.

While we ate, I was telling him about the article I wrote about our wild night and big fight and how I feel about being incapable of positive, healthy relationship where I don’t push him into madness and create chaos.  And he said, “I’m going to stop you right there.  No.  No.  There was rum involved.  And nothing you did created that situation.  You didn’t do that. You didn’t do anything.  I know that I shouldn’t be drinking, and I have not had any liquor since the moment I left you that night, and you didn’t … no.  Just no.  Don’t put that on yourself.  Don’t even think that for a second.  I heard you say to me you forgive me, is that still true?”

I nodded in agreement, a tear rolling down my cheek.

“And you did nothing wrong, but if you feel you did I forgive that too.  I think that we can work through this.  I think that we are going to be fine.  I still want to make this work, and I believe that it will.  Unless you don’t want me around anymore?”

“I don’t want that,” was my quick and impassioned retort.  “I want you with me.”

“Then I am with you.  I would never deliberately abandon you.  I would never try to harm you. I am with you.”

And all of the anxious attachment needs were met, and all of the wrongs felt righted, and dinner was lovely, even with tears in my eyes.

Maybe I overestimate my power to destroy things, and maybe I underestimated the power of this man to care for me well.

Later he took me up on a rooftop, high above all the neighboring buildings, and we watched the fireworks.  It was the most amazing display I have ever witnessed!  Perched above the city, as we were, we could see the shows put on at each beach, downtown, in the suburbs, and in the nearby neighborhoods.  It was a 360-degree canvas bursting with light and sound, the winds starting to come up off the lake cooling our bodies, stripping down to our skivvies and dancing to his music and lying on my blanket and laughing.  It was one of the most beautiful nights of my life.

The truth of the past and the truth of the present may still be warring.  They may always be warring.  But nights like these—when someone meets my fear and my failure and my feelings head on and not only answers with the best response but shows me something so positive to replace the negative in my mind—can do something that I hadn’t considered before now.

Nights like these can rewire the brain.  Nights like these can form new memories.

And enough of these nights, added together, can make new muscle memory.

They can reform my system of beliefs about relationships and brokenness and trust and truth and love and commitment.  They can rid my body and my mind of the toxins and replace them with healthier things.

I couldn’t imagine that before last night.

Now I can.

I guess there is a happy, encouraging anecdote after all!

Up Again

It’s been difficult to write.

That’s not entirely true.

It’s been difficult to write something that doesn’t sound like suicidal ideation blended with complaint and condemnation and a little bit of protein powder to make an “I fucking hate everything and everyone and can’t remember why I keep trying at life smoothie”.

And I am relatively certain that nobody wants to read that.  Or taste that.  Or whatever.

On the bright side, I’m not literally suicidal.  And all sorts of pop songs are cycling through my brain—not death metal—so, all is not lost.  Though I did tell my dad yesterday that things were going to get very Dantesque around here if I don’t get a ruling in my case soon.  “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”.

But for the moment, I am only a depressing mess in written word, not in other facets of my life.

Today I have been wondering about that a bit.  And I am wondering if there is an element of true self and false self, or of seen and hidden, or of private and public, that is expressed through the writing and being.  Is there a tie that binds my writing with my deepest feelings, and keeps it honest?  Or is the best of me brought out in person, leaving the struggle for the page?  Is there some way that my craft expresses only one bit of me and not another?

I don’t know how to answer that.

And now I am tired.  Tired beyond all telling or explaining.

Just considering one or two questions exhausted me.  And my splint just hit buttons without my consent and tried to send my document over the internet for translation?  What the fuck, splint? Why are you acting out?  I know why the dog and cat and offspring are cranky—not enough play time, no fresh litter liner, and no access to cigarettes or boyfriend, respectively.

And I am cranky because everything and everyone else needs and wants my attention and affection and compassion and concern.  But I don’t even have enough of that for me.  I can’t give what I don’t have.  But I keep on trying.  I’m a fucking bleeding turnip.  I’m a fucking bleeding stone.

So, while the dog is fed and the cat is sleeping in the window and the temperature is below 80 degrees and the daughter is out, I’m going to stop trying to express my thoughts and start taking a nap.

Because the one thing I know for certain is that no matter how many times I fall, I’ve always gotten up again, and I think that is the truth for all of us in this household—whether I hold us up, or whether the others lift me up, or whether we all take turns dragging one another from the depths.  And lying down this afternoon gives me an opportunity to wake in an hour or two, and get back up again.  Rested a bit, I hope.  Ready to fight—in the good and righteous way where we make it through life no matter what challenges are thrown our way.  And the longer I have fought, the more I have learned that you stop the monsters by throwing back love and kindness and good.  So, I need to regroup and give myself the attention, affection, compassion, and concern—the care and love and kindness—so I can keep putting it out into the world and overcoming the challenges.  That’s right: We fight with care and love and kindness.  It’s the only way to win.  It’s the only way to get back up again.

 

Dances with Dragons

It is no secret that I love the HBO hit series Game of Thrones.  George R.R. Martin is genius in so many ways, and the show follows suit.  And for many reasons, I wonder how Martin connects in the ways that he does to the plight of the marginalized in his medieval and magical imagined society.

One of the ways that I identify with the characters in this series has to do with the plight of the woman.  Not one woman in particular, but a great variety of women in a great variety of situations.  Raped, owned, captive, forced to do and be what another bids you to be—all are ways that women in the stories suffer due to their perceived weakness and their lack of agency.  But we don’t stop there.  We go on to tales of power and strength and cunning and a capacity for greatness in the lives of these fictional women.

I sometimes feel like a fictional woman.

That might sound strange.  I’m not bipolar or schizophrenic and manifesting with delusions that I am a character.  I simply bear burdens that I rarely hear about in true tales.  My life is an epic tale already, and I assume that I am still only about half way through my life, barring the development of fatal disease or the collision with a truck that might end it a bit early.

I’ve gone through so many things in my life that it is difficult to believe that they all truly happened.  I wonder how I survived.  I wonder if I have some cosmic draw upon the evils of our society.  I wonder whether the story has a glorious end, or whether the bad things will keep coming indefinitely for the rest of my life.

I sometimes feel like a fictional woman, because I have never met another who can relate to all of the things with which I relate.    I feel like this life is impossible, not plausible, and maybe a bit crazy—this life of struggle after struggle and story after story.

The marginalization, lack of agency, and captivity that the women of Westeros experience feel like real things for me.  There are moments it is too real for me—when I have my hand clamped over my mouth in shock and my stomach feels as though it has dropped out of my body, leaving an empty, sickly cavern in its place.  Being owned, being abused, being captive: these are things that I know intimately.  And most women don’t have that intimacy of knowledge and connection with all of the bad things you might imagine.  Most women have experienced some marginalization or lack of agency, but not with all the forms of marginalization and lack of agency you can imagine wrapped up into one package.

So, who imagined my story?  How did it become this epic tale that recounts the plight of each and every woman who crosses the pages of Martin’s imagination?  When did I become the poster-child for trauma and trial?

I think the answer is staring me in the face.  And I don’t want to name it—I don’t want to name him, because that will make me feel the unwarranted guilt of calling out the wrongs of those who made my story go so “wrong”.  Because somewhere, deep in my psyche, I still feel responsible, and I still feel shame, and I still feel confused, and I still feel like I need to protect those who harmed me.  That is crazy, and more than just a bit so.  That is a lot crazy.

The startling thing here is not my responses to trauma and trials, but that my responses are considered less acceptable than the actions that brought about those responses.  Molesting your family member, or sex without consent, or smacking around a non-compliant partner, or treating a woman like property are all less offensive to many than my psyche and my ways of coping with the traumas of my life thus far.  Even more startling is the fact that my depression and disability, which are directly related to those traumas, are seen as the marks of a dirty, lazy, crazy, messed up, burdensome, whining, free-loading, fuck-up.  My disabled status is more criticized than the ones whose actions caused my disabled status.  I am attacked for having been attacked, and not just being fine with that.  I am attacked for having been wounded and not just putting a Band-Aid on that shit and going ahead with life unaffected.

The ways I relate to the women in the imagination of Martin, and their portrayal by the producers of Game of Thrones, are ways that express the greatest possible struggles in life.  But I also relate to the women becoming something stronger and more powerful and more able with each passing event.  Hard things make strong people.  And I hate sentiments similar to that statement, in some sense.  I don’t believe that the divine offers us challenges to strengthen us or prepare us or make us useful in the lives of others.  I don’t believe that triumph follows trials, necessarily.  I don’t believe that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.  There are plenty of things that didn’t kill me that made me broken and weak and wishing that death had been offered instead.  But, I cannot deny that some of my strength was forged in the fire of evil attacks upon my person and my psyche.

I don’t want to say that I am better because I was treated worse than most.  That simply is not true.  I am far worse off because of the poor treatment I was subjected to in the past.  But I have also developed some great skill in coping and in fighting for justice and in being a beacon for those still caught in a cycle of dark, dangerous mistreatment and marginalization.

One doesn’t negate the other.

I’m a fucking mess who learned lessons in being amazing.  They exist in tandem—the broken and the brave.

And you don’t want to process that last statement.  It fights against the dichotomous thinking that we have been programmed toward for centuries.  Either/or thinking is rarely the best line of thought.  Both/and is the way that the world actually offers itself.  I am both broken and brave, at once.

The women of Westeros are broken and brave.  They are overcomers.  They fight to gain their freedom, their justice, their right to be whom they choose and not the ones they are told to be by others.  But the knowledge of trauma and its effects upon its victims lets me know, with certainty, that these women are also irreparably broken.  There are some things that you never forget.  There are some things that never stop having a hold.  And that hold doesn’t need to propel us toward evil and revenge and perpetual suffering.  Sometimes those things that have a hold are the inciting motivation for our desire to find justice and agency and bravery.  But they still have a hold—they still take a toll.

The thing that I need to keep remembering and reinforcing in my own life is that it is alright for those things to have a hold and take a toll.  It is okay to suffer the effects, and it is okay to fight for freedom from those effects.  And those two things can happen simultaneously.  I can allow both the bravery and the brokenness to exist and to be honored and to be experienced and to be felt deeply.

I am allowed to be both/and.

Sometimes my ability to press forward toward a goal of peace and justice and healing is inspirational.  Sometimes my inability to cope and overcome and heal is just as inspiring.  And it is so and should be so because I am both/and.  I am both a woman of strength and a woman who copes with weakness.  I am both a victim and a victor.  I am both broken and brave.

Learning to celebrate the difficult parts of your life and your person is not easy.  I’m certainly not to the point where I do so with consistency.  But I am closer to celebration today than I have been in a long time.

The challenges are difficult for the women of Westeros.  The moments of champion are many for these same women.  One doesn’t negate the other.  One informs the other.

In the same way, my challenges inform who I become and how I live in this world.  The bad things are not negated by the good.  The lessons don’t erase the loss.  The struggle remains real, even when it seems like I am overcoming, because there are those things that hold on—the things I can’t forget. And those things are a part of who I am, not just a part of who I once was.

Allowing yourself to be both/and, and accepting the brave and the broken equally, is not simple in its execution.  It is ridiculously hard.  It is something that I want to do, but that I am constantly told by my society that I should not do.

“Get over it.”.  “Let it go.”  “Just forgive and forget.” “Look at the bright side.” “At least you haven’t experienced [thing that one deems more crappy than your experiences].”  “There are children starving in Africa.”  “Focus on the future.”   All are well-meaning sentiments, and all are telling me to stop being the person that I was shaped and developed into, and to ignore and subordinate the majority of the things I have experienced.  And I think that desire to ignore and subordinate the broken and the bad things is a conditioned response.  I think that our society tells us that value is tied to good things, and those who experience bad things are people of little worth, or of poor character.

That is a terrible, incorrect, and damaging view—that struggles are the result of poor choices by lesser beings.  That is the root of every “ism” that we experience in our society—racism, classism, sexism, ableism, ageism, and more and more.

Instead of feeding the fallacy that my challenges are evidence of my personal failures, I would love to see a society that can live in the both/and.  I would love to feel that my challenges are just as valued as my moments of champion.  I would love to be treated as a whole—a woman who has trauma and trials and triumphs.  I would love to be accepted as I am, without judgments that minimize the effects of my past experience or tell me to cover up wounds for the comfort of others.

The thing is, I cannot cover up those wounds.  I am covered in wounds and scars, and those don’t disappear.  They might heal a bit, or stop openly bleeding, or be less pronounced over time.  But they never disappear altogether.

I have a scar across my lower abdomen from a childhood surgery.  It used to be a big, hip to hip, thick, red scar.  Now it is lower and thinner and just a touch lighter than the skin around it.  It seems to have shrunk quite a bit, as my body grew, I aged, and time passed; but that scar is still present and always will be.  And that is a part of my whole.  That scar is a moment in time etched on my body for life.  That scar is tied to psychological effects and physical limits and family dynamics and the response of my community.  That scar says all sorts of things about who I am and where I have been and where I am traveling now.  Because it says all of those things, it is important.  It is as important as this moment or any moment to come.  It shaped me and created a way of being and a way of reacting and a way of living that I would not have without it.  So, it needs to be honored and held and accepted and loved as an important part of me.

Identifying with women who overcome the worst challenges and become champions is something that most of us can do on some level.  But it takes a lot of deep consideration to understand the ways that the trial and trauma shaped the triumph.  It takes a lot of understanding to see that the victories are often bittersweet, because of the place where the moment happened, the change came, and the suffering informed the future actions that brought us to the victory.  That understanding is so needed.

Accepting my past is imperative to being in my life today.  Honoring my struggle and refusing to hide or ignore what is difficult to cope with is necessary for me to survive, to thrive, and to continue working toward moments of victory.  Being a champion doesn’t mean you are not still the oppressed and challenged and broken woman in some ways.  And acknowledging both the brave and the broken in me is so important.

Because none of us are only our triumphs.  All of us are both/and.  We are all light and dark, commingling in a storied history.  And it is time to begin celebrating that storied history.  It is time to sing and dance and toast to the storied history that includes both trials and triumph.  It is time to see the characters before us—both fictional and not—as both/and.  It is time to honor the whole person, and end the practice of trying to bleach the dark bits in our histories and our hearts.

I am working hard to love all of the parts of my life and myself.  That work is made harder by those who insist that the hard times and bad times and horrors that have been and are being endured should be hidden behind false smiles and kept behind closed doors.  I need for those around me to be willing and able to accept all of me, and to look at the hard times and bad times and horrors without recoiling in shock and disgust.

There is a moment when a character in Game of Thrones, Sansa Stark, is named by her challenges.  Her name—her title—is questioned because she was forced into marriages against her will.  The power and influence she might have is called into question because she is no longer a woman who holds her family name.  She replies by claiming that she is and always has been a Stark.  She did what she needed to do to survive, but that didn’t make her into someone other.  She has changed, but she is also the same.  Her history and her present are both tied into one.  She is twice married, but she is still a Stark in her heart.  She is both/and.

I think that it would serve each of us (and likely the whole of the universe) well to respond to and respect the both/and in the lives and personas and stories around us.  I believe that the acceptance of the light and the dark, the trial and the triumph, the challenge and the champion, allows us to celebrate who we are without the question of worth, value, purity, influence, or power.  Being who we are, wholly and completely and without shame, is only possible if we accept both/and.  I cannot celebrate and dance and play and love and live in the ways I want and hope to while others force me to question whether my value has been reduced as a result of the history I carry with me into today.  None of us can truly accept ourselves or others until we acknowledge that the dark and the light commingling is a part of our humanity, and that, regardless of what we are currently experiencing, we are still valued and loved.

We need to become a society that does not place value on one and not on another.  We need to be able to face what seems like it must be fiction due to the enormity of the challenge, and still smile and offer kindness and show love.  We need to be people who celebrate the whole.  We need to accept that the same character who is sold/married to solidify an alliance is also the Mother of Dragons.  And we need to celebrate her in both of those moments—the terrifying and terrible wedding night, and climbing atop a great beast and flying to the rescue—in a way that does not deny part of the story.  We need to find a way to accept that all have value, in each and every moment.

I identify with these characters, because I am forged in burning flames.  I have a storied past, and those moments shape this moment and the moments to come.  And I am determined to figure out the way to both dance in the darkness and dance with dragons.  They are equal parts of me.  They do not disappear, and they cannot be hidden.  They are parts of a whole, and should be honored as such.

Join me on this journey.  Let us learn to dance in darkness.  Let us dance with dragons.  Let us be both/and.

Hello from the Other Side

 

It is a melancholy morning.

I’m not sure if the weather is affecting my mood, as the various shades of grey float overhead and the street is filled in a sort of half-light.  The green looks green, but all the other hues seem dulled with this canopy of neutral sky where I want the blue to be.

There are days when I think that I simply wake in a mood and the universe follows suit.  That isn’t a delusion of grandeur marking manic episodes, it is just an observation that life is tied in intriguing ways with our environments.  And I don’t know if my mood is tied to my surroundings or my surroundings are tied to my mood at times.  Granted, I understand that I don’t control the weather.  It is less of a fact than a statement of how life feels today.

Close.  Dreary.  And a bit sad.

So, of course a melancholy girl throws on Adele 25 the moment Spotify loads on her computer.  Who better to nurse a mood like this than Adele?

And the first song is Hello.  And it hits me in a way I don’t expect.  It is totally about relationships most days—or at least that is how my psyche interprets it most days.  But today it feels like a signpost of my difference.  Today it feels like that song is meant for me to holler across the chasm between me and others.  Today it demarcates my life from the life of the “normal” person in my society.

Today I feel outside of the lines that are drawn to boundary the “good” from the “bad”.  Today I feel like all of the weight of my situation and my life and my history and my overactive mind and my grief is loaded upon my shoulders.  And I don’t see others carrying that weight.  And it makes me feel not just different, but “wrong” somehow.  Atypical.  Anomalous.  Weird.

At times, I think that others must have this weight too, and maybe they are just better at disguising it.  Maybe their shoulders are a bit broader and stronger.  Maybe the weight is distributed in ways that make carrying it easier.

But I am a woman living alone in one of the most challenged neighborhoods in the City of Big Shoulders.  I should be able to carry most anything.  And I know from experience that I am an expert at covering over the winces and stumbles that the world’s weight can bring about.  I’m so good at it that people believe I am faking or crying out for attention when the winces and stumbles show up, instead of understanding that I am always covering up my suffering and pain.

And I also have this sense that the reason I feel so melancholy today is that I am getting closer and closer to my goals of being mindful in every moment.  I’m letting myself feel whatever comes, and then letting it pass without having to grasp and cling to those feelings.   This morning I woke in a mood that left me longing and saddened and apart.  But I don’t need to cling to that mood.  And I don’t need to cover up that mood.  It can just stand.  It can just be.  It can just happen.

There is much in my life that has been heavy.  There is much in my day that might be heavy.  There are clouds in the sky that seem heavy.  And in some ways my heart is heavy.

With good reason.

My daughter is feeling uncertain about her future.  Someone I care for is dealing with his mother’s cancer diagnosis.  Old friends are slowly saying goodbye to their tiny boy before he is removed from life support.  Destruction and death are touching almost every inch of this little blue planet.  Need has become the hallmark of my life.  Loss is deeply felt.  Struggle lives up and down each block in my neighborhood.  I look down upon it right now, with the boarding up of yet another building and the remnants of last night’s celebrations covering the empty lots.  And there is this all-consuming feeling that I am alone in knowing the expanse of all of this.

There is a feeling that I know pain in ways that others do not or cannot.  There is a feeling that I have been through the most, the hardest, the most devastating.  There is a feeling that my empathy is too great, and my heart is too tender, and I feel too much.

But I also wouldn’t change that.  I wouldn’t change any of that.

If I had the option to not be abused, to not live on the run, to not marry an asshole, to not be a single parent, to not dance for money, to not fight my way through evictions and repossession and shit credit, and to instead have all the good things in life, I wouldn’t choose it.

There is something beautiful about being melancholy.  There is something beautiful about having deeply felt pain and struggle.  There is something beautiful about my difference and my distance from the general public.  There is something beautiful about being able to know this pain and this struggle and to keep on going.  There is something beautiful about my life and my history and my challenges and my neighborhood and my loss and my burdens.  Even if those things weight me, and make the day feel grey, they are still beautiful.

The other day I texted a friend whose brother is going through some challenges, just to check in and see how things were going or if there was any way I could help.  And at one point in our exchange, I texted, “Everything eventually resolves, right?”

It wasn’t actually a question.  It was rhetorical.  And it was true.

Everything eventually resolves.

There is weight.  There is struggle.  There is sadness.  There is loss.  There is death, destruction, and damage.  There is pain.  And there is the promise that this too shall pass.

Nothing lasts forever.  My melancholy mood might lift with the return of the sun, or with a text from a friend, or with the morning tomorrow.  It might hold on for weeks.  But at some point, melancholy will no longer be my mood.  It will change.  It will resolve.

And being mindful helps me to know and to understand and to accept that it will resolve.  It allows me to feel it, but not live inside of it.  There is a way to approach our feelings that acknowledges them, lets them be felt, and then releases them when they do not serve us well.  There is a way to hold on to the promise that things will resolve, and that this feeling isn’t the whole of our situation, or our circumstance, or our being.  It is only a feeling.  And feelings come and go.

So, while I still feel like I am shouting an echoing hello across a chasm to the “normal” in my society, and while I still feel immense weight upon my shoulders, and while I still work through struggle that most never experience, I am at peace with my melancholy mood.  It has come.  It will go.  And I don’t need to hang on to it when it isn’t serving me well.  It isn’t going to be weighting me for long.  It is not here to stay.  It will resolve.

Adele’s album, however, will stay.  It is already saved in my Spotify account.  And I know that playing it tomorrow might yield completely different feelings than it offered today.  Because life develops, changes, keeps moving, comes in waves, and offers us feelings anew.  We just need to let it.  We only need to acknowledge, accept, and release what comes.

Let life resolve.

Cancelled

I am scheduled for a mammogram later today.  I’ve spent about the last 2 hours debating with myself about whether I do or do not wish to reschedule that appointment.

I can make it.

But I don’t want to worry about it.

But I feel well enough.

No, I don’t feel well.

But I could push through it.

But my head hurts already, and I think I may be getting sick.

But maybe if I just wait a bit I will feel better.

Except I need to hop in the shower and wash off all of the lotions and deodorants and such from yesterday.

I don’t have the energy for that.

Right.  You don’t.

Okay, I will reschedule.

But it takes forever to get in again, and I have surgery coming up in a few weeks, and then I won’t be able to get out and do it.

 

This isn’t an event that has great significance.  I get a mammogram every year, and the past several years of having them done, plus multiple ultrasounds and an MRI, have left my doctors with some confidence that the abnormal mass in my left breast is not cancer.  So, it isn’t like I NEED to be there today.

But I feel like I am always cancelling things.

It is true.  It is really hard to know your boundaries with fibromyalgia.  My body used to tell me in real-time what it needed.  Now it can take hours, days, and even weeks for my body to express that I have overdone it, and that my muscles and joints and brain function are not going to cooperate with my plans for the day, or the week, or the rest of my life.

This disease cancels life.  Not just the annoying little appointments that we all feel like putting off, but the good and beautiful things too.  Time with friends, celebrating with family, going to events … they are all cancelled.

Recently I created a wish list on Amazon of things that I would love to have to make my life easier and to keep me functioning at a higher capacity. Even those needs had to be cancelled, because life throws curve balls and supports I usually depend on were removed, and my financial situation is dire. I’ve had to ask people to support my fundraiser instead and to offer money to pay the bills and keep me alive.

It isn’t really a bad thing to shift focus in that manner.  Obviously, I consider basic needs of tantamount importance, and I am more than grateful for anything and everything that is offered me.

But I feel like even my expectations for living have been cancelled.

And I mean living is the expectation, not that I expected to live with certain comforts.  I am afraid my life might be cancelled.

This is probably difficult for people to grasp.  And I don’t blame anyone for not understanding the depth of my suffering in this moment, or the challenges that I face, or the need that I experience.  I would not have been able to grasp any of that until the last few years happened, and disease became my life, in some sense.

And cancelling became the way I approach life.

I was watching a video of Brene Brown discussing trust the other day. I only got through half of it because I needed to get on the bus and get to yet another appointment (one I couldn’t easily reschedule).  But one of the key components of trust that she talks about in the video is reliability.  She posits that reliability is doing what you say “over and over and over”.

I am not reliable.

I say that I will do a thing, and then the thing is cancelled, or rescheduled, or abandoned because I cannot do it.  My body and my mind won’t let me do it, so it isn’t always my fault, or demonstrative of my personal character, that I cannot follow through on what I say I will do, but the fact remains—I cannot be reliable in the way Brene Brown suggests I must be to be trustworthy.

When I started to exhibit symptoms of fibromyalgia, I had no idea that I was exhibiting symptoms of fibromyalgia.  This is common.  It takes five to seven years on average for people with this disease to be properly diagnosed.  And because of that it is often difficult to even determine onset.  But when I look back several years, and when I talk with my daughter about our history together, I realize that I was already cancelling life as early as 2007.  She would ask to go to the pool, and I would say we can do that tomorrow.  But when tomorrow arrived I would claim that I didn’t feel well, or that I was too tired, and we wouldn’t swim.  She still resents me for cancelling all of those times.  She understands now that I was in the earliest stages of my illness at that time, and that I didn’t mean to be unreliable and to become someone whose word she could not trust, but she remembers the way that she felt let down all of those times, and all the excuses I made for not following through.  And that pains me, just as my physical body pains me—or maybe sometimes more.

I still cancel, and with much more frequency than I did in previous years.  My disease progressed as it went undiagnosed and untreated for those years.  It got worse when I moved to the Midwest from Arizona, and suddenly climate changes, lack of access to healthful organic foods, and less swimming were affecting my body without me being fully cognizant of the effects of these changes.  And by the time people were taking my pain and fatigue seriously, I was on the sofa for a year and a half.

I’ve fought my way back in many ways, and I spend far less time on the sofa at this point.  But the reason that I do much better at living with my illness is that I am better at setting boundaries and better and listening and anticipating my body’s reactions.  Even though it doesn’t tell me in real-time that it is suffering, I can plan more effectively to make certain that I don’t overwhelm myself.  Proactive scheduling, approaching life in terms of my own needs instead of the expectations of others, and being more aware of my illness and the ways it presents and affects me have helped me cancel less … in part because I try to do less.

But I still cancel.  Over and over and over, I cancel.

It is difficult not to apologize for cancelling.  It is difficult to accept it as a symptom of my illness and not as a mark of poor character.  It is hard to feel like I can be a good person, a good friend, a good partner, or a good mother when I cannot commit to things fully and cannot be reliable.

And I wish that there was some positive spin that I could add to the end of this post—some nugget of wisdom that brings us full circle and expresses the self-awareness and growth and determination that I so love to share.

There isn’t.

This is one thing I have not yet figured out.  I still don’t have a beautiful lesson from this experience. If there is a lesson at all, it might be that I am not defined by my symptoms, but that isn’t the way I feel.

Last night I was crying to my dad, as I was telling him about crying to my dear friend Luke the night before, and saying how upsetting it was to look back on my life, and to have knowledge of all the things I have overcome and all the ways I have survived, and to think now that my own body and the illness that plagues it is that which I am unable to overcome, and the thing I may not survive.  I know, in the logical sense, that my body is not killing me, but what I feel is that I won’t survive because of myself.

There isn’t a way to fight against yourself and win.

There may be a way to fight against your disease and win, but that is much easier when you are fighting a cancer, which you kill in order to save yourself, than it is when the thing that you are fighting is incorporated into your entire being.  My own synapses, my own cells, are hurting me.  I don’t have the luxury of separating out what harms me and what IS me.  They are one.

My disease becomes my life.  Hurting is my life.  Confusion is my life.  Cancelling is my life.

There isn’t a way around that fact.  There is only acceptance of that fact.  Or at least that is the way I currently view things.  And I would love to view them differently, but I don’t know how.

I might still go and have my mammogram today.  I might not.  But either way I will continue to struggle with myself over my boundaries and my unreliability and my inability to be as I wish I were—living without constantly thinking about breaking and ruining life.  Living without always considering dying.  Living without worrying that I won’t make it beyond this state, or that this is how it always will be.  Living without cancelling so much of my life.  Living with the constant challenge of seeking to accept life as it is while simultaneously wanting to improve upon my life.

I know it is a constant process, and I know that it will always be such, and I may never arrive at a destination in which I sit and feel like I have completely accepted myself and my way of being in the world.  And I think it is like that for everyone, the healthy and the sick alike.  But today, in this moment, all that seems to matter is that I have, once again, fought with myself over the desire to cancel and not cancel.

I suppose that is how I must approach this fight—moment by moment.  And I suppose that I will eventually start to recognize both the challenge of making it through an event and the cancelling of an event as good and helpful and right.  Because each time I power through, and each time I cancel to rest, I am making a decision to do the best that I can for myself.  And as long as I keep focusing on that—on what is best for my care and for my survival—I am likely choosing well.  Even if my choice makes me appear unreliable.

And, at the end of this post, I have made a decision.  I will reschedule my appointment and deal with the mammogram another day.  Today, my spirit, and my body, and my aching legs and head all need me to rest and to care for myself by cancelling.  Today, cancelling is care.  Today, cancelling is good.  And, at the very least, I can always claim that I am caring for myself over and over and over.

Blank Space

 

I spend a lot of my life looking at blank space these days.  The empty bed where my dad slept the last few days when he visited.  The gap left in my rear molar when the rest of it decided to suddenly crunch its way out of my face.  The empty lot where a neighborhood house was recently demolished.  A whole lot of other space that just seems to need filling.

But the space that frustrates me most is the blank whiteness of my screen/page when I write two or three paragraphs and then cannot write more.

I’m not sure why this space is so oppressing and so frustrating, but it is so. Perhaps it is because the page mimics my life.  I’m not sure what comes next, and I look out into this blankness, unable to discern a clear path to the next line, or paragraph, or page, or chapter in my book (both literally and proverbially).  I’m faced with the blank space where once there was a whole list of opportunities not to be missed.

When my dad was visiting last week he talked about how it didn’t make sense for people to wait for “someday” to do the things they dream of, and he keeps encouraging people to have their adventures and follow those dreams now.  This idea wraps around him now, adding regret to his grief.  I know that my parents kept putting away money for someday, and someday didn’t come. Sickness and death came instead.  Returning to the Netherlands, vacationing in warm places, going to the grandkids’ music programs and graduations and possibly even weddings—all these are lost to my mother, and many of them don’t carry the same joy they once did for my father, since they dreamed such dreams together and now if he does adventure, he does so without her at his side.  I trust he will adventure, but it will always be bittersweet.

As Dad was saying all of this about not waiting and seizing the moment, I realized that many of my saved-for-someday moments were already unreachable.  They have already escaped my grasp.

Chronic illness and chronic pain steal so many moments.

I already know I may never be able to afford a house, a trip outside the U.S. (much less leaving the continent), or the travel and adventure I imagined in my youth.  And I also look at the possibility of finding a partner and the possibility of fulfilling work with doubt and concern, where once I wore the rose-colored glass of a healthy woman—sure that all the good things would come in time and I would one day have my dreams come true.

Now I just look forward and see that blank white space.  I don’t dare dream for things that will always be out of reach.  I don’t know what I might be able to accomplish in this day, much less in the rest of my lifetime.  And I don’t see the possibility as much as I see the pain.  The pain is hard to deny.  The loss is difficult to deny also, but the pain…it fills every moment.  Blank space and pain.

In recent weeks I have tried very hard to find the positives in my life, and to seek out ways to add positives.  I joined a gym with a pool.  I worked on my writing course a bit.  I deleted negative voices filled with doubt, judgment, and general toxicity from my sphere (aka, my Facebook page).  I colored mandalas.  I started a new art project.  I rearranged some things in my home to create a small “sanctuary” space where I can meditate and do yoga or stretching with ease.  I did all the good things.

And yesterday, after writing and swimming and leaving my house and getting some sun and having a massage and creating and doing all the good, I couldn’t move.  Don’t misunderstand and think that I did all the good in one great motion, and that I overexerted myself into pain.  That is not the case.  Instead, I did all the things that are good for me, in moderation and over some length of time.  I did all the things that should, according to the experts, be helpful and good.  And I ended up in tears and debating a trip to the emergency department in the night.

And then, in a painkiller plus muscle relaxer plus anti-inflammatory plus alcohol state of acceptance (which allowed me to stop considering the emergency room), I realized that I was being foolish in the sense that I was seeking to win a fight with my illness.  It isn’t uncommon for people to call themselves “warriors” or “fighters” in the sense that they fight their symptoms and their illness.  I think it makes us feel better to believe that we can win.  But my chronic illness can’t be beaten to death without beating me to death, I suppose.  And that doesn’t seem like a good end to my story.

I think that my story should end with good and gratitude and love and joy and peace.  That is what I want to fill that blank space.  I don’t want to fill it with tales of fighting and losing and fighting and losing and fighting and losing and then dying.  I want to fill it with laughter and hugs and a full heart and mind and spirit.  And deep down, I know that means accepting pain and living with it, not fighting against it.  The warrior mentality isn’t one that I can easily rid myself of….Wonder Woman covers my desk and my walls and my coffee mugs.  And some of that warrior is still needed to accomplish life—to get out of bed and to stretch and to swim and to eat greens and to figure out a way to lower the cable bill while still accessing the next season of Game of Thrones on HBO, even when those things feel impossible. But, some of that warring needs to cease.  Fighting to write more or write faster, fighting to open that roasted red pepper jar that my hand isn’t strong enough to twist loose, fighting to hold onto any “American Dream” that still assaults me every time I see a realty advertisement, fighting to find love instead of letting it alight upon my life with beauty and grace—these wars need to end.

The thing about that blank space that we all need to recognize and embrace, is that it is blank.  It isn’t filled with our fears and doubts or our dreams and successes until we put them there.  Too often I let other people write my narrative, or I accept the narrative I think “should” be mine according to the socialization and assimilation that surrounds me.  What would happen if I embraced that white space on today’s page, and I accepted that whatever is written is mine to write?  At the end of the day, I write my own narrative.  My story is mine.  And I don’t need to be the warrior who overcomes her pain to run that marathon she wanted to run 20 years ago.  I can be the lover and the peacemaker and the best-selling author and the philosopher just as easily, and with just as much success and greatness.  Fighting has sort of been glorified for us, in American society (and others), as though the story need be one of overcoming the obstacles and working against all odds in order to be good and inspiring, but I am beginning to see my story more as one of accepting that the mountain in front of us needn’t always be there to be climbed.  It can be there to look at and enjoy, and then we can hop in the car and drive around that mountain.  We don’t need to kill ourselves trying to do what society calls success.  We can rename success.  We can begin to accept or deny challenges, based on what we want to accomplish and love and seek to add to our story.

I won’t be running any marathon.  I will hopefully continue to swim until 10 laps doesn’t hurt me anymore, but I won’t fight to get in all 10 every time I swim.  I can accept 4 laps for today.  And I can accept 4 laps forever and call that success if I recognize at some point that my body will never make 10.  Goals can change.  I don’t need to fight for something that hurts me.  I can just change my expectations and accept my limitations.  I may still buy a house someday.  I may still marry a lovely person and share life with him or her.  I might not.  But that won’t mean that my story is one of failure, because I am beginning to recognize that I write the ending, and if I believe that love and joy are the end goal, then there are a million roads I can take and still be the heroine of my story.  The blank space doesn’t need to frighten and frustrate and oppress, because it doesn’t need to be filled with fighting a losing battle.

I’m going to fill my space with wins.  I’m going to fill my space with choosing acceptance.  I’m going to fill my space with the knowledge that my disease affects me, but doesn’t own me.  I’m going to fill my space with loving others.  I’m going to fill my space with loving myself.  I’m going to fill myself with reorganizing the way I think of success and failure.  I’m going to fill my space with things I enjoy, whenever possible.  I’m going to fill it with beauty and grace and love and peace as often as I can.  I’m going to write my story as an adventure story with a happy ending, no matter that much of society would consider a woman who spends her days in pain and doesn’t overcome that pain a crappy story.  It isn’t theirs to write.  It is mine.

Don’t fear the blank space.  Embrace it.  Fill it and mold it and shape it and create it any way you choose.  It is yours.  And whatever your story may become, I know that I would love to hear it, and to share mine with you.  (I guess this post already begins to share mine with you.)  Let’s write our own narratives and share them with one another and with the world.  Let’s create a space where, no matter the circumstances of your life, your story is validated and appreciated.  Wouldn’t that be the most beautiful of endings?  Wouldn’t that be the best possible use of blank space?