Avoidance

I’m supposed to be paying bills.

But there isn’t enough money.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lament shapes the spirit in beautiful ways.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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More Than I Can Handle

 

There is this common statement among those who choose a Christian religious base for their belief system.  I hear it often.  I hate it more every time it is said.

“God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

I call bullshit.

I am dealing with more than I can handle.  I’ve been dealing with more than I can handle since childhood. And every day I wait for the moment when pretending at control is overcome by the chaos of being overwhelmed.

So, here is the thing I need to say:  either the Divine absolutely gives out more than one can handle, or the Divine isn’t a part of the equation at all.

Please do not misunderstand and read that as “God doesn’t exist”, because I won’t challenge anyone on that point.  I believe in divine intervention and live a spiritual, but not religious, life.  The existence of some Divine source is a part of my belief system.  And it does not need to be yours.  If you are not religious, I suppose you could ignore this post altogether.  (But I hope you don’t.)

The statement that the Divine will not let you be overwhelmed, however, is bullshit.  I’m overwhelmed right now.  I was overwhelmed two days ago.  I was overwhelmed last week.  I am consistently given more than I can handle.  And if the Divine exists, and I am overwhelmed, then god does give you more than you can handle.  If the Divine does not exist, then the statement is just bullshit from the very first word.

I’ll try to elaborate without getting into a weird rant or too many details.  When I was a child, I was sexually assaulted repeatedly.  I couldn’t cope with that.  It was too much.  And while my actions were often a cry for help, they went unheard or were misunderstood, so I was marinating in more than I could handle.  I was feeling so much pain and shame and confusion that my brain literally stopped knowing about the sexual molestation.  I had a complete dissociation from the events.  My brain shut those events and any and all memories of those events down.  They were tucked away in a place I didn’t have full access to, and they didn’t become known to me in a conscious way until my first year of college.  And when I became aware of those events once more, it was more than I could handle again.  I became depressed, suicidal, and easily enraged.  I was a mess.  I dropped out of college, moved away, dropped out of another college, harbored a runaway, became a drug addict, and got married.  All of these events were too much to handle.

My husband was violently physically and psychologically abusive.  I got pregnant, got divorced, had my baby, went on a blind date, and started a relationship with a man who influenced my return to drug use and eventually became physically abusive, as my ex-husband had been.

Too much.

And then, it would seem, I “got it together”.  I worked hard, cared for my daughter, went back to college, got a master’s degree or two, and ended up working in Chicago.  While these years seemed like the most excellent years of my life to the onlooking outsider, inside of me there was just as much struggle as there had been in years past.  I smoked a lot.  I ran often.  I did everything asked of me, until I could not do it anymore.  What most don’t know about those years is that my kitchen was a mass of dirty dishes half of the time, I was drinking too much, I was fired as a teacher’s assistant because I didn’t have enough time to read and grade papers. I failed a few classes. My daughter resented me for leaving her with others and not hearing her needs often or well.  I was struggling to keep it together, and looked fabulous on the outside, while the inside was being ripped and torn into ugly, bloodied chunks of flesh.

I had become a master of pretending at a very early age.  It took a lot for me to fall apart in front of people.

But behind closed doors, nightmares and weeping and screaming and praying and begging for the pain to end kept on happening.  They didn’t stop as I grew up and developed and became a “responsible adult”.  They just got pushed under layers and layers of façade.

Around 2010 was when things stop staying hidden.  I couldn’t control it anymore.  Tears would come at the most inopportune time.  The lack of sleep from nightmares and insomnia was causing my body to suffer.  I started experiencing chronic illness, and I started to look and sound like a person without hope—crazed with the desperate state of my psyche and the onset of more and more symptoms of illness.  I was breaking down in front of people, instead of doing it behind closed doors.  And people ran away rather than be sucked into my despair.

It’s hard for people who are not given more than they can handle to watch you crumble under the too much.  They don’t understand it.  And it is frightening.  But what I think is the hardest thing for those people to come to terms with is that the platitude they have believed is not true.  Some of us are given way more than we can handle.

Because some of us are given more than we can handle, we need help.  Help, need, care, and the like are not things that most want to offer, so they cling to the lie and insist that god won’t give me more than I can handle.  But I know that is just an excuse not to get involved in the pain of others.

Empathy hurts.

Walking into the center of another person’s trauma is painful.  Feeling what they feel is terrible, because it is completely and utterly too much.  And nobody wants to feel what I feel.

Nobody wants constant physical and emotional suffering.  Nobody wants to face fears and be struck down and struggle through depression and suicidal thinking and destroy relationships through mistrust and sob with such intensity that you need to sleep for three hours to recover the ability to stand.  And, on one hand, I don’t blame you for not wanting to experience what I experience.  On the other hand, leaving me to suffer alone and offering me platitudes that I know are lies makes me despise you for not standing in solidarity.

Because if you cannot handle what is coming at you every day, and if you are overwhelmed, you need others to help carry the weight.  I have approximately six people who help carry the weight in a consistent and generous and loving way.  One of them I pay, because she is my therapist.

I understand more than anyone how heavy and exhausting and painful carrying the load of my life is, but I don’t have the option to step out from under that weight.  I have to cope, shift, manage, and try not to be crushed forever by that weight.

There is another saying—less religious and more true—that I sometimes use.  “Many hands make light work.”

A heavy burden becomes light when there are twelve people lifting, and not just one. I would love for us to acknowledge our avoidance of the burdens in the lives of those around us.  I would love for us to accept that the only way to make things better is to add our hands and help carry the burdens of others.  I would love for us to admit that there is a lot that is overwhelming, and that it won’t go away because we pretend that god makes life easy enough for us (or hard enough for us, depending on your perspective) in relation to our ability to be weighed down.

You don’t keep placing items in a grocery bag until it breaks.  You open and fill a second bag.  You disperse the weight, balancing things out and making certain that there isn’t too much pressure in one spot.

(Yes, I just unintentionally made a grocery bag analogy to suffering.  But I can’t really think of a better analogy right now, so it stands.)

So, we are given more than we can handle.  Which is why we need others supporting us.  All of us need others to carry a bit of the weight at times.  That looks different at different times and in different spaces.  But none of us is immune to being overwhelmed.

My life has had too much to handle for a really long time.  I get better at handling it through coping strategies.  But I still haven’t worked through all the burdens or had the weight lifted.  I still make valiant attempts at handling it all.  I still pretend I am well while I am carrying immense pain just under the surface.  But I fail all the time.  I hurt all of the time.  I feel too much.  I need too much.  I falter too much.

And my only hope is that others might find their way toward helping, and that hands would be added, and that my burden may become light.  Help me Obi Wan Community, you are my only hope!

I hope that empathy might become something that we embrace, despite the hurts, because it also brings shared joys.  I hope that generosity rules the day.  I hope that we start to dissect the lies that the platitudes reinforce, and come to understand that we need one another to survive.  I hope that we find the strength to share, to respect, to dignify, and to accept.  I hope we leave behind individualism, judgment, marginalizing, and rejecting.

I don’t know that this is an eloquent post.  It is a needed expression.  Mostly, I need to say it, because it is boring a hole through my mind.  But I also hope that it is heard and accepted.  Because I have always known that the Divine isn’t giving me any number of things to handle or not handle.  The Divine gives me an assist when all the things are too much.  The Divine doesn’t give anyone burdens for the fun of watching us struggle.  And the Divine doesn’t give burdens to prepare us for assisting others in their burdens.  The Divine is the opposite of burden.  The Divine is love.  And whatever is burdensome is what we need to fight against, not for.

When racism tears apart a community, we fight against that.  When illness strikes a body, we fight against that.  When fear creates divisions, we fight against that.  When poverty leaves people in the streets, we fight against that.  When little children are violated, we fight against that.  When women are not given a voice, we fight against that.  When gun violence steals lives every day, we fight against that.

And we fight together, in solidarity, and as one entity.  Because there is more in each of those situations than we can handle, and ridding our society of these evils requires our many hands, working together, to unburden the most vulnerable.

I happen to be one of the most vulnerable, because life tossed all sorts of challenges at me, and so my plea for justice—the unburdening of the most vulnerable—ends up being a plea for my welfare also.  I beg for hands to help on a regular basis through my fundraising site.  But I want, today, to express that there are so many more burdens than mine.  And there are so many who do not have hands helping at all, where I have a few.  So, I’m not just advocating for myself.  I’m advocating for all the poor, disabled, homeless, captive, imprisoned, endangered, devastated, depressed, and unsupported victims of all the ills within our society.

Lend them a hand.  Live in solidarity.  Challenge your assumptions and preconceptions.  Dig deep into your heart and your mind, and figure out why you let burdens continue without intervention.  Smash those excuses that keep you from moving toward empathy and solidarity and understanding and care.  Do things that change lives.  Do things that save lives.

And stop saying that god doesn’t give us more than we can handle.  Stop spreading that lie.  Start spreading love.

 

Apologies

I wish that I had the energy and the time and the emotional strength to write and post something meaningful here today.

I don’t.

I offer my apologies.

There are some times when there is too much to say and no positive way to say it.  There are some days when life is too overwhelming for me to even process it.  There are some moments when coping means not thinking, dissociating, ignoring, and pretending to be fine.

Today is all of those days.

So, I offer my apologies.  And I offer them not only because I feel like I am neglecting an audience that faithfully reads my words, but also because I am moving into a space that isn’t great.  Fake smiles and logical responses and dull conversation are going to happen.  Because I can’t cope in any other way.  I’m overwhelmed, and I can’t be my best self now.  But I never want people to see the anger and frustration and pain and struggle.  I never want the broken parts to be on the outside.  I want to keep them inside.

People abandon the broken parts.  People can’t understand despair that deep.  People don’t like the way that my truth makes them feel.  People don’t like to feel what I feel.  It hurts like crazy.  It makes you crazy.

I don’t blame you for not wanting that, people.  I don’t want it either.

I’m going to lie to you for the next two weeks.  I’m going to tell you I am fine when I am not fine.  I’m going to tell you it is okay when it is not okay.  I’m going to tell you it doesn’t matter when it absolutely fucking matters.  I’m going to pretend that it doesn’t hurt when it is slowly carving me open.  I’m going to push back the tears.  I’m going to scream into my pillow.  I’m going to lie.

My apologies.

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.”

 

 

 

 

Letting Go

When you have been hurt by people in the past, it can be really hard to trust people in the now.  And it isn’t the fault of whomever you are with now if someone before hurt you, but it is also not easy to keep the two experiences separate in your mind and heart.  As a result, we often try to control things in new relationship and new situations—to keep things safe and metered and carefully mapped.

But things like love and care don’t flourish in an environment where things are safe and metered and carefully mapped.  Passion can’t exist there.  Trust can’t exist there.  So, by trying to prevent hurt from happening we create a place where the happiest and most healing relating is also prevented.

I’m certainly not proposing that we let any and all experience happen to us, without setting boundaries or ensuring our health and safety.  We definitely need to be safe and have boundaries.  But there is only so far we can take those boundaries and that safety before they transform into something else—something more sinister and potentially damaging.  If we are not cognizant of what we are doing with those boundaries and that safety, they can become control.  They can become an inability to let go.

The other night I had a date.  It was an amazing date.  We had an early dinner and drinks, and there was not a moment of dead air between us.  We talked about all sorts of things, and then we dropped my leftover food off at his apartment on our way to a karaoke bar.  We had tons of fun.  We drank, he sang, we made “friends” with a group of Guns and Roses fans on one side of the bar, and a beautiful mother and her daughters celebrating a milestone birthday on the other.  He held the room captive as he sang, and every single person clapped and sang along with him.  He loved being on that stage, and his excitement was contagious.

Eventually we ate again, because we had been out for so many hours and had so many beers.  We took a cab to another bar, and once more he brought everyone into his state of excitement and his love of song.  And I watched him with pride.  Because between songs he was talking to me.

He was more than talking to me.  He was holding every word, and passionately engaged in conversation, and geeking out on my fandoms as hard as I do—maybe harder.  He was wrapping his arm around me.  He was holding me close.  He was kissing my lips.  And I felt honored to have him there doing so.  I felt blessed by his presence, and I felt privileged to be his chosen companion.  I was certain that he could choose lots of other women, but he was choosing me.

And I still refused to let go.

I didn’t sing on stage.  Which makes no sense, because from childhood I have been desiring the stage, and loving every moment I was allowed and able to sing upon it.  And while I am a bit self-conscious about my voice today, with hoarseness and the breaks of a pubescent boy often plaguing my vocal chords without warning.  But that wasn’t why I didn’t sing.  There were plenty of singers worse than I who took the stage.  And I sang loudly from our little table in the corner, with him at my side.  I didn’t go up because I was pretending I didn’t want to.

I wasn’t pretending for him.  I was pretending for me.

I was pretending I had too much humility or shyness or reservation to perform on stage.  I was making excuses for myself and to myself.  Because being up there meant being vulnerable.  Being up there meant I had no control over the outcome.  Being up there meant opening up and letting loose and letting go.  And I wouldn’t do it.

Later that night, back at his apartment, when I took off my shoes and my sweater and my scarf to be more comfortable and cool, the tattoo on my left arm was in full view.  After having hugged and kissed me a bit, he ran a finger over that tattoo, which boldly declares, “Enough”, and he said, “I assume this is about taking your life back.”  Taking my life back is how I described myself on the media platform where we first came into contact with one another.

He had the right of it.  That tattoo is part of fighting back, and saying I have had enough—that I won’t take any of the bullshit I do not want and that I create my experience from now on.

But that tattoo is also about reminding myself that I am “Enough”, just as I am and without any comment or consideration or care of another.  I am not almost good enough.  I am not lacking.  I am not without value or merit or reasons for pride.  I am, wholly and completely, enough.

And in that moment I started to cry.

I wasn’t entirely sure why at the time.  Further thought on the subject, however, brought me to the place I stand this morning.  I know now that I cried because I wasn’t acting like enough.  I wasn’t letting go and letting my true self shine.  I was controlling and metered and safe the whole night.  I was in the presence of another for only a few short hours.  But in those hours, I wanted to be what he admired, instead of being all that I am and waiting to see if he might admire me.  I wanted to create an ending where I don’t get hurt more than I wanted to create something real and deep and true.  And the moment I felt that was what I was doing, I wept.

Crying on the first date is usually a terrible idea, as a general rule.

But even then he was fabulous, and walked through that moment and moved forward with me to the next.  And a bit later I reluctantly left, wanting to remain curled up in his arms, but knowing that my poor dog needed my attention more than I needed the attention of this man.

The next day, thinking it all through once more, I felt ashamed.  I felt foolish.  I felt the familiar weight of having pretended instead of having let go to be myself.  And last night my text went unanswered, and all I could think was that I hoped that my pretending did not take the opportunity to be with this man again from me.  I hoped so much that my refusal to be vulnerable and true didn’t take away the joy of that night and leave me always wishing for another.

I still wait in hope.  And I hope that this realization will offer me a chance to step up next time, and to boldly belt out songs from that stage.

While I do want to see this man again, there is more to it now than a connection with a potential partner.  There are all these layers of decision that we must navigate in every single moment.  And in the moment, I denied the truth and didn’t let go.  In the moment I played safe and controlled and let the hurts of the past define me, and not the heart and the soul and the spirit of the present.  I sought approval, instead of seeking joy.

Sometimes, when people ask me about my history and what I might regret, I shock them with my answers.  They think that my bad marriage or the night of binge drinking where I was sexually assaulted before morning or my drug use or any number of “bad” or “sad” or “regrettable” decisions should be what leaves my lips.  But it is not those things that haunt me.  Because during that time, when all that chaos was happening around me, I still held fast to me.  I didn’t feel like that woman needed to hide in the shadows.  That woman took the stage.  That woman built her own fucking stage if there wasn’t one to take.  That woman was brave and powerful and wild in ways that her later incarnation has not been.  I regret leaving her behind.  I regret not being her on Friday night.  I regret that I forgot that I am enough.

I believe that this man will offer me another chance.  I believe that he is kind and caring and understanding, alongside being fun and courageous and cuddly and cute.

And when that chance comes, I need to swallow any hint of reservation, of safety, of control.  I need to jump up and sing out and let vulnerability rule the day.

I need to trust that I am still, and always, Enough.

I need to let my heart love.  I need to let my spirit fly free.  I need to find and hold joy.

I need to let go.

 

Costume

I remember loving dressing up.  I remember loving Halloween.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I didn’t do it knowingly, of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wholly me.

 

Happy Halloween!!!