And the Storm Rages On

It isn’t easy for me to be vulnerable.

I remember a friend from cohort saying to me once that I was very open by not very vulnerable, and I was upset by that statement, because I didn’t think it fair to separate the two out in that manner.  Being honest was, in my mind at that point, being vulnerable.  Now I understand more fully that there is a difference, and that Chris was correct in his assessment.  It is easy for me to tell the truth, and it is hard for me to be open about how that truth can harm me—how exposing the heart of me is different from exposing the facts of my situation.

I was recently quite vulnerable about the financial situation that I find myself in, and the subsequent challenges that my daughter is experiencing.  I let people know how hurt and frustrated and damaged and judged and punished I was feeling as a result of all sorts of things that are far beyond my control.  And I didn’t shy away and rewrite and edit and try to add decorum or lessen the blow of my emotions.

Overall, the response was positive.  I had a few people who commended my authenticity and vulnerability in stating not just the true facts, but the challenge of my own feelings about those facts.

But there was one response that has been eating away at me for days now, and I can’t help but craft some sort of retort.  I won’t start some strange, heated Facebook argument about it, however.  So, instead I want to address it here, and, hopefully, give it a worthy apologetic.

After lamenting that my daughter was forced to drop out of her educational program just 6 weeks prior to graduation due to financial constraints, and noting that my own challenge of being trapped in cycles and systems that keep me in an impoverished state, rather than offer me the chance to thrive—both of which I consider to be rather unique to me in my particular circles of acquaintance and/or influence—I received this comment in reply:

It’s not just you, Christy.  Nor is or (sic) just single income households. The economy is tough and there are a lot of people that I know right now that are struggling to keep the lights on. 

                I’m so sorry. I know what you’re going through when the stress, the anxiety, disability, and desire all meet in the perfect storm.

                I’m praying for you guys…

And under that was a meme that said:

Sometimes God calms the storm.  Sometimes He lets the storm rage and calms His child.

I later texted another friend that I was “Zen as fuck” until I read that comment.

I can’t fully express how upsetting comments like this are for someone in my situation.  The idea that my situation is just like a whole lot of other people’s situations is laughable.  To normalize what is incomprehensibly abnormal as a strategy to deny me aid is not one that is foreign, unfortunately.  People love to rationalize their refusal to help their fellow humans as “reasonable” instead of cruel or evil in all sorts of ways.  And the easiest way to do that is to dehumanize the person in need—using racism, classism, moral relativism, or some other ism to blame the needy for their own struggle.  That dehumanization is much more difficult when you sat beside said person in seminary classes and your child was babysitter to mine, so you resort to the second easiest rationalization—the “lots of people” argument.

“Lots of people” have disabilities and they…

“Lots of people” are divorced and they…

“Lots of people” are having financial challenges.  “Lots of people” have anxiety.  “Lots of people” want life to be different than it is.  “Lots of people” struggle.

All of this is true.  So, in the mind of the one arguing for the many, the one is simply an exaggeration of or a dramatic expression of what all sorts of people are dealing with.  They “understand”.  They “sympathize”.

Bullshit.

I call bullshit.

And I get to call it because of this ugly feeling in the core of my being whenever I get to read these sorts of comments under my vulnerable posts.

Ironically, just above this comment was a series of comments and replies that talked about how I hate to open up because of the times that I opened wide my arms for a hug and got a gut punch instead.  This “lots of people” comment is a gut punch where there should be an embrace.  And I will tell you why this feels like a gut punch.

My vulnerability is not something that is shared by lots of people.  It is an intimate thing, to share my heart and my deepest wounds and fears.  To say that lots of people are touched in the same way—even if it were true—is a betrayal of my trust.  This comment is akin to a friend confiding in you that they were raped, and you saying, “Lots of people get raped.  I know what you’re going through.  Sometimes you need to let go of shit and let God change your perspective.”

Gut fucking punched.

I’m deeply involved in all sorts of methods for changing my perspective, by the way.  I meditate almost every day.  I practice yoga.  I practice gratitude daily.  I use several mindfulness practices, and I have all sorts of routines in place to keep my heart open, my outlook positive, and my disordered thinking in check.  When I said that I was Zen, I meant it.  I could not have been calmer when I received that offending comment.  And I addressed it in the calmest manner possible:  I ignored it.  I talked to a close friend about how it made me feel, and she supported me through the event and helped me to keep a positive perspective throughout the situation.

So, even after being gut punched by the insensitive rationalizing comment, I kept my cool demeanor.  I didn’t need “God to calm his child”.

But the storm is another story.

The storm should NEVER have been here in the first place, and yet it rages on.

This common little meme, and the saying upon it, are very upsetting for me.  They assume that the things in life that harm us are somehow meant to be hanging around our heads so that God can teach us some sort of lesson in how to keep our cool under pressure.  And I don’t understand where that idea comes from, but it is a terrible sentiment, and we need to put an end to it.

My challenges stem from disabling conditions, yes.  And those disabling conditions might never go away or be cured.  I understand that a certain amount of coping is required for me to navigate life with those conditions.  In that sense, there with always be challenges.

But “the storm” for so many of us can simply go away if people stop using the rationale to avoid helping one another and affect change.

My storm includes a system that doesn’t fully support those in our society who have disability, and only offers me $750 in cash and $15 in food benefits, plus a housing stipend.  Adding those together doesn’t make a livable situation, and I am constantly in need and constantly in danger of losing my home, starving, not having my medications, or some other disastrous challenge.

My storm also includes the challenge of mental illness that has been present since early childhood, and which left untreated for so long has influenced my life in countless ways, making it impossible to consider any decision I’ve ever made one that wasn’t made under duress, and challenging me to figure out who the hell I am, and why.  I don’t need a midlife crisis, because I’ve never had an independent identity—my crisis is ongoing.

My storm includes a divorce from a horrible man, whose damage to my person and my psyche cannot and should not be downplayed, for any reason.  And that also means an absent father is a part of my daughter’s storm—and the storms of our children influence our own storms.  The weight of being a single parent goes far beyond “single income” households—and I’ve generally had a no income household, because of my difficulty with employment due to PTSD.  Having a completely absent parent, who contributes in NO way, is not anything that a person who lives in a two-parent home can ever imagine.  It still infuriates me when married people say things like, “I’m a single parent for the week”, when their partner is away on a trip or something.  Having a partner who is physically absent for a matter of days is nothing like having no partner at all.  You still have all sorts of support, financial and emotional just being the tip of the iceberg.  You can’t imagine none of that being present, ever.

My storm includes debt totaling over $250,000.  Most of that is from student loans, and much of the rest is due to the three years’ time that I spent waiting for my disability claim to be approved.  I was unable to work and waiting for the Social Security Administration to look at the body of proof that I was unable to work and sign off on my meager $750 a month payment.  In the meantime, I had nowhere to turn but credit cards, my dad, and charity.  So, I owe far more than I could ever pay back on my own, but I am not eligible for programs that would forgive these debts.  So, I sit and owe, and the interest just increases the amounts and increases the amounts.

My storm includes the complicated situation where my adult daughter cannot be considered an independent student, according to the rules of the government, but I cannot claim her as a dependent, according to the rules of the government.  This leaves her with a shortfall that other students don’t need to deal with regarding their own financial aid.  She can’t take out more money, but I can’t take out money on her behalf.  Because she is in this weird limbo state, because I am a disabled individual.  This isn’t her fault.  This should not be a storm she needs to weather, because I should be able to provide for her.  But I can’t.

So, my storm also includes the constant feeling of guilt because I cannot offer my daughter enough to put her in a position where she is on equal footing with her peers.  She isn’t set up for success.  She doesn’t have the advantages that her cousins and her friends and the children of the commenter on my post have.  I can’t offer her a chance at starting out at zero sum and working her way up from there.  She starts with my handicap.  She starts at the back of the pack, because I can’t give her an education and rent money and clothing and food and care packages and enough love to make up for the losses that she has suffered and the abandonment that she has felt.  I have loved her fiercely.  I have done and continue to do all that I can.  But it will never feel like enough.

My storm includes shame.  So much shame.  Not being a pure virgin girl, and not knowing how to stop being abused, and not understanding what that abuse even was or meant.  The shame of hiding and the shame of secrets and the shame of difference.  My storm later became one that was volatile and violent and full of rage—so much rage.  I felt like I was the storm, or like the storm lived somewhere deep within me and it was trying to get out and I was desperate to hold it in—failing to hold it in.  And then the storm became the shame of promiscuity and feeling like all of those words that are used to keep women captive—whore, slut, bitch—were the only thing that I could be, tainted that I was.  And it felt good to be used in a sense, until it was over, and then the dissociative state wore away and the wave of shame washed over again and I started holding in the storm again, as long as I could … until the next time.

My storm includes being all the people that you could rationalize away as not quite human.  Homeless.  Addicted.  Divorced.  Unemployed.  Mentally ill.  Using my body as currency.  Shielding my body from blows and then crawling into bed next to the one who wielded them.  Perpetually single.  Having sex with partners that were not my husband.  Having sex with partners who were not men.  The girl who stays out too late.  The girl who mows her lawn on Sunday.  (Oh, yes.  Some people consider that a grievous offense!)  I received anonymous notes about my bad behavior.  I was told I could lose my scholarship for having sex.  I got dirty, side-eyed looks from others.  When I talked to your husbands after church, you would suddenly appear at their sides and pull them in a different direction—like talking to me would lead to me stealing them away to mow lawns and suck on body parts by sundown.  In truth, I was just interesting and unconstrained by convention.  It’s an attractive thing to be interesting and unconventional.  (Translation:  read some books not written by female bible study developers and then discuss the contents with your husband … he’ll be mowing your lawn in no time.)

So, my storm also included years and years and years of not having my needs met. Hence the comments about opening my arms for a hug and getting a gut punch.

I’m still not surprised when I open myself up and somebody hits me hard, instead of offering me love and support.  Unfortunately, it is what I have come to expect.

The dumb thing about that meme is that you don’t have to tell me that the storm might not go away.  I fully expect that storm to fucking tear me to pieces and kill me.  It takes weekly therapy, twenty drugs, a host of friends, and all sorts of self-care strategies to convince me that the storm can be survived.  It takes every ounce of energy I can muster to get up in the morning and face the storm again.  It takes all manner of strategies to be my Zen self in the midst of all this chaos and terror and shame and unmet need.  But I do it.  I do it day after day after day.

I keep on facing it.

And some days the storm wins a little, and I freak out on a new potential partner with a host of doubt and shame and fear.  Other days I wake up and counter that with a bit more of the Zen and apologize and open up and tell him why I reacted that way, hoping that he will meet my need and connect with what I am saying … and not gut punch me while my arms are open.

But I face it.

And your job, as the people who would support me, is not to remind me that there is this big, ugly, terrifying storm that I am working so hard to live in the midst of without losing my shit.  Your job is to do everything that you are able to make that storm disappear.  Your job is to offer support where there wasn’t any.  Your job is to accept me and not shame me.  Your job is to love and not harm me.  Your job is to prove that the storm isn’t going to win, and that we can make all of that crap go away by being better than the crap.  We can change and grow and not hurt one another anymore and counter the falsehood with truth and slay the dragon of cruelty with a sword of kindness and acceptance and love.

That is the only way I know how to continue to face the storm—by trusting that we can eventually find calm skies for everyone.  Without that assurance, facing it is a worthless effort, and I may as well off myself now.  (That isn’t a suicidal statement, fyi.  That is me drawing on the extreme to make a point.)  Because if there isn’t an end to the need and the shame there isn’t really a point in moving forward.  And I don’t mean just the money—I mean the need for understanding and connection and love.  But I define love as “meeting needs”, so the money is a part of the equation.

If you are to assist another, you need to do more than tell them that there is struggle all around them and to work on their perspective.  You need to work to end the struggle.  Because no matter what your perspective is, if the struggle persists, you aren’t doing what you should be doing.  You aren’t helping.

I know that standing up against the storm isn’t an easy thing.  It is much easier to say, “Check your perspective” or to hide in some shelter and hope that the storm passes.  But for many of us—and for me—the storm rages on, indefinitely.  And that storm can’t stop.  It won’t stop without the change of perspective from many other people who are not me.

It is often not the people suffering, but those who are unaware of or those who are causing the suffering who need to change the way that they are operating in the day to day.  I’m usually not the one doing things “wrong”.  I’m generally suffering because of the things that are unjust, not the things that I cannot accept but that are perfectly fine.  And the ones suffering an injustice generally don’t have any power to make the change required to stop that suffering.  If they did, the change would happen hastily and without resistance.  Because, despite the lies that many in power like to feed you, people don’t wallow in poverty and addiction and illness and homelessness and sex work because they want to.  Just like Kanye West is an idiot for presuming that slavery was/is a choice, anyone who thinks that people live in the middle of storms because they like how lightning feels is an idiot.  Those people don’t have the shelter they need.  You must find ways to provide it for them—preferably by asking them how you can best provide them shelter.

Robert F Kennedy once said:

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

This is the type of shelter-building act that we need in response to those who are in the middle of storms opening their hearts and asking for assistance.  Building currents that sweep down walls—sweeping away the clouds of the storm and bringing, perhaps for the first time, calm, blue skies, should be the goal that we aspire to reach.  Asking people to be quiet and calm in the middle of injustice is not the answer.  Fighting against injustice is the answer, on the grand scale.

And meeting me in my storm, with open arms and an embrace—not a gut-punching meme that seeks to discredit my need, devalue my expression, and normalize an injustice.

When you are met with someone who opens up and seeks to be authentic and disclose their struggle, don’t tell them to sit quietly in chaos, please.  Don’t ask them to be happier with the injustice that swirls around them.  Act to improve their lot.  Strike out against injustice.  Send forth that ripple of hope.

And if you won’t do all those good things, at least stop sending gut punches.

 

Contribute to Christy’s fundraiser here if you wish to help lessen her storm’s raging.  Thank you!

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This Is About That

The other night, I was watching the latest episode of How to Get Away with Murder.  And I won’t let loose any spoilers, because only asshats let loose spoilers from the best and most intense cliff-hanging shows.  (I’m looking at you, people on the train loudly discussing plots and outcomes that we financially challenged people cannot have experienced yet, because the movie hasn’t come out in the more accessible VUDU app format.)

But, spoilers and asshats aside, a character on the show the other night pointed out that childhood trauma was responsible for her pain and her questionable behavior.  And I cheered aloud and then began to cry.  Because Shonda Rhimes had brought me the validation that is so often missing from the recovery process when one is harmed as a child.  She brought me the truth that today is still about yesterday for those of us stuck in trauma.  She brought that truth to a huge viewing audience.

This is about that.

There are lots of people who misunderstand that way that trauma affects us.  And much of the misunderstanding is due to the fact that we want to avoid trauma like the plague.  We don’t like to feel it, or see it, or cope with it.  We just don’t like the messy and unsolvable and uncontrolled parts of life, and trauma, especially childhood trauma, is the epitome of unsolvable, uncontrolled mess.

I don’t have the luxury of avoiding that mess.  That mess is a part of my brain, and not just in the way that a habit is ingrained, but in the sense that my brain was physiologically and chemically affected by childhood trauma, resulting in post-traumatic stress disorder.  And PTSD throws that trauma in your face constantly.  It isn’t a matter of “letting go”, or “getting over it”.  It is a matter of brain formation and function that is far outside my control.

So, when Ms. Keating offered the idea that her present was infiltrated by her past trauma, I related with that.  I related with that HARD.

And then I was disappointed with the next character’s reply.  Even though I know that his reaction is a common one, it seemed to invalidate the pain of the present being tied to the past.  But it is.  It absolutely is.

This is about that.

I would guess that the number of people who have told me that my choices are responsible for the situation I am in (regardless of what that situation was or what choices I had made) is in the hundreds.  And the number of people who likely think but do not say that my choices are responsible for the situation I am in is probably in the thousands.

Those people are wrong.

This is the point where I would like to add that you should READ TO THE END BEFORE POSTING RAGE-INDUCED COMMENTS.

Those people are wrong because my present challenges are not simply a product of my choices, and because trauma has informed my situation for almost forty years.  And it still does.

Here’s the thing:  Your past informs your present.  It simply does.  There are numerous things outside of your control that may have shaped your life to date.  You were born in a particular place, and in a particular time.  Your parents, or lack thereof, shaped the way you viewed the world in your early years.  Your access to education determined much.  Your family finances determined much.  Your skin color, and the resulting prejudice or privilege, determined much.  And trying to pretend or argue away that influence is a futile thing—because we might not be tabula rasa, but we are definitely affected by the things that make up our early years, and we carry some of that with us always.

Now, having pointed to the ways that we all carry our past, I would like to return our attention to my own situation.  My situation is not the result of my choices alone.  My situation is the sum of many parts, but the most influential parts were the traumatic parts.  And my choices—the way that I interacted with the world—were influenced by that trauma.  This is about that. My present is informed by my past.  And every decision has been one made under duress, because of that lingering trauma.

Trauma, untreated, compounds and builds and becomes more and more traumatic.  Imagine you fall, and in doing so break a rib.  It hurts, but you don’t go in to the doctor for treatment, because you don’t see an external injury.  You walk about for a few days, with that pain still lingering, and then one day, while lifting something heavy, that broken bone shifts and punctures your lung.  Untreated trauma, even in a strictly physical sense, can lead to greater trauma.

My childhood trauma informed how I saw the world, how I saw myself, how I viewed trust and love and care and communication.  And that information was skewed in such devastating ways, that every interaction, for the rest of my life was affected by that trauma.  My drug use, my chronic illness, my romantic partners, my earning potential, my friends, my jail time, my parenting style, my sleep cycles—all directly related to the trauma that I suffered in childhood.  And each resulting “mistake” or misstep based on that history created another skewed belief about myself and the world around me.

It still happens today.  Even with proper diagnosis, medication, and weekly therapy sessions, I still make choices based on that trauma all the time.  Because you can’t just wiggle your nose and create a new narrative.  It takes long, hard, painful work to even face the narrative that is mine, much less to create a new one in its place.

Today is about yesterday.  This is about that.  Trauma compounded makes my life a series of traumas, and that is absolutely not my fault.

Yep.  I’m saying it.  NOT MY FAULT.

My choices didn’t put me here, because they were based on a bullshit narrative.  The narrative started with the trauma.  It is the foundation of my entire life.  Annalise Keating, the character who expressed the truth on the show, and I share this foundation.  This is about that.  When your life is built upon a foundation of pain and confusion and denial and abandonment and fear, you cannot make all the “right” choices.  When your life is built upon love and trust and needs that are met, you can make decisions in a different manner than Annalise and I can.  But we don’t have that to build upon.  And building a life of love and trust and “enough” upon the foundation of pain and confusion and denial and abandonment and fear is an almost impossible task.

I’ve found that digging deep into my history and rooting out the beliefs that a small girl formed based on trauma is a strategy that works to help me move forward in healthier and better ways.  But that process takes many years, and much effort.  There are days when I jump in the ring and fight for my own narrative and my agency and my autonomy—building a more positive framework for my future by addressing that negative framework of my past.  There are days when I cannot find enough energy to fight, and days when parts of my brain take over and make decisions for me and follow rote patterns while I dissociate from pain or fear or some other thing that I don’t want to feel.  There are days when I make informed decisions based in new systems of belief.  There are days when I still believe all the core statements that a broken little girl formed in the midst of a shit experience.

Regardless of the way I connect and interact and act on each of these days, there is always the lingering trauma.  Either I am working at coping with it, or I am being overtaken and ruled by it, but the trauma is always informing my day, my choice, my life.

This is about that.

It has always been about that.  It may always be about that.  I don’t know if the work that I am doing to cope will ever stop being such hard work.  I know that I am developing coping strategies, and learning to frame life in more positive ways at times, and seeking to understand and address the disconnect inside my own mind—reintegrating my brain and finding greater wholeness. But I do not know that my altered brain will ever be free of the influence of previous, and especially childhood, trauma.

There is no cure for PTSD.  There is only coping.  And while I keep working toward coping, there are lots of ways that my finances and my health issues and the area I live in and the things I own and the way I approach relationships are already saturated with trauma, and wringing out all of that history and pouring in something better is not going to be possible if there isn’t more hope and more support and more money and more security and more safety at some point.  If there isn’t more good to replace the bad, then I just keep spinning around in a horrible life cycle of trauma repeating and compounding and reinjuring.

So, what is the point of this post?  I’m not entirely certain.  I suppose it is to voice what was voiced and challenged in the television show:  this is about that, and pain, unchecked and without validation and the pursuit of justice, brings more pain and more pain and more pain.

What can solve this problem?  Validation and the pursuit of justice.  Those are the only things that start to wring out the trauma and fill up the broken with hope and love and trust.  Believing, addressing, listening, validating, and seeking to end the pain for another, instead of running from trauma like you are being chased by a wildcat can solve the problem.  Offering peace to replace pain, offering loyalty to replace betrayal, offering encouragement to replace harsh words, offering truth to replace lies, offering things and funds to replace need and poverty, and offering support to replace abandonment can solve the problem.  They can’t solve it immediately, or easily, or even without any new or recurring trauma, but they can add to the work that the victim of trauma is doing, and help to create a better narrative, new core beliefs, and a perspective of blessing and kindness and good.  And that is a significant contribution.

This is about that.

I didn’t make my bed and need to lie in it.  The place where I lie, or stand, or sit, or walk, was made by a series of traumatic experiences that were not my fault, and I don’t need to remain there.  With the help of others, instead of the flippant judgments and imagined superiority that are often the normative response to those who experience trauma, I might be able to find a better place to lie, and make a bed that is comfortable, warm, and filled with love and kindness, instead of the one that I was thrown into by the actions of others.

Because this is about that.  My present struggles have been caused by the trauma of my past.  And admitting that, appreciating that, and addressing that with actions that change the narrative and offer a positive perspective are necessary for my situation to change.

I’m not alone in this.  Millions of people are suffering in the same way—living lives that are informed by and built on the failing foundations of trauma.  And it is time that those of us not fighting against that trauma stopped adding to the weight of that trauma, and started to support those who are working so hard to overcome the past and find better futures. Become part of the solution, and stop compounding the problem.  Believe a survivor.  Support a person in need.  Fight for justice, even when that justice doesn’t serve you personally.  End the stigma.  Ease the pain.

Because this is about that.