Wide Awake

I woke to a crash at 5:00 this morning.  My daughter’s cat has finally managed to do what I have been anticipating for some weeks now—she broke some shit.

I investigated the crash and found that the beautiful orchid that was thoughtfully gifted to me after my recent hip surgery was currently lying on the living room floor, surrounded by chunks of clay that now resembled an exhibit in a museum rather than a pot.

Thankfully, the orchid itself was mostly intact.  Though, being a living thing, it has the opportunity, as do all living things, to experience shock, so we shall see if the trauma of being knocked to the ground has a negative effect in the coming days.  (Fingers crossed that it stays beautiful and blooming for a long time.)

I swept up the bits of pottery and a bit of dirt.  I put the orchid into another pot and placed it back onto the television stand where it resides.  And then I tried to return to the warmth and comfort of my bed to sleep again.  But the cat had started a chain reaction.  Because I was awake, the dog assumed it was time to be up and about, so he continually nudged me and licked at my hands until I gave in to his demands and took him outside.  And then, because we had begun the morning routine, he decided he should also have food.

While feeding him, I realized that he was out of water, so I filled that.  Then the idea of water alerted me to the extreme dehydration that was causing my tongue to stick to the roof of my mouth.  I drank two glasses of water and, when that didn’t seem like enough hydration, I downed a Gatorade.  And then, after using the bathroom, I went back to my bed once more.

But sleep would not come.  I was now wide awake.

As is customary, I began to think about all sorts of things while I laid there hoping for sleep.   I have medications that help me sleep at night.  I take the first at 7:00 pm, and take the last at 9:30.  There is a complex system of getting my brain and my body into a sleep state.  Sleep doesn’t come easy for me because of a few illnesses that I cope with, but I have developed a great system over time, and most nights sleep comes with relative ease.

Morning is another story.

Once I had begun the routine of the morning, I couldn’t get back to sleep.  And, while my brain wasn’t as functional as I would have liked—I sent a text to my daughter that said “don’t gorget” when I meant to remind her “Don’t forget to ask about time off for xmas”—I decided that if sleep would not find me, I would simply get up and do things.

The words “wide awake” kept returning to my mind in the semi-dazed moments when I was still struggling to sleep.  And while I can understand the connection in the literal sense—my inability to sleep—there was something beyond that use of the phrase that kept coming into my consciousness.  I couldn’t help but think about what being wide awake means in a more proverbial sense.  I couldn’t help but think of how I became the person that I am today, and how that person is one whom I consider “wide awake”.

People often use the word “enlightened’ as an insult when they respond to what I post on my blog or my Facebook page.  Many seem to take offense when I express my views, and they react by making sarcastic and rude comments.  A fair amount of those comments includes mocking my “enlightened” state.  This past week, I had multiple people slinging verbal attacks at my blog comment section.  And those attacks included that term “enlightened”, used as a pejorative and not a compliment.

But as I laid in bed, and remained wide awake, I had the overwhelming feeling that enlightened is exactly the correct statement to describe me.  I am wide awake.

Let me elaborate.

I have been through transformation after transformation.  And some of those transitions were not easy or came at great personal cost, but life doesn’t easily become other.  We like to stay in our little bubbles of safety and familiarity and commonly held understanding.  We don’t like change.  We certainly don’t like change that takes deep thought, definitive action, and amazing strength.

I never had the luxury of a bubble.  The place that is safe and familiar and commonly held never existed.  And that safety and familiarity will likely never come to fruition.  Mostly because the amygdala doesn’t heal after long-term exposure to abuse, fear, stress, and captivity in developmental stages.  You just keep on being in fight or flight or freeze mode for what seems like eternity, but is actually a lifetime.  Some people might comment here about how devastating and sad and sorrowful that mode is, and how it needs to be fixed.  But they would be wrong.

Here is why:

I’m always afraid, but that fear has made me capable of enlightenment—not in the pejorative sense, but in the literal sense.  I have been given this strange and difficult story to live out.  But because it is strange and difficult, it offers me reflection and recognition that many do not experience.

I’m wide awake.

When you see things in the light which I have seen things, you need to change the way you think.  You cannot come into contact with new ideas and different experiences and come out the other side with the same thinking you had before those things happened.  You cannot see what I see and know what I know and not change the way you participate in life.

I’m an addict.  And many people I know would say that this is a choice—a moral failure on my part.  But those people are not addicts.  Addicts know better.  We know that there is no amount of choice and will power that can keep you clean or sober in an environment where drink and drugs are present.  We know that this is a chemical imbalance in the brain, and a weird reaction in our pleasure center hastily throws us into the rock bottom of substance abuse.  We can manage this disease.  We cannot cure this disease.

I’m a divorced, single parent.  And many people would say that this, also, is a moral failure on my part.  But those people weren’t living in my household, with my abusive partner, and experiencing the terror of never being able to control what happened to me.  Domestic violence survivors know that you cannot go back and start over.  We know that the violence escalates, and it doesn’t reset at the beginning when you reach a terrible end and decide to “try again”.  Instead, you pick up where you left off—in a terrible state and creating greater and greater catalysts for further violence.  Sometimes you just need to leave.  Sometimes your life, and the life of your children, depends on you leaving the violence behind.  But that isn’t easy.  Domestic violence survivors know this.  And those still in abusive relationships know this too.  Because when you have been manipulated and conditioned in ways that leave you isolated and without resources, there isn’t a safe place to go or to be.  It is much harder to start life over with nothing than it is to stay and suffer through the abuse, in many cases. We know this.  We cope with this.  We cannot “fix” this.

I am disabled.  People constantly misunderstand or deny that fact.  “Get well soon”, is an offensive statement.  Because I know what it is to be in pain every hour of every day and night.  I know what it is to have to mourn the life you planned and worked for and ran toward.  I know what it feels like to always be unable and to always feel insufficient and to constantly be in need.  It doesn’t feel good.  And the people who say “get well soon” and who suggest I edit my life or my lifestyle in particular ways do not know that feeling.  They don’t have to mourn the loss and feel the pain.  So, their “solutions” are not only impossible to carry out, but they are reinforcing the idea that I am faulty, not good enough, and not accepted as I am.  I understand this disability in ways that most never will.  (And thank the Divine for that, because I don’t wish this experience on anyone.)  I manage this disability.  I work to be my healthiest self.  I cannot get rid of the disability.  I can’t “change it”.

I am pro-choice.  This is one of the things that makes so many people use the term enlightened in sarcasm and mockery.  This makes so many people think I am a moral failure.  But I live in spaces where choice is essential.  I live in a space of poverty.  I live in a space of fear, of scarcity, of abandonment, and of desperation.  And I should never be forced to bring a child into that space.  I was molested, assaulted, and raped.  I know what it is to not have agency in your life.  I know what it is to not have agency over your own body.  I know what it feels like to be used and owned and threatened and left alone in shock and disillusionment, because other people didn’t listen when I cried out for help.  So, I know what it is to need control over your own body and your own life and your own choices.  Because I cannot let another determine what happens to me.  That cannot happen again.  I cannot have someone else control me—not after all that I have endured.

I’m wide awake.

I understand why people reject my ideas.  I understand that they cannot see from my perspective.  I get why they don’t want to hear and accept and work through the things that I say or write.  It is hard work to change the way you think and behave.  It is hard work for me too.  But I know that I need to keep living my life with eyes wide open, and accepting even the most difficult and dangerous of facts and stories.

I didn’t get where I am today without struggle.  Struggle was often the catalyst for change, because I was shoving myself forward in ways that meant I met many others on my path, and I encountered facts and stories that I couldn’t have encountered if I hadn’t been on that path.  And my path is a rare path.  Not many travel through all the levels of hell that I have walked through.  So many have not had the terrible blessing of a hard life with life-altering experience.  It is awful and wonderful.

There is a quote that I think might be helpful to increase understanding here: “It was the possibility of darkness that made the day seem so bright.” ― Stephen King

For those of you who prefer religious text to horror and suspense novelists, there is also this passage from Ephesians 5: “but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light.  Therefore, it says: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light’.”

I am wide awake.

Many people look at the darkness that is expressed in my posts.  They think that these supposed “moral failures” and the challenges that I face are evidences of evil, and of a need for change.  And maybe I got to this place because of darkness, in some sense, but that darkness made the light possible.  I shine out all the brighter because of the dark.  Darkness isn’t necessarily a thing on its own, technically speaking.  It is the absence of light—or of light perceptible by the human eye, at least.   Light shows up, and then we can see clearly, because of the reflective and refractive rays that show up as colors and shapes that we could not discern in the darkness.

Everything that becomes visible is light.  And light is what makes everything visible.  Yes, I know that is circular reasoning.  It is also true.

Here’s the crux of the matter:  I believe that my life is full of light.

I’m wide awake, and the sun is shining down upon me.  It took a while for it to get here, and I watched it rise over the city this morning, but it is now shining down upon me.  And the light shines out all the brighter because of the contrast against the darkness.  Was it devastating and sad and terrible to be harmed in my history?  Yes.  Was it difficult to find my way beyond the pro-life stance that I adopted to fit in with my friends and neighbors and to step into the truth that science and experience offered, becoming pro-choice?  Yes.  Was there much that seemed dark and damaging and defeating in my life? Yes.

But there was also light.

There was love, support, grace, the voice of the Divine, strength, fortitude, passion, and purpose.  There still is.  It just looks a bit different than I had imagined it would.

I’m wide awake, because I let the light of truth transform me, over and over again.  Each time I encounter something that doesn’t make sense, or challenges my current belief system, or shakes me out of dissociative states and requires I be present and thoughtful, or offers a story that has new perspective, I let the light shine upon it.  And that light transforms my ideas, my actions, and my person in many ways.

Last week there were people who called me names in my blog comments, and made all sorts of assumptions about who I am and how I think and what I do.  But today that doesn’t bother me.  Because this morning I was wide awake, and saw clearly (with help from some insights borrowed from a friend) that the upsetting thing about these interactions was not that I am morally bankrupt or doing life wrong, but the upsetting thing is that these people are not letting light shine in darkness.  They are not stepping into truth and letting it transform them.  They are not listening to my story, even though they may be reading my words. And they are not doing so, because it is very hard to do.

Darkness gave me what others lack:  the opportunity to distinguish the dark from the light.  Darkness pushed me toward the path of the light of truth.  Escaping the suffering meant moving toward a new way of thinking and being.  And that way of thinking and being is better than the way of my past.  Truth and light shine in my present and my future.

I’m wide awake.

I understand my situation, and I know my value, and I feel my emotions, and I acknowledge my weakness alongside my strength.  I live in the light, and I seek truth.  If you believe that you can know better, and understand more about my life and my history and my current situation or actions, feel free to make your suggestions, but please do not be angry when I tell you that I don’t need your input right now.  Because I am walking the path of light, shining out in the midst of the darkness, and I don’t necessarily believe that your comments are contributing light.

I know what I am doing.  I know when what I am doing is helpful and when it is not.  I can own the times that it is not helpful.  But I have an awareness regarding my life and my situation that you do not share.

I was recently reading a book from the Song of Ice and Fire or Game of Thrones series.  I was talking with my physical therapist about watching the show versus reading the books, and I told her what I have told others:  I like reading the books, even though I know from the show what is going to happen, because the books offer you internal monologue that the television series cannot portray.

I think that this applies to my life too.  Others can share my experience to a degree, but they are not allowed the privilege of being inside my head, and feeling and knowing and understanding the depth and breadth of who I am and what I believe and why.  You are missing the monologue that shapes the story in important ways.  You are reading from your perspective and not from mine.  And if you do not seek my perspective when you read my words, then you are not practicing the empathy that is required for change and connection.

My perspective is important.  And yours may be too.  But insisting that I do not know my own situation or life experience or whatever else pertains to me, and that you know a better way of being me, simply because you say so (with no facts to back that up whatsoever), is not only uninformed, but it is offensive.  It is offensive because I am an aware, educated, experienced, adult.

There’s more to me than people know.

And I am wide awake—shining light on my life and my surroundings to continually seek truth.

Whatever I am, and whatever I do, I do it wide awake.

And now, I think it is time for a nap. 😉

But Some Lives Don’t

I removed a comment from my Facebook post this morning.  Its basic message was “ALL LIVES MATTER”.  I was as kind and respectful with the one who commented as I was able, but I could not leave that comment on my page.

It isn’t that I think all lives mattering is a bad thing.  I’m all for that.  I would love to see that.

The problem is I see very clearly and close-up that some lives don’t matter.  And that isn’t right, and it isn’t good, and it needs to be rectified.

I think that a lot of people miss the point of the Black Lives Matter movement, and other similar movements that are pressing for equity and safety and opportunity for those who are marginalized in our society.  The point is not that these lives matter more than the “all lives” that some use to counter these movements.  The point is that these lives already live under the oppressive and marginalizing weight of being treated like they don’t matter.

Last night I posted because I watched a young man be shot across the street.  He was a black man, living in an underserved neighborhood—my neighborhood—and he was just walking down the sidewalk when he was struck with bullets and fell to the ground.  There were lots of people out last night, on that same sidewalk on this block.  Women, children, elderly people, and young men all shared the moment.  We sprang into action.  I called for the police and an ambulance.  Several others ran to where the victim had dropped, peeling off their shirts and pressing against wounds, administering what first aid they could and keeping him conscious until help arrived.  And after the event, I posted a plea for an end to this injustice, racism, classism, and access to firearms that transforms quiet blocks on the Westside into blue-lit, yellow-tape-covered, crime scenes.

Many responded with sadness, some with shock.  One left the “ALL LIVES MATTER”.

They don’t.  They matter in the sense that I believe in equity and that humans deserve love and respect and opportunity and safety and security as humans.  They don’t in the way our society currently treats the brown and the black and the poor and the sick and the suffering.  We are treated like shit.  We are treated like our lives are not worth the air we breathe.  We are treated as though our lives mean less to others than “rights” to have entitled and privileged and unfettered space for the most white and most rich and most cis and most male and most heterosexual.  We are treated as though our lives don’t matter.

Here I will interrupt myself for a moment and clarify something.  I’m not black or brown.  I am poor and sick and queer, so I understand much of the marginalization that my neighbors experience, because I experience that too.  But my plight is not their plight, exactly.  I can pass for a normative, respected, acceptable person when I am not asking for money or ranting about the problems that disability creates.  I can simply not share with others that I am unable to work and struggling to survive.  But my neighbors can’t pass as white-bodied individuals.  And no matter what other status or wealth or purpose or good works they may have associated with them on an individual level, they are judged first and foremost by the color of their bodies.  And that judgement leaves them unsafe, disrespected, gunned down, impoverished, and more.

I live in an area where I am one of very few white people.  It took me living here for over a year to even meet some of my neighbors.  There was a suspicion that floated about me.  Why was I here?  What did I want?  Why would I not live in a “better” or “safer” area?  After all, I am white, so I should be able to easily find a place to be among the other white people.   But I am poor and disabled, so I cannot afford to live among the other white people.  And, as my neighbor so poignantly expressed last night, “None of them are buying you a house in the suburbs, are they?”

Nope.

Nobody has offered me a place to live in the relative safety that they live in.  Some will help with finances so that I can continue to eat and heat or cool my home and stay alive in my marginalized state.  Many will judge me and treat me poorly and say bad things about me to others in order to discredit my claims that the system is rigged against people like me and my black and brown neighbors.  “Lazy, free-loading, welfare queens” is how they see us—not as hard-working people of integrity who just happen to have arbitrary traits that prevent us from being valued in our society.

I stood outside and talked with my neighbors for some time last night after the shooting had happened.  We talked about how nobody wants this for themselves or the ones they love.  We talked about how a teaching career and a host of graduate degrees and the love of god and fellow humans means nothing, because we have that arbitrary trait of ours that negates all of the good, purposeful traits.

We are good people, by and large.  We are families.  We hold down two or three jobs.  We learn from a young age to appease the system at all costs, to prevent increased suffering.  We learn that even appeasing that system all the time will not necessarily prevent suffering—it might still end in us shot on the sidewalk.  It may even cause us to be shot by the people who are sworn to protect and serve us.

I’m not black or brown-skinned.  But I count myself as “we”.  I count myself that way because I have been immersed in this culture, in this neighborhood, and in this experience for over five years.  That is but a fraction of the years that these others have and will be marginalized due to arbitrary standards, but it is enough time for me to know and to feel the pain that is endured here.  Not fully, of course, but in part, I feel what those around me feel.  I hear their cries.  I listen to their stories.  I relate to their pain and fear and frustration.

I had PTSD long before I began living in a ghetto-like environment where people of color are trapped for lifetimes, and living to age 50 is a landmark worthy of parties bigger than the reception after most weddings.  But being here triggers much, because the traumas of being black surround me, even though I am white.  I’m not afraid of or in my neighborhood.  I am afraid for my neighborhood, and the people within.

Our lives do not matter to politicians or manufacturing companies or many of the police or “decent” white people living in large houses in nice areas where you don’t even lock your doors at night.  Our lives don’t come with the assurances offered to others.  Our lives are lived moment by moment, challenge by challenge, and triumph by triumph.  And we value life more than most, because we see the fragility, and we understand how quickly and without comment we can be removed from this world.

There were no news vans or helicopters last night on my block.  There were only those who live here and those paid to come here and help.  This young man was gunned down in the street, and only those who live and work here even know about it.

Sure, there might be an article on Monday about how many shootings and homicides happened in Chicago over the weekend.  But this young man may not even be mentioned specifically, and all the people with power to change the situation will pass over that article and give it over to statements including drugs, gangs, “black on black” crime, or “ALL LIVES MATTER”.  They will give it over to excuses, and not to the truth of the matter.

The truth of the matter is that we do not matter.  The sick, the aging, the black or brown, the woman in hijab, the man with prison tattoos, the person with the name you don’t know how to pronounce, the mother who has three jobs to provide for her children, the veteran on the corner with a sign and a paper cup asking for care and respect and the ability to live—we don’t matter.  And we feel the weight of that every day.  We know you don’t believe we matter.  If you did, you would change your actions and fight for our rights and stop saying that “ALL LIVES MATTER” to justify your ignorance and lack of care for the most vulnerable in our society.

If all lives really mattered to you, you would stop purchasing fast fashion to save the lives of Bangladeshi men and women.  If all lives really mattered to you, you would demand that social security support those who are disabled without years of suffering and waiting to be heard and offered care.  If all lives really mattered to you, you would be screaming at your representatives to put an end to the sale of handguns and assault weapons in our country.  If all lives really mattered to you, I wouldn’t be trying to crowdfund my existence because you would be generously donating funds or making certain that there were safety nets for those who need them in this country.  If all lives really mattered to you, you would reassess your views regarding women and birth control and safe access to abortion to make certain that you were not looking at the issue from a privileged viewpoint.  If all lives really mattered to you, you would fight for the rights of the formerly incarcerated, sex workers, and juvenile offenders.  If all lives really mattered to you, you would call for an end to the “war on drugs” and private prisons and mass incarceration.  If all lives really mattered to you, you would celebrate love between people, regardless of their gender, and use the pronouns and names that transgender or queer individuals have chosen for themselves, and stop looking sideways at men in dresses, or women with shaved heads, assuming that they are “wrong” somehow, for being who they are.  If all lives really mattered to you, you would be outraged by the oppression of, marginalization of, or limited rights of any and all people or groups.  If all lives really mattered to you, they would matter equally.

I can hug a homeless, mentally ill, prostitute on the corner and wish him a good day and ask how he is doing.  His life matters to me, regardless of anything he does or does not do.  And if all lives matter, then he should have healthcare and medication and safe housing and opportunities to make money in other ways than selling the only “capital” he has—his body.  If you wouldn’t go near such a man, then all lives do not matter to you.

If you would not sacrifice a portion of your own comforts and securities to make certain that all others had equal, or at least basic, comforts and securities, then all lives do not matter to you.

And if you cannot admit that you treat lives in a hierarchical manner, placing some lives higher than others, then you are in no position to say “ALL LIVES MATTER”.

This post is harsh.  But I won’t apologize for that, because it is necessary.

People with extreme privilege need to stop pretending at care for all lives.  Instead, all people need to care for one another in a manner that demonstrates we want a world without privileged status—we want a world where each life matters as much as our own.

I don’t see that from most of the people who say things like “ALL LIVES MATTER”.  I don’t see that from many of my acquaintances or my Facebook “friends”.  I don’t see that from most of my family members.  I don’t see that in my neighborhood or in my city or in the way that the problems we are facing are addressed.  I don’t see equity.  I don’t see lives that matter.  I look out my window and I see a sweet young man, who passes my home almost every day, bleeding on the sidewalk—shot, wounded, and not mattering much at all.

So, please, for the love of all that is good, stop pretending and making excuses and going forward without challenging the systems that are oppressing others.  Grow.  Think.  Listen.  Consider.  And then change, so that you are participating in a society that offers equal rights and equal benefit and equal status to all.

Don’t say all lives matter until you are doing everything you can to honor every single person living on this planet, and have your actions be intimately tied to the care and concern for every single one of those lives.  My guess is that following this suggestion will create a situation where only a handful of people I know—maybe less—will be able to say that all lives matter.  The rest need to sit and study and wrestle with the concepts of privilege and oppression and injustice and equity for a longer time and with more intent.

Yes, all lives matter.  But no, we aren’t treating people in that manner.  So start treating people as though they matter, or stop fucking saying that they do.

This morning the blood is washed away and people are out doing work.  The men across the street are working on fixing a car.  Next door to them is a man working diligently to rehab a house that has been boarded up for about four years.  I’m sitting in my office, overlooking the children and the young people and the men and women moving about.  We just go on.  We just keep on doing life in the best way we know how, in the midst of trauma and terror and task forces and terrible social support systems.  We are resilient and we are strong and we are good.  We keep fighting for change and working toward peace and summoning hope and praying for better situations.

Even if you don’t show us our lives matter, we know that they do.  So we live our lives, in the best possible ways we can.  Our lives matter to us.  We hang on to one another, and we work together, and we keep telling our stories, hoping the world will one day hear and respond.  Hoping one day we will see that our lives matter, that all lives matter equally, on a global scale.

May that day come soon.

 

Wealth

I won $25 in the form of an Amazon gift code.  I feel rich.

Just kidding.  I am still super poor, but I wanted to make the point here that most people could lose $25 and not be terribly upset by the loss, while for me it feels like frigging Christmas wrapped in the lottery to gain $25.

Wealth is both relative and not relative.  I have far more than someone living in a hut in the jungle in South America, perhaps, monetarily speaking.  But I also have far less than most people living in North America, monetarily speaking.  So that makes it relative in nature.  But there are really easily applied formulas for figuring out what it costs to live in a particular place, and being from North America, and having no income, I rest way down at the very bottom of the poverty scale.  There isn’t anything relative about that.  I can’t be considered wealthy based on the conditions in which I live. And, frankly, I can’t afford to move to a hut in South America either, so I am stuck within those conditions, and my situation would likely not change were I to live elsewhere in the United States. (Canada is a whole other, and I dare say better, story than here. But I don’t think they give you a visa to utilize better social programs.  They probably prefer people emigrate with useful skills, not disability status.)

So, if we understand that I am stuck where I am physically and financially, we can also understand that I don’t have monetary wealth.  And that presents challenges that I often never considered.

There was a commercial on today for ADT security service that said something along the lines of “even in your nice neighborhood”.  And I was taken aback as a person whose neighborhood would rarely, if ever, be considered nice.  Are they specifically marketing to people in “nice” neighborhoods?  What defines nice?  Who thinks that bad things can’t happen in their neighborhood, even if it fits the criteria set forth for one that is nice?  And aren’t there enough neighborhoods that are not meeting the nice criteria for ADT to make plenty of money?  I know my building has an alarm system on every floor, even though there are no less than four deadbolts between the street and my apartment from any entrance. And it began to sink in that what nice means is a neighborhood with wealth.

Wealth, with regard to neighborhood safety, is also relative and not relative.  There are far more shootings in the south side and west side neighborhoods of Chicago than in other areas, and these neighborhoods are also those that have the most poor households. (We will ignore for the moment that they also have the most people of color—or, rather, are composed almost solely of people of color.) It would seem that money equates with safety.  But when we look closer, and assess types of crime, there are far fewer home invasions in my area on the west side than in wealthier areas.  Nobody wants my not techie, super-old, very cheap electronics, or my Salvation Army furniture.  I’m relatively safe, in that regard.  I’m also relatively safe because my block is filled with families who own their homes and take pride in being good, Christian people, so they either don’t participate in criminal activity, or do so quietly and without drama and violence.  (The neighbor lady sits out back and smokes weed every nice evening, for instance, but she isn’t dealing in heroin and guns.)  So, being impoverished doesn’t necessarily mean you are unsafe, in a relative sense.  But, there is also the issue of extreme poverty—the kind that leads to homelessness, prostitution, hunger, and the like.  This poverty makes you very unsafe.  Have you ever wondered why many homeless sleep in public parks during the day?  It is because sleeping alone in the dark corners of the city is very dangerous, especially for women or children.  The elements are dangerous.  The alternate economies, like selling drugs or your body, are dangerous.  There is no safety in extreme poverty.  This is not relative.  It is simply the truth.

And lately I sit on the precipice of this extreme sort of poverty.

I’ve learned to live in the burden of the relative poverty and the relative safety without too much difficulty.  There were a few years between an innocent youth and aware adult that included sex and drugs and homelessness, and that I do not regret, because it taught me the truth.  It made me know, beyond any uncertainty, that extreme poverty should never be, because you cannot be in it without being in constant danger.  I was in constant danger during those years.  Those years broke me, and started the process of rebuilding me anew.

What I lived then, I never wanted another human being to experience.  I never wanted another human being to choose sex with a stranger over possibly freezing to death in the car.  I never wanted another human being to steal tampons or soap from Walmart, because there wasn’t another way to get them.  I never wanted another human being to learn the schedule upon which the McDonald’s dumpster received uneaten burgers from the previous shift, still slightly warm and wrapped in their lovely papers inside that plastic garbage bag, and ready for consumption.  I never wanted another human being to sleep with an aerosol hairspray and a lighter at the ready, to create an instant blow torch to the face of any who might attack in the night.  Nobody should ever live that way.

I moved from the extreme poverty to the relative poverty category when I had a child.  Then you got all the wealth–$361 of wealth every month!  It was like a heaven.  A heaven where you had to decide between socks and diapers, or medicine and transportation, or tampons and toilet paper.  A heaven where I would unroll all the toilet paper from the church bathroom stall into my purse every Sunday.  A heaven where my daughter missed the 1st grade class trip because I couldn’t come up with $6.  A heaven where I cried myself to sleep at midnight and then got up at five in the morning to do my own homework before I had to wake my daughter for school.

That heaven, sadly, is gone.  I’m no longer eligible for more student loans, and I haven’t qualified for TANF since my daughter was five, and while I do get food stamps and a housing voucher, I don’t get any other assistance.  My light bill and my gas bill and my phone bill and my medications not covered by insurance and my clothes and my toilet paper and a haircut and soap and laundry detergent and whatever else I need, that comes from nowhere.  I’ve maxed out my credit cards and borrowed all that I was able from family, and now there is nothing.  Now it is over.  Now I stare at that space between here and sleeping with aerosol and lighters, and I see it narrowing, and I am afraid.  Can I survive on the street now?  No.  I wouldn’t make it a week out in the elements.  Would it come to that?  I don’t know.

What I do know is that nobody on this planet, and certainly nobody in the United States, should see $25 as wealth when others wouldn’t notice if it went missing.

When I was younger, I had these friends who would take checks out of their mom’s checkbook and forge her signature and go out to eat and such.  They would take my relative poverty butt along for the ride.  I don’t think their mom ever noticed that they were essentially stealing her money, or she, at least, didn’t care and simply allowed them to continue the practice.  Either way, it was a huge departure from the way I lived.  I could not imagine a world where every penny was accounted for in the budget weeks before any income was expected.  I could not imagine a world where money could just leave your bank account without you freaking the fuck out and tracking down the evil person who took it.  I could not imagine wealth.

I still can’t.

I have friends who I would consider wealthy, and relatives that I would consider wealthy, so I see wealth and have been close to wealth, but my own mind doesn’t know wealth.  It only knows scarcity.  And when you only know scarcity, it is extremely difficult to comprehend or imagine wealth.

I do strange things out of scarcity and the fear of scarcity.  I save bottles of product that are clearly empty, just in case I can somehow get more out, by pressing on the pump a thousand times, or turning it upside down and banging it on a hard surface, or by adding some water to dilute the product and potentially get at least partial benefit from the watery substance that is left.  I keep clothes with holes and things that don’t fit, just in case there is never a way to replace what is in my closet with something else.  I imagine everything needs to be saved and kept, albeit neatly, in the closet.  I accept things from others that I would never choose for myself.  I always take home leftovers, even if I didn’t like the food the first time and know I won’t eat them.  It just seems like I always need to be prepared for a period where I am destitute.  That day seems moments away.  Always.

The stress on my body and mind from believing in this destitute day and my needed readiness must be outrageous.  It is no wonder that people in poverty have shorter life spans.  Stress alone is killing us, never mind exposure or illness or starvation or infection or assault.

I should feel wealth, and not scarcity.  We all should feel wealth and not scarcity.

The other day on the bus I recognized a voice.  It was a man I had spent some time talking with on the bus a year or so ago.  I remembered this interaction vividly, because he was a pianist and a piano teacher, and also homeless.  My mother was a piano teacher and a pianist, so we connected on that topic and he began telling me all sorts of stories about his days as a professional musician.  He traveled to places exotic and new and he performed in all sorts of famous or glamorous or beautiful venues, but people gawked and made scowling faces as I spoke with him about his wealth of experience, because it was obvious that he now had no monetary wealth to speak of.  I heard him telling a woman next to him that he was a piano teacher, and immediately was taken back to the memory of him and our lovely conversation.  I looked over, and I hardly recognized him.  He had the same glasses and the same torn pants, he still had a jacket too light for the weather and curly blonde/gray hair sticking out in all directions, but he had lost maybe 70 pounds and he looked gaunt and ashen about the face, instead of plump and rosy as he had been the day I first met him.  Tears formed in the corners of my eyes and I looked away, putting on my headphones and immersing myself in something other than the empty feeling in my gut.  He had slipped down the slope into extreme poverty.  He is dying.  Slowly, but with certainty, he is dying.  And he reminded me once more of my mother, and the frailty she showed as her body slipped into death.  All the wealth this man possessed was leaving him.  But it should not have been.  That history, that life, that wealth of experience should have been valued and respected and honored.  It wasn’t, because he was poor and homeless.

I deserve to feel my own wealth, for once.  I should be allowed to feel the wealth of knowledge and intellect I possess, and the giftedness of an artist and a writer and a poet, and the depth and the breadth of a life lived with fire and passion and play and purpose.  I rarely feel that wealth.  I never feel that wealth without doing so deliberately.  Because the poverty pushes out all else.  The monetary scarcity—the lack of financial resources—overwhelms any other wealth that we might possess, and leaves us bathed in insecurities and unable to promote our strength.  It strips us of the goodness and leaves us only the worries of never having—never being—enough.

So, today I won $25.  And all of this came out of that little Amazon gift card.  All of this was the result of that one moment, when I declared that I am rich, even when I know that I am clinging to relative poverty with every cell in my body right now.  Even though I know it is a lie.  Even though I believe in scarcity, when I wish beyond all telling that I could trust in abundance.  I don’t.  I don’t know abundance anymore.  Maybe I never did.  And maybe I will go the way of my pianist friend, slowly losing life to homelessness and hunger once more, or maybe I will go the way of others, and win the lottery or write a best-seller or start a business and have millions to spend.  But, somehow, I think that I might always be stuck in this pattern of thinking, no matter which way I go.  Because being poor has become a part of me, and fighting to survive is the only fight I know, and scarcity has been my reality for so long that I don’t know that I could ever believe that it won’t be stripped from me, and that my true, scarce self will be exposed for all to see.

I find that really sad and terrible.  And I do not have a beautiful expression with which to leave you, and a happy ending to this post.  Because this is me thinking aloud and finding the truth in my own post, not me solving the problem to make you feel better.  And, maybe you are a person who would benefit from sitting in this space with me, and acknowledging that the solution isn’t evident.  Maybe sitting in my scarcity will help you see your own abundance, or maybe sitting in my scarcity will give you comfort that you are not the only one, or maybe sitting in my scarcity will inspire you to become passionate about sharing abundance and honoring wealth not monetary in nature.  I don’t know.

All I can say for certain right now is that I am really excited to spend my $25.  Now, should I buy socks or medicine?

Shifting. Choosing. Being Safe.

Today my therapist asked me questions. Deliberate questions. The kind of questions that make you know that she is thinking about things—piecing things together and circling back toward topics that we may have touched on but that I haven’t connected in significant ways yet.

I suppose this shift from me babbling about whatever comes to mind to her directing the conversation is good, but it also makes me suspicious. Because I may not be aware enough to tie together all the pieces of my life and my history and my psychology, but I am definitely aware enough to know that she is directing toward connections of which I am yet unaware. So I have spent the moments since therapy trying to decipher the code of today’s questions and direction. But I haven’t gotten there yet.

I did notice I am too damn nice.

I am generous to a fault.

Tony and I didn’t have any real altercations until a year into our relationship? While that is technically true, he never really cared all that much about or for me. I tended to be a convenience for people back then. I let things happen to me and around me instead of choosing my own life. The choosing only happened in the ending of relationships, never in the midst of relationships. Which is why I still don’t seem to like relationships. I’m always afraid they won’t be chosen, that they will just happen in that same historical way.

Do you suppose my therapist knows that I am a liar?

Of course she does.

Silly question.

I’d rather be alone than be controlled, or be a convenience. I’d rather choose to be alone than not choose and be together.

I don’t think people really understand that. I don’t think people really understand that singleness is healthier and more beneficial for me than being in relationships has ever been. I don’t think they can reason that out, in part, because most people don’t have a fucked up amygdala from childhood, so they don’t compensate for everything they sense in their hypervigilant state. They don’t avoid the argument before anyone else knows an argument is on the horizon. They don’t see a twitch in the corner of an eye and veer the other way. They don’t accommodate every single impulse to protect the self. They don’t even know that the self is at risk. They don’t have an all-encompassing need to find safety.

But I do.

Every moment is a threat, and every moment is an opportunity to avoid a perceived threat. And that makes being alone feel like safety in ways that being in relationship never can…or, at least, never has. Other people hurt me and I was left alone to cope with that pain, and now I would rather avoid that pain altogether. I couldn’t avoid it when I was young…I was captive to it, because children have nowhere to run. Now I can run and I can hide and I can avoid and I can control my own environment. So I do.

And maybe, once my therapist is done assessing my responses to the questions, that tendency to not be in intimate relationship will abate, but for now it stands. For now I will make certain that I don’t fall into the trap of being only what someone else desires of me by not being with someone else. Maybe someday, when she says, “How is the dating going”, I won’t respond with my usual, “Meh.” But today is not that day.

Today I’m going to make some dinner and crack open a beer and be alone with my beautiful single life.

Today I’m going to feel safe.