Toxic 2.0

I don’t know how to do relationships.

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

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

I literally chased a man the other night.

Ran after him.

Ran.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is sad.

It is devastating.

But it is so true.

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

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

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

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

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

How do I love without warring?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am so tired of having to overcome shit.

I am so tired of having to overcome shit.

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

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

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

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

But maybe it should be fair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t know how to do relationships.

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

 

 

 

 

UPDATE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I couldn’t imagine that before last night.

Now I can.

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

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I See Stupid People

There’s this M. Night Shyamalan movie that has an monologue that a friend and I once transformed a bit.  We took the word “dead” and inserted “stupid”.

I see stupid people.  They’re all around me.  They don’t know they’re stupid.

Today I have been dealing with the frustration of not being able to express my frustration at what I consider stupidity.

I should be ecstatic right now.

After months and months of waiting, my housing situation is finally resolving, and I am signing a lease on an apartment!!!!!!

And I am ecstatic, but I am also feeling assaulted by constant texts and calls and questions and threats by the owner of the apartment that I have secured.  It isn’t that they are intentionally being hurtful or aggressive.  They just don’t understand anything about this process and they are continually looking to me for answers.  And I am frustrated to the point of tears, because it isn’t my job to hold the hand of my landlord while they figure out how to deal with a leasing agency or the Chicago Housing Authority for the first time.  They should be looking to the leasing agency or the housing authority for that assistance.  But they are not.  They are basically harassing me because they don’t understand shit.

I see stupid people.

This morning, after assuring the landlord last night that everything was on track with the housing authority, and that the leasing agent would be connecting with the processing department regarding funds I put aside in December and how we would disperse those funds, and saying that I would be in touch as soon as I had news, I got a 9 am text: Any news … on when we are meeting

Shortly after, I got a phone call, and when I explained that we were trying to iron out the details, but all would be fine, and we could sign the lease later in the day, once that was done, I was told, “as long as this happens today”, “we have waited way too long”, “I’m very unhappy with their [the leasing agency’s] service”.

And while I held my tongue and gave all sorts of kind and cautiously worded assurances on the phone with the landlord, a few minutes later, my best friend got a text that said, “I’m just getting upset because suddenly the landlord is like ‘this happens today’ ‘we have waited too long’. And I am like, and I have been waiting since October! I’ve been discriminated against and turned down and stressed out and screamed at and living in fear.  You’ve what? Waited through February for me to pay you for your fucking empty apartment with cash I begged friends and family for? What right do they have to be so indignant and demanding?”

Then I apologized for letting the feelings that were coming up from the interaction with the landlord come out toward my friend.

But at least they came out … because I went for acupuncture for the first time yesterday, and my acupuncturist was telling me about how acupuncture helps release the emotion and stress and trauma and unvoiced stuff that gets trapped in our body when we hold on to all of that shit.  However, if we keep holding it, the problem will remain chronic, because the problem is holding down the shit, and acupuncture can’t stop us from doing that.  We need to learn to stop the cause, not keep treating the effect ad nauseum.

Anyway, the financing was worked out, and the housing authority once again expressed to me, in detail, the situation with the case, and assured me that all is well with moving forward and signing the lease today.  The leasing agency, whose services have been AMAZING, by the way, said they would call and explain the payment details to the landlord, so I don’t need to stress over that anymore and can focus on finishing up packing and getting the lease signed so that my move can happen in two days.

All is well, and I am moving back toward the ecstatic end of the spectrum.

And as the calm sets in, I start to think on my own moments of being a “stupid person” this week.

I got a different phone this week.  In an effort to save money, I switched wireless carriers.  Switching carriers was easy (and saved me a load of cash!).  Transferring my data from one phone to the other, however, proved far more difficult.  I know that the lovely young man in the store told me to take the phones home, update the old one on my computer, reset the new one, and restore.  Somehow that doesn’t work.  I don’t know what I am doing wrong, but I cannot make that work.  I know what should happen when I work through that process, but that isn’t what actually happens.  And in the meantime, I can’t keep carrying around two phones, a watch, and a tablet that are all alerting me to different things and have bits of critical information that need to combine to create a functional Christy.

So, I simply downloaded and signed into and reorganized and started over with apps and calendars and accounts.  But that means when I go to check in with my lovely young man on Saturday to see how I am getting along with my new phone, he can’t even do the restore thing for me, because then I will lose all of the new things that I have done on the new phone if we restore from a tabula rasa.  I no longer have a blank slate to start with.  I’ve worked to create a slate full of organization and function.

Am I a stupid person when it comes to updating phones?  Absolutely!  Am I a stupid person when it comes to advanced mathematics?  Absolutely!  Am I a stupid person when it comes to any number of things that I am not skilled in and do not understand as well as another person?  Absolutely!

Here’s the thing:  I’m really fucking intelligent.  I am.  I’m not ashamed of that, and I should never have to hide that so other people don’t feel less intelligent than I am.  It is totally fine that I am smart.  It is great, honestly.  But I am not skilled in and informed about every subject.  There are lots of things that I am not good at and plenty more that I am not educated regarding.  Sometimes I am the stupid person.

At one point or another, we are all the person who is stupid.  And at one point or another, we are all the person who has perspective, information, and guidance that another needs.  What is most important is not whether we are the one needing guidance or offering it, but how we are treating one another in both of those situations.

When I am in the phone store, and the lovely young man is assisting me to figure out the new technology, I am kind, apologetic, and grateful.  I listen.  I ask for him to write things down on paper if I can’t follow along in my head.  I thank him repeatedly and tell him how valuable his skills are, and how appreciative I am for his assistance.  This is how I be the stupid person.

When I am the person offering the guidance, I hold my frustration for another space and time.  I ask for another to call and explain, since it shouldn’t fall to me to handle the situation.  I say things using different language, and I repeat things when needed.  I offer encouragement and assurances.  I try to remain calm and keep my voice soft, metered, and sweet-sounding.  I send documentation, source materials, and copies of proofs. I do whatever I can to make things clear and calm.  This is how I am when I am the one who is dealing with the “stupid person”.

Somehow, the way you act and react in the situation makes all the difference.  And that is how we get through life without harming one another in all sorts of ways—by not being stupid or smart in ways that are indignant, threatening, stubborn, superior, rude, harassing, demanding, ungrateful, or hurtful in any way.  We manage to learn from one another, and to help one another through the challenges, by being grateful and kind and patient, and by caring for one another through these interactions.

I think that much of what is wrong with America in particular, and the world in general, these days is that we have forgotten that basic common decency.  We have forgotten how to care for one another through these interactions.  I’m not sure how that is possible.

Because we all seem to be crying out to be cared for while we refuse to care for anyone else.

This is a two-way street, people.  It goes both ways.  If you want to be cared for, you absolutely need to start caring for others.  You don’t get one without the other.

It required an amount of gratitude, patience, support from others, meditation, self-care, and self-soothing that I almost could not summon to cope with persons who wanted me to guide them without offering me the care and gratitude and patience that I required from them.  When they didn’t offer me that, I needed to find it elsewhere.  Most people don’t have a wealth of gratitude and support and patience and Zen to draw from.  I’m lucky to have found the value of amassing stores of such things as a tool for maintaining mental health and managing chronic illness, so I have it to call upon in situations where others forget to care in our interactions.  But most are not amassing stores upon which they can draw.  Most are pushed beyond breaking points and that frustration and anger and pain of not being offered respect and care and gratitude fly out into the open, creating volatile and even deadly situations.

What would the world look like if we offered the care and avoided the open expression of that pain?

I think it would look very different.  I think it would look much better, much more kind, and much more beautiful.  I think it would offer us freedom and would decrease our anxiety and fear.  I think that it would bring many of us the peace and the positive feedback we needed to keep on going through the challenging moments.  And it would let all of us breathe a big sigh of relief.

This is the first time that I have the insight that I am the stupid person all around someone else, and that understanding how I am stupid, and how I am smart makes a huge difference in my interactions with others.  I hope that my insight might offer you the opportunity to consider your own interactions.

How do you act and react when you are “smart” or “stupid”?  What ways can you add care to those interactions, and what difference might that make?

I’ll put it out there so none of the comments need to … I used to be an asshole about being smart!  I loved knowing stuff and being smarter than others.  But I think that was largely because there was so much pain in other areas of my life.  I was terrible at relationships.  I was keeping devastating secrets.  I was living in constant fear.  Pain fueled the way I interacted then.  I’m not the same person now.  I’m not the same person in this moment that I was at 9 am, frankly.  The insight I’ve gained while writing this post has literally changed who I am.  But, the last 4 years of therapy, and study, and mindfulness, have changed the place from which my interactions originate.  They don’t always come from fear and pain any longer.  I have new spaces—better spaces—from which to draw.

We don’t need to keep interacting in the same ways we always have.  It can take a lot of difficult work to change how we interact and from where we draw that gratitude and fortitude and support.  But it is worth it.  I believe it can change the world.  That is so worth it.

I Should Be Packing Right Now

The journey to this moment has been long and hard and chaotic and sometimes frightening.  So, now that I am here, I am paralyzed.

This is certainly not the first time that I have fought my way through all sorts of trauma to find myself safe on the other side and stuck.  Just stuck.  It is like my self doesn’t know how to handle “normal” living. Which should not be surprising to anyone who knows me or my story well, because the great majority of my living has been disordered and chaotic and traumatic and totally fucking wrong.  It isn’t a shock to suddenly feel all weird and confused by normalcy and calm.

But it is a problem.

Sometimes you meet people in life whom you believe create drama.  I’m not one of those people, but I do believe that they exist. I understand why people could believe that I am one of those people, however.  Because I share a lot of characteristics with those people, I am sure.

I don’t create drama.  I’m not running around seeking problems and hoping to add them to my list of affairs.  But I do have a life that attracts many dramatic or uncommon or challenging events.

For instance, this past weekend I discovered that my daughter’s father may or may not be the biological child of the man that he and we have believed him to be the son of for many years.  And I found this out from the adult child of that man, whose stories while she was growing up, completely estranged from the “other family” the man had previous to the family he shared with her mother, are the proofs that we have for this new information.  Is he my daughter’s grandfather?  Not according to him.  But that doesn’t change much other than the storytelling gene might be really strong among the men of this particular family.  Or it could change everything, and my daughter, and the father she has never met and does not want to, might have a totally other family they are completely unaware of out there in the world.  And the grandmother she never met—who then is more unfaithful and dishonest a woman than we imagined, which is saying something—is the only one who would know the truth, assuming she is still living (as I mentioned, we don’t exactly keep in touch with her dad’s family).

See.  This creates all sorts of fucking drama.  I don’t want it.  I don’t need it.  It is confusing and chaotic and leads to all sorts of questions that I don’t know whether to answer or leave alone.  And it doesn’t just involve me, but a woman who may or may not be an aunt to my daughter, and a man who may or may not be her grandfather, and a daughter who may or may not want to know the answer to whether or not they are or whether there is an entirely other family out there somewhere.  But then, how do I help her find that identity if we have no way of accessing that information without contact with a family we don’t want to have contact with?

There is an aspect of the life I am now living that creates this complication.  It isn’t necessarily a simple choice to be or not be in the midst of drama.  Sometimes drama comes for you, and you need to figure out if there are any ways to avoid it, or ways to tackle it without becoming completely absorbed by it.

My therapist likes to say, and I am getting good at saying it before she reminds me, that there is “no such thing as normal”.  All of us have some things in life that others cannot relate to exactly.  All of us have some things in life that are relatable to almost everyone.  But there isn’t one way of living life, and there isn’t one way of living it correctly, certainly.

I know, however, that much about my life is uncommon or not very relatable for a majority of the people that I encounter on a day to day basis.

Not many of us can say that we were abused by a relative from a very young age and for an extended period of time, causing us to develop a complex form of PTSD that acts much like the trauma of captivity in terms of brain malformation, and because that disability and that abuse were not discovered or appropriately handled until well into adulthood, repeated traumas of all sorts were added on top of that early trauma, leaving layers and layers of trauma and pain and suffering and alienation and mistrust.  So many layers.  And then, because that trauma was not dealt with appropriately and all those layers were trying so hard to be forced into alignment with “normal” or at least “average” living during the everyday, our bodies took on that trauma and turned it into physical disease.  Or at least that is one theory, and one that I can easily wrap my malformed captivity brain around.  So, in the prime of our lives, as our little birds leave the nest, and we can go out and do anything we want, we are actually left with the option to A) live according to the very strict and challenging rules of the state regarding disability income and expense, letting decisions be made by another in most cases and feeling like we still have no agency all these years after abuses can supposedly no longer reach our bodies, or B) suffer and die.

And all the “normal” people will think that statement is overly dramatic.  But they don’t have the life where the drama attacks you in the calm of a sunny Saturday afternoon when you see a message about a man named Marvin.  They have lives without disordered thinking and layers and layers of trauma.  They have working dominant hands.  They have sisters who answer the fucking phone when they call—for the third time, to wish her happy birthday.  They don’t freeze when things seem good or average or positive.

They call that fucking Wednesday!

Wednesday.

To me it is like hell freezing over.  And, granted, the temperature in Chicago this week could probably freeze hell.  So, maybe that happened.

I don’t generally have the luxury of a normal day with positive normal things happening.  There aren’t many days when some aspect of depression, anxiety, trauma, abuse, addiction, violence, poverty, pain, or some other messy, bad, or unfortunate thing is having an effect on me or the things around me.  And it isn’t that other people don’t also have these struggles.  I know that they do.  I know many people who have similar struggles.  But I know very few people who have ALL of these struggles.  And the compounding effects are significant.

I carry the weight of a hundred traumas—not just three or four.  So, a trauma-free day?  That just doesn’t exist for me.  I cannot imagine it.  And it frightens the hell out of me.

I know that the more I work in therapy, and the more I work to repair or bypass the disordered thought processes that have become normative for me, and the more remedies and treatments I discover, and the more I work to deconstruct what others have crafted and build for myself a self and a life that I love, the more I will have days that are free of these traumas.  At some point, I may even become accustomed to “normal” or “average” days.  (God, I hope not! Lol) But I am not there yet.

So, while I should be rejoicing in the fact that I probably have an apartment, and that all the pieces of the puzzle are fitting together for my move to the northside, where it is safer and I am closer to amenities and friends, I am, instead, writing this.  Because, I have been packing for months through chaos and threats from my landlord, but now that I have the promise of new owners and another lease, I don’t know what to put in a box.  I’m completely stymied by the normalcy of it.

Can I really be getting a decent apartment in a good neighborhood?  Can that be true?  Can I be inside the margin?  Am I allowed that?

Or is the bottom going to fall out and the earth is going to swallow me up, proving that hell hasn’t actually frozen over, but it was just waiting for me to be lulled into a false sense of security before it devoured me?

That question would sound like insanity … except for the fact that the bottom has been dropping out and hell devouring me for the last 35 years.

Yes.  I should be packing right now.  And by later today, or at least tomorrow morning, I likely will be, but for the moment I am processing this news slowly and cautiously—not wanting to get too happy too hastily, just in case.  Not to believe in the good before the good proves itself to be existent.

Yes, people of the Jesus-loving variety, I know what faith is and I need no proof-texting from the book of Hebrews.  I graduated from two seminaries.  But that definition means nothing to the malformed captive brain.  Only proof of the existence of the good works, and the only good guaranteed is that which comes from within, frankly.  I can only control me.

And you can’t control me either, so that is probably a good point to state, just in case that isn’t self-evident.

I don’t make life complicated.  It made itself complicated over time.  And it now doesn’t become easy because I want it to become such.  I don’t create drama.  My life has had lots of events that were traumatic and the traumatic brings along the dramatic.  The trauma doesn’t disappear because I want it to, and the drama doesn’t either.  I need to deal with them, cope with them, work through them.  And that takes time and hard work.

I don’t actually believe that my apartment with fall into hell.  I don’t believe in a literal hell, so that can’t be a thing I believe.  (I wrote a paper on it once for one of the classes in one of the seminaries.  I received high marks.)  But I do believe that the world should be kinder to those of us who have struggled much in our histories as we seek to find stasis in our present.  It isn’t as easy as it looks.

It is easy to believe that walking on flat, solid ground takes no effort if you have never been out at sea.

Stasis isn’t a given in a life that has been largely characterized by turbulence.  And choosing stasis isn’t easy when turbulence feels more natural.  Choosing the unnatural thing continuously until it no longer feels abnormal, or hard, or foreign is a great burden.

Change of any kind is difficult.  But changing patterns in this manner—taking what feels wrong and trying to tell your brain over and over that it is right, despite all sorts of triggering objections, is excruciating.

Packing right now is a devastating choice.  It means hope beyond all telling, and if things go wrong and this apartment doesn’t happen, it means pain that I cannot ever express—not ever … I don’t have the physical capacity to express it and even now, imagining having to express it at some point makes me feel like I must vomit.  That is what this means to me.  That is what choosing stasis means to me.  That is what “doing the normal thing” has invested in it.  I feel like my head might explode and I want to vomit—that is what normalcy is doing to me right now!

I’ll do it.  I’ll get there.  But after almost 5 years of therapy, with 20-some medications, and in the best physical and mental state I have been for some time, this is still an excruciating moment.  So, the next time you cannot understand why your child hasn’t finished their spelling homework, or your neighbor is dating another loser, or your grandpa gets all weird when you mention that son he rarely talks about remember this post.  Remember that sometimes choosing normal is extremely difficult and painful.  No matter how much being and having something—anything— “normal” is what we want.

Be kind to one another.  And for heaven’s sake somebody come over and help me pack these fucking boxes!!   lol

Done

In therapy on Monday, I said to my therapist, “I’m done!  I’m done.”

And that was immediately followed by the expression, “I don’t even know what that means, because I am not going to kill myself, so I don’t know what I am done with, per se, or what I am quitting, exactly.”

I’m relatively certain that was followed by an “ugh” and a deep sigh … and probably dropping my hands to my sides in a dramatic fashion that symbolized my giving up.

This morning, as I updated my fundraising site, I once again expressed that I can’t go on.  And when I am talking with friends or family about serious topics, it comes up as well—I can’t keep doing this.  I’m done.  I give up.  I can’t.  I can’t even.

I don’t know if other people feel this level of frustration.  I don’t know if it is a “normal” thing to be overwhelmed by life that you do not want to keep going forward with the living.  And, like I mentioned above, that isn’t a suicidal ideation or proclamation.  I don’t want to die.  I just don’t know how to keep on living in this current state.  I don’t want to do this anymore.  I want a different sort of living, I suppose.

Many people want a different sort of living, I suspect.  There are always goals and changes and opportunities that we are reaching toward.  We see an article of clothing, or a car, or a home improvement project, or a new bit of technology, or some other thing that we want and we strive toward it.  Or we admire a person or a way of living that we see outside of our own self and culture, and we seek to emulate the qualities and characteristics of that person or place or way of being.  We want something different—something “better”.  This is true of pretty much all of us, whether we are seeking more, or less—the minimalist or the consumerist lifestyle.  We are working toward something that we currently do not possess.  We are seeking change.

I think that what I feel, however, and what a lot of people in marginalized spaces or situations feel, is a bit different than that sort of desire and that sort of change.  There isn’t just a drive to be different.  There is a desperation.  There is an evolutionary demand for fighting to survive.

I was watching the show Sense8 on Netflix the other night, and there was a line that struck me.  One of the characters said that he realized he was slowly dying of survival.  And that resonated with me so much that it brought me to tears.  Because it is not only my situation, but the situation of millions of people like me.  We are slowly dying of survival.  And I am just coming to realize it, like Mr. Hoy on Sense8.  It is breaking me.

Nothing has broken me so much that I couldn’t get back up and keep fighting.  I have more sequels than Rocky Balboa could ever have.  Even if he keeps training up new, young recruits until his death, I’ve still got him beat in the comeback department.  Over and over and over, I survive what the world throws at me.  But that is the best and the worst thing.  I survive.  I survive.  I survive.  And that isn’t enough.

We aren’t meant to survive.  Not just to survive.  Not only to survive.

We are meant for love and beauty and good.  We are meant for the Arete of the Greek philosophers, so long ago.  We are meant to thrive, to create, to live, to love, to transform.  And surviving doesn’t let you do those things.  Surviving makes you cautious, paranoid, isolated, resourceful, resilient, manipulative, strong, intimidating, disconnected, dissociated, and a great fighter.  And some of those things can be positive qualities—most of them can be positive under the right conditions.  But those of us who are fighting to survive are not living under the right conditions.  We are living under the worst fucking conditions, which is why we are working so hard to survive.  And the skills that we need and master to survive are not skills which help us to thrive, create, love, and transform.  Those skills aren’t the ones that offer us the love and beauty and good.  We survive to death.  We just keep on making it past the obstacle that is most immediately harming us and our life, and then looking to the next obstacle.  There isn’t room for anything but the fight.  We fight, we fight, we fight, we fight, we fight, we fight, we die.

Because fighting obstacles doesn’t change the world.  Creating new systems and eliminating the ones that are harmful and unjust changes the world.  Developing programs that increase wellness and decrease poverty, sickness, and violence changes the world.  But we don’t have the opportunity to create and develop, because we are so busy surviving.  We are so busy fighting that we don’t have the resources left to create and develop.  We don’t have what we need to thrive.

And the people who are not surviving—the people who don’t live in our situation, and don’t feel the weight and lack the resources and don’t fight the obstacles every moment of every day—don’t spend their energies (for the most part) creating and developing the systems that would change the situations of those of us who are marginalized.  Because they aren’t the ones fighting the unfair fights, over and over and over again.

At some point, you stop wanting to fight.  I’ve reached that point this week.

I can’t do it anymore.  I can’t keep fighting battles in a war that I know cannot be won.  The futility of the military action in Vietnam comes to mind when I think about what I feel today.  So many young men were injured, killed, and left with life-long mental illness because of that action.  And nothing was won.  There was no “victory”.  The westside of Chicago is the Vietnam of my age.  The southside of Chicago is the Vietnam of my age.  But the “enemy” isn’t quite as clearly defined here.  The enemy is us, and we are also the one battling.  It is a strange thing.  It is a confusing thing.  And while I don’t understand why we are fighting battles against ourselves in our own cities, and I don’t understand how we, the victims, are blamed for the fight, I do understand that we are fighting to survive this war.

And we are slowly dying of survival.

The thing that is crazy about all of this—well, one thing, because there is so much crazy about this that I cannot even begin to express all of it—is that it doesn’t matter that I am too tired and too frustrated and too raw and too pained to go on.

I need to go on, or I need to die.

And my instinct—my evolutionary imperative, coupled with my very high dose of antidepressant medication—will keep me alive.  I can’t give up, even though I want to.

I can’t choose to be done.  I can’t be done.  I need to fight the next battle.

So, where does that leave me?

Done.  But not done.

Do I work hard to develop hope, just so it can be dashed once more?  Do I adopt a rote series of movements and dissociate from my actions, protecting my heart from more pain, but closing it off from love and good and beauty in the process?  Do I fight hard and believe that this time will be different, only to find another obstacle on the other side, and to break down once more?

I don’t know.

This post doesn’t wrap up in a sweet little bow.  It ends in a sorrow.  It ends in a question.  It ends in a desperation and a struggle that doesn’t seem like it will ever end.

And that sucks.

I don’t know what comes next.  I don’t know how I will respond to the next moment—the next challenge, the next need, the next unpaid bill, the next overdraft, the next pain, the next fatigue that cannot be overcome, the next spike in my heart rate, the next gunfire heard, the next overdose witnessed, the next rejection, the next extension, the next continuance, the next whatever the fuck gets thrown my way.  I only know that I have one option:  to face it, and to fight it, and to hope that I can overcome.

If you don’t know what that feels like, you should seek out someone who does.  Listen to them.  Learn from them. Help them. Try to find ways to develop and create systems that help and do not harm them.  Offer them the chance to thrive, instead of allowing them to slowly die from surviving.

I don’t know the end to my story.  My journey continues.  A new friend told me this morning that “my best version” is coming.  That gave me a tiny glimmer of hope, and reminded me that the end isn’t here until the end is here.  And this day, I believe, is not my end.

So, I am still moving toward my best version.  I hope that version includes creation and beauty and good and wisdom and love.

For now, I fight on.

Five Common Arguments Against Watching 13 Reasons Why, and Why, as a Survivor, I Reject Them

 

Recently, the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why has created what I wish were helpful conversations on my Facebook feed.  But, more often than not, the people who are posting are educators of middle and high school students in small towns.  The reasons why I have those sorts of educators on my feed are simple—I used to live in those small towns.  But when I am looking at these posts, and reading the arguments against the series, I can’t help but become angry and frustrated with the content and the comments.

I am a survivor of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence.  I have complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and suffer from anxiety and depression.  I have a daughter who suffers from depression and anxiety, shows signs of post-traumatic stress (we don’t yet know for certain if she adopted those symptoms from being raised by me, or if she suffered some violence as a child that we have not uncovered).  Both of us have been suicidal.

Given my experience with these events and situations, I have a perspective that, I believe, needs to be expressed and heard by those small-town educators.  Because their reasons for not allowing students access to this series or the book that inspired the series are not, necessarily, informed reasons.

So, here are five common arguments against the show, and why I reject those arguments:

  1. Students are too young to see depictions of violence, assault, and suicide.

 

I can’t be certain when I started to be sexually abused, because I was a child, and I dissociated from those events.  What I can say with certainty is that I started exhibiting signs of acute trauma by age nine or ten, and I was suicidal by about the age of eleven.  My daughter first needed psychiatric care at age 9.  She was hospitalized by age 16, having struggled with major depression for over a year, and finally admitting her intention regarding suicide.

 

Students are not too young to see depictions of such violence, assault, and suicide.  Students as young as eight or nine years old are experiencing such violence, assault, and thoughts of suicide!

 

There is some sort of desire to ignore that our children are exposed to and experiencing things that we wish they were not exposed to or experiencing.  Even I, being fully aware of all the warning signs of mental illness, didn’t know that my daughter was experiencing certain symptoms until it was almost too late.

 

We don’t want our children to be suffering in this way, so we ignore the signs of that suffering—pretending that the bad things can’t be happening.

 

This does no good for our students.  This does no good for the whole of humanity.  Pretending problems don’t exist has never solved a single problem.  Wishing that our kids are too young to be harmed in this way—battered physically and psychologically, being taken advantage of, being pushed to a place where life is too hard to continue living, being abused, bullied, assaulted, raped—will not make it a reality.  It is ignorant to keep insisting that middle and high school students don’t see this violence every day.  They do.  They aren’t too young to watch a show that addresses issues that they are experiencing.  They certainly are not too young to watch a show that brings the possibility of identifying with characters that are suffering, when nobody else in their life or experience seems to understand or care about what they are going through.

 

As a child, I didn’t know where to turn with my pain.  As a teenager, I didn’t feel connected enough to anyone to admit how dark and dangerous my internal dialogue was becoming.  I pretended to be innocent and outgoing and “normal”, because nobody was talking about things like mental illness or suicide.  I felt completely divided and set apart from everyone around me.  I had nowhere to turn.

 

13 Reasons Why addresses these issues in what seems like a violent and shocking way.  But our children, our students, and the youth in our society are not protected from such violent and shocking events.  They are already experiencing this.  And the series gives them someone to identify with, and offers resources where they can receive help, should they identify with those who are being bullied, assaulted, or raped, and those who are considering death by suicide.

 

The honest address of common experience is not too dark and damaging for the young people around you.  It is an opportunity to feel heard and understood.  It is an opportunity to feel normal, in a society that wants to insist that this violence isn’t normal.

 

 

  1. “Counselors” are against youth watching the show.

 

This is an annoying argument, because there might be some truth to it, but that doesn’t necessarily make it good advice.  There have been several people who are school counselors or mental illness “experts” or social workers who have come out with statements or articles that offer their opinion of 13 Reasons Why.  Some of them say that watching these events can trigger or encourage negative behaviors.

 

This is partially true.  Watching events that you have experienced can trigger symptoms.  This doesn’t always happen, however, and it isn’t always a terrible thing.  Being in a controlled environment, knowing your own triggers, and being aware of the content ahead of time can all limit the triggering effects of viewing such events.

 

13 Reasons Why has very clear trigger warnings before each episode that will portray events that have the potential to harm those who identify closely with such events.  When we were watching the show, one such warning prompted my daughter to ask me if I wanted to watch.  She knew that it might be a difficult thing for me to see.  But I watched.  And I was very glad that I watched, even though it was a very challenging scene.

 

I later commented on a Facebook post that was basically a “counselor response” to the show.  I said that it was the most real and honest depiction of the event that I had ever witnessed.  I found watching the characters go through such events healing and validating, not triggering.

 

Some people will find these episodes and these images difficult.  Some people shouldn’t watch, if they are concerned about triggers.  But, for many who are survivors of such events, this is a show that offers an extremely honest view and allows you to connect to your own pain, your own struggle, and your own healing.  Will all teens be ready to address these issues with such realistic and graphic images?  No.  But will many of us, as survivors, finally feel heard and understood and supported by seeing such clear and unrestrained images?  Yes.

 

“Counselors”, as a blanket statement, could include school officials who haven’t had psychological training, really bad advisors (like the first “counselor” I had as an adult, who told me it wasn’t the fault of my abuser that he abused me, but that “curiosity” is normal), or excellent mental health care providers.  And these people are not knowledgeable regarding every case that might crop up.  There are numerous ways to connect with the material, and while one person might have a bad reaction to things, another might find it healing—as I did.  The point here is that there is no one appropriate or “correct” approach to content like that in 13 Reasons Why.  The best way to consider viewing is on a case by case basis, with the survivor being the one whose voice is heard and the survivor being the one who chooses to watch or not watch.

 

The most triggering movie that I ever watched was Captain Phillips.  It didn’t have any trigger warnings.  And it wasn’t about abuse or rape.  I saw (spoiler alert) Tom Hanks step onto a vessel that was rescuing him.  As he did, he—in an amazing performance—exhibited signs of trauma, because he had just suffered a significant trauma.  I began to weep and shake and shudder.  Seeing him show the shock and dissociation that PTSD sufferers go through, I was feeling all that the character was feeling.  It was awful.  And I may never watch it again, but even with the triggering and the awful feelings, that scene was an opportunity for me to acknowledge and make some sort of peace with my own suffering.

 

There is no way to know for certain what will and what will not trigger or affect a person.  But since bullying, sexual and physical assaults, and rape all have a common thread of taking away the autonomy of the victim, allowing each person to decide and be in control of what they choose to view and not view is important.

 

I’m not a “counselor”.  I’m a survivor.  So, I haven’t gotten a degree in psychology.  But what I do know is that autonomy and identification and validation are essential to healing and coping and overcoming events like those depicted in 13 Reasons Why.  A stranger who claims to have superior knowledge because of a few classes is not necessarily a help, because telling survivors what they can and cannot do, or see, or hear, or cope with can be a retraumatizing event.  We need autonomy.  We need to decide on our own.  And we need to cope with the support of others, not the demands of others.

 

  1. The show glorifies suicide.

I honestly can’t understand this argument against 13 Reasons Why.  I can’t understand how someone could watch such terrible events unfolding and think to themselves, “Wow, I think I should do that.  That is awesome!”

 

If you are suicidal, please seek help.  If you are not currently experiencing suicidal ideation, but have in the past, consider the trigger warnings and make an informed decision regarding whether or not you wish to view the show.  (Again, you deserve autonomy and get to choose the media to which you are exposed.)

 

That being said, the depiction of suicide in this show is horrible, violent, sickening, and shocking.  It is intentionally so.  The producers worked very closely with several medical professionals in their decision-making about how to best portray this event.  And it was intentionally depicted, and intentionally made very difficult to view, because it is a horrible thing.

 

I’ve heard some people say that the show could make kids think that suicide is a good way to get revenge on the people who hurt you.  I cannot comprehend how they come to that conclusion.

 

It is obvious that the main character is suffering from major depression, dissociation, flat affect, and more.  And the “suicide note” she leaves behind is deliberately affecting for those who harmed her.  However, every suicide note offers reasons why the one who died by suicide did so.   Often, those who are left behind to read that note feel guilt, remorse, and a sense that they failed the one who died.  It makes sense to feel that they failed the one who died, because after the life has been taken, you see the signs that you passed over when the person was alive.  You find the truth later.  You can’t always see the pain until the pain has become too much for the bearer of that pain to carry.

 

Hannah, the one who dies in the show, is hiding her pain as often as possible.  And there are good reasons for her to do so.  Earlier, I said that I pretended to be all sorts of things, because the admission that I was suffering from dark and dangerous suicidal thoughts was not something that I felt anyone would understand or accept.  I hid my pain.  I still do.

 

This combination of glossing over slights and hiding pain and suffering creates a perfect storm of struggle.  And the one who is struggling often feels alone in that struggle.

 

The depiction of suicide in this show is precipitated by all sorts of expressions and depictions of the pain that is being hidden and the opportunities missed for others to see that pain.  And it is the “note” recorded on 13 tapes that shows us all of that.  Suicide is an escape from pain.  Suicide is not an act of revenge.  Sometimes there may be an element of “I’ll show them” thought in the planning stages of suicidal ideation.  But that occurs largely because the one who dies by suicide has sought to express their pain on multiple occasions and has not been heard, not because there is a deliberate desire to harm those left behind.  Those left behind are completely cut off in the mind of the one who is considering suicide.  They don’t seem to be able to feel at all, because they can’t see your pain.

Suicide isn’t logical.  Suicide isn’t vengeful.  Suicide is the thing that you turn to when there is no other place to turn.  Hannah had at least 13 reasons to feel cut off from and ignored by her community.  She had at least 13 burdens to carry.  And that weight became too much to bear.

Watching her bear that pain, and watching her end her life because she could no longer carry the weight doesn’t glorify the act.  It makes the act sad and avoidable and gut-wrenchingly difficult to watch.  There is no glory in this show.  None.  There is no glory in that escape.  None.  There is no glory in her pain, or in the way she slowly but certainly breaks down completely, and loses the will to live.  None.

 

If you imagine that young people will watch this show and want to follow in the footsteps of Hannah, you should probably do a bit more research on suicide and suicide prevention.  Because it isn’t the act of death by suicide that you should be most concerned with.  You should be most concerned with the 13 reasons that brought Hannah to that point of desperation.  You should be most concerned with changing the behaviors and eliminating the threats that caused her to reach that point.  Suicide is terrible, but it isn’t really the point of the show.  The point is the reasons.  The point is that there were numerous events that should never have happened.  The point is the ways that her pain was caused and compounded and collected.  The point is not the suicide. The point is the many opportunities to care about others, instead of inflicting pain and violence, that were missed.  And focusing on those things can actually create change and reduce the incidence of suicide—not inspire more people to die by suicide.

 

  1. 13 Reasons Why is not for the vulnerable.

 

Another argument that I am confused by, as a survivor of abuses, is the idea that those who are “vulnerable” shouldn’t be exposed to the series.

 

I’m not certain what the definition of vulnerable, in the minds of others, might be.  It is defined as “susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm”.  And in my opinion, those who are most susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm are the ones who will most identify with, and find validation and acceptance in, 13 Reasons Why.

 

Hannah is susceptible.  But so is almost every other character in the book/show!  There are so many instances of bullying, abuse, rape, denial of harmful actions, misrepresentation, image ruining, slut-shaming, and more that it is amazing that they are all able to fit into one story.  There are numerous people who are suffering harm at the hands of others within the storyline.  There are numerous vulnerable people.

 

I identify with Hannah.  But I also identify with Clay, with Tony, Jessica, Alex, and Olivia.  They all have particular vulnerabilities, and they all experience suffering of some sort throughout the series.

 

I’ve already expressed how the choices about viewing triggering events should be left in the hands of the victims of abuse.  This includes those who are vulnerable.  Because if you are vulnerable, you have likely already experienced the things that are expressed in the episodes of this show.  If you are at risk, you are likely already suffering in some way.  And identifying with the characters in this show can offer much-needed validation of those sufferings and those vulnerabilities.  Connecting with a character can bring comfort and can offer perspective that isn’t always available to us as individuals within these situations.

 

One of the immense strengths of the show is that we see it unfold from the perspective of Clay, as well as from the perspective of Hannah.  And because we see it unfold from multiple perspectives, we can also gain multiple insights, alongside the characters in the tale.  When you are living in a state of vulnerability, or suffering, or abuse, it can be very difficult to see things from varying perspectives.  One perspective begins to shove out all other ways of thinking about the events.  We get tunnel vision.  This show lets those who are vulnerable, who are suffering, who are suicidal, who are being bullied, who have been assaulted or raped, look at the events unfolding from the outside, and allows us to gain perspective.  This is a good thing!

 

For those who have never experienced these events, I can see why you would want to seek to protect the vulnerable from difficult images and serious events.  But because we are vulnerable, we are likely already experiencing these things, and already feeling unprotected.  Allowing us to connect with these characters, and watch them navigate these horrors can be healing, and can offer us support.  Fictions of this type, which are so close to our own experience, can be healing and helpful, and not just damaging or dangerous.  You may not know how much the vulnerable need this connection.  You may be unaware that they need these characters to connect with and find validation.

 

  1. The show is so hopeless.

 

I’ve heard many say that this show isn’t good because it is hopeless.  It doesn’t have a happy ending.  The pain doesn’t go away, and there isn’t any resolution.

 

Exactly!!

 

If you are a person who thinks this show can’t be helpful because it doesn’t resolve the pain of the characters, then I encourage you to consider the life of a survivor of these events.

 

There is no resolution.

 

I was sexually assaulted in childhood.  I’m almost 43 years old.  Nothing has changed.  I’m still suffering from anxiety, depression, and PTSD.  I’m still in therapy.  I’m still on medication.  My abuser still sits across from me at the dinner table, on occasion.  I haven’t spoken to my ex-husband or ex-boyfriend who were violently abusive in many years, but their words still harm me at times.  I’m still aware of the ways that the neighbors and classmates and people in my community harmed me, and then blamed me for that harm.  I’m still an addict.  I’m still incapable of positive romantic relationships.  I’m still a loner, in many ways.  And I’m chronically ill in ways that will affect me for the rest of my life.

 

There is no resolution.

 

Life isn’t a story.  And if it were, it wouldn’t be a fairytale.  Fictions can resolve into nice little packages with happy endings, but life, and especially a life of vulnerability and suffering and abuse, doesn’t resolve in those ways.

 

The story is hopeless, except for Clay’s assertion near the end of the series that “this needs to change”.   The only hope is the fact that we need to begin to treat one another better, and to stop patterns of behavior that harm and break people.  The only hope is that those watching from the outside of this story, the viewers at home with their eyes glued to this drama, would understand the purpose of telling this tale—that we, the audience, need to take up that gauntlet and fight to change the way we treat one another.  We, the audience, are responsible for creating hope and affecting change and stopping these horrors from being acted out in real life.

 

My life is not filled with hope.  My life has not resolved into a neat little box of rainbow’s-end happiness.  My life is still filled with burdens that are difficult to bear.

 

A happy ending wouldn’t make 13 Reasons Why a better story.  A happy ending, filled with hope, wouldn’t inspire us toward change.  It would reinforce the idea that the pain goes away, and the effects aren’t all that bad, and we can ignore these injustices and let them resolve.

 

These injustices won’t resolve.  And the victims of this violence won’t have fairytale transformations.  The only way we get a happy ending is if we stop avoiding this pain, and stop insisting that we aren’t responsible to and for one another in our communities and in our world, and stop ignoring the ways that others are being harmed in every moment, and make the way we act and think and live better.  The only way we get a happy ending is by our own actions.

 

Because 13 Reasons Why is a critique of what we currently do and what we currently allow.  It is meant to give power to the young and vulnerable, and to affirm their circumstances are an injustice, and to demand that we do better at protecting one another.  This show is designed to teach us to stop physical and emotional attack or harm.  This show is pointing out our failures, and begging us to fix what is wrong in the way we treat one another.  This show is the truth we don’t want to see and acknowledge.

 

But refusing to see and acknowledge the truth helps none of us, so I encourage you to watch 13 Reasons Why, to cope with the horrific, graphic truth, and to acknowledge that up to this point, many of us have been a part of the problem.  Then, and only then, can we move forward and find and support effective solutions.

 

As long as some can abuse others without repercussions, we are not yet finding those solutions.  As long as some can abuse others, we are not allowed a happy ending.

 

Face the truth.  Watch Hannah Baker die.  Watch her community reel and spin out of control as they deal with the truths that her 13 reasons expose.  And then make certain that you aren’t letting this happen in your own community.

 

Stop injustice.  Validate suffering.  Heal wounds.  Listen to the victims.  Punish the perpetrators of violence.  And work toward a better world for all of us.

 

 

Sleepwalker

I once, according to my dad’s telling of the tale, came downstairs from my room, obtained a jar of jam from the refrigerator, took a spoon from the silverware drawer, and started to eat jam directly from the jar.  When Dad questioned me, and asked what I was doing, I became defensive.  Whatever was happening in my head, it was determined that jam eating in the wee hours was normal and not an offense of any kind.

And that is a fun little anecdote regarding the sleepwalking of my childhood.

There are many.

My dad also tells tales of other sorts of sleep disorder, however—sleep terrors and nightmares.

Sleepwalking is rare.  Estimates place the percentage of the population that completes complex action while asleep around 1 to 15.  The phenomenon is a sleep disorder, and it is usually associated with either sleep deprivation, stress, or both.  The combination of this disorder with those of nightmares and terrors is even more rare.  It is hard to say how many people might suffer from all three, because the one experiencing the events often has no recall of the events.

In the past few years, I started to sleepwalk again.  While I have no recall of the events, I have evidences of the events.  One morning, bread was laid out on the kitchen island, as though I were preparing to make a sandwich.  Another morning, I woke to toasted bread, still sitting in the toaster but stale and cold.  On yet another occasion, I woke to near-freezing temperatures and realized that I had turned the thermostat all the way down as I slept.

It wasn’t until I mentioned these events to my sleep specialist that I started to understand the presence of sleep disorders is directly related to stress.   And in my case, that stress is related to a loss of bodily autonomy through chronic sexual abuse and medical testing and treatment for bladder and kidney issues.  Usually adult sleepwalking is tied to and triggered by childhood stressors.  My sleepwalking (along with incontinence and suicidal thoughts) returned shortly after a visit from my brother, and repeated arguments that took place during that time.  The insistence that I do as he believed I should, and the lack of respect for me and my autonomy that such insistence belied, threw me right back into that childhood self with symptoms of extreme stress.

Getting along with my brother is an impossible task.  He wounded me in ways that can possibly (I hope) be forgiven, but can never be forgotten.  He created a vacuum in my life that sucked in all sorts of damage, abuse, and pain.  And while some would argue that the “victim card” isn’t a thing that I get to “play”, the fact is that I am a victim of horrible abuse that does not stop affecting me.  And having a perpetrator of abuses in my physical space, and having that perpetrator tell me what to do, is an impossible to ignore affront, whether it is meant to be or not.

People talk about “finding their inner child”, like it is a fun and freeing thing.  But my inner child is terrified, wounded, confused, and under mind-altering levels of stress.  I don’t want to find that—ever.  But I don’t get a choice, because that child finds me on a regular basis.  She returned in a blink of an eye after that visit with my brother.  And she didn’t leave.

I began sleepwalking again because that child started running the show while I slept—the early expression of my post-traumatic stress coming back into my experience.  This is often the case with sleepwalkers.  If we do it as adults, we likely also did it as children.

I don’t know that I eat jam from the jar in my sleep anymore.  But I am definitely exhibiting the stress that I did in childhood within the circadian patterns that I currently experience.

The nightmares I can make go away.

I didn’t know that was possible until a few years ago, when the nightmares were increasing, and the trauma of the past was leaching from me and leaving a trail of symptoms across my life.  It was at that point that I was finally properly diagnosed with C-PTSD.  And that diagnosis brought the beloved off-label use of blood pressure medication which stops the nightmares.  Or, to be more succinct, it stops me from engaging with the nightmares or remembering the nightmares.

Minipress, or prazosin, as a treatment for PTSD, was discovered incidentally by a Dr. Simon Kung at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.  The medication had been around for decades, but it was not noted as an effective treatment for nightmares due to PTSD until 2012.  Thankfully, I receive medical care at a teaching hospital that uses cutting-edge treatments, and I started on prazosin mere weeks after my diagnosis. My brain can still engage with flashbacks and nightmares, but my body is prevented from interacting with that engagement, and I remain asleep and unaffected by the subconscious terror.  It still amazes me that this is possible, after having interacted with this terror for over 30 years.  I am in awe that we can simply shut off that terror during the night.  And I am extremely grateful for Dr. Simon Kung’s work to find, study, and disseminate the knowledge that I, and many others who suffer PTSD symptoms, can experience peaceful sleep.

While the medication doesn’t prevent me from sleepwalking, it makes my sleep much more consistent and much less traumatizing.  Having sleep, the restorative and balancing action your body requires, become a source of fear is a terrible thing.  And being able to participate in and enjoy sleep is nothing short of miraculous for my beleaguered and exhausted self.

I feel like this turned into a term paper, and not a blog post.  But it is important, apparently, for me to recognize and report about the challenge of suffering symptoms of stress and trauma during the night … and to present alternatives.

Because, as someone recently told me, people need to hear my stories.  And I am committed to the telling not just because I think it might assist others, but because speaking truth is freeing.  Expressing the challenge and the need and the struggle and the fight and the overcoming of obstacles and the strength and joy and relief of that overcoming is important.  It is such because my voice is my only chance at regaining the autonomy lost as a child.  My voice is the only thing that can offer that child some peace and restoration.  That young self, and my triggered adult self, both need to know and feel and trust that there is a path to good, and that we can walk that path and find that end.

I might make sandwiches or eat jam from the jar in the night for the rest of my life.  I might, just as easily, find the release of stress that I need to stop that sleepwalking from happening any longer.  And it is necessary for others to see this hidden-by-the-dark experience, and to validate that experience.

Because while I don’t fault those in my life for not knowing that I was expressing in my quirky sleepwalking moments the grave burdens of an abused child.  The science wasn’t there.  The advocacy wasn’t there.  The skilled psychiatric specialists were not there.  The only thing that my dad could see was a girl doing weird things—expressing the inexpressible in the ways that my subconscious self could.  And it couldn’t express it well enough, or loudly enough, or clearly enough to spare me the trauma … but at least I tried to express it in some way.

I can express it now.  I’m determined to express it now.

I’m determined to give that child a voice that can be heard, understood, and validated.  I’m determined to let her speak, to cry, to scream out the things that her jam-eating, sleepwalking, nightmare-having self couldn’t quite manage to express.

That little girl experienced chronic, escalating, sexual abuse.  That little girl also had doctors and nurses poking around in her most sensitive and sacred parts without any sort of trauma-informed care.  That little girl was lost in a sea of pain, and she nearly drowned in those deep and dark waters, as the waves beat her and threw her against the rocks.  That little girl needed to say that she was dying from the weight of trauma and shame and conflict and fear and confusion laid upon her tiny chest—crushing her ribs, puncturing her lungs, and making it impossible to breathe.

That little girl also needed others to hear her and to offer validation and to acknowledge the injustice and offer hope and comfort and help.  She still needs that.

I try to offer it to her.  But it is hard to trust just one voice (especially when so many deceptions have been spoken in your experience).  It is hard to assure her that she deserved safety and autonomy and privacy and justice and good.

It is hard to assure my adult self—this grown-up version of that girl—that she deserves safety and autonomy and privacy and justice and good.  It is hard to believe that my voice can make a difference.  It is hard to believe that I am heard.  It is hard to find validation.  It is hard to find hope and peace.

But that little girl fought hard to survive.

And I am going to keep fighting her fight.

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.