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.

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Like You Mean It

My daughter and I were having a conversation the other day about my marketable skills.

I will spare you the details and the discouraging situation that I find myself in regarding balancing health and finances.  If you have not already become familiar with that situation, hit up some earlier posts to get up to speed.

But the outcome of that conversation led me to a new understanding of an old problem:  I don’t think I am good enough.

I’ve literally tattooed the word “Enough” on my left arm.  I deliberately put it in a place that I would see in the mirror every day, because I need the constant reminder that I am enough and good enough and allowed to set boundaries that say to others, “Enough. I won’t tolerate that anymore”.  Despite that reminder, I still slip into a space where my mind convinces me that I cannot accomplish or become or produce in positive ways.  I get sucked into perfectionism.  I get stuck in a mindset that sees criticism as punishment for what I lack.  I get trapped by self-defeating language.  I doubt that I am capable enough, or good enough, or talented enough.

So, while talking with my daughter, and positing a question about whether or not I might be successful in a particular venture, I came to understand that I don’t quit things, and I don’t fail.  I start something new.

I tell myself, “I am an author.  I’m going to work at being an author, and commit to that field.”  And then, a few months later, I am telling myself, “I am going to become a nutrition counselor.”  I take classes and start that venture.  Then, a few months later, I am telling myself, “I could sell my work on Etsy.  I would make money from what I find therapeutic—my art and crafts.”

And, suddenly, I am working toward everything and nothing.  I have too many starts and not enough follow-through.  I have no follow-through not because I can’t do the things, but because my energy is split and traveling in too many directions.

Life has always been this way for me.  I am a visionary—I start things all the time, and I have big dreams, and I am a great problem-solver.  I am not confident that I can be fabulous at any of those things that I start, and dream of, and find solutions for.  I start to doubt my ability, and I put the thing I was working toward on hold, while I think of something new.

I am writing three books.  By writing, I mean not working on at all, but having the idea that the books will someday be finished.  I am an amazing author, but I doubt that talent often enough to not complete any published works.  I am studying nutrition and holistic care.  And by studying, I mean that I am half way through an online study program that I have not even looked at in months.  I doubt that I can be successful in the field, or that people will take a sick, overweight person’s advice regarding wellness and weight loss.  I am opening an Etsy shop.  And by opening, I mean that I have a store name picked out and ideas for what art I will put in that store eventually.  I doubt that people will want or pay a fair price for the things that I have created, and that I will lose money, rather than make money.

My doubt rarely paralyzes me in the physical sense.  I don’t panic and freeze and lose my shit out in the world.  I look and act like a really “normal” person most of the time.  But, on the inside, I put myself into a space where I cannot accomplish anything, because I don’t believe that I can accomplish anything well enough.

Some of this perfectionism comes from my upbringing.  My mother and my grandmother before her were both very concerned with appearances, and with having everything “just so”—at least on the outside.  That desire to look perfect affected my generation as well.  And, at times, I think I am accidentally passing that perfectionism down to my daughter.  But, my family tree is not the only factor.  I also suffer from C-PTSD, a complex form that adds layers of struggle beyond those of the type of PTSD you usually see depicted in media—the combat-related type.  Perfectionism is a symptom of my disease.  When you are in a prolonged state of abuse, such as childhood molestation or domestic violence, your brain behaves in ways that make no sense, but are totally understandable.  You start to work really hard at pleasing people.  You start to do all that you can to make life, home, and self perfect, because you believe that the abuses are your fault—which is part of the terrible genius of abuse tactics.  If you can just do everything “right”, maybe you won’t be hurt, harmed, assaulted, yelled at, molested, or raped.  If you can be perfect, then there won’t be a reason for them to harm you.

But there is always a reason for them to harm you, because the harm has nothing to do with your performance, accomplishments, character, or way of being.  The harm has to do with them and their issues.

I can say that now.  I can say that the people who harmed me did so because of them, and not because of me.  But, even though I can say it, I am not integrated in my logic and my emotion.  Those things are split apart in the long-term abuse—the horror of captivity.  And, while I can say that I didn’t cause the abuses directed toward me, I cannot often feel that I didn’t cause those abuses.

Not being able to feel what I know is complicated.  It is also annoying and frustrating.  Reason and emotion are not tied together in the ways I want them to be tied.  So, I feel not good enough, even though I know that I am capable and strong and beautiful and good and honest and brave and brilliant.  What I know and what I feel cannot connect in the way that I would like them to connect.  So, I still strive for and do not reach perfection.

Perfection doesn’t exist.  You can never reach it, because it isn’t a thing.  Perspective, cultural difference, brain chemistry, opinions, different philosophies, and more make one idea of “perfection” impossible.  There is no such thing.  So, by striving for this goal, we sabotage ourselves.  We are fighting for a thing that is not achievable.  And that constantly disappoints us, and makes us doubt our ability or character or worth.

All of the above considerations came out of that one conversation with my daughter.  And I decided during that conversation that I need to “write like I mean it”.

I decided that I need to take that thing that I love and that I am good at, and I need to keep doing that thing until I can feel what I know.  I need to stop turning in different directions and dividing my energy.  I need to put my efforts into the things that I know I am and should be:  an author and an artist.  I need to act upon my belief that I am a good author and artist, and keep acting upon it until I feel deeply that I am talented.

Under different circumstances, that might sound like a very selfish and narcissistic way of thinking.  But, because I am so conditioned to judge myself “not good enough”, proclaiming my talent and putting all my energies into praise for that talent is a corrective measure that brings balance.

I’m going to put all of my eggs in this basket.  I’m going to write and create like I mean it.  I’m going to make this my life—not because I need to strive for a goal of perfection, but because I love writing and creating, and because I am exceptional in these areas.

Perfection isn’t real, but it still ruins so many of us.  While my C-PTSD makes the struggle against perfection more difficult, and a symptom to be managed, you don’t need to have a history of trauma and a mental illness to strive for things that you need not strive for, and cannot achieve.

I’m not saying to give up.  I’m trying to say the opposite.  I’m attempting to express that what you love is what you ought to pursue, regardless of what “perfection” might be getting in the way of that pursuit.  And I am attempting to express it for me as much as I am for anyone who might read this post.  Because sometimes the word “Enough” tattooed on my arm is not the only reminder needed.  Sometimes we need to keep telling ourselves a thing until we feel its truth, not just know or understand it.

I need to keep telling myself that finished is better than perfect.  I need to keep telling myself that writing and painting and sewing and covering surfaces in comics are worthy pursuits.  I need to keep telling myself that my belief that I am good enough is the truth, and that the feeling that I am not is the lie that I have been conditioned to accept.

I need to keep telling myself to write like I mean it.  This is my goal.  This is my life.   This is my contribution to the world.  This is what I love.  And I am not going to let “perfection” get in the way of doing what I love.

Whatever you do, do it like you mean it.  Because it is, and you are, enough.

More Than I Can Handle

 

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

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

I call bullshit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Empathy hurts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

Dances with Dragons

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

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

I sometimes feel like a fictional woman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One doesn’t negate the other.

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

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

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

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

I am allowed to be both/and.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pills

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This morning I asked the dog, “Wouldn’t my mother be proud of me, swallowing up to 11 pills at once?”

Shockingly, he responded by turning his head to one side and looking at me with cuteness and confusion, wondering if I were asking him something he wanted to hear … he hasn’t mastered English language just yet.

Why, you may wonder, would that impress my mother or be a source of pride?  Swallowing isn’t usually a thing to be praised.  (My mind hit the gutter there … and now yours did, since I mentioned it, right? Apologies.)

Swallowing pills isn’t usually a thing to be praised.  (Better?)

But for me, it was a huge challenge for years to swallow pills.  I remember vividly my mom trying every possible trick she could for me to get a tiny little tablet into my system the day before procedures.  Putting it on my tongue and then having me drink didn’t work.  Cutting it smaller than its already tiny form didn’t help.  I think that the most effective, and the most disgusting, was the buying me donuts, having me chew up a bit of the donut, and then shoving the pill into the center of the chewed food before I swallowed it.  Donut holes became a semi-regular event in my life from the point when we discovered that trick.

But the thing that struck me this morning was not that my mom spent herself to the point of exhaustion and utter frustration in order to make certain I swallowed the pill and was appropriately prepped for procedures, and not that I have accomplished the task and perfected it in ways that would offer my mother pride, and lets me take only a moment to swallow my medications, but that I remembered vividly the processes of prepping and procedures for medical purposes.

It is strange what the brain holds and what it does not hold.

My mother’s last words to me were, “I really like your hair that way.”  And that was the only full sentence I had heard from her lips in many months.  Why that sentence got through, and nothing else, I cannot explain. Nobody can explain it.  But it is a sentence I appreciate.  It was fitting, since my mother’s approval was something I always strived for and rarely received, and her disapproval was often focused on my hair and its current color or style, that the last thing she said to me was that she approved of my hairstyle.

I don’t know that it was a sign or a message, but it definitely made me smile … after the initial shock of hearing my mom form a sentence and look me in the eye wore off.

What her brain lost and what it held was always a source for surprise and question and analysis and much laughter, but there weren’t really any answers as to the “why”.

What my brain lost and what it held is similar.

I vividly remember the process of getting a pill into my stomach, and I vividly remember almost every single invasive or upsetting or stressful medical procedure I endured as a child, and I always have.  But while I was cataloging every moment of the medical trauma, I was erasing every single moment of sexual trauma.  Why did my mind hold one and erase the other?  Why was one captured and one cast into some recess of the brain and locked there for years?

And my first instinct was to say that one was cause for shame and not the other, but that isn’t accurate.  I wet myself with regularity due to my body’s defect, and I was mocked mercilessly for that.  And after surgery, when I didn’t have those ‘accidents’ anymore, I was mocked in the locker room because of my scars.  There was a lot of shame tied to my medical issues. And maybe there was more shame associated with the sexual trauma, but I don’t think that one was without shame and the other filled with it.  There were aspects of shame tied to both, yet I held one in my conscious mind with great detail, and the other I forced away.

As someone diagnosed with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I am learning that the ways the brain forgets can be really great and amazing.  My brain shut out traumas to protect me.  And since the moment those memories returned I went into several years of meltdown, I know that my little, young self could not have coped with those things.  My 19-year-old self couldn’t cope with those things.  Some days my 41-year-old self cannot cope with those things, though I’m learning more and better skills to cope now than I ever have before.

I am also learning that my brain suffered a division when the trauma happened.  Parts of my brain stopped talking to one another, and they still can’t seem to get those synapses firing all the time.  I dissociate from time to time, blocking out things that are uncomfortable or that remind me of other things, or just breaking myself in two and living in conflict with my own thoughts and ideas.  I’m a big pile of contradiction and incoherence and cognitive dissonance.  And all of that is because my young self held some thoughts and blocked others.  And I had no control of what stayed and what went.

Eventually, both combined into one larger trauma.  Not having control of your body is bad in any sense.  But the cognition of not having control over what happened to my body in the medical sense and the dissociation of not having control over what happened to my body in the sexual abuse sense became tied in ways that I didn’t understand until recently.  And the way that tie became apparent is by wetting myself like I did when I was a child when in the company of my abuser … at age 39.   My brain made my body lose control, and potentially continues to do so.  My pelvic floor dysfunction is possibly psychological and possibly physical, but more than likely a combination of the two.

So, I am back to the start, in a sense.  But this time I am remembering all, and the medical and the sexual are one trauma, melded together in some strange ball of a loss of autonomy.  And now I lose even more, with PTSD and fibromyalgia having effects on my brain and body that I cannot control.  I can only cope.

But at least I can cope, some of the time.

At least I am at a place where I can address all the things, and know when I am dissociating, and see how the disconnects are affecting me, and learn how to start putting myself together once again.  At least I am in a place where the memories of both can be acknowledged, and the path that I took to today can be better understood, and the ways I act today and the things I now believe can be explained.

It is amazing what the brain holds and what it releases.  But even more amazing is that I am learning how I can choose what my brain holds and what it releases.  Meditation and mindfulness are showing me the way to control my reactions to thoughts, and mandalas are helping me integrate my mind, and therapy is letting me voice the feelings tied to events that I was before expected to keep secret, or to accept silently.  I get to hold things.  I get to release things.  I am regaining that lost autonomy.  And I am expressing it … loudly enough to piss a bunch of people off when I won’t comply with social norms and religious expectations.

I am screaming autonomy.

I am choosing, even though I can’t choose what happened or what will happen in my life and experience.  I am choosing how I act and react in the midst of what happened and will happen. I am no longer letting my brain do the filing without my input, and I am making certain to assess what I release and what I hold.

I likely have a 50% chance of ending up like my mom, with my mind slowly deteriorating and losing thoughts and memories and faces and, eventually, life.  And if I do have the gene for Alzheimer’s and I do lose bits of my brain to disease, it will be difficult.  But I don’t worry about that the way I once did, because I currently have better knowledge and control of my thinking than I ever have, and I no longer need to worry and catastrophize and create struggle inside my head.  I can accept and release.  Even this idea that I might lose my autonomy in some ways or someday is not a source of struggle, because I know that such disease won’t define me.

I define me.

And accepting the ways I can’t control my life and my future, instead of struggling against them is what I am trying to choose.  I want that to define me—the idea that I accept myself and my life in the moment, and that I can act and react in positive ways, even in the darkest of experiences.  That is my choice.

The thoughts I hold and the thoughts I release are mine. The perspective with which I view things is mine. The ways that I act and react are mine.  The traumas that happen to me, are not mine to hold.  Those belong to the ones that harm, not to the ones harmed by them.  And no amount of victim blaming is tolerated in my space any longer.  That I am letting go.

And I don’t know that being me, in the way that I choose to be, would make my mother proud.  There is probably a lot that she would challenge and dislike, if she were here to do so.  But that doesn’t matter.  Because I am not letting other people define me any longer.  I am not letting the events that happen around me or to me define me.  And having the pride of others, or the acceptance of others, is a bonus, if it happens, but it isn’t my goal anymore.  I no longer strive for anyone’s approval but my own.

And I am very proud of who I am.

 

 

 

 

Some things never change

I’m sort of a change addict.  I rearrange things all the time.  From the files in my office to the paints in my studio to the furniture in the rooms to the items on my bedside table, I am always looking for another way to place things.  And I often like to pretend that it is for increased efficiency—and sometimes it accidentally brings about increased efficiency—but I think it is just that things need to be constantly in flux for me to feel comfortable.

This is actually the opposite of what makes most people comfortable.  Stability and stasis and knowing that you won’t bang your toes on a credenza that wasn’t there yesterday seem to be more comfortable for most.

I used to attribute my desire for change to boredom.  I just figured I was the kind of person who needed new scenery … and that is true in part.  Highly intelligent and creative people often need movement and change, and lots of us live in mess or chaos as a result.  We feel life more than just live it.  And, like anything that you see or feel each and every day, you become numb to things if they stay the same for too long.

Once my daughter’s teacher thought she would place a brightly colored sticky note to my daughter’s desk to remind her of something.  That sticky note had an effect for about a week and a half.  After that time, the note just became a part of my daughter’s normal desk environment.  It no longer screamed brightly to remember, but it sort of faded into the everyday.

For those of us who feel our way through life, everything fades into the everyday, and we need something new in order to feel stimulated and excited and motivated.

I am one of those people, so boredom is an apt way to describe much of my need for change.

But, over time, I discovered something else about the way I desire change.  It felt like an escape.  It felt like freedom.  It felt like a release from captivity.  And it still does.

I often describe my situation as “stuck”.  I can’t afford to move.  I can’t find decent housing with a voucher that is meant to safeguard the poor from not finding decent housing (another tale for another time, perhaps).  I can’t leave the state without throwing my disability case out the window after 16 months of fighting for my rights.  I can’t change the ways my body and mind react to particular stimuli.  I can’t end the pain that plagues my whole body.  I can’t stop seeing the doctors and therapists who already know and have seen the ways my disease affects me.  I can’t end the awareness of the past events that led to this point.  I feel trapped within my disability and within a particular way of living as a result.

And I want to escape once more.

I keep changing what I can.  The furniture, the nightstand contents, the filing system all move around.  But I’m still feeling stuck.

Last night, while I was attempting to catch up on the washing of dishes (a failed attempt, but a bit of progress at least), I was thinking about my relationship with my mom.  It wasn’t great, for most of my teen and adult years.  We didn’t understand one another very well, and communicating emotion wasn’t a strong point for her, and obeying without question wasn’t a strong point of mine.  We argued as a result.  But last night I was thinking more about how she must have felt when all I wanted to do was escape, and even though I don’t really think my mom floats around my kitchen in some non-corporeal form, I said aloud, “I’m sorry if it hurt you Mom, but I needed to try … I needed to try to be free.”

I hadn’t thought of what I did from age 18 to 28 as trying to be free before, at least not in any real and deep sense.  But I was trying to be free.  I didn’t want to be captive or kept.  And running from place to place and moving from man to man and snorting line after line felt like flying after years of living caged.  It wasn’t a crazy person living out her crazy.  It wasn’t a woman lost seeking a place to fit in.  It was freedom–finally freedom!  And all of those things in all of that time didn’t necessarily serve me well or bring me wholeness and good, but they weren’t necessarily meant to do that anyway.  They were just meant to be the opposite of captivity.

When my little dog gets free of the tethers that hold him, he runs like a motherfucking bat out of hell.  He doesn’t know where he is going, or why.  He doesn’t care.  He just runs, and runs, and runs, and runs.  And there isn’t any catching him.  You have to run past him (which, by the way, sucks for a good runner, so the few times I have had to do so I nearly died as a result) and then convince him that running in the other direction sounds fun, leading him back toward the house or car from which he escaped.  Freedom.  Flying.  Just going because you are finally allowed to go.

I spent 10 years of my life flying in glorious freedom.

And then, I went back to living as others expected or anticipated I would or should.  Because you can only run so far before you tire and need to turn around.  But I still miss the flying.  I still miss that freedom.

There are all sorts of expectations once more, and there is a lot of weight to the conditions of disability and poverty that I am struggling to carry, and there are rules and rules and rules about how you may or may not be when you are dependent on others (and very few of the rules or expectations are reasonable or intuitive or helpful).  And I start to feel trapped and stuck and without an exit plan.  It reminds me of being a child, and not being able to express that really bad shit was going on in my life, and not being old enough or aware enough to leave the situation to which I felt captive.  All the ways I tried to escape that captivity—throwing tantrums, threatening my abuser, trying to run away, becoming despondent, sleep walking, wetting the bed—went unrecognized or were blamed on other causes.

I don’t fault the people in my life who didn’t know those were attempts at escape.  It isn’t easy to understand when you haven’t been informed or educated about such things.  All you see is a bunch of crazy and inconvenient and inappropriate, and you don’t know how to fix it.  And even when I did get the attention of therapists or doctors, they were kinda shitty therapists or doctors, and they did more harm than good in most cases. I wasn’t properly diagnosed with C-PTSD until a year and a half ago, because I had a breakdown/freak out/panic in the right place and the right time, for a change.

The thing about this desire for freedom, however, is that it starts to morph into something new as I age and become more aware.  I still want to run away, but I want to run to a place that brings stability, a therapeutic environment, and release from the debt and dependence of poverty.  Being free looks more like stasis and stability than I like to admit at times.  And I think that I would still rearrange the furniture and the files and the art supplies and the books in this more stable version of freedom, but I don’t think that it would make me feel stuck or captive or without freedoms.  If I had a little house on the beach, just big enough for me and the dog, and the occasional visit from my dad or my daughter, and if I could swim every day and get a massage and take a walk along the water, and if I could write and create and sell my work, and if I could grow a few plants out in my tiny garden instead of on an apartment window sill, and if I could choose the life I want and not be forced into situations that I don’t want, I could feel free in one place, and not ever need to feel the need to flee or fight or struggle toward something else.

I started with a title that implied that things don’t change.  And many things don’t.  But many things do.  And it isn’t true that the more things change they more they stay the same, even if my freedom becomes a little cottage which I own and can settle into for years to come.  Because, while that seems like stasis, it is much different from anything I have experienced in all my years—it is something I choose, without influence and expectation and abuse and appropriate cultural expression and manipulation and guilt and force making me choose (which isn’t really choice at all).

Much has changed inside of me, and in the way I see myself, and in the ways I understand my history and my illness, and in the ways that I act and react because of new awareness, and in the way I treat myself as a result.  But much has not changed.

I still long to be free.

I still want to fly.