Can’t Find a Better Man

The half growl/half crow of Eddie Vedder has long been a part of my own, personal war cry.  It both fed and poured out my teenage angst—my frustration with the things that were senseless, wrong, and unjust in the world, and my desire to be free from all of the pain and confusion and devastation that those things caused me.  I felt deeply.  Eddie did too.  You could sense it.  And you could echo it as you sang along.

Better Man was one of the songs that I connected with on a spiritual sort of level.  There were others.  And some even more deeply felt than this one.  But this one came to mind today, because I still feel the same angst at times.  I still know the challenges of being that one in the song—that one who can’t find a better man.

If you don’t know it … well, if you don’t know it you are either too young or too old or just plain Amish, I suppose, because Pearl Jam has been around for longer than my child has been alive (21+ years), and they keep putting out new music and touring the world with old favorites in their sets as well.  But, in case you have decided to go the way of Patrick Star and you live under a rock, I will let you know a bit about the lyrics, and the basics of the song.

She lies and says she’s in love with him; can’t find a better man.

It’s a woman, waiting alone in bed for some man who clearly sucks at being a partner.  She practices what she will say—what boundaries she will set, and what angry rant she will set forth when he finally dares to come home in the wee hours of the morning—but when he actually arrives, she pretends she is sleeping.  She keeps his failure and her misery to herself.  It feels like her fault that she chose him, and she does love him.  And somehow, they have this symbiotic, albeit unhealthy and unfulfilling, relationship that they both continue to choose.  And she echoes over and over:  Can’t find a better man.  Can’t find a better man.  Can’t find a better man.

If you’re like me, you can’t help but sing those words instead of simply read them.  They come to life in your head, in Eddie’s voice. And if you are even more like me, you remember singing those words and meaning them with so much truth that it pained you, and you weren’t entirely certain how to feel when the song came on, because the pain of the truth and the release of the singing it were also tied together in this strange way that worked so well.  Turmoil and beauty connected in a way that only the most broken of us can see, acknowledge, appreciate, and even love.

I felt Better Man so deeply not because I was in a relationship with someone at the time who mimicked the song’s poor partner, but because I was somehow already identifiable, before the terrible partners started lining up in my life and experience, with that woman.  Can’t find a better man.  Can’t find a better man.

Like a fish knows swimming is his mode of transportation, I knew that I deserved to struggle through bad partners—I would live this out, and this would be my pain.

How did I know that?

Pearl Jam, Ten, was released on August 27, 1991.  Twenty-eight years ago, I was still in high school, and I hadn’t had a “real” partner at all. I would start a relationship with my first “boyfriend” not long after this album’s release and have sex for the first time about six months later—if you could call it that … it was more like awkward penetration with mutual dissatisfaction.  And throughout that year, even though I was coming of age and starting to figure out that sexuality was even a thing, sheltered in extreme ways from all its forms and expressions, I had no concept of bad partners the way I would just a handful of years later.  Yet, before it happened I knew.  Eddie sang it the way I felt it, and I still understand it as deeply and with as much truth today.  Can’t find a better man.

Part of the challenge in my own situation, I think, is that Calvinism and the last bits of Dutch puritanism were so pervasive in my little sub-culture.  I knew, even when my conscious mind had repressed every single synapse of sexual abuse, that I was “damaged goods”, impure, unclean, sinful, tainted … you could say it a hundred different ways and it all hurt the same way.  Something in me knew that there was this stain on my reputation, according to the religious and cultural views that were held by those around me.  Of course I would not be worthy of a better man.  I was sullied by debaucherous sins.  “Good” men want “pure” women.  Obviously!

The other part of the challenge was the terrible partners that did start to line up in my life.  They only reinforced the idea that I deserved crap partners who treated me with disrespect, put hands on me in violence, didn’t give me the option of consent—either by force or by coercion and manipulation—and generally just acted like assholes.

How did I end up with this line of losers?  It’s a chicken/egg conundrum that we may never solve.  Either my low esteem attracted the sharks, or the sharks lowered my esteem until I was weak enough to pull under and drown.  But the how and why don’t matter a whole lot, unless you are an anthropologist of some sort.  What matters more is the effect, which was proving to me the stain on my reputation must be evident to all, and I am being punished for it, and given what I deserve.

I can’t find a better man.  I don’t deserve a better man.

And eventually, having remembered the abuse and having been flooded with images, feelings, flashbacks, nightmares, and all of the confusion, rage, and fear of childhood trauma returning to my memory from the deep recesses of my mind, I didn’t want better men.  I wanted dirty, dangerous men who would offer me the opportunity to use sex as a tool for inappropriate coping—reliving traumas through promiscuity and increasingly risky sex.  Better men didn’t pull your hair and pound their pelvis against your ass and call you names and do all of it while another couple had sex in the same room—the other man getting off on watching your face as you were being ridden like a bronco and his own partner looking on, infuriated that everyone in the room was focused on your pleasure and pain.  Better men didn’t pass you on to their friends after they had finished so that another could take advantage of a woman still in the throes of passion when the first man was already spent.  And I happily climbed atop another penis, grinding my pain into men as if my hips were a confessional and thrusting organs were penance I needed to endure until I felt clean again.

But no amount of sex brought me to a place where I felt clean.  I still felt undeserving of the love of a better partner. So, I settled for partners who claimed love but offered insecurities, control, abuse, lust, addiction, avoidant behaviors, and a plethora of negative and damaging behaviors that reinforced the idea that I didn’t deserve love, and a soulmate was somehow outside of my reach, while everyone else around me was allowed to find that “perfect” lover.

Can’t find a better man.  Don’t deserve a better man.  Unworthy of a better man.  Incapable of a better man.  The list of disordered thoughts goes on and on.  And the disordered thinking continues to this day.

I’m still settling for a man that needs “fixing” and babysitting and diagnosing and repeated forgiving for the same error.  I’m still not taking my own good advice, and I’m dating “potential” instead of finding a fully actualized man who exhibits the fullness of his potential in his current circumstance—he doesn’t have the potential to get his shit together; his shit IS together.  I still date men who aren’t the men I want to have and hold as lifelong partners.  And in some way, this must be tied to the idea that I don’t deserve that partner.  I cannot achieve that relationship.  I don’t get to have the better man.

Can’t find a better man.

Some part of me longs for the better man.  Some part of me has all sorts of desire for being in relationship with a loving partner who treats me with respect and equity—a person who offers me compassion and kindness and honesty and love.  And then there is this other part that cannot shake the Dutch Reformed purity bullshit that says I am not white like snow with an untouched vagina and therefore cannot find happiness with a partner who offers me those things.  The dirty of Calvinism doesn’t wash off, and the damage of childhood sexual trauma isn’t something that I can recover from with my PTSD diagnosis, so I sit in the muck of disordered thinking nonstop.  I sit in that muck and I get sucked into unhealthy relationship after unhealthy relationship, because my conscience is a liar and my good advice extends outside of myself and not inward.

The fact is, I won’t find a better man until I find the better in me.

It is here—the better in me.

In fact, good and better and best should define me.  They probably do to most others—the non-Dutch Reformed ones—who encounter me.  I’m not covered in stains, as Calvinism would have me believe, but am a woman who does now, and has always, fought for equality, love, goodness, kindness, rights for all, life, grace, freedom, justice, and all sorts of positive qualities.  I’m overflowing with love and compassion and care for others—all sorts of others, and not just those who look like, act like, and believe like I do.  There is so much better in me.  And such better deserves to be met with better.  This amazing woman definitely deserves a better man … or a better woman, as the case may be, because letting go of my early religion also let me grab hold of the truth that my sexuality is extremely fluid and not fixed.  Regardless, a better man or woman belongs in this picture.  The previous pain that Pearl Jam helped me express is not a pain that I should have ever felt, and I should always have believed that a better man or woman was waiting just around the corner for me, and we would share a beautiful life.

But I didn’t believe that.  I wasn’t taught that.  Eddie Vedder saw or knew or related with women like me, who didn’t believe that and were not taught that, and he sang our pain.  If only he could have offered a correction instead of a correlation and showed me that this wasn’t my anthem but a lie to which I was listening.  Maybe he did mean to show me that, but I didn’t see.  Instead I held the belief that this was my plight and my burden to bear.  I didn’t have people who were correcting my error or replacing that lie with the truth.  I had more and more affirmation that I was a stain and stains deserved to be tossed to the trash bin and left there with the rest of the unclean things.

Can’t find better.  Can’t be better.  Am not better—ever.  No amount of goodness can transcend the one bad thing, even when the bad thing was your victimization and far beyond your control.  Give up now, Christy, because there is no redemption here.  There is only purity and not purity here, and you are not pure.

I recently had the amazing opportunity to visit with a young woman who is living in a situation near to the one that I grew up within.  She mentioned to me an abuse that she suffered, and then said something along the lines of not letting it ruin her.  “Some people let it mess up their life.”  She said she wasn’t one of those people.  But later in our conversation tears welled up in her eyes and she told me of challenges with feeling unheard, and like her parents were not dealing with issues affecting the family, and a number of other things that I felt after suffering abuses as a child.  It is messing up her life, whether she intends to let it or not.  And part of why it is messing up her life is the same reason it messed up mine—the inability of others to find empathy, compassion, and understanding, and their insistence upon seeing the world in black and white, instead of recognizing and honoring the fact that we all live in complex circumstances and hard and fast “rules” or dichotomies of good/evil, or virgin/whore, or right/wrong don’t make sense.  Beyond not working, those strict dichotomies harm innocent people, and reinjure those who are already victimized.  They mess up lives.  They destroy lives.  They convince young girls (or boys) that they will never find a better man (or woman), because they are not deserving … because being a victim has left them stained for life—dirty, bad, and impure.

Not only do I deserve a better man than the ones that have been in my life in my history, but I deserve an amazing man or woman as a life partner.  I deserve that because I am not stained and dirty and impure.  I am an amazing woman, with talent, grace, empathy, passion, perseverance, love, and beauty that are unmatched by most.  I don’t say that to brag or because I am egotistical and narcissistic.  I say that because it is a truth that was hard to learn and needs to be remembered.  I also say it because it is something that many others need to hear and accept.

I am not impure, dirty, damaged, and stained.  I am a victim of horrific and terrifying crimes against my person.  My brain was literally malformed as a result of childhood sexual trauma that was ongoing and created captivity-like conditions, making my brain nearly identical to that of a holocaust survivor.  My hormones, my stress responses, my gut health, my brain chemistry, my bladder and bowel control, and more were harmed by this trauma, and more trauma happened as I was retraumatized when people didn’t believe my claims of harm, doctors broke confidentiality, I was forced to interact with my abuser, my family refused to allow me to speak about or address the abuse, gaslighting and victim-blaming became commonplace, violent abusive relationships resulted from my deep need for connection tied with my inability to form healthy connection due to my complex post-traumatic stress symptoms, and more.

All of this was me being victimized.  None of this was me being impure.  If there were lines that were crossed and bad things that were done they were done by my abusers, the people who didn’t listen when I cried out for help, the doctors who didn’t know how to help and didn’t refer me to someone who could, the family who refused (and still refuse) to address the issues afflicting me and us, the church that pounded the drum of purity so loudly that a young girl was shamed into silence about sexual assault and rape, the “friends” who chose to support the denial of the perpetrator and not support my claim of abuse, the people that told me to “give it to Jesus” and it would be gone who made matters worse by not getting me the help that I needed from medical professionals, and the many people who refused to give up their dichotomous thinking in the face of my pain and struggle and confusion and help ease my suffering.

But if you are one of those people, I don’t judge you, and I don’t blame you.  You were likely (and perhaps still are) stuck in a space where that black and white thinking was affecting your judgment.  You didn’t mean to wrong me, I am sure.  You didn’t know better.  And when you know better you will do better.

I hope that what I write here today will help you know better.  I hope that it will help you move toward doing better.

I don’t want a young woman to come to me and tell me her secrets because she can’t be heard in the space where she lives, just as I couldn’t be heard in the space where I grew up, and where the worst possible things happened to me.  I don’t want that beautiful woman to be holding on to those secrets until she is 40 years old, because she feels impure and shamed by a community that sees things in such black and white terms that it cannot give love to the wounded and the wronged.

I share my story, in part, to heal my own wounds.  It helps me to get it out on “paper” and to release it from the places where it has been hidden for all of these years.  But I also tell it for all of you.  I tell it so that if you are the young men and women who have also been harmed in this way, you can know that you deserve a better man, or a better woman.  You are not impure.  You have no stain.  You are perfect and pure and good.  Someone did something terrible to you.  You deserve justice for that wrong, not shame.  And if you are one who hears of a person or from a person who has been harmed in this way, listen and support that person.  Fight for justice on their behalf and be certain that they receive the aid that they need.  Never support the perpetrator because it is easier than supporting the victim.  Never place blame on the victim.  Never treat a victim as though they should carry some shame.  They do not.  They have been wronged, and they deserve better from you than what I received.

I’m dating someone now.  I’m not always certain that he is my better man.  He has a lot of challenges.  I have a lot of challenges.  It makes things volatile at moments.  But I don’t see things in black and white, and I know that he was a victim of lots of wrongs, just as I was.  So, we work at loving one another, the best way we know how.  He cares for me and he tries very hard to be the best he can for me.  And he is open, honest, and working very hard to be the man that I deserve in my life, because he knows that I am an amazing woman.  That is much more than any man has done for me in the past, so I am happy in this relationship now.  If that changes, I no longer feel tied to shame and insecurity and the idea that I am not enough, so I can walk away without reservation and seek out a better man or woman.  And that is miraculous, given all that I have been through.

I still love to listen to Vedder croon out the words to Better Man.  I still sing along with my teenage angst somewhat intact, but it is more a memory of what was than a feeling of the moment.  I know that I have a better man.  I know that I can find and that I deserve better.  I am not the unclean and impure that should be shamed.  I am the overcomer—the strong, the determined, the loving, the understanding, the one who learns and shifts and grows and fights and finds life, no matter the circumstances she is offered.  And no matter the circumstances you have been given, you can fight to overcome in numerous, amazing ways as well.

We don’t win every fight, of course.  I’m still disabled and suffer from PTSD.  I still have several family members who refuse to discuss the events of the past.  There are many who would still shame me for my actions—like having sex outside of marriage, or smoking weed to manage my fibromyalgia pain.  But what other people want to consider shameful doesn’t matter much to me anymore, because I know my heart and my intentions.  I know that I am a good person who does all that I can to promote equality and justice.  I love deeply, I seek to respect all, I honor the beliefs of others as long as they do no harm, and I work toward creating a better world in any way I am able.  That is what matters.  Lines in the sand, black and white thinking, and rules that shame and harm the innocent do not matter.  Your heart matters.  Your intent matters.

So, let go of shame, call out victim blaming, call out gaslighting, and speak your truth.  Bring evils to light and bring justice to every situation you are able.  Don’t hide.  Tell your story.  And, of course, find a better man—with or without the Pearl Jam album in the background.  (Just kidding—definitely with the Pearl Jam album in the background!!)

Thanks, Pearl Jam.  Thanks, Eddie.  And thanks to everyone who helped and still helps me to step outside of Calvinist shame and to step into the love and light of who I am over and above the victimization that I have experienced.  I am a better woman every time I take that step.

 

 

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And the Storm Rages On

It isn’t easy for me to be vulnerable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                I’m praying for you guys…

And under that was a meme that said:

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

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

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

“Lots of people” have disabilities and they…

“Lots of people” are divorced and they…

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

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

Bullshit.

I call bullshit.

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

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

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

Gut fucking punched.

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

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

But the storm is another story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I keep on facing it.

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

But I face it.

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

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

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

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

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

Robert F Kennedy once said:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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.

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.