Stripped & Unburdened part I: Hiding behind fear and pain

After writing this post and realizing how long it was, I decided to split it into two parts to make for more easily digestable reading 🙂

When I was in grad school, I took a class on crisis intervention. Ironically, while I was taking it, my family and I were actually in crisis. I’m going to pause here for a moment because ‘crisis’ is one of those words like ‘depressed’ that has reached a point in our vernacular where it has been overused to the extent that its definition has gotten lost. Kind of like how socks manage to vanish between the washer and the dryer. In order for us all to be on the same page, then, I’ll share with you the definition I’m using which is the working definition in the shrink world: when you’ve reached a point where your perceived demands of your environment overwhelm and exceed your perceived coping mechanisms. In plain English, that means that the stress you’re experiencing with whatever it is going on in your world is so great, so vast that you literally cannot deal with it. You are drowning in an ocean when you’ve only ever learned to doggy paddle and your stamina is quickly running out.

Crisis is a strange thing. It’s strange when you’re experiencing it, and it inevitably changes you. Due to its extreme nature, the change it brings about is also generally extreme, though the individual experiencing it is the only one who can determine which way that goes. In crisis, it typically feels as though nothing is stable, nothing is solid, very little is safe. It is a time not just designed for tending those most basic of needs on Maslow’s hierarchy (e.g., food, shelter, water, sleep, etc.), but it is a time when there is no room for anything else.

 I don’t know and won’t speak to or for anyone else’s experience of crisis, as we all process things differently. For me, I had no idea how to “appropriately” invite, ask, or accept support from others. The crises I experienced spread across a range of topics that are all in some way taboo in one form or another. Finances and homelessness, spirituality, incest. It didn’t help that my family lives on a different planet from orthodoxy and my greatest fear of someone pointing a finger at any of the things that make us ‘different’ as the reason for what we were experiencing was too great a fear to conquer in the midst of chaos. It haunted me every day.

And so I withdrew. I stopped talking to my family of origin completely. I kept my eyes averted when I was in class. I stopped calling friends. The world had become a desolate and coldly unpredictable place. It seemed every time I turned around, something else had exploded. I want to clarify a moment here – it wasn’t that I didn’t receive support from others throughout this time. I did. In many forms. But it was as though I had lost my knowledge and ability to interact with others. Because focus has to shift to all those primitive needs, interactions with others become more, well, primal. Thus, there is no sugarcoating, no easing your way around things. A starving person will simply snatch food out of your hand if you hold it out. There is no thinking about manners and politesse. That’s just not the space they’re in.

When you’re in a crisis, though, other people don’t know that unless you tell them, so they still expect you to behave like a “normal” human being. This adds a degree of stress in and of itself. I would find myself wondering, How many times should I say ‘thank you’ so that they would know how grateful I was? How could I infuse those words with enough emotion that I sounded as genuine as I was especially when I was doing my best to not even glance at my emotions because if/when I did, I’d fall apart? How many times should I apologize for burdening them until they believed me? How cliched did I sound when I asked my best friend to borrow money? Again? How should I explain to my professors that, I’m sorry, I can’t come to class today because my family and I just spent our last $2 on egg noodles from the dollar store so we could eat today and therefore we don’t have the $4 I need to get a subway ticket to get to class and home again? Who could I possibly talk to and share what I was going through with and not have a concern that they’d call DFCS on us and tear my whole family apart? So I hid behind my fear and my pain. And I kept my mouth shut.*

After we moved here and things had settled a bit, I found that I still kept my eyes averted. I wouldn’t tell anyone I met much about myself or my family or the circumstances that surrounded our arrival in this new state. I was still hiding. But while I was hiding, my thoughts were as venomous as the mouth and belly of a kimono dragon. Internalizing my fear and pain was destroying me, so at least in my head, I began to direct that poison outward.  I alternated between using that fear and pain as a shield and as a weapon. I clung to my sense of wounded entitlement and became resentful of everyone who wasn’t me. When I looked at the people with whom I worked and the people I served at my job, the people I saw in the grocery store or on the street, all I saw were the differences between us. Differences to which I took personal offense. (Before all of those crises took place, believe it or not, I had liked people in general. While I wasn’t ever one of those super outgoing, extreme extrovert types, I found people fascinating and loved learning about them, hearing their stories.) Now, there were few people who could provoke even a kind look from me. And while I realized this wasn’t me – wasn’t who I was – at the time, I had no interest in changing it, let alone any idea how to do so even if I did.

(continue on to part II here)

*If you know or are close to someone who is experiencing or has recently experienced a crisis, I hope that what I share in these two posts might help you to understand what they may be feeling and going through. I encourage you to keep reaching out with compassion, understanding, and patience while they move through the dark night they’re facing.

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Courting Anger, Courting Truth

I have a draft for a post I’ve been working on for about a week now (it’s not this post, btw, and I will get to finishing and then publishing it. At some point). When writing it, I stumbled upon some pivotal ‘ness’ that I’ve been fumbling around for I don’t even know how long and was just about to break through that last screen of fog that separated me from Truth, from insight, from a new level of growth. Then some shit hit the fan, and like following a thin, sliver of barely-there-thread I lost my grip on it in the wind from the fan. I find it incredibly frustrating when that happens, don’t you? So now there’s all this shit everywhere and, somewhere in all this mess, is that lost thread. I’ll find it. I know I will. Because I’m a persistent and stubborn bitch at times, and because I have a gift. That gift is that I cannot ever give up. Literally. Like, ever. Like, I am driven deep down in my marrow to keep going. I might cry, whine, and pitch fits the whole time, but I’ll keep on truckin’ on. I don’t know how the rest of the world deals with all the shit that gets thrown at them without this little gem. I’ve been near homeless with my family in tatters, a handful of change and a mountain of debt to my name, my beloved suicidal and barely hanging on, living on Ramen, etc. And I walked through it. Not very gracefully the entire time, mind you, but I’m still here. So find that thread I will, but in the mean time, there’s some stuff that needs to get cleaned up. And so this shit that the proverbial fan has showered all over at the moment is just one more thing to walk through. The space that I find myself in right now is not unsurprising, I would think.

Do you remember that ’80s (maybe early ’90s) dating show called The Love Connection? In my mind right now is the set of that cheesy show, and I am determining who I want to date. Anger. Or Truth. Oh, and let me tell you, I am having a rough time of it. There sits Anger, all dark and smoldering, his eyes beckoning to me to come and play. Sensuous fingertips gliding a promise away from my skin and steam rising in the ghost of the trail along my arm. And when I look up into her eyes (because Anger is both masculine and feminine), flames dance within them, hypnotizing me with a pledge of sharing power. Nails dig into my flesh for just a moment in a dance between pleasure and pain. I want to play. But then a cool wind whispers across my face, drawing my attention to Truth.

At first glance, Truth seems simple, plain even, and not especially enticing. Yet, there’s something there that has me waiting, holding my breath because I have a feeling there’s something below the surface. Even as I’m looking, my eyes slowly climb up the bodice of a white, silver, and gold gown that has instantly become translucent, and my breath rushes out of my lungs in an attempt to simply be closer to her. My eyes lock with his (Truth is also feminine and  masculine) and my whole body trembles with the imaginings of a union between us. There is a spark in his eye that I want to hold in my hands and pull close to my belly. But when I look again, that same spark cuts through me and the pain I feel is beyond measure. I am undone. I am caught between the two. (And these are not two that would work together in a polyamorous relationship.) I must choose. Fuck.

Anger and I have a longer history together. I am not, historically, one to kowtow to niceties and politesse when someone has pissed me off. I am unafraid of confrontation to a point of, at times, a serious lack of wisdom. I’m the person who wants to hash it all out. Right. The. Fuck. Now. Unfortunately, that’s not always what’s best, and it certainly doesn’t always pave the way to resolution. My anger exists on multiple levels at the moment – at an individual, at the situation, at the idea that, really? things had just started to settle down and improve and now this?! All of that lends itself to the internal struggle of this disturbed love triangle I’m in (with Anger and Truth). What I want is to give a verbal flogging to a certain individual until they are bloody with sincere and soul-felt apologies and crying for mercy and promising to undergo a personality transplant and be completely transformed into a more decent, considerate, and empathic human being. But, don’t fret. Though our relationship is younger, I’ve spent enough time with Truth to know that’s not who I am, so I won’t do it.

The other part of me simply seeks resolution. That part of me is wiser. It is a part that can let go of what’s past and simply look toward creating a new future. At the moment these two parts are engaged in a heated debate inside my mind and attempting (well, really, it’s that first, vengeful and angry part that’s doing most of the talking) negotiations. But, can’t we please just yell a little? Okay, not even yell, but just forcefully respond/interject/communicate? That part is a significantly disappointed that the resolution-seeking part isn’t overjoyed at the promise of not only no physical violence happening but not even a verbal assault taking place, and why isn’t it getting a huge pat on the back right now? Why isn’t that goody-goody, wise part giving in to all other demands, damnit?!

Here is what I know. All anger is rooted in fear. Fear of something. The fear can have many faces, but the most recognizable face on the surface is Anger. It’s a smoke screen. Next time you’re angry or feeling angry, take a step back and a deep breath and peel back that first layer to find what’s underneath. I guarantee you’ll find some sort of fear. The fear I’m feeling at the moment is the loss of my family’s heart, the inability for us to all heal, that one person’s refusal tobedifferent than who they are at the moment will continue and we will never be able to move beyond, that – at the least – some piece of my beloved is dead now and will not ever resurrect. Here’s the shitty part. Some (or all) of these fears might be legitimate. And, at least from where I’m sitting this moment, there might not be much I can do about any of it. Yet, I am compelled to keep going. I can’t not.  

So here’s the other thing I know. I glance over at Truth, breath shaking in my chest and from my lips, and I see Strength. I see Compassion. I see Love. I see Divinity. I spare a moment to look back at Anger. The smoky hot facade falls away in ash as I stare. What remains is a whimpering, distorted, deformed, twisted and ugly thing that can only breed further destruction. I’ve already thought about what I want, but what do I need? Not that. That stands no chance against thwarting any of those fears in becoming realities. There has to be some way. I turn back to Truth who has come to stand in front of me. I gracelessly spill out of my chair to kneel at her bare feet, my body already seizing and spasming as her eyes pierce through me, cutting away all that does not reflect her.

As the pain subsides, he pulls me deftly up to embrace him in a dance as old as the sunrise. He twirls me in his strong arms. Arms that will protect me – not from pain or from hurt, but from inflicting further damage upon myself. Stay with me, his breath whispers in moist heat along my neck to my pulse. How can I not? But then she turns me so my back leans against her chest and, running her silken hands down my arms, shows me a reel of past choices I have made. When I have strayed. My belly clutches and my heart sinks as I watch. She hugs my body to hers from behind, then turns me. I plead to her with my eyes, how do I not do that? How do I move forward, with you? What do I do with the anger that I know is still churning in my belly?

Her response: Shake it out.

The good, the bad, and the bitchy

In my process of self-discovery and exploration, I have uncovered a piece of myself. I’ve talked about self-acceptance before (in one of my posts that’s probably brought the most people to my blog of everything I’ve ever written), and while I think it’s possible to have a measure of self-acceptance even if you don’t know yourself completely, in some space in me it feels like it almost doesn’t count unless you’ve thoroughly researched the vast expanse of your personality and identity. An unpopular notion, perhaps, but I think it’s true. I had come up with a couplet when I recently decided to make some more headway on figuring out who the hell I am, and because I felt as though I had a pretty good awareness of a large number of my character flaws (I can be selfish, inconsiderate, self-absorbed, thoughtless, entitled, irritable, etc.), I had phrased the couplet in a way so as to communicate to Momma and Papa that I needed to become more familiar with my more positive traits. When They gave me the sense that I was vibrant and bright, I thought I was off to a good start. But, apparently, you need to get  up earlier in the morning than I did to try to pull a fast one on the Divine. Evidently, a diet of only happy qualities is not balanced, and despite my belief that I’m acquainted with my less-than-beautiful traits, I needed some more vegetables, too.

I have discovered that I truly have an Inner Bitch. My wife made that comment to me when she was marveling that I did not have an Inner Brat (like she does). My Inner Bitch is a whole other ball of wax. I don’t use the term ‘bitch’ lightly here. When I say ‘bitch’ I mean this is a part of me that is just plain mean, vindictive, cutting, vicious, and she’ll smile (and perhaps laugh) at you the entire time. Of course, it’s one of those wicked smiles because she doesn’t have any other kind. She’s got some nasty looks, but her weapon of choice is words, and she uses them like a serrated dagger – the kind with the hook near the hilt so that when the knife gets pulled out of whomever it was plunged in to, it does as much damage coming out as it did going in. Did you ever hear that saying (or have one of your parents or caregivers recommend you use it) of, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me!”? I don’t know who came up with that but whoever it is, I don’t think they ever were a recipient of a truly scathing remark in their life. Bruises and breaks heal, and most of the time a hell of a lot faster than the emotional and/or psychological damage of a few choice words topped off with just the right tone, especially imparted by someone you care about.

I grapple with my Inner Bitch on a rather regular basis, especially when I’m any kind of stressed out and it feels like my defenses are already weakened. I try to keep her locked up in a bland, utterly nondescript room. There’s an intercom system hooked up – kind of like a way for her to communicate her nastiness and have the satisfaction of it being heard (except, I try to ensure that I’m the only one to hear it) without much damage resulting. Thing is, she’s sneaky (I guess that’s part of the territory of being a bitch) and I have a harder time keeping a muzzle on her and the circuits between the room she’s in and my mouth closed when the situation at hand seems small. My control when it comes to big things is pretty solid, but the every day annoyances are a different story entirely.

I know that with my cute little analogy and imagery I’ve got going on here, she might be a little difficult to take seriously, and perhaps you’re thinking, “So what? No big deal. Everybody has that.” No, no. Not everyone does. And certainly not to this extent. My being a witch, empathic, able to read energy, and mildly psychic renders the situation a whole new level of messy and potentially disastrous. It’s like the difference between someone carrying around an uzi loaded with blanks versus the real deal. I can know by reading someone (and Goddess help them if my control on my Inner Bitch falters) exactly what to say to leave a mark with my words that may last forever. And while my Inner Bitch typically only attempts to strike out when someone has caused me pain of some sort or has treated me in a manner I deam unjustly (tricky thing is, it can be as minute and childish as bumping into me if I’m already annoyed), if you combine that with my idealistic streak, my sense of (largely inappropriate) entitlement, and my bad temper, the result is what my wife would call a hot mess. And, it’ll be a hot mess almost entirely of my own creation. When we throw in some the stress of crises I’ve been dealing with recently, you can perhaps see why grappling with this part of myself has become something of a daily challenge.

I was wondering and theorizing the other day about how exactly my Inner Bitch came to be. My current theory revolves around having been tirelessly teased and provoked by my sister ever since I could remember, my parents not defending me in the process (I figure, I’ve already pointed the finger at them in a previous post, why not continue the trend? Maybe I just need to get it out of my system, what can I say?), and that being compounded by the hideous “friends” (I use that term very lightly) all the way up through junior high. I was surrounded by people who were mean in one form or another. My parents advice never shifted from a pathetic and futile suggestion of “Ignore them,” and I was otherwise powerless. So if ignoring them didn’t work, being nice didn’t work, and no one else was going to stand up for me, I had to be meaner than they were. Enter the Bitch. As theories go, I think it sounds rather plausible.

While my Inner Bitch rears her head occasionally, it’s been a long time since I’ve actually chosen to give her free reign, to let her out of the box in which I have her living or at least pressed the little button in her room that broadcasts her venomous words from my mouth. My wife’s Inner Brat(ling) doesn’t usually cause enormous problems or reak havoc that can damage relationships. Those of us who know her well enough know that there are certain phrases that we don’t say to my wife (like, “You should,” “You have to,” “You can’t,” etc.) because if we did, her Brat would lash out to do just the opposite of what was prescribed. We don’t ever dare my wife either. It’s just not smart. And while those of us she calls family may be dumb some times, we’re not typically that kind of stupid, and certainly not about anything that may result in her Brat actually causing damage. My Inner Bitch is a different story. She is completely contrary to me upholding my integrity. Her goal is to inflict pain and damage, mostly out of revenge for something that was done to me, but that doesn’t make it okay. While my wife’s Inner Brat lives to prove people wrong about her and her capabilities, my Bitch exists to prove that I can be meaner and tougher than anyone who crosses me, and while you might hurt me, I’ll make sure in the end that you’re hurting just as much, if not more.

When I was reflecting on all of this, on her origins, and on how she fits in to my identity, my essence (something that goes beyond my personality this time around), I came up with another theory. Think too much? Who, me? Surely, you gest. I think that all of the darker traits of our personalities are like distorted or contrary versions of traits of our essence. I remember not long after MySpace became popular (eons ago), I took one of those quizzes – Which superhero are you? The result of my quiz was “Super Girl, Protector of the Innocents.”  It may be one of those chicken and egg deals, but I can see that being the trait that, due to my early childhood experiences, got flipped on its head and twisted a bit. No one was there to protect me, so that purpose of protection of others innate in my being needed to be used to take care of myself in whatever way necessary.  

So, what? I can’t go back and change my childhood. I am genuinely not angry anymore at my parents, though I still strongly disagree with their choice of (in)action. And what’s the point, even if my theorizing is correct, now? My wife and Teacher told me (probably several times), that as children, we are like a garden into which we have no control of what gets planted. It grows and we grow, and early on, we have no say in any of it. But then, we’re grown enough so that we do. So that we can look at everything in that garden and decide – decide what stays, what gets nurtured, what gets put in the compost pile, and what gets burned so that it can never possibly come back to take root. Even those parts of us that are hardest to look at have something to teach us, something to share with us, something we need to hear. And then, after we genuinely take the time to do that, we need to respond to them in turn. I think that what my Inner Bitch wants to hear most is that she shouldn’t have had to be, that someone should have stood up for me so that she didn’t have to do what she did. I think she needs what we lovingly refer to in my house as “squish therapy.” And I think the compost pile would be a good resting place. Her fierceness, her passion, her loathing of injustice, and her loyalty are all qualities that simply need to be turned right-side up and cleaned off a bit, then redirected. I’m not sure how it’ll all turn out, but you never know…

 

I never promised you…coherence

After I had received my emailed copy of Grace’s post today (I have a subscription to her blog), I had written a scathing diatribe of a post about Horace Bushnell and his ideas about hardship and inspiration. Being intimately familiar with hardship, particularly over the course of the past couple years, I felt bitter, angry, and annoyed that someone could imply that inspiration was automatically linked to hardship and not an act of transmutation – something that requires conscious choice, intention, and a great deal of work. In the end, I deleted it. I still feel miffed about the quote, but I could see no healing or benefit in sharing my extensive angry words with the public, and I didn’t like how jaded and bitchy it made me sound. Sure I might have moments, but they’re just that – moments. With everything I have gone through over this crises-filled time, that is still not a reflection of who I am at my core. I am proud of that.

I haven’t had much energy for blogging recently. And when I have had energy, I haven’t been able to think of much to say. My own thoughts have been so disjointed and the kind of coherent that’s only somewhat coherent to me that I didn’t know where to begin to try to form them into some type of meaning that could be understood by anyone else. I’ve wanted to write and have toyed with the idea of some creative writing, maybe taking pieces of my own story to create a work of fiction that could be healing for others. But each time I think about it, I wonder where I would take the story, how I would resolve the conflicts I could see myself weaving in to the plotline, and I have nothing. Perhaps because it feels like little is resolved in my own conflicts from which I’d borrow or simply because I need more space from where I am. Either way, it’s not happening now. I like the idea, though, of writing in the future.

I wrote ago (at some point) about how I was dedicated to only writing from a truly authentic, raw, and present space; and, while I don’t think I am going against that now, I also don’t see how writing here and sharing the darkness of the spaces I’ve been in recently could be helpful to others. Or at least I don’t know how to share that in a way that would communicate the strength and faith I have within me as well so that it wouldn’t simply be depressing and draining for anyone who read the posts.

One thing I do want to share, though, is that in the midst of all of this, I have bumped up against one of my biggest issues (or at least, one of my known biggest issues) – being my Self. I hate how just plain icky it sounds to point the finger at my parents for my issues, and I think that there comes a point when that’s just tacky and irresponsible coming from a 30 year old woman (like, I should have fixed this by now, right?), but it is what it is, and if it makes me sound tacky and irresponsible, so be it. My parents communicated to me from a very young age via mostly passive agressive and indirect ways, that parts of my self were unacceptable. The fact that other parts were totally fine only served to create confusion, I think. I don’t know many conservative Christians who are comfortable with raw sensuality (my parents were certainly not the exception to that rule), and I had bucketloads of it since before I could form coherent sentences. My parents also struggled with my fascination with all things mystical. Both were stamped out and forced to be buried. So if it wasn’t okay to be me, I had to put on something else. I’ve been doing it ever since.

Since we got together, it’s driven my wife insane (not that it was exactly intentional on my part), especially because I’ve spent a good portion of the last 3 1/2 years putting pieces of her on, a lot of which don’t fit me at all and she is a fiercely independent woman. Recently, I had a chat with Momma about the whole thing, after I realized I’d left the “me” out of my spirituality and, most everywhere else in my world. I’ve been doing this for so long, I told Her, how was I supposed to find me in all the mess and be that? Her response was (I think) super cool. She told me it took far more energy for me to fight the natural state of who I am by putting all these other people on than it did for me to simply be me. The solution? It was something I don’t know if I’ve ever heard from Her before – stop working so hard. It made me think of the Buffy episode where Xander gets split in half into two versions of himself and, in the end, Willow explains that his natural state was to be one Xander – the spell was the only thing working so hard to keep him split in two. So she just says something like, “The spell is endeth” and poof! One Xander.

The other piece of this that’s been very cool is that Momma and Papa have started to give me traits that do truly reflect who I am. I started a running list in case I start being dumb again in the future. The instances over the past week or so when I have acted from those traits, it’s felt like slipping into a pair of shoes that fit perfectly. It’s like my whole Self just sighs in contentment with the rightness of it. A very yummy feeling.

So, I’m still here and finding me in the mess of all this to boot. Thank you for visiting. I wish you well on your journey and hope to have more exciting and happy news to share soon. 🙂

Holding on

Things here have settled a little after our recent explosion, but aftermath is not pretty, and it sure as hell isn’t easy. I have made the discovery that one of my gifts is that, when it comes to coping, I am in no danger at this point of turning to alcohol, drugs, self-injurious behaviors of the direct and indirect varieties, etc. Instead, even when I am my most miserable, what I do is I keep doing. I just keep going. When it sucks, when I’m hurting, when I’m lost, confused, frustrated beyond imagination, rageful and bitter, I refuse to stop.

One of our mounting frustrations here is the absolute dearth of advertised Pagan- and poly-aware/friendly shrink people in the area. My beloved needs a shrink person, and scour the internet for countless hours though we have, we have found nothing. Perhaps it’s idealism or just sheer stubbornness, but regardless, I have a very difficult time believing that such a professional does not exist. If we were in rural Alabama, I might have an easier time believing it (no offense to anyone who lives there), but we’re not.

I put a working on my altar over a week ago sending out an S.O.S to what we lovingly call the “Universal HR Department” explicitly stating what we needed for my wife. As of yet, we’re still waiting. I know I only see a fraction of the puzzle pieces that are our lives and the Divine Grand Scheme of things, but I cannot believe that what we need will not be made available to us. But as of right now…