change · childhood · compassion · growth · healing · health · joy · pain · past · recovery · truth

Not Knot.

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Last night, I listened to a woman share her intense pain and
entanglement with her past. In listening to her, I realized something crucial for myself: I don’t actually feel that way anymore.
Despite the trailing tendrils and my habitual gnawing back
at it, my past and I are actually not so enmeshed anymore – at least, as I
listened to her, not nearly as much as we were. No. That’s not accurate. We’re
just not. It’s there. I poke at it, like a plate of live octopus bits, still
wriggling on the plate, long after everyone’d finished jamming them into hot
sauce and tried to chew and swallow before they attached to the inside of your
gullet. (Uh… See: My years living in South Korea for reference!)
But, I poke at it, and if I do, it’ll squirm. But for the
most part, my past isn’t a thing crawling toward and suffocating me anymore.
Listening to this woman, hearing her say that she can’t seem
to get under her past, I realized very
clearly that I have. Again, it’s there, but it’s not a shackle around my ankle anymore; it’s
just some dust I can kick off my shoe.
(Apparently, this’ll be a metaphor-heavy blog!)
I have liked to think
that my past is something I’m still slogging through, carrying around behind me
like a behemoth, its hot putrid breath at my neck asking me how it feels,
whether I am able to ignore it now, How ‘bout now, Now?
I’ve liked to think that my past is still a quicksand pit
I’m wading through, slow as molasses, fetid and shoes lost.
But, something about having this woman’s story as comparison
(not better or worse, simply different), I got to see into a mirror that I haven’t been able to
hold up for myself.
I am not
there anymore
. I am under my past. I’ve excavated, charted, spelunked
and had more than one canary die down there with me.
But, in the end, in the now, we’re kind of done there.
There’s a cave we’ve dug down into, we’ve opened the land around it, we’ve
cared and cleansed and ameliorated the land. We’ve begun to forget that it was
a horrid, dark, and dismal place, now in the open space that we’ve created from
it, and we’ve used that dank soil to plant new things. Exposed to the sun, it’s
something new, now.
(I do like me my extended metaphors!)
(Though, actually, I’ve done this exact work in
visualization meditation over many years, opening the cave of my pain and my past, exploring, mourning, and later watching flowers begin to sprout where there was only hurt. I’ve done this work of opening my past and my pain up. It’s
finished, or as finished as it can be.)
So, I got to see something yesterday that I haven’t been
able to see yet: The truth.
As I listened with compassion to this woman tell us, tearful
and anguished, that she is so knotted with her past she can’t see her way out,
I wrote in my notebook:
           
My past is really not that knotted anymore.
                       
Actually.

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change · childhood · despair · empathy · family · father · fear · forgiveness · loneliness · love · recovery · sorrow

1 + 1 = Forgiveness?

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Because he was an electrical engineer and adept with numbers, it was always my father I went to with math homework.
This near-nightly escapade always took the same tired route:
My dad trying to explain to me a concept that was assumed, understood, and so
ingrained for him by now that he couldn’t
explain it properly, and his getting frustrated when I couldn’t understand what
for him was plain and evident.
I would get frustrated at his impatience, and the fact that
I had to do this homework so I had to sit with him. And eventually, we’d become locked
in a battle of wills so contentious, we’d end up screaming at each other.
We call this 4th grade.
My brother told me a little more than a year ago, when I was
going through chemo treatment and my dad was unable to show up for me, that
what I was asking my dad to do (show up emotionally) was like asking a crippled
person to walk: It’s impossible. It’s unfair, and it’s presumptive.
The same assumption that my dad had about teaching me math
concepts, the ease and obviousness and facility he had with numbers, I have about emotional matters. I simply assume that because this is something so damned simple and easy for me, even
when it’s painful, that
everyone
should be able to do this.
I am making the exact same mistake he did with me: I am
shaming someone for something they are not able to do.
So, when I contemplate following up my dad’s return
voicemail from Father’s Day, I have found that I want to do what I always want
to do: Hash it out. EXPLAIN to him what
is so obvious to me: I needed you to show up for me, and you didn’t. In fact,
you blamed me for not being attentive to your needs. And you threw in my face every time
I’ve failed in my life as if that would manipulate me into realizing, once
again, you’re the savior and I’m the fuck-up.
I want to tell him this, of course, in a gentle, loving way,
because then, of course, he’ll be able to hear it and understand it.
If I explain it really  s l o w l y  as if to a child, my dad can’t possibly not
understand that his behavior across the years has been abominable at many times,
and that I don’t like to be in touch with him because of it. That I don’t trust
him because of it.
However. I’m simply expecting what he expected of me back
then: Comprehension.
No Comprende, Mamasita. He don’t get it. He won’t get it. And you can sit with as many graphing
calculators and pie charts of his behavior and your feelings of hurt and
betrayal as you choose. You can even make a PowerPoint presentation about how
his increased anger and violence was inversely proportionate to your trust of
him.
However. I’d be wasting my breath. And do people even use
Powerpoint anymore?
I still remember concepts my dad taught me about math. I
used the one to figure out a percentage this morning. Somewhere between the
yelling and the tears and the slammed books and doors, I did learn something.
But what was the price of that education?
My dad was not a teacher. And my dad is not an empathetic
person. It just is. Just as a paraplegic, my asking him to do what he is
mentally, emotionally, and spiritually unable to do is unfair of me. My expectations on him won’t make him walk.
I hate relearning this lesson. It too ends in tears most
times. But, today, I do have a choice between struggling to opening his mind, or to simply let him be a cripple and relate to him as such. Because it seems like the person who
needs to learn something is not my dad (someone I have no control over). The
person who needs to learn empathy here, soy yo. 

awareness · career · childhood · clarity · despair · faith · fear · healing · isolation · jobs · recovery · work

The Runaways

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I sent out a mass text on Wednesday to several women I know
who’d understand. I asked them to help me not quit my job that day; that for me
quitting without a safety net is equivalent to drinking; that I was at the end
of my rope.
I got several texts back, including from a woman I am only
acquainted with but who I admire, and she offered that if I called her, we
could pray together. Sure, what else have I got?
When I called, I imagined we’d just say some rote prayer that
is common around, but instead, she launched into a several-minute long prayer
personal to and about me. In it she said, to me and to the ether, that this job
is just a recreation of my childhood trauma and neglect, and to help me see
that and heal that. She said many other loving things, but this is the part that
has been sending shock-waves through me the last few days.
I’ve “gotten” that my relationships in the world tend to be
mirrors or recreations of older, historical relationships. It’s been clear that
my acceptance and pursuit of jobs that make me want to cry with frustration
over the hemorrhaging of my time is a pattern of low self-worth and despair.
However, there was and is a new level of understanding – an
“aha” moment if you will (not gag) – as I listened to my friend’s prayer. How
is my job a recreation of my home life
growing up?
Well, at home, I was a runaway.
When I was little, I only did it twice. I got as far as our
public library, with a small backpack filled with maybe an apple and a
sweatshirt. But at 7 or 8 years old, I didn’t have a plan, I didn’t have a
place to go, there was no where to go. And so I defeatedly walked back home,
and slipped into my house, where no one noticed I’d been gone anyway, just like
the time before.
In my home, my gifts were not encouraged or noticed; there
was an unstable force that expected perfection, meekness, and to be obeyed; and
finally, all of my most basic needs were met. I was fed, clothed, and housed —
anything else was bonus, not to be asked for and not to be expected.
(It wasn’t prison life, I know; but this is the
interpretation and internalization of a small person with a brain that analyzes
and makes judgment.)
So. How have my work environments been a reflection, a
recreation of this initial home environment?
Perfectly. Perfectly parallel:
Basic needs met. Check.
Gifts not seen or utilized. Check.
Perfection and meekness expected. Check.
Unstable authoritarian. Check.
And finally,
Somewhere I run away from. Check. Check, the whole of my life, check.
I have held 6 jobs in the past 8 years.
Each year and a half or so, I become so frustrated with the
confines of my environment and the yearnings of my soul, that I quit. I quit
without a safety net. I quit with nowhere to go.
And so I do what I did when I was young: I go back home. I
find another underearning, underbeing, dissatisfying, deadening, useless position
that also meets my very basic needs and has a few coworkers to be my allies.
I keep this job until I end up crying in my car for an hour (See: this Tuesday). And then I quit again.
Rinse. Repeat.
So, today, I am attempting with every fucking fiber of my
being not to quit. Not to start the cycle again without a plan – without
someplace to go. Without someplace to go that is “right,” that is safe, that is
not running from the frying pan into the fire.
For me, to quit a job without a safety net – meaning,
another job or enough savings to carry me through to another job – is tantamount to drinking. And as a sober alcoholic,
that’s a pretty serious parallel. It is deadly for me to do this again:
 I eventually begin to think about driving into oncoming traffic. It is insane for me to do this again and expect that in any way
it would be different than before.
So, what is my solution?
I have tried every mode of visioning, job window-shopping,
informational interviewing, praying, meditating, and begging known to me to try to “conjure” or land on or decide or realize or discover
what the job, the career, for my life should be. And I have landed on nothing.
I am absolutely blocked in this area of dreaming.
A therapist once told me that I don’t let myself dream.
And this is true. Why dream, when it’ll be taken away or
I’ll fuck it up anyway, which amounts to the same thing?
I had a moment last night when I heard someone say that “we”
are the kind of people who try to get away with doing the least work.
I thought about that. Why is that? Because I completely identify with that.
I leaned to my friend on the left, who identifies with that
way of being, and asked, Well, what about workaholics?
I leaned to my friend on the right, who is a workaholic and would no more do the least amount
of work necessary than eat sand, and asked her about it.
Later, in talking with her, I’ve come to see that although
the routes are very opposite, the motivation and the fear is the same for both
“underearners/under-be-ers” and for workaholics: Things are not going to work
out; I’m not going to be okay.
For the set that does the minimum, the fear (for me at
least) is that whatever it is is not going to work out anyway, so why try? Why
give the world the satisfaction of seeing me put effort in, if it’s only going
to turn to shit?
For the workaholic set, the fear is that unless I have my hand in everything, it’s not going to work
out. I must make sure that I’m doing everything possible, or it will turn to
shit.
In both these scenarios, the fear is that the result will
not be favorable to us. On the one hand, why try to make it work – on the other hand, make
it
.
In both cases, there is a lack of faith in the positive
outcome of things, or in an outcome that is unfavorable but doesn’t demoralize
and crush us into smitherines. Because,
for me, that’s the final stage of the fear – I will be so demoralized, I will be
annihilated.
But aren’t I there anyway?
So, again, what is the solution here?
It seems to me, that I needed a safe place to go when I was
running away. And although I cannot conjure or envision for myself a job or
career that I want, I do think that I
can try to envision for myself a safe home.
Though, even in my home life now, I’ve recreated what it was like when I was
a kid: My own small room that was safe, filled with things I’ve made and pretty
things, a place I could hide, be myself, and a place where I was mostly alone.
What is a real safe
place, not like this isolation? Where would I
want to run away to?
I believe that as I try to answer this question, to envision
what an ideal safe home looks like, I will begin to have movement on the job
front. I will begin to create that environment I crave in the external world. And though that might not mean a lightning bolt in terms of a career
choice, it may help to make whatever my next transition is one that I don’t
have to run away from.

adulthood · childhood · community · compassion · death · friendship · life

This Used to be my Playground

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I’ve been thinking in detail about my home town today.
Thinking about describing it to you: Up the block lived the boy I
had a crush on, across the street from him was our teenage babysitter, the park where
they buried plastic eggs every Easter, the library I used to hide in, and the
honeysuckle fence by the elementary school we all learned to eat from.
I catalogued it all in my brain before I got up. The radius
of what I knew determined by how far we’d bike. The friends who lived the flat
road across town to the other elementary school, and the bakery where my mom
would buy bagels each week, and sometimes cupcakes with frosting heaped on top
in the shape of Sesame Street characters – we’d beg for Cookie Monster, since
he also had a cookie stuck in his mouth.
The Dunkin Donuts down the hill where I got my first job,
and how you could smell the doughnuts baking from the top of the hill. The house next-door where my best friend lived, yellow, now beige with new owners. That big house on
the corner that burned down amid rumors of arson and insurance fraud.
The houses you knew to skip on Halloween, and the little
league fields with an actual brick concession stand. The tire playground that
used to stand at the grade school, where D. fell off the top of the pyramid and broke his
whole leg. The small white, bean-shaped rocks that carpeted that playground; I
picked up a handful the last time I was there, and when I rub them together in my
fist, the sound of scraping unlocks my childhood.
I was going to tell you about the awesome 4th of July parade
one year when I bought a Strawberry Shortcake ice-cream pop that, once
eaten, revealed a “Get One Free” prize on the wooden stick, so that the free one I got had the same message.
The street I first tried to drive down, the patch of pavement
where I fell off my bike and broke my foot.
I’ve been thinking about all this, everything I knew and
remembered, that shaped the world outside my front door, because facebook told me
yesterday that an old classmate’s mom suddenly died of cancer a year after his
father died of it, too. And I was picturing where his house is, just a block
from the library, one I’d have walked past thousands of times. It abuts the big
park where we all went on Memorial Day when school was closed, and there’d be
hot dogs and cotton candy.
For reasons I can’t explain (and despite being tired of
talking about my own cancer — Tired of referencing it like people reference
a year abroad: “Well, last year when I was in Scotland –” “Well, last year when I
had cancer…” as it simply is my frame of reference right now. Tired
and bored of it, and yet astonished at where, like yesterday morning), its
presence and reality will side-swipe me.
My sudden grief wasn’t all about me: it was the sadness of
the reality, once again, that life is so uncertain, so sudden, and so
disillusioning. That life offers those of us in it, grief. Live long enough,
and it just does.
When my final grandparent died last year, my generation, the
one of my classmates, became solidly in the center of life’s process. Our
parents are now grandparents or grandparent age. We’re them. And the generation
we’re birthing is us. We’re transitioning to the center of that boat.
Some of us already have transitioned, lost parents long ago, and have
always been in the center of that boat. But there’s no illusion anymore that
this is something we may be exempt from.
I don’t really know why I cried when I saw this. I felt for
him, for the innocence of our town, for my own remission/relapse fear. For
sudden grief that doesn’t permit goodbyes.
I don’t know how to end this blog. I don’t say that “those
were the days,” that the experience was idyllic, though these recollections tell me it was closer than I knew. But the fact remains that
those of us who grew up, who learned to ride bikes and squirt super soakers at
one another, who bought Big League Chew at the same candy store and rang the same Halloween
doorbells, will always be connected.
We may not be or have been friends, we may barely know the
lives each other lives now, but by circumstance
and proximity, we shaped for one another those two square miles of childhood. 

anger · change · childhood · discovery · freedom · love · maturity · progress · recovery · sex · sexuality

Rage Against the Whatever’s Handy.

Last summer, before I started getting help around money, I
was in a bad way. I answered an ad for a company/house looking for dominatrixes
(dominatri?). I was desperate for money, and was almost willing to do anything
to make it.
So, I answered the ad, spoke with a woman on the phone,
looked at their website, and scheduled an interview.
Then, I emailed a friend of mine who’d been a dominatrix
once upon a time, and I asked her what her thoughts were around it. She replied
with an interesting thought. She said that it was a very low and base level
of energetic exchange.
Even though it sounds “woo-woo,” I knew what she meant. She
didn’t tell me yes or no, she just said, basically, that it felt icky. And that
she was heavily using drugs at the time.
A few days later, and before my interview, I called to let
them know I wouldn’t be coming in for my interview, that I’d like to cancel.
And that was the end of that.
However. I’m reminded of this now, about a “low” source of
energy, or power, because I’ve been experiencing the most wonderful (<–
sarcasm) feeling of free floating anger lately.
For those of you who know me, “angry” is likely the last
thing you’d associate with me – quirky, awkward, loving are most likely the top
layers, and indeed, the most core layers. But, in the middle of those is
everything that I’ve tried to put in between me and you. That includes sex, and
that includes anger.
Now that I’m in the process of extricating myself from any
sexual entanglements, grey areas, … dating sites…, I’m noticing that anger has
arisen where “sex” used to be.
When I was in junior high, and I came into school that one
Monday with contact lenses and makeup and suddenly I was visible, I rode that
high, and my anger that “you” only now noticed me, I rode that well into my
twenties.
I fed off of that energetic exchange. The power that a woman
(or man) holds via sexuality is more than palpable, it’s addictive. It’s
enlivening. It becomes what I’d come to believe was my only source of strength.
This was a “low” form of strength, and a false form. But oh
the many heads of it. I feel powerful (or visible, or valid) when you pay
attention to me. When you’re giving me what I think I need, when you’re eying
me, or flirting with me, or seeing what I know (or think I know) you’re seeing
when you see me.
So, now, I’m removing this source – I’m calling this well
toxic, and trying to walk away from it. Sex isn’t bad – but it can be a natural outcropping of feelings rather than
hormones.
I said yesterday to a friend that I feel like someone has pulled my
covers. That my defense mechanisms are being shorn away one by one, and so,
now, here I am with anger.
I am very aware that anger is just the other side of
vulnerability. I don’t want you to see how vulnerable I am, so I will put on my
angry armor and tell you to fuck off.
But, being aware of it doesn’t cancel it out.
I was reflecting this morning about the power of anger. I
realized that before there was the Power of Sex, there was the Power of Anger
in my life. It was modeled to me that if you were angry, you were powerful. If
you were angry, you were paid attention to (and left alone). I learned that
anger was an appropriate way to feel visible.
This, is a poor lesson. As frightened as I was when I was
younger, I began to learn to fight fire with fire. I learned this young too. I
was not really a pleasant kid, behind my shy exterior. The shy came after.
After I learned how to be angry, to yell back, to provoke, to antagonize, and
to defy. I learned that not everyone, especially in school, was going to put up
with that, and it sank inward, enclosed by the layer of “demure” and “shy.”
I’ll just disappear then. If I can’t have power via anger, then I apparently
don’t have any at all.
When I found sexuality, I found a “more acceptable” pathway
to visibility. And now, again, as that one’s being taken away from me – the
abuse of that power, rather – now, I’m falling backwards through my timeline
into anger.
Rage, really. I learned a lot about rage growing up – surely,
not as much as some, but more than Mr. Rogers would have wanted in his
neighborhood.
So, here I am at rage. One of my last defenses. I am sorry
to be here at it. And I also know that freedom from it will bring untold gifts.
But… I like it. And that’s the problem. The problem is that these sources of
power are still salivating. I still feed off them. I still feel powerful from
them, even “knowing” that they’re false.
I made someone angry yesterday, and I liked it. I felt
validated. If I’m able to make you mad, then that means that I’m alive, around,
meaningful. If I’m able to cause a reaction in you (previously, a sexual one;
now an angry one), then I have a purpose.
Yes, I “get” that these are totally fucked up thoughts. I
get that this has to be “gotten through” or it will continue to cause me pain.
And isolation.
But I felt that “low source of energy” when I was the
recipient of that anger yesterday. It’s like a “HA! See, you do care.”
It’s so Psych 101, it’s stupid – better negative attention
than no attention. But, it’s recorded in textbooks for a reason. It must be
prevalent enough and common enough to fall asleep to at your freshman college
desk.
So, that’s my thoughts for the day. Thoughts on feeling
vulnerable, and what I do to hide that. Thoughts on my reluctance to let go of
sex and rage as sources of “power” and validation. My thoughts on compassion
for myself, as I know this is hard. And a modicum of hope and self-validation
for choosing to move through this anyway.