Saturday, May 28, 2016

Though wounded, they shine

In "The Body Keeps the Score", I read about how a group of veterans were moving right along in their healing, opening up and talking and telling their stories, but were reluctant to move out of that place. They simply wanted to keep telling their war stories to each other, and stick with the narrative they knew.
In healing from trauma, from emotional abuse and domestic violence, healing is centered on three things: telling your story, having your story being compassionately witnessed, and re-ordering your story with the help of that compassionate witness. In situations of domestic abuse and healing, it is still important to hold to the truth and tell your story WITHOUT becoming stuck in a victim identity.
The goal is to become morally congruous and  have the hope of a re-ordered story.
As for bullies/abusers, how can anyone be proud of themselves, be morally consistent, when their stories of other people are ones of judgment, criticism, fault-finding, attacking, and then twisting the story to make themselves the victim? This is the identity the bully/abuser is stuck in: one of superiority, winning at all costs, contempt, disregard for  truth, and exploitation; their stories ones of victory over threats to their fragile egos, their perceived tormentors those who are really their victims. And I can see why they would perceive themselves a victim. If you are stuck on your own way and dependent on someone giving you that way, you are going to be mired deep in anger toward what is not giving you your way. You do not see that you have made yourself powerless.
Victim-blaming is a huge anesthetic. It ensures continued blindness to one's own grief and despair, keeps one from having to fool with one's own messy humanity by way of remorse, and puts up a huge wall that locks out information about how your own behavior affects others. It makes sure you stay stuck in not having insight and self-awareness, not being able to forgive, and certainly not caring about how to make a repair in a relationship.
It keeps you from the deepest truth about yourself: that you are valuable. Not that you are superior,but that you are valuable. There's a huge difference. That you, through your actions, can lead people to their worth, or you can lead them to their pain. Sure, you help them become stronger by inflicting wounds which lead them to their pain, and ideally, to their recovery. You have that power: the power to wound. We all do. But then, in hurting others, you betray yourself. Bullies want and need others to play into their self-betrayal. It's why they love codependents. They want people who will play nice and support their incongruity. But if they truly understood, if they "got" the truth of what they've done just one little bit, they would hang their heads in shame and avoid your (their target's) gaze and stay far away from you. They would understand that even an apology might not work and would appropriately accept the consequences of their hatefulness. (see this article regarding remorse from a Christian viewpoint: https://graceformyheart.wordpress.com/2016/03/11/i-dont-want-to-be-a-narcissist/)
Sherman Alexie writes that there are basically two tribes of humans: those who are assholes, and those who are not. People who love an asshole do the right thing by speaking up. It's like telling your friend they have kale stuck between their teeth or toilet paper on their shoe. If I love you, I help you see yourself. If I love you, I do not allow you to be an asshole, not to me or anyone else. If you still want to stay stuck in asshole identity and still be in relationship with me, then we must part ways. I won't support you in that endeavor. But at that point we must be clear that you have deliberately chosen that, and there is no room for pretending otherwise.
Oppressors so often betray themselves but do not know they betray themselves.
As for the victims of oppressors, silence is an act of deepest self-betrayal. And so the truth-telling is just as important as the healing. Re-ordering the story means making it one of personal victory instead of one of victimization and oppression. Once you are in the tribe of an oppressor, you are their victim, because they define you. You belong to their story of who you are and your worth. Once you realize that their actions define THEM, you are not in their tribe any more, no matter what vitriolic, grandiose, judgmental, motion-filing, hate-spewing vomitous bile they throw on you. Then you are defined as the opposite: an overcomer and your story is one of survival, rising above, and holding to truth. It means you are closing the gaps between words and actions and feelings and becoming strong, compassionate, whole. You are in your own triumphant story.
Then the bullies, who used to loom so large, now just seem petty and small. After all, bullies are just a list. After so many  years of watching their patterning, it's easy for me to now say, "Oh, you're just a Huffington Post or Psychology Today article. Someone else is acting exactly like you and someone wrote about it and made a list and  it is really a list of all the things you do or have done. Actually, lots of someone elses have written a list. Not a good list, either. You're not special because you bully. You're not special because you exploit, demean, have contempt, and don't repair relationships or apologize. That's just a list." Bullies then become a big "so what?"
You have then effectively re-ordered the bullies. They are just another lie you believed and don't believe any more.
Survivors of legal, financial, physical, emotional, sexual, and psychological abuse who find their identity in truth-telling, authenticity, congruity, healing, overcoming, and speaking out about their experiences are special. They really are. I know so many who have turned their bus around and they just shine. They have been wounded and  have had to re-order what they know about people with exquisite courage. They have had to learn to turn away from users and takers. They have been unfairly jailed, their kids unfairly punished, and have endured the worst imaginable losses at the  hands of cruel people and a cruel system. They are not silent, they are righteously angry, and despite what they have been through, they are making a difference in broken places through compassionate love.
Though wounded, they shine.
This is the identity I choose.

Worth Watching

I got to watch this for my class and am now a bonafide Sherman Alexie fan. Maybe you will be,too.


http://billmoyers.com/segment/sherman-alexie-on-living-outside-borders/

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

People are Portals




In the kitchen today over lunch, the subject of Canada's weather came up. It's cold in the evenings, and the lakes are clear, we said. My colleague had fished on a lake, and I had been with a love.
My heart sprung way back, into a July that happened a couple of lifetimes ago.
We drove,my love and I, through Indiana and into Michigan, all the way through the upper peninsula where the trees are taller and the road just doesn't end. Driving onward, we passed Mackinac island and the border, and on to back roads in Canada. We arrived at the cabin his grandfather built,and removed the boards from the windows, as tired travelers.
We had some really good fights and we knew how to make up. We also had some deep conversations, an easy affection for each other, and a propensity to be wrapped up in each other's energy. Whenever he greeted me, it was like something out of a "B"movie...like he hadn't seen me for years. He loved me after my first divorce, and when I felt lost or conflicted, or like bolting again, he would say, "I just want you to be happy." We were off and on for awhile before I decided he really did love me. My kids and family were none too thrilled about him, he had his quirks,and we pretty much drove each other crazy. He was, in every way, my best friend, my beloved, and there we were, in Canada, together.
The cabin was small and sparsely equipped. We cooked our meals on a small stove, and there were plenty of windows from which to watch the rain,or the lake. I found out the truth about Canadian mosquitoes. There was an outhouse and a boat,and a store about 15 miles up the road.
One day, we took the boat out and explored the lake.I don't remember anything we talked about, I just remember his presence. Sure, we were both musicians and creative beings with an appreciation for art, but there was much more than that.There are some people in your life that you just fold into, and feel safe with, who are not threatened by your quirks and idiosyncrasies but welcome you with unending grace and uncommon mercy. He was that for me, an absolute giver, my beacon of "unconditional positive regard."
We love who we love. We just do.


When we returned, he said, "I want to wash your hair." And so he filled a bucket with cold, clear, cold Canadian lake water, walked it over to my head, and with the gentlest of hands, with utmost tenderness and affection, he washed and rinsed my hair. Just like "Out of Africa". Another evening, we laid out in a field under stars...in Canada. where the stars are so close you can touch them. We both soaked in and rayed out so much love for each other. So much.
Years later, my heart broke with him over and over as we just could not find a way to make our paths converge and continue. That caused a trail of tears that seemingly lasted an eon. But we eventually found our way to  new paths: his to a new love while mine definitely held much more pain, and also joy in more children.
"Why'd you leave a guy who would wash your hair?, my colleague asked, and I told him.
People are portals into memory, grief, love, and who we are inside. My old love was a portal into so much learning and growth, and if I saw him today I would embrace him and wish him love and we would go on our way. Some people lead you to your grief, others lead you to your worth. He showed me deepest love. Of course there is a tinge of  wondering what would have happened, but life always moves just the way it is supposed to.
I've had a few loves since then, but none who carried such fire for so long with me. And it's not like I've not been open to what others offer and set them up to compete with distant memory or an idealized version of a past relationship. It's not like we weren't complicated and conflicted. It isn't like we didn't fight or have jealousy. It was just a beautiful love despite all that and still it couldn't last and that is just sad. And it's completely ok. It was there and now it's not. It is funny, though, how after so many years, after a period of finding fault with the situation and with him, all that is left is love. This is what I choose to remember most.
I fancied myself Annie Hall in that relationship. These days I jokingly refer to myself as the "Taylor Swift of 47-year-olds": "I go on too many dates, but I can't make'em staaayyy." Jokingly, for I am in charge of my love life or lack of  love life...I choose. But when a lonely sting or an insecure pang hits me, I remember love. A former love said I was strong but he was wrong on some level, for I fall prey to sentiment and longing like anyone else. I am not invulnerable. I am still human because I love. I am love, I am loved, I have love, I have loved, I love.
.
Today I walked through a portal into another time, into a Canadian sky and a clear-to-the-bottom lake, into a certain melancholy, a few tears shed, a distant love.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

You're Grounded



Today (Saturday) was a good day.It's always nice to start a paragraph like that, right? Serena had a volleyball game, and from there we went to the  Dyescape garden for  their volunteer day. Who knew that what we all needed was to put our hands deep into some dirt, and make some new connections? 
Reading about Dyescape (Anchal's) mission (found here) really resonated with me. Years ago, I read a book called, "Where Am I Wearing?",a book that detailed the lives of those in other countries who make our clothes. It was not pretty, and on one trip to Georgia, where I saw an abandoned textile mill, I was told that the process was so toxic and there were so many political complications that those mills were shut down. But the equipment and toxic processes were shipped overseas. So nothing changed in that except geography, and now instead of Americans being affected,Chinese were exposed to health complications. This was touched on in the book, and I've taken that with me ever since. 

From Anchal's website: 

Globally, humans consume about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year, which is 400% more than the amount we consumed just 20 years ago. With the rise of consumption comes an alarming rate of discarded clothing. The average American now generates 82 pounds of textile waste annually, totaling more than 11 million tons. In addition, the textile industry is the 2nd largest polluter on the planet followed by oil. The harsh chemicals released during industrial dyeing damages aquatic systems and make drinking water dangerous.

It grounded and sobered me to be reminded how our choices affect others and our beautiful land. It's one of the reasons I get my clothes at Goodwill and thrift stores. It's why I compost and try to save energy and have my own garden and buy from farmers and am snobbish about my fair trade organic chocolate. And every year, I have plant dyed 100 skeins of yarn for school. 
However, this year, I was weighing the environmental impact of plant dyeing versus synthetic dyeing. The synthetic dyes I use are low-impact in that the dye is completely absorbed into the fabric and it uses so much less water than plant-dyeing.
Still, my heart is with the colors and challenge of the plants. And in helping with the dye garden at Dyescape, I felt such a sense of connection to the earth and to others that it seemed silly to give up plant dyeing. Just get a couple of rain barrels, I told myself. Being in touch with the soil for a larger purpose just FELT good.


My kids were none too thrilled about going until they, too, got their hands dirty and found a frog and a mulberry tree, and therefore, found happiness and connection,too.



When I'm feeling a little lost, reconnecting to this  land, this soil, helps me remember who I am,and who I am in relationship to other people. And lately there has been a lot of lost soul-wandering as I traverse the realms of grief and moral injury. Yet here is this soil, ever true, ever solid, always giving. Here are these plants, these cycles of growth and giving life. This is something I can rely on.
It always comes back to my hands, this grounding. My hands which are used to heal, comfort, make, and connect. My hands which connect me with myself and others. My hands which can do good,solid work and can bring beauty. My  hands,which nurture my sense of how I touch the world and how I touch others.




With this work, I'm grounded.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Short Answer

Last night in class, a veteran came and spoke to us. Boy, was it eye-opening to hear of his experience, of how his training and programming were so completely different than life in society, and how hard it was to overcome the lingering effects of combat trauma. For instance, he showed pictures of curbside trash on junk day. He told a story of how he swerved to avoid a minor pothole and narrowly missed a collision. He spoke of empty boxes and things that seem innocuous to us. Those things, he said, were hiding places for bombs, explosions waiting to happen. You would never pick up a piece of trash in Afghanistan. He explained that often he would  leave a bomb-threatened town like that and be back in the States within 24 hours. What I gathered from his talk was an appreciation for how hard it must be for veterans to integrate back into a culture that has no clue about what they have been through. Not just that, but we are an illiterate bunch when it comes to trauma in general.
It's why I write about the issues surrounding relationships with narcissists and habits of abuse. Bystanders are a powerful force, and are naive about the kind of change they can enact.
One issue I read about that arises as a result of trauma is moral injury. Moral injury is the act of doing something against your morals. In war, these difficult decisions happen all the time...do you kill the cute kid who is carrying explosives to the next village?  The choice is clear but to cause a child to lose their life is also horrid and repulsive to me. Thinking about facing those kinds of moral dilemmas makes me ball up inside and cringe, so I can only imagine what happens to the soul and psyche of someone who so violently sacrifices themselves for the good of the many over and over and over again.
 A narcissistic or overly entitled person never self-betrays. They do not face moral dilemmas where they would have to make amends or reconcile their behavior within themselves. They have given themselves a free pass to ignore any consequence of their actions. The only moral dilemmas they deal with are your moral dilemmas of calling them out on their lies, projection, gaslighting, manipulation, and contempt. They perpetually stand with their hands over their ears crying, "la la la, don't wanna see, don't wanna hear".
Somehow, you become immoral for telling the truth.
This morning, I  heard of a woman who was asked by an acquaintance regarding her custody battle, "why don't you just share custody with him?"
There is no short answer for this, for women who have to face sharing custody with a man who controlled and/or abused them. People don't get it. People in general do not understand that you cannot operate as if an abuser will do things from a similar moral perspective as most of the people in your world. An abuser's moral sense is impaired to the degree that they cannot receive information about how their actions affect another human being. They might be on good behavior when it suits them, say they are moral, and be able to fool a lot of people, but they absolutely cannot be trusted to have the same moral compass, if they even have any.
Think politicians.
Not understanding this allows people to say stupid things to a woman who has divorced a narcissist.
"Just let it go." (Let what go? My house? My car? My pride? My personhood? My rights as a parent? Any hope of financial stability? My ability to care for my kids? Because he won't be happy until I am crushed and his attorney won't be happy until my kids have no food to eat at my house. )
"You two need to just get in a room and talk it out." (You mean you want me to go into a room and be the acquiescent wife I once was, and not really talk it out because negotiating with him has the same effect as negotiating with a terrorist, as in nothing I say matters. Why don't  YOU talk to him and make him to stop bullying me?)
"It can't be that bad. I just saw him at church and he is so nice." (Have you ever heard of Jekyll and Hyde? Ever watched the movie "Gaslight"?)
"You are both to blame. It takes two to tango." (In some normal situations, this viewpoint from systems therapy holds water. But in an abuse situation, it is superstition. It's like saying washing your car causes a storm. It's like saying you just ate and that is why you got a dinner invitation. It's like saying that the people who live downstream from the mining site that illegally pollutes the water supply are to blame because they live where they live, and they know the mine is there and  that the company is not trustworthy. Seriously, people? Another term for it is victim blaming and it is horrid. Horrid. It allows others to become co-abusers under the guise of politically correct neutrality. Those same people will then turn around and blame you, because they aren't really neutral. They knowingly support an abuser.)
A woman who has been in an abusive marriage faces her own moral injury. She may have completely lost (betrayed) herself and her children to keep relative peace and may have done extreme things to deal with an impossible situation.
Wars abroad, wars at home, all call for understanding and compassion. Trauma manifests in ways as simple as not being able to think clearly or find your words, to actually re-experiencing traumatic events in dreams and in triggering situations. Women who live with abusers and move and work in the world have to re-integrate into life every day. They leave a virtual mind-fuck at home, and they are most likely a little out of it, or quirky, or absent-minded, or depressed when they hit the real world, where a tone of voice or a romantic card can be a trigger.. Triggers abound and it is difficult to know what to do to help. But blaming her will never help.
My hope is we become more trauma-literate as a culture, which really just involves being kind and empathetic, and listening deeply to those who say they are hurting, and believing someone who says they have been abused.
I'm not sure I effectively connected all my streams of thought this morning, but there it is.

Educate yourself about domestic violence/divorcing a narcissist:
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/tech-support/201605/13-things-you-must-know-if-you-are-divorcing-narcissist
http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/definitions.html
http://www.theduluthmodel.org/cms/files/Using%20Children%20Wheel.pdf
http://nnedv.org/resources/ejresources/about-financial-abuse.html

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Silly Melancholy


Sometimes I feel like this blog should be called, "I am silly; watch me suffer." Not as in, "I am silly for suffering" but as in, "I am silly AND I suffer". The whole point of keeping a blog, for me, is writing practice and to figure out what the heck I have to say and offer the world. Lately, my writing has felt really heavy, and is most likely following the trajectory of the glum weather we've had around here and the war-soaked class I'm taking. Nonetheless, my blog reflects snapshots and not always the whole picture of my life anyway.
A long time ago, a colleague of mine had told me that one of the tasks to resolve in your 40's is cynicism, you know, that thing that creeps in like an angry pall over your thoughts, a severe wall of protection put up to deal with the fact that the idealism lingering from your 20's has had a head-on collision with the truth of your existence. That means dealing with failed marriages, failed jobs, ideas never birthed, age saying "hello!" to your body, dreams not realized, having knowledge about politics and finance and the sucky parts of this world and being able to intelligently assess that the situation isn't pretty.
And so cynicism. Yeah, that's just hard. It's not something you can positive-think your way around because it's reality, like furniture in the room. You just have to be cynical for awhile until you can actually consciously choose. You can say, "this world sucks. I've been a total loser. Dude (or not, as applicable), I'm totally going to turn this boat around and make myself useful, and change something, because I can"
Then, and only then, after such enlightenment and resolve, do you have a single-mom-on-the-loose weekend, You look at your mood and you have to choose: "silly?cynical?silly?cynical? SILLY" Silly wins again! Voila! All set to discover the joy of hip thrusting butt rubbing dancing.
In the bar this weekend, such an eclectic crowd gathered right at 1 a.m. Before they all came, a few casual conversations happened; I danced, no drink in hand since I'd had a margarita or two at dinner, so firmly into the music I stepped. I could not stop looking at people. I am a seriously devoted people-watcher. I was with friends, including a couple whose energy was so wrapped up in each other it was good to be around. Soon there were more people to watch and dance with and the wildness started. We were dancing when a young man approached us and in front of me and my friends, demonstrated his "hip thrust" and explained it was nothing sexual, it was just mad skills that allowed him to thrust with such a smooth, jerking motion, and how most guys can't do that. I agreed with him because this is an inarguable truth. As he thrusted, he petted his coarse yellow hair as if it were a cat or a wig and we chatted a bit. I told him that anyone who thrusted like that needed a "Cool" name in addition to a "Regular" name. After giving it some obligatory thought, I dubbed him "Storm". He seemed happy with that and so he thrusted away to show another group his skills, now as Storm instead of whatever-his-real-name-was. The rest of the night was all seeing the rubbing of butts together. This seems to be a "thing" at this particular bar and that, along with the people watching, the limbo contest, and me being the only one old enough to know the words to "Rock the Casbah", assured that I kept dancing. And laughing, too, because it was all so funny.
It is harder to hold on to cynicism when you realize how ridiculous any of it is, all of life. The whole thing. Might as well go heal the world.
 I also heard live jazz, spent time, lots of time, with dear friends, worked on art and singing, had a therapeutic meditation around "walls", a beautiful walk by the river, and reading in bed. Alone time is good.
I walked into Monday: sleepy, smiling broadly, a slight sway in my hips as I stepped.

(And because it is Tuesday primary day in Kentucky, I can say that I voted. So should I ever whine about politics-which I don't really do in writing-I have my complaining rights secured.)

Monday, May 16, 2016

Wall Hunger



There has been an idea for an art/music/and/or writing project I've been wanting to start called "Letters to Walls". The idea was to chew the hell out of that metaphor, and my original impetus for the idea came from my own experience of "walls": people who shut me out on a multitude of levels. It isn't the same as hearing "no". It is the experience of having your humanity denied on a very real level, and my own awareness of the compulsion I have to seek out walls in front of which to beg.
Then my dear, beautiful friend Sylvia published this love story, a story of self-betrayal and courage to face your truth.  It could have been a love story I've written over and over, with myriad variations but the same theme. Her description of the lower feminine was, for me, a description of  hunger....deep hunger. 
My hungers, for lots of reasons, have been laid in front of walls. My hungers have turned me into desperate and begging for love,at,of all things, walls. Walls that can't even hear me or know that I exist as a human. "You won't feed my angry hungers!" I would rail. "Maybe if I make myself good enough, alter my routine" I would bargain. " "please love me", I would beg, as if any of that could change the heart of a wall-person, as if my hunger could soften their significant walls.This is not health, this is not desire, this is not need, this is not prayer, this is not strength. This is greedy compulsion, an overwhelming sense of lack. And although it may be true that someone had shut me out, or abused me in some way, my hungers allowed me to protect them from themselves, and me from looking at the truth. 
Often, this begging is how I have prayed, rather than in humble acknowledgement of my valid needs and desires, or my grief in loss around lacking those very things I want.  Yet I know in my heart that when I come with the reality of myself, of accepting my needs and desires without shame or editing, this is when I feel heard and connected to God and people.  There can then be a "we",where we are free to see the other whole. We can be free to meet each other in the field of wants and needs. In fact, that gives us lots to play with and a place to find pleasure, truth, divinity, and love.
The alternative is to become needless and wantless, and I have done that to accommodate relationships. What fun is being needless and wantless? Do I want to be a mindless automaton? No, I simply need to acknowledge the fear that comes with my sense of lack, of being starved, of pressing my lips to dry breasts, of desperately supping at empty plates, of anything to lift the heavy burden of hunger. Others might have a sense of confusion,or being suffocated, of being overwhelmed.

Like Sylvia, I will add a Bible verse to crystallize my insight, gained with her help:

"As the hart pants after the water brooks, so pants my soul after you, O God. '-Psalm 42:1 KJV
The whole Psalm is an honoring of longing, of dealing with these very hungers, of holding discomfort and hope in the same breath, and of ultimately placing hope in God (however you understand God...as the Divine, Spirit, the Great Mother, however you experience spirit).

I believe that when we are clothed in angry hunger, we are not trusting the divine and we are hidden. When we drink at dry wells we are not in the light of truth. We have, as Sylvia points out, betrayed ourselves. We betray ourselves because we blame the well for being dry while drying up our own well. However, this is not our innate nature. Eventually, a longing will come and God will find it. When we are radiating vibrant thirst, we search for and find streams of clear, cool, flowing water, and realize that water is everywhere. The garments of  beautiful, passionate longing display the goodness of spirit, within and without, with a sense of plenty. Then we are free to love those dry wells without requiring them to address our hunger or slake our thirst.

Love calls us to acknowledge, to be compassionate for the dividing hungers in each other while showing the holy truth of our own wants and needs.

This morning, as I write this, as I meditate on my own walls and how my hungers create them, as I see the walls of others, I am moved to love and finding the courage to let go. I am not sure if I am up for the task. I still grieve.
I liberate trust.